Folger Internship Proves ‘Perfect’ for Mason Student

Posted: November 3, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By David Driver

As an intern at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., George Mason senior Ashanti Bennett gets to handle rare books such as one from the 1520s on Reformation leader Martin Luther.

“I still get giddy and nervous because I am touching a book that is several hundred years old,” says Bennett, a double major in history and English.

So what has Bennett learned about working with rare books?

Ashanti Bennett
Photo by Evan Cantwell

“To boil it down, respect for the spine of the book and the fragility of the book. Touch it as little as possible,” says Bennett, who graduated from Centreville High School in 1998. “You really have to have respect for it.”

Bennett is the first Mason undergraduate to have an internship at the Folger Institute, says Folger program administrator Owen Williams. He says Bennett’s enthusiasm for both history and literature is a perfect fit for the Folger Shakespeare Library, where scholars and researchers from around the world come to use the reading room just off East Capitol Street.

“Opportunities like this don’t come along very often for undergraduates, especially if you are not a writer,” Bennett acknowledges.

Bennett says every day at the Folger is different. She is responsible for the rare book display that is used for seminars, but she also assists with mailings and data entry, attends meetings and runs errands for staff members.

She applied for the internship in mid-September at the suggestion of Mack Holt, a Mason professor of history.

“It was, honestly, one of the best interviews I ever had. Everyone was incredibly friendly,” says Bennett. By the time she arrived home from the interview, there was a message on her answering machine telling her she had been accepted.

“I thought she would be perfect for the job,” says Holt, who has been at Mason for 17 years. “She is clearly very bright. I know she is interested in both history and literature.”

Bennett was inspired by a class she took with Holt last year on the Reformation. “He made me want to love the subject. I respect his opinion a lot,” says Bennett, who will take Holt’s course on the Renaissance next semester. “Dr. Holt has become the mentor model of a professor I would like to be.”

Bennett, who is taking 15 credit hours at Mason this semester, is currently applying to graduate schools. She plans to concentrate on medieval and Renaissance literature.

Bennett’s internship will run through the end of this academic year. She works at the Folger seven hours on Tuesdays and eight hours on Fridays.

“I had to do some interesting time management,” she says of her hectic schedule. “It has settled down now. It is not so bad. They are incredibly flexible at the Folger.”

The two weekly trips to downtown Washington are worth it, especially when she steps inside the reading room at the Folger.

“This is what a library should look like,” she says.

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