Interning at the Keller Library: GaYoung Kwon’s Experience

Intern GaYoung Kwon, CUNY Baruch College 2014
Intern GaYoung Kwon, CUNY Baruch College 2014

Our intern this semester was GaYoung Kwon, a senior from CUNY’s Baruch College. This was a bit of a change for us, because heretofore, we’ve always had library school students as interns, and what a great experience it was, both for her and for us! GaYoung wrote about her internship for one of her papers–these are excerpts that describe her time with us.

In the book of Romans 12:5, the Bible describes the Church as “one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” It is also stated in the book of 1 Corinthians 12:12, “just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” Unfortunately, though this is what is blatantly stated in the Word of God, I have always had a difficult time reconciling this with the reality of the Church that I was exposed to. This was definitely due to the way I was raised in the Church in my early childhood years.

I am a Korean-American woman who was born into a devout Presbyterian family in South Korea. I was then raised in the United Methodist denomination for fifteen years after immigrating to the United States at the age of six. Since last September, I began to serve in the Presbyterian denomination once again, as a director of the Sunday School program. Making these switches between denominations was probably one of the greatest reasons why I felt that the Church was truly not one body.

From my various experiences, I learned that each denomination has its own theology; for example, the Presbyterian Church rarely allows females to become preachers, especially the Korean Presbyterian Church. The United Methodist denomination, on the other hand, is full of bold female clergy. Each denomination also has its own rituals and administrative methodologies, such as differences in the titles of those who served the Church. It was thus very difficult to view the Church as one unified body; its many parts seemed too different to be summed up as one unified entity. I had to “find God” differently at each church that I attended.

In January, I began my internship at the Christoph Keller Jr. Library at the General Theological Seminary (hereinafter referred to as GTS) with the same mindset. Because GTS is a part of the Episcopal Church, I felt that it was yet another denomination that I had to learn about. This is not to say that I had no interest in learning more, as I am always interested in expanding my knowledge about the Church and the faith; however, I did not spiritually feel a personal connection to GTS. It was in short, just another internship, and certainly not related to my faith. In short, I saw it as learning about “another church” – and for credits towards graduation, of course. I had once again completely separated my “church life” from my “school life,” something that I found myself constantly doing over my various years in the Church. . .

In the beginning, the nature of my work at the library consisted mostly of archival processing. This involved taking archives of bishops’ papers from the 19th to 20th centuries, which included documents such as sermons and letters, and moving them to new acid-free filing folders for better preservation. It initially seemed tedious; it sounded as if all I was going to be doing was reordering and relabeling the archives.

18 st george
Icon of St. George from February 2014 Icons Exhibition held at the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library

However, these bishops’ papers consisted of various bits of the bishops’ personal and professional lives. There were letters, photographs, autographs, checks, and even sermons. I was able to gain a glimpse into how the Episcopal bishops corresponded with one another, in the name of the Lord. I began to gain an understanding of the Lord’s “other people” – those that I had foolishly blocked out as people who did not share in my beliefs. They did indeed believe in the same Lord that I served each Sunday at my own church: they wrote to each other in His name, and they spoke about His goodness at the pulpit. My eyes were opened, my prejudices were shattered, and my heart was filled with tremendous blessings – simply through reflection and exploration of the documents of the Episcopal Church.

Once I settled into such routine duties at the library, I was entrusted with more curatorial work. Ms. Mary Robison, the [reference] librarian at GTS, is [one of those] responsible for developing the many carefully crafted exhibitions that the library selects for its patrons every few months. The first of such exhibitions that I was able to partake in was called “Religious Iconography of the 19th and 20th Centuries.” Joanne Izzo, a current student at GTS, organized all the pieces in this exhibition. She worked carefully with the Reverend Canon Dr. J. Robert Wright; he was a professor at GTS who had been collecting these icons from all over the world throughout his entire life. Along with honoring His Beatitude Archbishop Nourhan Manougian at a festive Evensong in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, the Keller Library hosted a large opening reception in his honor. Mary explained to me that this was actually one of the biggest events that the library had hosted in a while.

I was able to see this as I worked closely with Joanne and Mary in arranging the pieces in the cases for display. They handled each with great care and precision. In fact, Joanne treated each icon as if it were her own, and knew everything there was to know about each piece. Each detail of the library was also adjusted specifically for the exhibit: the lighting, the arrangement of the furniture, the backdrops on the glass displays, etc. The more I worked on the exhibit with them, the more I was able to realize that it was a great honor and privilege for me to be able to even help out.

Thankfully, as we worked on the exhibit, Joanne and Mary also served as mentors. They taught me about icons and their purposes, since my denomination doesn’t employ icons in our prayers. They were both very knowledgeable and understanding of our differences as well. I was especially lucky because Mary had been an employee at the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in White Plains, the same conference that the church I grew up in was a part of. Because Mary knew about the beliefs and customs of the United Methodist Church in comparison to those of the Episcopalian Church, she knew exactly what type of questions I would have for her.

She also always helped me with any other questions that I had throughout the course of the internship, as did the other people who were at the library. Father Andrew Kadel, the Director of the Library and an experienced theological librarian, was always available to talk or to teach me about different things that were going on at the library. I was all the more grateful for their mentorship because my internship position at the library was typically reserved for graduate students who attended library school. Because of my lack of experience in the field, they had to teach and guide me a lot more than they usually had to with their previous interns – everything from filing by the Library of Congress’ standards to properly holding books while organizing them (always by the spine!). But through each process and learning opportunity, they showed me immeasurable kindness and patience. [A note from your reference librarian: GaYoung caught on very quickly–the learning curve was very small!]

I felt that this was not just a reflection of their personal character, but of Christ’s love. Through the time that I have spent at the Keller Library at GTS, I was able to come to the realization that the Church is truly one body of Christ. We do adapt different traditions and customs according to each of our denominations, but at the core of our beliefs are the truths of the gospel and the love of Christ. I don’t have to seek to find God differently at each church because God is omnipresent. He is present everywhere through His people and the love that they display. I have further solidified my identity as a Christian and I plan to share the love that I have received at GTS to other people that I will encounter as well.

The Keller Library’s internships offer students the opportunity to gain valuable library experience working with special collections and archival materials. While most of our internships have been held by library school students, we had a fantastic experience with Ms. Kwon! Please contact us if you have questions about interning at the Christoph Keller, Jr. Library.

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