Rachel Makarowski joined the University Libraries in May as special collections librarian.
Where are you originally from? What's your educational background?
I am and always will be a Virginian. I grew up in Fredericksburg, Virginia and then did my undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia, majoring in Classics and Medieval Studies. I then went straight into my MLS at Indiana University with a specialization in rare books and manuscripts. I've also supplemented my education with a few classes at Rare Book School, on topics ranging from medieval manuscripts to the Book in China.
What's your title? How would you describe your position at the Miami Libraries?
I am the Special Collections Librarian in the department of Steward and Sustain, which is essentially the special collections and archives. I would describe myself as a "Jill of all trades" for special collections. I do a bit of everything, ranging from cataloging to reference to instruction, all of which help to make special collections more visible and accessible to everyone. I'll also be working with donors to help develop the collections and to promote the libraries.
What drew you to work in a library environment? Why did you choose the Miami Libraries?
I have wanted to work in libraries since I was a young girl, though I didn't decide that I was going to do so until I was an undergrad and was doing research with rare books. At that point I knew that I wanted to do something that would allow me to continue working with special collections because they're absolutely fantastic. Then someone close to me pointed out that if I became a rare book librarian, I could work with them every day, and it was a eureka moment. Libraries, especially in special collections, tend to foster this environment of continuous learning, which is the main draw for me. Miami University Libraries really exemplified this environment to me, and the people were so friendly that I knew I had to work here if given the chance.
What's the best part of working in a library?
The best part? Definitely the constant intellectual stimulation and the wealth of knowledge. There is always something new to learn each day, and with coworkers who are so incredibly knowledgeable, it's easy to continue learning. Even normal conversations at the water fountain can lead to a new, fascinating fact, a touching story, or exciting new discoveries.
What's one thing you wish college students knew about using a library?
I wish that students knew the extent to which they could use the library. A library can be used for more than just a place to study; it can be a place to create and innovate, and even, in the case of the special collections department, a bit of a time machine (though we sadly lack a TARDIS). And that might sound weird, or even a little crazy, but it's true. There are few places outside of a library where you can read the letters of Civil War soldiers, the diary of a girl describing her everyday life in the early 20th century, or see the marginal doodles in a manuscript from the Middle Ages, and do so from the actual object itself. They can pick it up, touch it, even smell it (unfortunately so, in some cases; some really smell awful). The collections in the library's special collections and archives can really help to transport you to another time and place.
What are you most excited about tackling in your new role?
I am so excited to teach classes! Ridiculously excited. I think that there is a great potential to expose people to special collections in ways that they never thought possible. Most students when they sign up to come to college don't think about the fact that they might get to touch something that is 500 years old, or that they can see the book that helped to save eighteen of Shakespeare's plays from being lost forever. I have the chance when teaching, though, to bring out these objects and to teach them different ways to interact with them and examine them, and if I can make even one student's day by allowing them this chance in class, then I'll have been successful.
What's your favorite book? What book character would you most like to be?
Like most librarians, I can't pick a single book. Some of my favorites include North and South, Pride and Prejudice, and Till We Have Faces. The most influential series for me when growing up though was Harry Potter and those books will always have a special place in my heart. As for who I would want to be, that's trickier. I think it's a tie between Margaret Hale of North and South, Lizzie Bennet of Pride and Prejudice, and Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. They're just such intelligent and spunky characters that I can't help but love them.
Reading (always, always, always), cooking/baking, and watching movies.
What's something people don't know about you that might surprise them?
I think a lot of people that I have met over the past four years would be surprised that I originally intended to major in physics and computer science when I entered college. Science has always been fascinating to me, and I loved math and science in high school, so I was pretty set on working fields related to those when I first went to college. That all changed when I fell in love with Latin/the Classics and then with medieval manuscripts. The background and love of science has been helpful though, since there are a lot of texts related to science in special collections libraries.