The Oberlin Stories Project

On passion

Anna Arays ’10

“I spent my junior year working in Special Collections: looking at rare books, taking them apart, putting them back together, petting, and loving them. The job was fantastic: this is what I’d always been looking for.”

Anna works on the cover of a book at a wood table

I chose Oberlin because I cared about so many things, but I couldn’t decide which I liked most of all. I wanted to juggle a bunch of things at once, and learn as much as I could about them.

At first, I wanted to be an animator — but after exploring the idea a bit, I discovered that I was more enthusiastic about experiencing the medium than I was about actually creating it. So I sent the Cartoon Library & Museum in Columbus an email asking if I could work with them the following January. They said yes.

For the whole month of January, I read comic books. There was no heat in the library (climate control is necessary to keep all the books in top condition). But despite the freezing conditions, I showed up each day, immersed myself in big sheets of the New York World from 1898, and recorded all the cartoons in the Sunday Section.

It was amazing — I got to see such crazy things! There were original runs of Hogan’s Alley, as well as terribly racist and misogynistic cartoons from the 19th century. One of my favorite memories of that Winter Term was sitting at reading table when the head librarian came running in with a stamp she’d found: a newspaper-printing block with a tiny cartoon of a dog. “I just found this! I didn’t even know we had this!”

That was really cool — I knew then that I too wanted to work in a place where I’d never know entirely what surrounded me, where I might discover something new every day. It sent off an explosion in my brain that went something like this: I love this! I love that! I love politics! I love art! I love writing! I love newspapers! I love all of this!

Upon reflection, I realized, simply, I love libraries.

I returned to Oberlin and approached Ed Vermue, who works in Special Collections in Mudd Library. “I like what you do,” I told him. “Can I work with you?”

And there it began. I spent my junior year working in Special Collections: looking at rare books, taking them apart, putting them back together, petting, and loving them. The job was fantastic - I realized that this was what I loved, this is what I’d always been looking for.

Next summer, I am hoping to return to the city of my birth: Riga, Latvia. My Russian professor recommended me for a grant from the Center for Russian, East European and Central Asian Studies (OCREECAS). They’ve never sent anyone to Riga before, or worked with libraries, so I’d be a first.

If accepted, I’ll be working at the Academic Library of Latvia with their Rare Books and Manuscripts department. Their collection contains letters written to the government by Martin Luther, documents signed by Napoleon, dozen of old maps of Latvia, and illuminated manuscripts from the 13th century. But I checked it out online - and the Rare Books area resembles a living room, or a doctor’s office. It contains only a few bookcases and some chairs, without climate control or vaults. I almost expect to hear someone say, “here, read this 16th century manuscript while you wait for your librarian to come in!”

After that, I plan to attend Library School. It makes sense: when you love libraries, you go to the school for learning about them. It’ll be like Hogwarts, but for librarians.

Oberlin was the perfect place to realize my calling. No one forced me to focus too early. I was allowed to explore through pictures, books, reading, and film - and discover on my own terms that I’m drawn primarily to the physicality of the form. Hopefully, I’ll be working with that for the rest of my life.