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Finding My Place in the World’s Largest Library

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The following is a guest post by Katie Stueckle, who just completed a month-long internship at the Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center over the Hollins University January Term.

Katie Stueckle in the Poetry Room.

I started off the way most Library of Congress interns probably do, with a love for reading and literature from a young age. I was raised on stories and devoured them desperately, always searching for new tales. I think my parents realized what they were in for when I read J.R.R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series in under a week at the age of seven. As I grew older, I found joy in poetry and theater as well as literature. William Shakespeare? John Keats? Gertrude Stein? Mary Oliver? They’re like old friends.

I’ve never considered myself much of a poet, actually. I’m a researcher at heart. I do a lot of work in theater as a dramaturg—it’s a hard job to pin down, but essentially a dramaturg’s goal is to help all the elements of a show work together to tell the same story. Sometimes I might provide outside research and resources for the actors to better understand the historical context of their performance; sometimes I might give a playwright notes on a new script. The work I do depends on what the show needs, but there are always common threads of careful analysis and a critical eye.

When I saw this internship offered through the Hollins University Career Center, my heart did a couple somersaults. Doing research in the Poetry and Literature Center? What could possibly be a better fit for me?

My expectations were exceeded, to say the least. When I arrived, I came prepared to explore the inner workings of the Library and familiarize myself with as many writers as possible. I hadn’t had a traditional internship before my time at the Poetry and Literature Center, so I was expecting to learn the basics of a desk job more than anything else. I thought I’d be out of my depth, surrounded by poetry and drowning in professionalism, but everyone has been so welcoming to me and I’ve broadened my literary horizons.

On my first day, when I walked into the office and was told that I would be working in the Poetry Room—the Catbird Seat itself—I knew my experience would go far deeper than I previously expected. With the history of that beautiful space and the Poetry and Literature Center itself behind me (not to mention the beautiful view), I felt like I tapped in to something larger than my month-long internship. The first few times I got lost in the underground tunnels, I felt like I may have gotten in over my head, but all’s well that ends well, right?

My main projects this month were creating writer biographies for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature and reviewing audio files for the archive to make sure they’re ready to be posted for streaming in the future. I love the research behind the biographies. Learning about these writers who worked with the Library long before my time was eye-opening. The diversity of their writing and life experiences was fascinating, and I became emotionally invested with each writer I studied. While reviewing audio files, I was hit with the realization that the voices I was listening to were real people who had lives and senses of humor, not just recordings. Specifically, I was listening to a recording of William Packard reading his poetry, and one of his poems hit me so hard that I had to go back later and transcribe it for myself. It was like his work from more than fifty years ago was waiting for the perfect moment to catch me right in the heart.

Working in the Poetry and Literature Center has made me aware of my small role in a huge picture, but also let me take pride in my piece of the Library puzzle. I had no idea the amount of work that went into preserving history and art, even on a small scale, but now I truly appreciate the passion and dedication that it takes. My archive tasks are part of a much larger project, but I’m able to contribute in a meaningful way. During my short time here I’ve been able to connect with my brilliant coworkers in the Poetry and Literature Center, figures from the Library’s past that appeared during my research, the other centers in the Library of Congress who let me wander through their lovely reading rooms, and even the academic and artistic communities at large.

I like to think that I left my mark on this place in some small way. If I feel so connected to the larger community, maybe the community reciprocates? Maybe, in the years to come, the only memory of me that the Library will retain is the content I produced for the website. I wouldn’t mind that—I’m proud of my work. However, I know that my time here will influence the rest of my life. The Poetry and Literature Center made space for me to learn and thrive, even if it was only for one short month.

I still don’t know what I want to do with myself, but the Poetry and Literature Center has given me valuable experience that I can use for nearly any career field. Work ethic, time management, and steady focus are valuable anywhere. If I decide to go into the publishing industry, I’ve become familiar with team projects and the importance of frequent and efficient communication. If I end up as a research consultant for film or theater, I’ve gotten practice finding credible sources, synthesizing information, and making knowledge accessible. Who knows—I might wind up working here again someday.

For now, I’m headed back to classes at Hollins, full of newfound information and a rekindled love of poetry and literature.


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