Interview with Carolle R. Morini, Boston Athenæum

Timg_20130923_182950oday’s post is an interview with Carolle R. Morini, Caroline D. Bain Archivist, Reference Librarian, at the Boston Athenæum. Carolle holds a BFA in Photography from the Montserrat College of Art and an MA in History and an MLS in Archives Management from Simmons College.

JUNTO: Can you tell us about your background in libraries?

MORINIRight before the Boston Athenæum I was with the Massachusetts Historical Society, where I started as a reference intern for course credit, then right after I was hired to work the main desk (answering calls, buzzing people in the front doors, etc.). I soon became a library assistant and finally became a reference librarian.

My interest in libraries, as a profession, really began when I was working for an antique dealer who specialized in 18th, 17th, and 16th-century Asian and Asian Export objects after I graduated college. I used the Phillips Library to research objects and then soon I volunteered at the Phillips Library with the photograph collection. I answered queries regarding photographs of steam ships, Salem and New England streets, and a variety of other photographic queries. After a little while I was hired as a photography archivist to work on the photography reference collection and other projects. My background in photography (at this point 6 years) is what helped me immensely with this position. Two of the most exciting projects I worked on were securing the rights & reproductions for a contemporary exhibition catalog, Family Ties, curated by Trevor Fairbrother. I found myself calling the studios and estates of artists I admired to gain permission to reproduce images in the catalog. It was quite an experience and I had to quickly get over my shyness to call such “super stars.” Another rewarding project was dating Edward Curtis photographs with the curator Clark Worswick for an exhibition and catalog. I also worked with many genealogists from all over the country looking for a photograph of the steamship their ancestors traveled on and many other marine and historical photographic queries. The collection never had me feeling bored.

Overall I worked or interned or volunteered with a variety of institutions: auction houses; The Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston; Simmons College Archive; Governor’s Academy Archive; The American Antiquarian Society; and Tufts University Digital Programs, to name a few.

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Junto: What is the Boston Athenæum?

MORINI: Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenæum is a membership library and museum. We have a circulating book collection of more than 480,000 volumes, many of which are not widely available, rare materials (books, broadsides, manuscripts etc.), prints and photographs, and paintings and sculpture. The Archive holds its institutional history.

Junto: As the institution’s archivist, you must come across some interesting material on an almost daily basis. Can you tell us whats in the Athenæum’s archives? Any favorite items?

MORINIThe Athenæum maintains not only its own archive, but also the institutional archive of two earlier Boston cultural institutions, the Anthology Society and the Boston Library Society; the Boston Library Society merged with the Athenæum in 1939.

The Boston Library Society records include information on early members, catalogs, and reading lists from this early Boston institution. The Anthology Society records chronicle the evolution of a small group of scholars who became the founders of the Boston Athenæum. The Athenæum archive preserves crucial records relative to 18th- and early 19th-century literary and cultural development in the city. Taken together, this archive provides a complete and unbroken record of Boston cultural development from 1792 to the present day.

As the Archivist I take care of the history of these institutions as well as oversee the growth of the Athenæum archive. I assist accounting and finance with records that need to be saved or destroyed (following government guidelines). On a daily basis I am in contact with anyone who creates material for the Boston Athenæum, be it letterhead, invitations, programs, tote bags, umbrellas, business cards, contracts, etc. etc.

I honestly do not have a favorite item from the Archive or from the Athenæum collections. I really admire ideas and I would say that my “favorite” part of the Boston Athenæum is the general history, the building, furniture, and the mission. To walk the same rooms, to pick up the same books, to gaze upon the same artwork that many in the past have seen since the founding in 1807, is an awesome thought to hold-and it is quite a privilege. I think of the Boston Athenæum as this great heirloom of learning. Another “favorite,” of mine is the staff that I work with. I learn something new every day from each department. It is an absolute joy and honor to work in such an environment and truth be told, it is also very humbling. So, to learn something new about the collections and knowing that I have a small part of fostering the Library’s history, is quite the “favorite” of mine.

Junto: Can you describe your daily or weekly schedule?

MORINIEvery week the staff monitors the Arthur & Charlotte Vershbow Special Collections Reading Room to watch and assist researchers using materials that are rare. Twelve staff members (who partner up) cover the reading room hours Tuesday-Friday, 10 am–4 pm. One day a week my partner and I split the day in half to monitor the reading room.

Besides being the Archivist I am also a Reference Librarian, so, during the day I answer a variety of questions. The questions run the gamut: how do I find a book? What periodicals do you have? When did the Boston Athenæum acquire such and such a book? I also work with our library interns with various projects and I manage the Inter Library Loan intern. I’m part of collection development for our circulating collection.

And every week I “nosey around” and see what departments are doing to see if anything needs to be added to the Archive. I go over the Archive collection, with the Chief Conservator, Dawn Walus, to see what should go to conservation. I also select materials from the Archive for digitization projects. Overall, communication is key for the Archive and for Reference.

JUNTO: Boston is home to a number of public history sites, perhaps more than anywhere else on the East Coast. How does the Athenæum contribute to making “history” public?

MORINII try to get the Archive out in the public as much as possible. I do so through exhibits, the website, digitized collections, working with our staff, members, fellows and researchers. October is National Archive Month and I will be participating in #AskAnArchivist Day and other outreach programs, for example, creating reading lists of archive subject books (fiction & nonfiction). For the Athenæum’s Twitter feed, click here! It’ll be busy next month.

Junto: What advice would you give to training or early career archivists, historians, and librarians who are hoping to secure permanent, full-time work at an archive or library?

MORINIVolunteer some place to keep your skills fresh and don’t be afraid to relocate. Always check the institution’s website for opportunities. Remember that you will have to do a lot of communicating with all departments.

Junto: Sound advice, Carolle. Thanks so much for taking the time to speak with us today! Where can we find out more information about the Athenæum?

MORINIOn our website or visit the building at 10 1/2 Beacon Street–the first floor is open the public. Our Annual Open House is coming up, too—it’s on October 22—and I’d encourage everyone to consider joining. Membership carries a huge number of benefits. You can also check out our online catalog and digitized materials.

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