American Collections blog

21 June 2011

Guest Post: First Impressions of the Library

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Our intern, Maro Salikopoulou, writes

Having been an MA student in the Department of American Literature and Culture, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece for the past three years, I was delighted to know one year ago that my application for a work placement with the Eccles Centre for American Studies had been approved. Upon the suggestion of my professor Dr. Rapatzikou and within the context of the Erasmus exchange programme, I applied for an internship in this prestigious institution in the hope that I will be given the opportunity to engage myself in practical tasks always in relation to the field of American Studies. After a year of eager awaiting and a series of correspondence with the personnel of the Eccles Centre in order for the specifics to be arranged, I am finally in London, working in the international environment of the British Library, and more specifically, the American Studies team.

For the last two weeks I have been ‘experiencing’ the British Library, in terms of both its unique working environment and its academic appeal along with the possibilities it offers to students and researchers all over the world. Almost overwhelmed by the building, the high level of organization, the wide array of conferences and lively events that are being held, as well as the Library's temporary and permanent exhibitions, I am in a position to say that this goes far beyond my expectations! From the very first moment that I set foot on the British Library I knew that this is going to be a unique experience; in fact, it is my dual function as both a member of the staff and a student doing research for the completion of the requirement of my MA in Greece that makes this work placement much more exciting. In this way, on the one hand I have the possibility to take advantage of the library’s holdings – in both print and digital form – whereas on the other hand, I am given the opportunity to see how one of the greatest libraries in the world functions. Most of all, by working here I realized that one can maintain a connection with what we have been calling ‘American Studies’ outside the sphere of the university and implement theoretical knowledge by being engaged in more practical and pragmatic tasks and assignments.

My first task was to compile a list of secondary sources that pertain to what has been dubbed ‘The American Fifties,’ in an effort to help researchers interested in the particular area. The thematic entities around which this guide is structured aim at making research more focused and specific so that for students and researchers not to feel lost dealing with an unmanageable load of information and bibliography. However, this research guide is by no means exhaustive and the secondary sources that are included can only hint or lead to more directed research.

A guided trip to the Library basements provided a highlight of my first two weeks. Here, I had the unique chance of witnessing the parallel universe that exists underground with all the people meticulously working there, either tracing the books to be sent in the Reading Rooms, or maintaining and cataloguing the library’s holdings. I was surprised by the fact that in the basement there is indeed another realm of activity and interaction, another section of the library, where the underground workers secure and contribute to the excellent level of organization and management that characterizes the national library of the UK. Tim's guided tour was very exciting due to the fact that I had the opportunity to see some of the library’s most rare holdings, manuscripts and writings that date back to 1500, but also the first editions of some of my favourite writers, both English and Americans. In short, it was a great experience and I’m really looking forward to my second trip in the underground labyrinths of the British Library.

With the vast sea of information and knowledge the British Library offers, it can be said that it is a hub of intellectual activity on a worldwide scale and a goldmine for those who are involved in academic research. Having said that, it is a great honour for me to work here and ‘experience’ this international research centre by using at the same time the theoretical background that I have gained from my consistent preoccupation with American Studies the last few years, within the framework of my MA studies in the ever-growing and increasingly internationally-connected Department of American Literature and Culture, Aristotle University (http://my.enl.auth.gr/asrp and www.enl.auth.gr). Finally,my colleagues here in London have made my transition and adjustment easier, always willing to answer my questions and help me discover and explore all aspects of the British Library. All these things considered, this is an excellent opportunity for a Greek MA student like me, particularly when one takes into consideration the situation that my country is currently dealing with and its consequences for the future.

[MS]

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