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Jessica Pigza Mixes it up With Rare Books, Crafts and Social Media


Jessica Pigza joined The New York Public Library staff in 2006. Since September 2009, she has been the librarian for the Library's Rare Book Division, located in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.
In addition to her duties as a librarian, Jessica teaches classes on the history of handmade books, finding vintage craft and DIY library resources. She has an active personal blog at and also created Hand-Made, a NYPL blog that highlights the Library’s DIY/craft/material culture collections. Together with Maura Madden (author of Crafternoon), she co-hosts Handmade Crafternoon, a free monthly DIY series at the NYPL, which connects artists with library users through hands-on projects that draw creative inspiration from the Library’s collections.
In February, NYPL News talked to Jessica about her love for rare books, crafts and social media.
What does a rare books librarian do? Is there a connection between rare books and Handmade Librarian?
Most of the books held in the division where I work were printed during what's called printing's hand press era--from the earliest printed works up to the rise of industrial printing processes. These books hold both informational value (as in, the words printed on the pages) as well as artifactual value (how it was bound, whether the paper has a watermark, or how marginalia sheds light on a previous reader's reaction to the text).
I spend my days helping researchers to access both the informational and the artifactual details in the books in my care, and I work with readers in person as well as via email. I also meet with school classes--usually undergraduate and graduate--whose professors have integrated book history into their courses. And I've developed and taught a number of public classes on book history, craft resources, digitized rare book repositories, and more. Welcoming and introducing new users to the Library through classes and programs is something that I especially love about my job.
There's an entire world of craft history behind every book created during the hand press era, from illustration technologies to binding methods, from paper making to ink recipes. So for me, there's a very natural connection between my rare books work and my interest in DIY and handmade material culture. In fact, the book arts element of rare books librarianship was one facet of the work that attracted me to it. That, and my love of history.
How did Handmade Librarian get started?
I launched my personal blog,, shortly after starting blogging for the library. At first, it was simply an alternate place where the content I created for the Library could be syndicated and easily found online.
What’s the difference between the NYPL blog and your personal blog?
My Library blog will always be the place to go to find stories and images of discoveries I make in the Library's collections, as well as timely details on DIY-related Library programming (like Handmade Crafternoons). I've been blogging at the Library since 2007, and my posts will likely incorporate more book arts and book history now that my daily work at the Library focuses on this area of craft.
I think of my personal blog as more of my home online where I collect and organize the different threads of my life beyond the library. Readers there will find blog posts on trips, tutorials, personal takes on books and favorite websites, as well as links to my LibraryThing catalog of my home library and my Twitter account, too.
What are the ways patrons can participate?
If you live locally, you can come out to NYPL. Programs and exhibitions are a great way to see items from our collections or learn from scholars or artists who have used such materials in their work.
At Handmade Crafternoons, for example, I always bring along a big spread of books from our collections to give a peek at what is held at the research libraries that might surprise or inspire you. And since there are classes and free events taking place at branches all over the city, looking at the Library's online events calendar is a great place to see what's happening where and when. And of course, as a Library cardholder you can check out books on craft, art, history, and more.
One very fruitful aspect of having an online presence is the ability to make connections and reach out to so many more people. So if you are NOT in the New York area, you can still keep up with what the Library has to offer by reading blogs, viewing recorded events and video series, browsing through digital images and online exhibitions, and more. You can also interact with Library staff members through social media like Facebook and Twitter, and by commenting on blog posts.
How do you use Facebook and Twitter?
Social media tools like Facebook and Twitter are simply new avenues through which I can share my enthusiasms, answer questions, encourage library use (both in person and virtually), and connect to a bigger community that wants to be connected. Twitter has allowed me to meet and help people with reference questions, to offer resources, and share news. But I also get so much back as well. I’m always learning from those I follow, so it’s definitely a flow of information and inspiration in both directions.

What role do you think social media will play for libraries in the future?
Although as a rare books librarian I am of course devoted to books as artifacts, I view any social media tool that enables the Library to expand the reach of its physical materials to be invaluable to the success of our mission. I’m enthusiastic about sharing what we collect and preserve in new contexts, and I see great potential in devising ways to make our resources more fluid and more accessible in places where people congregate virtually.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.