Staff ID - Meet Barbara Blumenthal

Learn more about the rare book specialist, practicing bookbinder, and musician

Barbara Blumenthal in her book binding studio.

Barbara Blumenthal describes her job duties as numerous and varied, and indeed, she wears many hats as a Rare Book Specialist at the Mortimer Rare Book Room, administrative assistant to the Book Studies Concentration, exhibition preparer, cataloger, and student staff supervisor. Her goal is to make the rare book room a welcoming place where patrons can learn how to use primary sources. She wants the college community to know that the rare book room is not a museum; all of the rare and unusual items, some 45,000 books and manuscripts, can be used for research there.

A native of Baltimore, MD, Barbara is a Smith graduate, class of 1975, and began working in the Rare Book Room a year after she graduated, following a stint at the Williston School library. In addition to her work at Smith, Barbara is a practicing bookbinder, letterpress printer, and graphic designer, with a studio in her Northampton home. Her considerable experience in the book arts, and her 30 plus years of work in the Rare Book Room, make Barbara an incredibly knowledgeable resource there. She can provide help with nearly every type of book or manuscript.

We asked Barbara to tell us a little more about herself.

Barbara Blumenthal in the Rare Book RoomWhat is the best part of your job?

The collection; I have access to all of our materials, and I'm always discovering items that are new to me. And, of course, sharing our collections with students, staff, and outside researchers. I want people to be as excited as I am about our books and manuscripts.

What are you reading now and what’s good about it?

I just finished Thrones, Dominations by Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh. I read mysteries of all sorts, but Dorothy Sayers is one of the best, combining a comedy of manners with a whodunit.

Barbara Blumenthal in the Mortimer Rare Book Room

What is your favorite book from childhood and why?

Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel. I was a fan of his family narrative and overwritten prose, although my tastes have changed. In May 2013, I made a Wolfe pilgrimage to Asheville, NC, where he lived.

What inspired you to work in a library?

I always liked reading and books. When I came to Smith, I discovered the rare book room during my first week here. Even though the curator was much more protective of the books then, she showed me just about anything I wanted to see. My work-study job was in the art library. I also studied typography, calligraphy, and bookbinding as an undergraduate. A year after I graduated, I was offered a job in the Rare Book Room, and I've been here ever since (except for the 1980s).

What do you think libraries of the future will look like?

Even as more and more books and other resources are available digitally, I don't think printed books will disappear. Special Collections are even more important in this digital age, since "rare" books can be seen and used as artifacts of the archaeology of the book. When you see an 18th-century book online, you're not looking at a book, you're seeing a picture of a book, just one copy of that text. So, it's important, and interesting, to see and handle the real thing.

What is your favorite getaway, near or far?

Lake Norwich, Huntington, MA, and Venice, Italy. I spend a lot of time in the summer at the former place, but have only been to Venice once.

What do you like to do the most when you are not at work?

I like to cook, tend my vegetable and flower gardens, and play mandolin and Bulgarian tambura (like a guitar). And read.

What is currently in your Netflix Queue?

I'm watching some nostalgic TV shows from my youth, but also keeping up with some current ones (I don't have cable TV, so I have to watch on Netflix). Shows such as Mad Men and Doc Martin.

Learn more about Barbara Blumenthal here.

Stop by the Mortimer Rare Book Room and say "hi" to Barbara!