Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Interning at the Scottish Poetry Library

Photograph of Jaclyn
Photograph of Jaclyn

A Scottish summer means wool jumpers, endless cups of tea, and constant rain... our intern Jaclyn reflects on her time with us.

I have spent the past six weeks learning that working at a library is never dull.  Kay would often tell me that there’s a surprise each day, and this idea has defined my experience here. 

One morning, my work was interrupted by a secret opera—Love in a Library.  On another, I came into the Library, wet and cold from a long walk, and found a film crew interviewing Ian Rankin.  He had brought his anonymous paper sculpture, which featured the most delicate paper bones, forming two chatting skeletons.  It was truly breath-taking.   A week ago, I ran up the Close to view the whole royal family drive slowly by, and, later that day, a parade consisting of 400 pipers resounded through the library. 

Sometimes the surprises were a bit quieter.   They would arise in the form of talking with someone searching for a poem, being introduced to a Scottish snack, or coming across a new favourite poet.  Each day I came into the library knowing there would be an exchange of ideas, and left each evening with a list of things to research (though, I must admit, they were not all poetry related).  Today, the surprise was a rather aggressive seagull which, in protecting its child, terrified several people wandering innocently down the Close. 

Between all that, I’ve been busy trying to understand how this amazing library works (with much thanks to funding from my home University, Smith College).  My internship has focused on three strands: working with the Education Officer, Lorna; helping Sarah, the Programme Director of The Written World; and staffing reception when Kay steps away.  For Lorna, I searched for poems that tie to major themes within the Curriculum of Excellence for primary-school students.  This meant spending a lot of time wading through children’s poetry books, now and then finding the perfect poem to supplement a lesson on subjects ranging from ecology to spelling.  These poems will be a resource for teachers, who, we hope, will use them to introduce the idea that poetry can extend far beyond an English lesson. 

For The Written World, I’ve tried to provide help wherever it was needed.  I proofread the poems, corresponded with the BBC, and tried, with limited success, to find appropriate poems from countries such as Panama, Sierra Leone, and Montenegro.  These searches widened my perception of where poetry resides, introducing me to countless poets I wouldn’t have otherwise encountered. 

Working at reception, then, brought all these ideas to a practical level.  There, I learned the day-to-day tasks that make the library function.  I can now claim expertise at stamping the due-date in a book, so that the date is both upright and in the correct spot—something which is slightly more difficult than it may seem (and I apologise to anyone who checked-out a book when I was still in the phase of trial and error).   Talking with people at reception, showing new visitors the collection, and pointing people in the direction of whatever book  they were looking for, constantly reminded me of the purpose of this work, of how, here, poetry and people meet.

One of the major lessons I learned is that a Scottish summer means wool jumpers, endless cups of tea, and constant rain, but it was certainly worth the weather to glimpse into the wonderful workings of the Library.  I know I will hold tightly onto this experience, and would like to thank everyone at the Library who, because of their kindness, filled these weeks with so many meaningful surprises.

Jaclyn Majewski came to us from New York, by way of Smith College, after spending her past semester studying at the University of Edinburgh.