Awards & Scholarships

Bechtel Fellowship: Professional Experience of a Lifetime

The Bechtel Library
The Bechtel Library (image provided by Mary Gaither Marshall)

Little did I realize when arriving at the Gainesville Airport the evening of January 31, 2007, that the next month would be the highlight of my professional career. In 2005, as I was glancing through my most recent issue of Children and Libraries, I noticed Leslie Barban’s article, “Evolution of Children’s Literature Getting Sidetracked–Delightfully–at the Baldwin Library.” As I read the article, I thought, if only I could have that same experience. Before becoming a children’s librarian, I had worked for six years in rare book shops, so having the opportunity to research and read about children’s books would be a dream experience for me. In 2005, when both of my children were in college, I decided to apply for the 2006 Bechtel Fellowship. As part of the application, I needed to decide on a topic. The most difficult part of the process was determining which area of the collection to focus on. I decided to examine the papers of the founder of the collection, Ruth Baldwin. How did a librarian of modest means, form one of the greatest collection of children’s literature in the world? I sent my application in thinking that I would probably have to apply several times before I would receive the fellowship.

Mary Gaither Marshall in the Closed Stacks
Mary in the Closed Stacks (photo courtesy of Mary Gaither Marshall)

In January 2006, I received a phone call at work from the ALA office. My first thought was that they were calling about my membership. I was shocked when the caller congratulated me on receiving the 2006 Bechtel Fellowship. After the call, I was bursting with excitement and couldn’t wait to tell my staff and director, and really, anyone who walked in the library, that I was going to spend a month reading children’s books and examining Ruth Baldwin’s letters and diaries at the University of Florida. Yes, I’m definitely a rare book geek.

Fortunately, my director at the Addison Public Library (Illinois), Mary Medjo MeZengue, was very supportive of my taking a month off from my usual responsibilities, to complete my Fellowship. We had just begun a new building project, so we carefully planned the best time for me to go to the Baldwin Library. We decided February 2007 would be the time when I was least needed for decisions. So I made arrangements with Rita Smith, then curator of the Baldwin, to spend the month. She placed me in contact with past Bechtel Fellowship winners and helped me to make local arrangements. I spent the month in a delightful cottage at the Sweetwater Bed and Breakfast about two miles from the campus. Each morning I would walk to the library and spend the day immersed in books, letters, diaries, and other papers. On the first day, Rita gave me a tour of the library and a one time only view of the closed stacks. After that, I had to request each item which was then brought to me. I was also able to interview Rita and several other faculty members who had known Ruth Baldwin. I would work steadily until the library closed at six. During the evenings and weekends, I would review my research and make plans for what I wanted to review the next day. I also read and responded to my work email and did collection development. I was amazed at how much of my work I was able to complete without every day distractions.

Mary with the Egolf Display
Mary with the Egolf Display (photo courtesy of Mary Gaither Marshall)

During the last week of my fellowship in 2007, a new addition of 2,800 illustrated American children’s books, dating from 1807-2003, formed and donated by Dr. Robert L. Egolf, arrived at the Baldwin Library. Because of my experience working with rare books, Rita gave me the opportunity to explore the boxes of books. Those of us in the Baldwin Library the day Dr. Egolf’s collection arrived, surely felt the same excitement that the University of Florida’s Smather’s Library staff felt almost 30 years before when Ruth Baldwin brought her magnificent collection to the University of Florida. On my last day at the Baldwin Library, I assisted Rita Smith in creating a display for the reception honoring Dr. Egolf’s donation.

Perhaps in the future, I will have the opportunity to return to the Baldwin and research these new additions to the Baldwin Library.

I encourage all of you who have the opportunity, to apply for the Louise Seaman Bechtel Fellowship. You too can receive $4,000 to spend a month reading and researching children’s books. The deadline is Saturday, November 1, 2014. Apply today!

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Our guest blogger today is Mary Gaither Marshall. Mary is Assistant Director/Head of Children’s Services at the Addison Public Library.

Please note that as a guest post, the views expressed here do not represent the official position of ALA or ALSC.

If you’d like to write a guest post for the ALSC Blog, please contact Mary Voors, ALSC Blog manager, at alscblog@gmail.com.

 

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