“The centerpiece of my experience at Carolina”

June 7, 2022

Portrait of Catherine Paul sitting on top of a table in an art studioCatherine Paul ’93 traces the roots of her career to her experience as a student employee in Davis Library.

As a Carolina undergraduate, Catherine Paul ‘93 worked in Davis Library to earn extra spending money. She did not expect her junior- and senior-year part-time job to play a formative role in her career.

“Since I was spending a significant portion of my time reading and studying in Davis Library, working in the library was a good fit,” says Paul. Her role, which she laughingly describes as “sort of simple grunt work,” entailed typing up acquisition cards for the books that librarians were adding to the collection.

Reflecting on the past 30 years, Paul—professor emerita of English at Clemson University—recognizes how her student job helped shape her professional journey. Her first book, “Poetry in the Museums of Modernism: Yeats, Pound, Moore, Stein,” explores relationships between four modernist poets and the museums that helped shape their writing. “Part of what I thought about in that project is how people build collections, and how they think about the items collected as something larger than just the objects themselves,” says Paul.

Looking back, she was surprised to realize the similarities between that research and what she learned as a student library worker. “When I watched the collection professionals decide what to choose, I guess I started to understand that a collection is created with intention,” she says. “In thinking through the dissertation that became my first book, I asked questions similar to what people who develop the collections in a research library think about.”

A self-described “heavily archival scholar,” Paul has worked in a variety of libraries—including the National Library of Ireland and the British Library—doing research for her dissertation and as a professional scholar. “Libraries feel like really important places and I think that it was spending time in Davis as an undergraduate that started my feeling that way,” she says. Having spent time in so many libraries also makes Paul realize how lucky she was as an undergraduate to have the library resources offered by Carolina.

“When I visited Carolina as a prospective student, my parents took me into Davis Library,” Paul remembers. “My dad told me to type some books I like into the online catalog to see if they had them, and even though I tried to be difficult, everything was there.”

While working toward her master’s degree and doctorate at the University of Michigan, Paul again worked in the library, in part because of her enjoyable undergraduate experience. “The people I worked with (at UNC-Chapel Hill) treated the student workers so well, took us really seriously as employees and as people, and respected what we were doing as students,” she says. “It gave me very high expectations about how I should be treated as an employee.”

Paul pays forward her love of the University Libraries by supporting it financially. “Davis Library was the centerpiece of my experience at Carolina,” she says. She recalls attending a Tar Heels football game a few years ago with a friend who had season tickets. “When I was a student, I had no real investment in Carolina sports,” Paul says. “We were walking through campus to get to the game, and when we walked past Davis, I said, ‘This is what Carolina is to me.’”

Story by Michele Lynn

Story from Windows magazine, spring/summer 2022.