“Earning While They’re Learning” is an occasional series of stories celebrating our library student workers. The Duke University Libraries employ more than 250 undergraduates and graduate students every year, making us one of the largest student employers on campus.
An undeclared sophomore with an interest in English and Classical Studies, student worker Gretchen Wright has found a whole new outlet for her passion for research and the humanities through the Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Two hours a day, five days a week, this is where you’ll find Gretchen hard at work among the books she loves—shelving, sorting, and checking out the centuries-old manuscripts that have transformed her journey through Duke over the past two years.
“There are always things that are interesting to me,” Gretchen gushed when asked about her experience in the Rubenstein. “I like books, I like libraries, I like organizing things… I love it. It’s a great place to work!”
With an obvious excitement for history and literature, Gretchen never seems at a loss to find something to marvel at when she gets started talking about her work. Small wonder, too—Gretchen has interacted with some of the rarest, most engaging works in the world in her time at the Rubenstein. First edition Walt Whitman poems, complete with handwritten notes and edits; 16th-century prints of the Malleus Maleficarum, the first-ever witch-hunting manual; written exchanges between Alexander Hamilton and any number of people mentioned in the modern showstopper musical—Gretchen is working with documents that have changed the course of history, and her work at the Rubenstein remains a major source of inspiration for the research her classes often require of her.
“Duke has such a great collection of libraries, and the resources available are incredible,” Gretchen said. “Even though I work at the Rubenstein, we’re constantly interacting and touching and feeling books that I didn’t even know we had.”
Knowing about the documents available to her through the Rubenstein had a major influence on Gretchen. In her poetry class’s final project last fall, for instance, she incorporated a collection of late 19th-century photographs of Durham into a piece on the parallels between history and poetry. The semester after that, she enrolled in a course on the history of the book—held in the Rubenstein itself!
And although she’s not entirely certain where she wants to go in the future, Gretchen’s work in the Libraries has had a clear impact on the path she sees herself pursuing.
“I’ve definitely thought about going into library sciences as a career,” she said. “That’s definitely a possibility I could see myself going into.”
Overall, Gretchen seemed amazed at how much her perspective on research has changed since she began work in the Rubenstein. Before coming here, she had no idea how real and how powerful research in the humanities could be. Her work in the Libraries continues to thrill, challenge, and intrigue her, and the lessons she has learned here have changed her perspective on research forever.
“There’s so much, so many different directions you can take research of any particular topic,” Gretchen said. “Even if you spend hours and hours every day in the library, there will always be something else that you can look at—and I think that’s really great.”
About this Series: Students are an indispensable part of our library workforce. Their employment provides Duke students with valuable financial aid to support their education, and they learn useful skills that enhance their academic studies and careers after college. This year, to encourage senior giving to the Libraries, George Grody (Associate Professor of Markets and Management Studies) has set up the Grody Senior Challenge. Every gift made by the Class of 2018 to the Libraries Annual Fund will be matched by Professor Grody. All funds will directly support library student workers who provide research and instructional help.