Classical studies alumnus uses research skills as rare books librarian

Dan Axmacher '12

Dan Axmacher ’12 spent his time at The College of Wooster as a classical studies major, where he researched the ancient Mediterranean and its cultures and languages. The skills he learned in that major are vital in his position as a rare books cataloging librarian at the Boston Athenaeum. Axmacher uses the skills he learned in his time at Wooster to investigate a variety of unique sources and help Athenaeum patrons find materials. 

Axmacher considered a variety of liberal arts colleges throughout the Midwest, but after a visit to Wooster, knew that he wanted to attend. “Wooster just felt right to me!” he said. During an overnight visit, he recalls that “Everyone was incredibly welcoming and easy-going, engaging, and interesting.” 

After he arrived at Wooster, Axmacher only continued to connect with the campus and his professors. With a major in classical studies and a minor in English, Axmacher learned to critically examine a variety of sources to learn about the societies and cultures of the Ancient Mediterranean. Especially influential in his academic journey were Josephine Shaya, associate professor of classical studies, and Monica Florence, associate professor of classical studies and comparative literature. “In their classes I formed an understanding of how we know what we know about the past, through interpreting primary sources, using written sources in concert with art and archaeology to develop a fuller understanding of the past,” Axmacher said.  

Upon graduation, Axmacher went on to receive dual master’s degree in archives management and history and began his career at the Boston Athenaeum, where he catalogues the library’s rare materials, which include rare books and manuscript collections, graphic materials, broadsides, maps, and even incunabula—books that were printed before 1501.  

“I sit down with an item and describe it using a set of national cataloging standards to make sure it’s findable in our online catalog,” he explains. “I make sure there are access points such as names, subject headings, and keywords in the catalog so interested researchers can find items in our catalog and request them for research appointments in our reading room.” 

Although he admits that his current job “doesn’t involve writing a lot of research papers or reading much Greek or Latin,” Axmacher also says, “the work I did at Wooster helped me learn how to understand and interpret both primary and secondary sources, which is helpful in my current work.” Axmacher will often find himself tracking down specific pieces of information about a book or manuscript in the Athenaeum’s collection, so the research skills he learned at the College stay sharp. 

“Things like art, literature, music, and history are not only things to study, but things to do and make that can help us understand ourselves,” he says. “A liberal arts education like the one at Wooster is helpful for understanding ourselves and the world we’ve built and continue to build, change, and live in.”

Posted in Alumni on April 19, 2023.