An internship in a fairytale

As a part of the first year of the master program, we had an internship of two months and the word spectacular doesn’t even begin to describe the amazing time I had where I got to learn more about libraries, ancient books and online selling. 

From June 1st to July 30th I had the experience of working in the Librairie Vignes, which specializes in the topic of literature, original editions, signed books, manuscripts and literary archives. Founded in 1992 by Henri Vignes, who has accomplished a magnificent career for almost 30 years and who is a well known member of the C.N.E.S (Chambre Nationale des Experts Spécialisés en objets d’art et de collection), the I.L.A.B (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers) and the S.L.A.M (Syndicat national de la Librairie Ancienne et Moderne). The library he owns has two spaces: one branch in Paris which contains a wide variety of original editions, most of them classics, and rare documents; and another branch which is in Limousin, more specifically in the little town called Eymoutiers, it contains over 20,000 books of various subjects such as literature, beaux arts, human sciences and more. Mister Vignes considered having two branches was going to give me the opportunity to get to know the best of both worlds: the vibrant energy of the always filled with culture, Paris and the calm and beauty of a little French town surrounded by nature, such as Eymoutiers.

My internship started by spending two weeks in Paris, which was honestly a very well received chance. After spending so many months confined in Besançon, arriving to a big city with a lot of movement such as this was refreshing and exciting, there were so many things to do and to see that I barely had a minute to rest. In the library, I had the chance of working with Mister Vignes himself and with Miss Julie Féraud, who gave me a warm welcome and were eager to share with me all the information and knowledge they had about books, rare documents and the business experience itself which helped me acquire more understanding of the book culture in general. Moreover, I also got to learn a lot from the history of the book thanks to the actual space where the library is located, in the street St. Jacques of the famous Quartier Latin, particularly important for the books and academic sphere of France. This street was filled, at least until the moment of the French Revolution, with the most important printing shops from France, in fact, within a walking distance from the library we can actually find the famous Sorbonne Université that was in charge of the first printed book in Paris in the year 1470.

During those two weeks, I experienced as much as I could in the library which was filled with interesting information about the classics of literature, I was able to see impressive books with amazing original bindings, I got to learn more about different French authors, I did some bibliographical description and research of books with a lot of history, both of the author and the owner of them. I had a better understanding of the process of how to use databases for the purchasing of books over the internet and I also got to see the selling process of people who physically go to the library looking for something specific or even some advice on what to acquire. 

Mister Vignes was interested in me getting to know as much of the book business as possible and he invited me to an event known as Bibliomania where a lot of ancient booksellers go to show the most important products they had to offer according to the subject of the exposition. I was so surprised with all the amount of books, pictures, letters, postcards and curiosities overall I got to see there because there were so many antique books of very diverse topics with marvelous bindings. He also introduced me to one of his friends, Bernard Le Borgne, the owner of L’oeil de Mercure, which is a library mostly focused on manuscripts and incunables from the Middle Age where very kindly, he gave me a quick class about the history of the book whilst showing me the differences in the biding, the printing, images, and decorations from the books he has, he talked to me about how precious it is to witness the transformation and overall the history of each of the books or objects he acquires, which he admits most booksellers very often forget because they focus more on the price they can put on those treasures. 

I was also able to visit Relma which is one of the few boutiques that still remain where we can buy materials for book restoration in general, from polishers for the binding of books to the most luxurious paper in the market. I think the knowledge I carry the most with me from my time here, is how to work with a private library that was recently acquired, how to make the most out of it, how many catalogs we can create from one library and how complicated it can be to buy it from someone who really dedicated its entire life to making a valuable book collection. Finally, one of the experiences I treasure the most from Paris, was the chance Mister Vignes gave me to touch with my own hands different ancient letters, written and or signed by very renowned people such as the artist Claude Monet, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. 

