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Interview with the Library’s Russian Reference Specialist

Below is an interview with Matt Young, the reference librarian most recently hired in the European Division. Matt talks about how he came to work at the Library and what it is that he does.

Question:  How did you become a reference librarian in the European Division? 

Matt:  I was hired as the Reference Librarian for Russia about a year and a half ago in May 2019. Russian has been a part of my life since I was 18 when I enrolled in Russian 101 in college. I was always fascinated by the language and culture, especially the classic film “Doctor Zhivago.” After my first year of college, I lived for two years in Siberia as a missionary and I haven’t been able to quit the language! I majored in Russian and then entered a Ph.D. program studying Russian literature. Along the way I also earned a library science degree. This led me to the amazing opportunity of being a Junior Fellow in the European Division cataloging Russian materials. Not long after that, I was able to compete successfully for a position in the Division as a reference librarian; I was over the moon. To embrace the cliché, it truly was my dream job.

Examples of the local architecture in Perm, Russia, a city located near the Ural Mountains. Headquarters of the Ural Railway Administration, 1910. 

The Gribushin Mansion, built around 1900.                      In 1916, Boris Pasternak spent some time in Perm. This location later served as the inspiration for “Yuriatin,” the fictional city in his masterpiece, “Doctor Zhivago.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question:  Your title is “reference librarian” but a description of your position starts with acquisitions what do you do to build the Library’s collections?

Matt:  This is one of my favorite parts of the job. In my position I have the opportunity to recommend – to choose – Russian-language materials that will be added to the Library’s collections. This mainly includes print materials such as books, newspapers and journals, but I can also collaborate with other divisions to recommend films, posters, maps, and other special collection items. Earlier this year I recommended a 17th-century Bible printed in Moscow and I recently recommended a rare “Star Wars movie poster made in the last year of the USSR in the early 1990s. This really shows the gamut of materials with which I can work!

Matt sorting Russian newspapers and periodicals in the division conference room during the pandemic.

Question:  Tell me about the different reference work you do and how it has been different from usual during the pandemic.

The European Reading Room is located in the Jefferson Building’s Southeast Pavilion, or the “Pavilion of the Elements.”

Matt:  Before the pandemic I would work with patrons in the European Reading Room. I mainly helped people find relevant resources in the Library that were useful for their research projects. Since the pandemic I am exclusively responding to reference requests either by email or phone. I did this before the pandemic as well, but it has now become my main source of reference work. Most of the reference requests are asking for help finding a specific journal article, or book, or inquiring what resources the Library has about a particular topic. It is fascinating to find out what people are researching. I once worked with a patron who was interested in Soviet aluminum toys and I discovered a whole branch of research that I had no idea existed! I am also pleased that I frequently have the opportunity to use my language skills while doing reference work as it is not uncommon for me to receive requests in Russian.

Question: What other work do you do?

Matt:  Two other major responsibilities which I have are to interpret and publicize the collections. This can be in the form of Facebook posts, blog posts, research guides, conference presentations, and articles. When I first started working at the Library, I got really interested in the Library’s growing collection of Russian-language comic books and I collaborated with a colleague in our acquisitions service unit to write a blogpost about them. I really enjoyed researching the history of not just comic books, but also the visual arts in Russia, and I thought the post was a wonderful way to show off a collection many people most likely don’t realize the Library has. I am currently working on a research guide about the Library’s astounding collection of 18th-century Russian periodicals, many of which are rare. The Library is brimming with unique resources that researchers can use, but might not know are available. It is part of my job to help let the secrets out!

Question:  And now for something completely different. What are you currently reading?

Matt:  Since I read a lot of content related to Russia for my job (which I love, of course!), I like to branch out and read something a little removed from that topic when I am at home. Right now I am trying to catch up with classic works of literature that I have somehow neglected to read up to this point and at the moment that is “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens. I am really enjoying it so far and the book is actually quite funny once you get used to its style.

Earth,” one of four mural lunettes by William De Leftwich Dodge. Jefferson Building’s Southeast Pavilion, or the “Pavilion of the Elements.” This is what Matt sees sitting at the reference desk. If he turns around, he’ll also see “Water,” “Fire,” and “Air.”

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One Comment

  1. EHS
    January 14, 2021 at 9:38 am

    What a great explanation of the varied and fascinating responsibilities librarians have at the LC!

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