Molly Weston ’10 explores civil rights and Swarthmore’s libraries

McCabe Library is an overwhelming place. Packed with books and computers on every floor, it is easy to get lost amongst the stacks. Molly Weston ’10, like so many other freshmen, came to Swarthmore without an understanding of what literary wealth McCabe, the Friends Historical Library, and the Swarthmore Peace Collection truly hold. However, unlike most students, Weston was given the opportunity to get to know the inner-workings of these three branches of Swarthmore’s library system.

In the beginning of the semester, Richard Valelly, Weston’s political science professor, asked her if she would be interested in working on a McCabe book display. She agreed. Working together with Professor Valelly, Erik Estep, the social sciences librarian, and various other staff members, Weston helped to put together the Voting Rights Act display, which opened on November 14.

“Librarians can be your very, very best friends,” said Weston as she reflected upon the experience. Coming into the project having done no previous work with the Voting Rights Act, Molly was thankful for the help she received from the wonderful librarians in McCabe and the Friends Historical Library. Weston remembered coming into the Peace Collection one day with absolutely no idea what she was looking for. With a little assistance, she managed to produce three full boxes of material to sort through.

All in the library are more than happy to help, “as long as you treat the artifacts with respect.” Weston acknowledged that it is so tempting for students, first-years especially, to just go and pick a book off the stacks without ever realizing that “there is so much to find that is not in the card catalogue.” It was clear from the spirited way in which she described her work on the display that Weston went beyond a superficial exploration, scrutinizing piles upon piles of books and original documents.

When asked about her favorite aspect of the display, Weston spoke at length on two particular pieces while also stressing that what is currently on display is only a third of all potential selections she found. The first is an original copy from 1855 of Frederick Douglass’ Equality of Man before the Law. Weston was stunned not only that she was able to hold an original copy of Douglass’ work, but also simply that Swarthmore possessed such an item.

Weston also highlighted the papers and correspondences of Robert Lenz, a Pennsylvania attorney and civil rights advocate. Lenz traveled to Mississippi in 1964 and was confronted with the brutality of the acts of violence committed against civil rights workers. Indeed, during his stay, Lenz was told to sleep in the back of the house as he would be safer there if the house were to be bombed. Weston was fascinated by a certain letter addressed to Lenz from the White House, which recognized on behalf of the United States government violent attacks on civil rights workers.

Weston’s work on the display proved to be entirely positive. While handling original copies of everything from Frederick Douglass to Harper’s Magazine, she was able to “actually do something meaningful for [Swarthmore] that will help out [her] fellow students.” Weston urged all students to get to know the extensive resources available in all of Swarthmore’s libraries. Furthermore, she stressed that all library staff members are “really excited for student involvement with displays” and would love to help those who wish to create a display of their own. All the resources are there, it is only a matter of finding them.

Everyone should check out Molly Weston’s hard work in the display cases of McCabe and should not hesitate to pose display idea of his/her own!

*Corrected all instances of [Robert] “Lawrence” to proper name of “Lenz” on 11/20/06.


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