On Wednesday March 6, College Librarian Peggy Ann Seiden announced that Jordan Landes would be joining the school community as the new curator of the Friends Historical Library.
“The curator is our public face, the person who is not only the administrator of the library but is also responsible for maintaining relationships with faculty, students, and researchers outside the community,” said Archivist and Former Interim Curator of the Friends Historical Library Pat O’Donnell.
Landes arrived at Swarthmore after an extensive career devoted to working at libraries, a journey that she began at the Haverford’s very own Quaker Collection where she worked as an undergraduate student, and will continue at Swarthmore’s Friends Historical Library.
After graduating from Haverford, Landes earned a Master of Library Science Degree from the University of Maryland and a PhD from the School of Advanced Study at the University of London. She has worked in libraries spanning a wide range of topics throughout her career, including computer science at the University of Maryland Computer Science Department’s library, history at the University of London’s library, contemporary dance at the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, and theater at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Landes stood out as the clear choice for the position.
“The search committee process was somewhat arduous. Finding a person who knows anything about Quakers and anything about libraries is basically a unicorn,” said archivist Celia Caust-Ellenbogen. “We got a huge number of applications, most of them were academics who wanted to work at Swarthmore and didn’t know anything about libraries and often didn’t know much about Quakers either, or they were librarians and archivists who similarly didn’t know anything about Quakers … So when we saw Jordan it was like an oasis in the desert.”
According to O’Donnell, the committee was aware of Landes even before she applied, and considered her a strong potential candidate because of her background and expertise.
“She was on everyone’s shortlist. We were just delighted, we thought she’d be a really great fit in the campus culture so we brought her to campus to give a talk and she got a lot of really positive comments,” said Caust-Ellenbogen.
Audience members of a multitude of backgrounds and interests were enthused by Landes and her presentation.
“There were some local Quakers in attendance that were really happy with her, those of us on the committee were happy with her professional qualifications, the academics were impressed by her academic qualifications (since she has a PhD and has published a book). She really was the perfect intersection,” said Caust-Ellenbogen.
After spending an extended portion of her career in the United Kingdom, Landes has returned to the United States.
“It’s the records and collections that brought me back to the Quakers. Quakers have always been diligent on record keeping,” said Landes. “During the English Civil War there were a lot of dissenting sects, and the Quakers are among the few that survived. I’d like to think that was because of the record keeping, which allowed them to stay organized in a certain structure. Quaker record keeping was initially a huge part of the faith: publishing, corresponding, and writing Epistles.”
Though the records date back centuries, Landes maintains that the collection is still relevant today.
“Activism has always been a part of Quakerism and of Swarthmore, it has been a continual thread, and right now in this moment it is a particularly strong one,” she said.
O’Donnell recalled a particular event when the archives proved pertinent to modern student activism.
“Some years back the group of people who started Mountain Justice [the predecessor to Sunrise] came in and looked at our records on how students managed to get the college to divest of companies that promoted or tolerated apartheid. So Mountain Justice came in to see how they did it, what techniques helped, and what mistakes they made so they could try to not repeat them,” said O’Donnell.
The significant impact that Quakers have had throughout their history merits their writings for preservation, said O’Donnell.
“You’ve got this relatively small sect that managed to make an incredible difference in the world in so many ways, and I think it’s really important to preserve the record of how they went about doing this, how this small group of people made such a large impact,” she said.
Landes is eager to advance study of Quaker history at Swarthmore.
“I’m particularly excited to reach out to students who may not have thought of coming in to here, as well as reaching out to the community and to different researchers from outside the College,” she said.
“The job will be a certain amount of administration, so some of it will be negotiating that, but anything in higher education involves that,” said Landes. “But there’s room to shape what I want to do in promoting the collections.”