An atmosphere of quiet reverence perfuses the Rare Books room in Coates Library. The carpeted floor and weathered furniture lend a close, cozy ambiance, and each of the hundreds of books lining the walls almost breathes with character, history and knowledge.
It is this knowledge that students seek when they come to the Special Collections section of the library, a valuable resource for many research topics. However, students might easily be overwhelmed by such a vast array of materials without any guidance. That’s where the Special Collections staff come in.
According to Colleen Hoelscher, a Special Collections librarian, her job is all about helping patrons. From the time she gets to work at 8:30 a.m. to when she leaves at 5 p.m., Hoelscher answers phone and email queries about research, teaches classes or gives tours of the special collections area, processes digitized material and, of course, spends her afternoons — when the Rare Books room is open — available to people who come into Special Collections seeking help.
“A lot of the time that I spend is working with students or faculty members on their research,” Hoelscher said.
For example, two classes that she’s working with right now are researching Trinity sports history and the civil rights movement in San Antonio. Hoelscher explained that she is learning more about each topic through the process of assisting students — a side effect she appreciates.
“Every day I’m helping someone with different kinds of research, so I learn about all different things,” Hoelscher said.
For example, one of her favorite pieces from the collection is a picture of Trinity’s 1912 basketball team. Why does she like it so much? Is it for the historical aspect? The school pride? Nope.
“They are ridiculously good looking. I swear one of the guys looks like Zac Efron, like they are so, so handsome,” Hoelscher said.
Meredith Elsik, senior reference assistant, is tempted to agree with Hoelscher about her favorite item.
“They are handsome, but there are also other photographs that are really fun to see,” Elsik said.
She especially enjoys looking at old photos that depict what life was like at Trinity decades and even centuries ago.
“There are photos of other sports teams as well as of students on campus that give more of an idea of what life on the campus was like back in Waxahachie or during early years on this campus,” Elsik wrote in an email interview.
Elsik works at the circulation desk when she gets to the library at 8 a.m., and then goes downstairs to Special Collections once it opens at 1:15 p.m. She sits behind the desk in the Rare Books room, ready to help answer any questions students may have, whether about Special Collections research or the library in general.
“My favorite aspect [of the job] is having the opportunity to work with students and help students,” Elsik said.
Elsik also enjoys learning random tidbits of information that she wouldn’t find otherwise.
For example, she once worked on an exhibit for special collections that was focused on Trinity’s commencement. In doing research for the exhibit, she found out that in 1946, commencement was cancelled due to a polio outbreak in San Antonio. The city had advised the university not to have the ceremony because it was trying to discourage large gatherings of people. The students had to get their diplomas by mail that year.
“It’s amazing the different things you find out — these little facts that nobody knows,” Elsik said.
Elsik and Hoelscher aren’t the only ones down in Special Collections, though. They have a student worker, sophomore Jamiless Lopez, who has been working there for two years.
Lopez usually only works four days a week for about two hours a day, and she doesn’t help students with research. Instead, she usually scans documents for preservation and organization purposes.
Right now, Lopez is working on scanning old books that are related to San Antonio for the city’s upcoming Tricentennial in May. Special Collections anticipates a rise in popular interest about local history, so they’re preparing by making the books available online since they’re too fragile to check out.
“I enjoy looking through the books and seeing that information we can look up on Google today was only available through books in the early 1900s,” Lopez said in an email interview.
Lopez has also worked on other projects relating to anniversaries, such as scanning a set of postcards from World War I for an exhibit of Trinity artifacts commemorating the 100 year anniversary of the U.S. entering the war. Lopez also had to write metadata, which is the information that’s next to the picture of the postcard when it’s put online.
To do that accurately, she had to decipher the writing on the postcards, which was challenging.
“It’s not always very fun, but it’s interesting to see how writing has changed,” Lopez said.
Lopez enjoys her job, though; it has even had an impact on her future career. When she first came to Trinity, she was a bio major, and taking pre-physician’s assistant classes.
Now she’s a history major, and she attributes at least part of that change to her work in the library.
“I think it exposed me to different careers that humanities majors can have,” Lopez said.
Lopez also speaks highly of the work environment. She wouldn’t have stayed after her first year if it weren’t for the strong relationships she enjoys with Holscher and Elsik.
“They’re very easygoing people; we talk about books a lot, which is expected,” Lopez said. “We bond over books, we kind of have similar personalities, we gather around and have very good conversations, and then just kind of go off and work, so it’s a very relaxed environment.”
Special Collections and the Rare Books room are on the second floor of Coates Library, and are open from 1:15 p.m. to 5 p.m. every weekday.