Bon soir, Desksetters!
My name is Caitlin McGurk, I’m a comicbook and zine librarian, and this (first post) is my story.
In 2004, I finished my undergraduate degree from CW Post’s LIU with a BFA in English, with a focus on creative writing. Like many-an English major, I found my degree to be somewhat useless professionally for much more than defeating pompous halfwits in literary bar-side battles. Stumbling home through the streets of NYC at night, neck bent heavenward, I prayed: “there must be something more than this!”
…Meanwhile, largely as the inspired-response to an English course taken with comics scholar, creator, and professor Isaac Cates, I was feverishly creating my own minicomics and zines. My reading habits were changing over, too- new favorites like Chester Brown, Chris Ware, John Porcellino, etc. took precedence over my old literary loves. It was around this time that I started working for a pop-culture nostalgia auction house, Just Kids, where we were in the midst of a massive underground comix sale. Fluttering around a camera, scanner, and Photoshop program, I began archiving things like rare original Robert Crumb art, lots of first-pressings of some of the most outrageous and grotesque comics I’d ever seen (but couldn’t get enough of!), and more, for the store’s eBay account. I dreamt then, as I know now, whether or not there was a way to make a career of working with and studying this staggering stuff.
I chose Library Science for my graduate studies. For me, one of the greatest benefits of becoming a librarian is that–if you play your cards right–you can become both an aficionado and a teacher of any topic that you are most passionate about. For me, it was comics and zines, and so I had a goal from the start of my MLIS studies. Become a zine or comics librarian, or incorporate their bounty into any collection or institution I was employed by to the best of my ability.
It all started during my first semester at LIU’s Palmer School, on the Bobst NYU campus. Jenna Freedman, zinester and zine librarian-goddess of Barnard University came to speak to my Introduction to Library Science class about the Barnard Zine Collection she had established and currently curates. Taken by her blue hair and vigor, I approached her to ask if she needed any volunteer help with the collection. She had already taken an intern for the semester, but pointed me directly to Karen Green, the Graphic Novels Librarian of Columbia University. Networking and friend-making, any new MLIS student reading this will learn, is one thing all good librarians are always willing and anxious to do. Jenna’s suggestion set me on a straight path to where I am today, as I spent that following summer voluntarily cataloging the Bulliet Comics Collection in Columbia’s Butler Rare Book Library, under the supervision of Karen Green and Jane Siegel. This was a large donation of both indie and superhero comics from the 80s-90s, generously donated by a Columbia alum. Featuring some very early stapled-and-photocopied minicomics from some now well-established graphic novelists, the collection was very unique for a rare book library, and a helluva lot of fun to process and archive.
During my next semester at Palmer, I scored at internship with Marvel Comics under their former Archivist and Information Architect, Jen Cwiok. At Marvel, I was assigned to the publishing floor’s inventory room, which was slowly being transformed into a lending library for editorial research. Throughout my time there, Jen, another intern, and I tweaked and cultivated a Sharepoint database to hold the entire contents of Marvel’s material throughout their history, including original pressings of all that ol’ Golden Age stuff.
This led me to an internship that following summer, at a magical, Neverland-esque (the Peter Pan kind) place called The Center for Cartoon Studies, in White River Junction Vermont. Home of The Schulz Library, named for the late Charles Schulz (of Peanuts fame) whose wife Jeannie generously donated the finances that founded the collection. CCS is a small graduate art school for the study of Sequential Art. They grant both certificates as well as masters degrees in cartooning, and are currently in their 5th year of existence, consistently growing all the time. The school had never had a librarian before, so I stepped in for the summer to offer some advice in the library, as well as to help out with their summer workshops. We’ll revisit this beaute later, as they are now miraculously my current employer.
Back in NYC that fall, I finished my MLIS over the next year. During that time I did yet another internship for The Zabar Art Library at CUNY’s Hunter College, where I learned much more about the realm of fine art, and how to handle and convert slides in an archive. This internship also proved to be extremely beneficial for my current position, as I was taught all of the ins and outs of image digitization while working with files gathered from ARTstor as well as in-house materials.
Finally (bear with me, we’re almost done), in my last semester I landed a job as the first librarian of The Elizabeth Seton Pediatric Center. Now, this was very much out of my vein of experience as they are a hospice for developmentally disabled children, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. At the center, my main focus was to build a library for the staff and the children’s families on diagnoses materials, as well as to lead the Family Resource Center. Incorporating my love for crafts and zines, I initiated a book-making therapy program for the siblings of ill children, as well as for the patients themselves. It was a both a difficult and priceless experience, and really helped me to expand both my library skills and my perspective on the impact of zine making.
Whew! So, flash-forward to September of 2010. After my work-filled summer as a fresh masters-degree holding graduate, I found myself still extremely determined to do even more with comics in my work, as well as a bit of a desire to get out of New York City for a while. Having contacted many of my previous employers to let them know I had graduated, Michelle Ollie, the president of The Center for Cartoon Studies, phoned me and offered a fulltime position as the school’s first official degreed librarian.
and THAT, ladies and gents, is how I got where I am today. I’m hoping that there are a lot of library students who read this magnificent blog, and if so you’ve probably noticed a few recurrent themes in my post: networking (name dropping, cough), internships/volunteering, and determination. Although it can be extremely exhausting (and believe me I know, I was working a totally unrelated full time job during all of those years!), it is absolutely imperative that you put yourself out there, meet as many people as possible, and work for free as if you were gettin’ paid for it (hyuck, hyuck!). It certainly worked to get me where I am today, and although it’s a real blessing to be able to embrace the non-corporate world by being a librarian, networking runs through every vein of professional life. And believe me, you’ll want to know as many of fellow librarians as possible, they’re some of the greatest people I’ve ever met.
Thanks for reading, folks! I promise my next couple of posts wont be as long.
Upcoming: Librarianship at The Center for Cartoon Studies, Cataloging Comics, The Existential Loneliness of the Newly-Graduated Librarian, and more!