Alena McNamara on Working as a Special Collections Student Assistant

April 17, 2013

By Mohini Ufeli

Alena McNamara ’13 got a head start on her job search as a first year. A week before arriving for her first year, she applied for the position of Special Collections Student Assistant through JobX. Now in her senior year, McNamara’s job has expanded, much like she herself has grown.

McNamara was homeschooled as a child. Her parents would drop her and her sister off at the library, where they both grew to love books. “We just read constantly, anything we could get our hands on,” she says. This passion has continued in her position as a Special Collections Student Assistant with Mount Holyoke’s Archives and Special Collections, where, each workday, she inhabits a world full of nothing but books.

McNamara takes great pleasure in her work, and is often delighted at the treasures she unearths. In the Archives, she has the opportunity to put up displays based on her own ideas. More recently, she developed an exhibit of movable and interactive books currently on display in LITS. Her other duties involve shelving and assessing books to determine whether they belong in the library or the Archives; this sharpens her decision-making skills. Additionally, McNamara plays a role in assisting the researchers who visit the Archives. Based on her familiarity with the materials housed in Archives, she frequently suggests other useful materials for them to investigate.

For McNamara, her job is a major confidence booster. She has spent her entire college career in this position, and her time has provided her with plenty of knowledge—and confidence. “If something comes up that’s new, I know how to deal with it,” she says. Additionally, her work assisting with research has, in turn, strengthened her own academic efforts.

Beyond Mount Holyoke, McNamara would like to be a Special Collections Librarian, a position similar to her current position, but one that involves greater interaction with the public. Prior to that, she hopes to attend graduate school for a Masters in History of Science and another Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS).

If McNamara were to leave some words of advice to students, she would tell them that, “It is possible to have a fulfilling work-study job.” As a Special Collections Student Assistant, she is permitted immense independence and responsibility, the chance to work on her own projects, and to manage her time as she sees fit. Additionally, she has gained a lot of knowledge in this position, including information relevant to her future career. Ultimately, McNamara’s experience proves that there are jobs at Mount Holyoke that can be stepping stones to lifelong endeavors—students have only to search for them.