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Five Questions: Nathan “Nate” Smith, Librarian

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What is your background?

I was born and raised in the Virginia Beach area.  I was accepted to Virginia Commonwealth University (Go Rams Go!) as pre-physical therapy and spent my first year heavily immersed in physical science courses.  However, there was a general requirement history class that fascinated me and completely changed the course of my education.  As a history major, I was an intern at the Wilton House Museum, and while filing papers and database entry were a daily part of my duties, I also worked with the conservator to preserve their collections.  It was this internship that sparked an interest in preservation that has lasted to this day, and I’m certain that experience got me my current position at the Library of Congress.

Why did you want to work at the Library of Congress?

I had always had an affinity for libraries.  As a kid, I volunteered at the local branch of our public library system, where I shelved books, checked items in and out for patrons, and helped with story time activities.  In college I spent a good portion of time studying and researching historical topics on the 4th floor of Cabell Library and still retain a fondness for the table at which I normally sat.  Applying for a job at a library seemed like a great idea, since I liked the atmosphere of libraries so much.  After I began working here, the next logical step was to obtain a library science degree, which I did from The Catholic University of America.

How would you describe your job at the Library of Congress?

I have worked as a technician in the Collections Conservation Section for nearly twelve years.  I typically describe myself as a “book doctor,” because the gist of my job is that I fix broken books.  A variety of items come through the lab which need anything from a new spine to an entirely new case.  For me, the work provides the perfect balance between art and the need for functionality.  Matching leather, book cloth, linen, and Japanese paper to be sympathetic to original items is truly one of the best parts of my job.

From January to early September, I was on part-time detail to the Business Reference Section of the Science, Technology & Business Division.  This detail gave me hands-on experience with drafting guides for the website, designing and creating reading room displays, and interacting with the public at the reference desk all while working with and getting to know some extremely cool people.

Do you have a favorite Library collection or program?

I do have a favorite collection.  A few years back I worked on a housing project for the Prints & Photographs Division.  A collection had been donated to the Library and my job was to create custom-fit enclosures using our automated box-making machine for each individual item.  The Liljenquist Family Collection of Civil War Photographs is absolutely beautiful.  As I measured each item I was able to take a few extra moments to really appreciate them as pieces of art; some even contained human hair!  I highly recommend whenever you can, to go sit in the P&P reading room, request a few items, and take a gander.

If you weren’t a librarian, what would you want to be? 

This is tough, because my interests are so varied that being a librarian is actually a best-fit situation for me.  If I had to choose, I would say neuroscientist.  The brain has always fascinated me, especially when you think how chemical signals travel from synapse to synapse and are translated into thought processes.  It is just incredible.

Comments (3)

  1. You are an interesting person and your job sounds wonderful. Are any of those artifacts ever put online so they can be shared with others? I am a retired teacher and school counselor. I live in Portland Oregon and have a few student whom I tutor after school. However, on Friday and Saturday nights I tutor a total of 8 students in China. I am always looking for things I can do with all my students online and through Skype.

  2. Nate–you are a man for all seasons and the jack of all trades. Thanks for your help on so many projects in science and business. Your vision and expertise made all our exhibits POP.

  3. You do fantastic work, Nate. From creating custom cases for baseballs, business cards, bookmarks and ‘It’s Your Business’ (a new series for Business)– it’s been a pure joy to work with you. You always help us see things differently and we are so grateful.

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