Maritime Librarian and Curator
Paul O’Pecko is a librarian, but he’s a special kind of librarian—he’s in charge of collections and research at Mystic Seaport Museum in Mystic, CT. Because Paul works at a maritime museum, he also has to be an expert on maritime topics. A lot of his job is in the museum’s library, but he is also in charge of the museum’s collections and research facility.
“I am responsible for all the types of collections we have at our museum (except for the watercraft and their engines!). All told, that’s over a couple million items. Mystic Seaport collects all kinds of things that relate to our maritime heritage, from logbooks of whaleships that roamed the Indian Ocean to models of ships important to our history, from plans (blueprints) of yachts, boats, and ships, to just about any kind of object or film or photograph you can associate with the maritime world. We preserve all these items in a climate-controlled building so that people now and in the future can study and learn from them to better understand our maritime history and culture. Not only do we make the collections available for exhibits in our own museum, but we lend them to other museums all across the country. That way, more people get a chance to see and learn about them. We also make sure researchers, no matter where they live, have the opportunity to look at what we have collected to help them in writing their books, building their boats, creating their art, or identifying historic paintings or even doing their homework. People come to visit us at the museum or they can use the tens of thousands of pictures and pages of research materials we have put on our website.
When I am not answering e-mails and phone calls from donors and researchers, I spend time helping students in our research library, giving tours of our collections, or working with authors on a new internet journal, an “e-journal,” we are publishing called Coriolis. If you want to find information on ships, their journeys, or the people who sailed in them, we have put a lot of information on our web site for you! I think that is the part of my job that I like the best—figuring out what people need and trying to make sure that they can find it.
When I was a kid, I loved to read. I was always interested in history, but really I was most interested in facts. And if the facts weren’t obvious, it was always fun to try and ferret them out. Sometimes you just have to figure out the answer no matter how long it takes you. My obsession with fact-finding and with books made me a great candidate as a reference librarian, my first job at Mystic Seaport.
I majored in history in college and then went back to school and got a master’s degree in librarianship. When I started working at Mystic Seaport, I loved that learning something new every day was something I could get paid for. A lot of the questions I research have answers that are found, not just in the library, but also in the museum’s collections of paintings and photographs, scrimshaw and artifacts. Not only does my work take me out of the library to work with the museum’s collections, it has also taken me all over the world. As a kid growing up in a farming and former coal-mining region of Pennsylvania, I never thought I’d have a job that would have to do with the sea. But as a maritime librarian and museum curator, I have participated in an exchange program with a museum in New Zealand and traveled to conferences all over the world to give presentations on the work we do at Mystic Seaport.” — Paul O’Pecko
To learn more about Mystic Seaport’s G. W. Blunt White Library and the Collections and Research Department, visit them online at https://library.mysticseaport.org or, even better, in person. (Mystic Seaport, 75 Greenmanville Ave., Mystic, CT 06355; Ph. 860 572-5315)
Did You Know?
Today, shipyards have a number of ways to get a ship out of water, either by hauling it out or by floating it into a basin and the water pumped out.
Historically though, sea captains would careen their vessels in shallow water by either heaving it over on its side while it was still afloat or by anchoring in shallow water at high tide and then waiting for the tide to go out. The vessel would touch bottom, and, as the tide went out, lay over on its side.
How does one go about getting a ship, especially a big ship, high and dry out of the water today?