Top of page

My Job at the Library: A Folklife Cataloger Reflects on Her Career

Share this post:

Maggie Kruesi. Photo by Shawn Miller.

Margaret “Maggie” Kruesi is the first and, so far, the only cataloger to work at the Library’s American Folklife Center (AFC). Before starting in 2004, she earned a Ph.D. in folklore from the University of Pennsylvania and acquired considerable experience cataloging and otherwise processing archival collections at Penn’s Van Pelt Library. She will retire from the Library this month, having created close to 3,000 collection-level catalog records for the AFC’s one-of-a-kind ethnographic collections, plus more than 12,000 integrated-library-system records for items and interviews. Here she reflects on her career and her contributions toward raising awareness of the AFC’s collections.

Where did you grow up, and what’s your educational background?
My father was a research scientist, a chemist and a metallurgist, and my family lived in different places. I was the eldest of five children. I was born in Boston, but my earliest memories are of 17-year locusts coming to the suburb of Chicago where we had moved. As well, I have strong childhood memories of exploring the woods of the Appalachian Mountains, near Chattanooga, where we also lived. Other early memories are about learning to sail on the Hudson River, north of New York City. When I was 16, my family moved to Colorado and, in due course, I attended Montana State University in Bozeman.

What came first — your interest in folklore or librarianship?
My interest in folklore. I loved music, especially singing, as a child. My mother had a book of ballads in her piano bench, and my father had a large collection of records of ballad singing. I first met a folklorist at a symposium in 1979, and I learned from her that one could study folklore in graduate school. I had earned a B.A. in English and was applying to graduate schools. But after becoming aware of the academic field of folklore, I decided to apply to the Department of Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania. I was accepted and subsequently studied with a number a prominent folklorists and anthropologists.

What led you to librarianship?
Necessity! I needed a job, and a friend told me about a $10-an-hour job in Penn’s library that involved unpacking and processing a manuscript collection. I immediately found out that I loved this kind of work, and one project led to another. I should note that I have librarians in my family. My mother received her library degree when I was in college, and my cousin worked at the National Library of Medicine for her whole career.

One of the first jobs I had was at the University of Pennsylvania’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library. I was hired through a grant to work on Marian Anderson’s papers. I processed the singer’s papers, wrote a finding aid and learned MARC cataloging. On another grant-funded project, I cataloged codex manuscripts from the late medieval, Renaissance and early modern periods.

What drew you to the Library?
The chance to work as a cataloger in the AFC was wonderful. After working as a librarian and manuscripts cataloger, it was also an opportunity to work as a folklorist again. I was aware of the AFC, including its important field-documentation projects and ethnographic collections, but I never dreamed I would be able to work here.

Tell us about some memorable projects or contributions.
Cataloging AFC’s wax-cylinder recordings, some of which date to 1890, stands out. They are the world’s earliest ethnographic audio recordings. A recent project, “Ancestral Voices,” is also memorable. It involves working with Maine’s Passamaquoddy tribe, whose ancestors’ stories and songs were recorded by the anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes. Also memorable is the AFC’s field school for cultural documentation, through which I’ve shared my knowledge of archival best-practice with budding folklorists and other young cultural specialists around the country.

What I’m most proud of is cataloging almost 90 percent of the AFC’s collections, working on the Civil Rights History Project and making our Native American collections accessible to communities of origin.

Tell us something about yourself most people don’t know.
My great-grandfather John Kruesi, an immigrant from Switzerland, was a member of Thomas Edison’s team at Menlo Park, and he built Edison’s first phonograph. The earliest ethnographic cylinder recordings were made with one of those machines, enabling Native people to maintain and revitalize their languages. My work at the Library has been all the more meaningful because of this personal connection. Another thing that most people don’t know about me is that, since 2002, I have been passionately devoted to wildlife conservation in Costa Rica, particularly the conservation of sea turtles. I have started an oral history project to interview sea-turtle biologists, many of whom are women who work in indigenous and local communities around the world to save the endangered species.

Comments (7)

  1. Wow.!amazing
    I am very impressed from library of congress and it is very helpfull dailly it sent me alots of helpfull things. I wish to see the library of congress. Love from pakistan
    (I am Student of University of peshawar) .

  2. Very interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  3. As a kid in the 1970’s, I loved reading the Foxfire series, and trying to use some of the skills. I’ll definitely be investigating the LOC collection – thanks for putting this in the spotlight, and thanks to Maggie for her stewardship!

  4. Congratulations Maggie! Your work really transformed AFC. Hope you will have a lot of fun in retirement.

  5. It’s a very interesting place to work!

  6. Very interesting to know and good place to work.

  7. Hi Maggie – Don’t know if you ever still check this page, but I enjoyed reading it. I’m grateful I got to work with you for a year at Penn! Best wishes, Leslie

Add a Comment

This blog is governed by the general rules of respectful civil discourse. You are fully responsible for everything that you post. The content of all comments is released into the public domain unless clearly stated otherwise. The Library of Congress does not control the content posted. Nevertheless, the Library of Congress may monitor any user-generated content as it chooses and reserves the right to remove content for any reason whatever, without consent. Gratuitous links to sites are viewed as spam and may result in removed comments. We further reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to remove a user's privilege to post content on the Library site. Read our Comment and Posting Policy.

Required fields are indicated with an * asterisk.