París was the dream of every person in their mid-20’s, I traveled, I went out, I enjoyed a lot of different food, I went to art exhibitions, walked in beautiful parks and enjoyed every second of life Paris gave me while working 5 days a week in a lovely space such as the library, filled with knowledge and books that I was eager to learn from. Guided by two amazing people who were genuinely interested in my well-being and the improvement of my abilities. 

After those 2 initial weeks, I had the chance of moving to the little town known as Eymoutiers, I must admit that at the beginning I was nervous to go down there because I knew nothing or nobody from Eymoutiers, so I didn’t know if I was going to be able to adapt myself to the place, however after the continuous agitation and movement from Paris, getting to Eymoutiers was the most satisfying moment ever. I was able to work under the supervision of Miss Sophie Roussel and Mister Silvain Bahus, together they make up to 20 years of experience working in libraries. While París might have been the dream of every teenager who is in love with France, Eymoutiers soon became a dream that came true for both my 5 year old self but also for my 25 year old one, because this is when my dream of a fairytale came alive while being there and working in a castle, which honestly felt like being Belle from “Beauty and the Beast”, the classical tale from Charles Perrault.

The library in Eymoutiers is located in the beautiful castle of La Font Macaire, which was restored with the help of the Fondation du Patrimoine, where the old stables were turned into a huge space where we can find up to 20,000 books of different subjects. Eymoutiers itself holds impressive landscapes, from amazing parks to buildings that feel as if they were taken out of a medieval book. The castle can be found after a 10 minute walk that feels like going inside the woods, everywhere you turn around you can see nature and hear nothing but the amazing sound of the chirping birds and little insects that are part of the surroundings of this magical place. As if the natural view wasn’t enough by itself, the view that welcomes you once you walk inside the library is enough to blow your mind away, not even Belle had a library as full as books as this one, you can see rows and rows of bookshelves, boxes with new arrivals of more books to be researched and classified and even a staircase that leads to an upper floor with even more bookshelves full of unique books. 

Being away from the huge cultural city that Paris is, the library in Eymoutiers is more focused on selling via the internet, therefore there is more packaging and research to archive the books and make the file on the database with the description and picture of the book. Although the job I did in here was mostly focused in taking pictures of the books for the general catalogue and the catalogue that will be released later this year, doing some restauration on them and creating files with bibliographical description, I consider those 6 weeks were so educational for me because I got to experience everything I had theoretically learned in class. I knew how to describe a book because I have made several descriptions in class, but it was a whole new challenge to do that on a daily basis, to be able to quickly identify the size of the book, the information on the title page, the kind of binding it had, to name the colors with special terms to make it more appealing to the buyer, and as quickly as possible because there is not only one book that needs the classification. Sophie and Silvain were the best teachers on this subject because they were always willing to answer all of my questions, no matter how many times I repeated them, they made sure I understood the terms and that I learned the new language and they were completely supportive of everything I did, always remarking how much improvement I was making but also how impressed they were from the start because of what I already knew about bibliographical description, which was honestly something that made me strongly believe that I was in the right place, finally I had a place where I belonged and where, in fact what I was learning was useful and put to practice. 

 As far as I can say about the internship, about what I learned, the people that I met, and the places that I visited, it did indeed feel like a fairytale.

I never thought that doing an internship during the summer was going to feel as if I was having a vacation where I was able to learn so much about a subject I’m incredibly passionate about, moreover the opportunity to talk and share my ideas with people who know more about the business because they have experienced it longer and because they can compare today’s situations with how things used to be, was without a doubt one of the biggest gifts I received from this experience. On a different line of ideas, I must admit I think my management of the French language improved considerably because I had to use it all the time, little by little I gained more confidence, it took me less of a time to think about what I wanted to say and I felt less nervous when having to do things on my own. 

This internship gave me back the illusion I had of studying something related to books and culture, it gave me a sense of independence I had not known before and it made me feel incredibly valuable and full of knowledge. It is safe to say that maybe my life hasn’t been completely perfect, but it is safe to say that maybe my life hasn’t been completely perfect, but as far as I can say about the internship, about what I learned, the people that I met, and the places that I visited, it did indeed feel like a fairytale.