An Internship in the Vault

By Julia Rohn, Museum Studies Intern

Picture this: My eyes are closed so as to not ruin the surprise. A heavy door opens, groaning. Parchment permeates the air, warm and familiar. I am told to open my eyes and a whole world is revealed: books line every wall, towering me. Instead of feeling small, my heart swells. I hunger for this knowledge. And then I look over to thank the hairy prince to my right…

Okay, okay. This is not exactly my memory. But I have watched Disney’s Beauty and the Beast so often that the boundaries between the two have irrevocably blurred. However, this specific scene has always resonated with me. I identified with Belle’s preoccupation with novels, forever reading, yearning for more tales. So naturally I sought an internship, which would place me in close proximity with them.

My first day in Special Collections at the University of Iowa mirrored Belle’s experience. When I was shown to the stacks, the inner me was spinning about in my head, cartwheeling like a gymnast. In fact, I had quite the headache afterwards. My supervisor granted me full access: to be able to reach out and peruse any book I wished. Granted, there was not time for sitting and reading its contents, but you must take your victories where you can. All of the sudden I had access to centuries of knowledge, and I was the gatekeeper. I know: your Nerd Alarm bells are ringing furiously. It even sounds curiously like the X-Files theme song…

The thing about Special Collections is that it is impressively impossible to become bored there. Going about my business I will stumble across a collection of Edgar Allen Poe’s poetry, which leads my to begin quietly whispering aloud Annabelle Lee, hoping no one will hear me. Or maybe I come across a decorated Book of Hours, jewel encrusted, hinges worn (no matter who you are, or your opinion on history, these are flipping cool). Nevertheless, it’s challenging. As a mere guardian of the vault (my preferred title if you see me around) I feel an undeniable duty to not let my little ones (all materials under my dominion) down. The sounds of tearing spines, ripping pages, and flaking covers haunts my dreams; many a night have I woken up screaming to images of breaking the famed clay tablet. Mind you, I have managed to avoid these egregious mishaps so far.

Mostly, gentle readers, its an environment highly conducive to imagination. There is an otherworldly feeling, in Special Collections. Not many have this access, and for that I am grateful. So let me take a moment insist you be our guest in Special Collections (see what I did there?).