My time spent at Chawton House as a Library intern was so enjoyable. I came to the library fresh out of an MA in Museum Studies at Newcastle University and the internship provided me with the perfect opportunity to put in to practice the skills I had learnt.
When I arrived in the mornings I would open up the house. This included taking all the covers off the display cases, switching on lights, opening curtains and ensuring everything was in order and ready for visitors. Taking the the routine temperature and relative humidity checks was really interesting for me, giving me the chance to use my preventative conservation knowledge gained on the MA. After these two task were complete I would help Darren with various things such as proof reading cards for the new exhibition, re-shelving books, and putting together a few social media posts.
Often at lunch times I would take the opportunity to wander through the garden and woods, weather permitting! It was so lovely to watch as the seasons changed from Summer to Autumn, the apples reddening, the pumpkins growing and the leaves falling. Autumn is my favourite time of year, settling down after a warm and usually busy summer, preparing for the colder months and hibernation.
A few afternoons I spent time in the basement helping with book conservation. This was fantastic experience and something I thoroughly enjoyed. Leafing through the books to find holes or tares was curiously addictive and patching them up was incredibly satisfying.
Whatever the weather, Chawton House was always a joy to be in. When the skies were blue and the air clear, the views from the large windows were breath taking. On less sunny days, when the rain battered and the cloud did not break, the house, and for me in particular, the Lower Reading Room, was a safe and cosy haven. Many an hour was spent tucked away in there, talking to curious visitors about the books, occasionally showing them the secret drinks cupboard (always popular) and resisting the incredible urge to pluck an interesting looking book from the shelves. The reaction on people’s faces as they entered the room was always the same, a look of awe and wonder. Regularly they would breathe in deeply, sighing, ‘I love the smell of books’.
One of the great pleasures of spending time at Chawton House was talking with visitors, sharing stories of books read and those yet to be enjoyed, delving into the history of the house and simply hearing their enthusiasm for what Chawton House does. For me, one of the best things has been the opportunity to learn more about some of the great women writers whose work the Library houses. I was particularly drawn to Elizabeth Blackwell, whose A Curious Herbal was on display in the Lower Reading Room from late September.
Possibly my favourite part of the day was the end, when the last visitors left and the house was closed up for the night. Perhaps it is my love of Autumn, that sense of preparing for the stillness ahead, hunkering down for Winter and taking stock of the year. Closing down in the evenings was a chance to think back on the day and in a sense put the house to bed for the night, in preparation for the day to follow. In a way these past two months have given me the space and time to reflect back on my MA, on my previous experience and to think ahead to what might come next.
The internship has given me a fantastic opportunity to put into practice many of the skills I learnt as part of my MA as well as my previous experience of volunteering in museums. I had such a brilliant time, and was involved in such a variety of activities, from conservation based work and groups tours to selling tickets and helping with a wedding.
It was been an absolute privilege to spend time at Chawton House Library, to meet everybody, staff, volunteers and visitors alike, who have all been so lovely and encouraging. I would particularly like to thank Darren for being so supportive and giving me this fantastic opportunity. I very much forward to visiting soon!