Anne Peale ascends library stacks and intimidating heights

Some people judge a book by its cover; others judge by its contents. Special Collections Librarian Anne Peale judges it by uncovering the story behind it.

Of course, she also acknowledges the covers of books, like the one she showed me on my visit. When she presented an archaic book about the size of a small jewelry box, I commented on its cuteness. “Exactly!” she exclaimed, as she unclasped its metal locks. She opened the leather-bound treasure, revealing hundreds of passages neatly handwritten in Latin, alongside elaborate and colorful illustrations. Peale revealed that this was a prayer book, most likely written for a rich woman, which is why it was so ‘cute’ – and beautiful!

Peale wanted to be a special collections librarian before she even went to college. In high school, she visited Dartmouth and sat in on a class that was studying historic atlases. Peale was immediately charmed by the animated professor and enthusiastic students. At Dartmouth, she enrolled in a class about the history of books in the fall of her first year, which further kindled her captivation with historic books.

After getting her bachelor’s degree, Peale worked in Special Collections at Dartmouth. After a year, Peale sought more opportunities for discovery, and looked to the United Kingdom for its renowned book history programs. She studied at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, where she earned a Master of Science in Material Cultures and History of the Book, and eventually a Ph.D. in the Institute of Geography and Human Geography.

Peale loved Scotland, and even picked up some phrases that she still loves to use, such as to “faff,” which means to waste time before even starting an activity. She explained that, for instance, one who spends a lot of time getting ready to go out for a dinner is “faffing.” While in Scotland, Peale also joined the mountaineering club to meet new friends and see more of the country. The club travelled to exotic locations around Scotland to rock climb – including a deserted island! Peale still loves outdoor rock climbing, and even occasionally participates in rock climbing competitions. She is just as passionate about rock climbing as she is about her job as a special collections librarian, if not more so.

Peale loves her job as a special collections librarian for its variety, and enjoys deciding which historic books to buy, cataloging and being surrounded by ancient books in what seems like an enchanted library that can magically suck you into the past. But most of all, Peale loves supporting Williams students and faculty. Her absolute favorite part about being a special collections librarian is when she brings someone a book and it makes their day. Whether it was because the discovery of a treasure excited them, or simply because they could finally get that essay done, Peale is warmed by the knowledge that “what we do pays off for the student and faculty community.” She encourages all students to stop by special collections, conveniently located on the fourth floor of Sawyer Library, to ask about the books or simply look around. When I visited last Friday, the day before Homecoming, there was a table displaying posters, flyers and documents from past Homecomings at the College.

As many may know, each librarian at the College has their own trading card, complete with a superpower, source of power, sidekick and vulnerability. Peale’s super-librarian vulnerability is “wool socks.” When I asked her to elaborate, she explained that, as she is from California, her friends on the East Coast always gave her lots of wool socks as gifts because they assumed she didn’t have any.

Peale’s mantra is “don’t panic.” It is also her favorite quote, taken from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. When I asked her if there was any message she would like to relay to the students at the College, she said, “Don’t panic; ask a librarian.”