Welcome to Staff Spotlight, a new series that features the people of Special Collections and the work we do behind the scenes. In today's installment, we're talking to Tim Perry, the newest member of our professional staff.
Describe a typical day working in Special Collections & Rare Books at Ellis Library.
There’s always something new going on in Special Collections, which is one of the best parts of the job. But some of my regular tasks involve the following:
- Answering reference questions about our collections. Most days I spend a couple of hours on the reference desk to help patrons who come in to use our collections. And I also answer a lot of reference questions by email. Since I only started at Mizzou in November 2015, this has been a great way to get to know our collection and to find out about all the different ways people are using them.
- Teaching classes based on our collections. A lot of classes come to visit Special Collections and so I spend quite a bit of my time figuring out what it would be best to show them – we have great collections, so it’s not always easy to choose! – and then running the actual class visits. It’s another great way to get to grips with the diversity of our collections: just this term we are hosting classes on everything from Greek oratory to pirates and from plague and contagion to the Brontë sisters.
- Meeting with colleagues. This ranges from meetings to discuss the everyday running of the department to meetings about major upcoming events. At the moment, for example, we are putting together an exhibition to accompany a major conference on climate change.
What do you enjoy most about working in special collections?
One of the best things about the job is the variety, so it’s hard to pick just one thing. I love working with the books themselves, and also interacting with students, so I would have to say that leading class visits is one of my favorite parts of the job.
How did you discover your passion for working with special collections and rare books?
My background is in Classics so I have always been interested in the way in which the written word has been passed down in different forms over time – everything from papyrus scrolls and medieval manuscripts to printed books and digital texts. So when I went to graduate school for my professional library training I decided to take a couple of classes on rare books and I was immediately hooked!
What are the most interesting items that you have come across in Special Collections at Ellis Library?
We have wonderfully diverse collections: 4,000-year-old clay tablets from Mesopotamia, 21st-century artists’ books, and everything in between – so again, it’s hard to choose one thing. I have done some letterpress printing in the past, so that, combined with my interest in Classics, means that I particularly love our collection of early editions of ancient authors. They are all beautifully printed, and many of them are beautifully bound as well.