St. Olaf College | News

Internship in Ireland gives student access to rare book collection

Johnna Purchase ’14 stands amid a collection of early printed books at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland.

As she was digging through a box of materials at Ireland’s oldest university last month, Johnna Purchase ’14 suddenly found herself holding a priceless object: a book with a handwritten inscription and the signature of World War I poet Siegfried Sassoon.

For Purchase, moments like this were all in a day’s work during her internship at the Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland. The St. Olaf College senior designed an internship to study early printed books at the library, which houses the Book of Kells and other ancient manuscripts.

Purchase spent a month working with five different collections at the library. Much of her work focused on cataloguing rare book dealer Julia Rosenthal’s Oscar Wilde collection, which includes Victorian-era publications, German translations of Wilde’s works, and contemporary scholarship on the famed playwright and poet.

“As an English major focused on the modernist period, Oscar Wilde is a hard figure to ignore,” says Purchase.

The other collections she worked with included the library of a Carmelite Order in Dublin, with materials dating as early as the 1500s and in six different languages, and an Irish Nationalist collection that related to an independent research paper she completed at St. Olaf this fall on the role of sound in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

“Working in early printed books ties in with my career goals of becoming a rare book librarian, where I will hopefully curate special collections like the one I was working on,” she says.

Purchase, who had studied at Trinity College in the fall of 2012, was inspired to return after working for the Library of Congress last summer. While at the Library of Congress, she spoke with her supervisor, St. Olaf alumnus Mark Dimunation ’74, about the possibility of working with libraries in Ireland. He recommended Trinity College.

“Through my work experience at the Library of Congress, I was equipped with the necessary tools to work for Trinity,” says Purchase.

Purchase received internship funding from the St. Olaf Piper Center for Vocation and Career that made it possible for her to spend the month in Dublin. As part of St. Olaf’s commitment to supporting students as they navigate potential career paths, the Piper Center has established several new cohort-based internship programs and significantly increased funding for unpaid or underpaid internship opportunities. Last year the center provided internship and scholarship support to 191 St. Olaf students, and that number continues to grow this year.

The opportunity to dig into her desired career field and continue to develop the connections she made while abroad proved very rewarding for Purchase.

“I think it’s really cool that my internship combined the past three years of my life: my initial study abroad experience at Trinity, my English major, and my internship at the Library of Congress,” she says. “It was really powerful to see these diverse experiences all connect and inform each other during my month there.”