Student Spotlight: Marion Dessalles at Rare Books & Special Collections

Student employment in the McGill Library benefits the entire McGill community. At almost 100 strong this academic year, McGill Library student workers gain valuable work experience while engaging in academic pursuits.  Student navigators, curatorial interns, special project assistants and student researchers bring an immeasurable amount to the life and culture of the Library. Over the next few weeks, Library Matters will share testimonials from library student workers, many of whom come to us through programs like McGill’s Work Study Program and are supported by students societies and associations like the SSMU Library Improvement Fund (LIF), the Arts Undergraduate Society, the McGill Music Undergraduate Student Association (MUSA) and Post Graduate Students’ Society (PGSS). Thank you to all our student workers – your hard work and dedication mean the world to the Library and McGill!


Marion Dessalles (BA’19,  Joint Honours Political Science and History) was a student navigator at Rare Books and Special Collections from September 2017 to May 2019. Her position was supported by the SSMU. Marion is now a masters student at McGill in political science. Her focus of study is international environmental politics.

Q: What made you want to apply to work for the Library?

Marion Dessalles (MD): I used to spend a lot of time at the library studying and loved the ambiance there. I thought I would really enjoy working in this environment – it would also help me throughout my studies. I also wanted to become more familiar with the library system, the archives and so on. And it worked! Working at Rare Books and Special Collections definitely helped me with my history work as I became familiar with the primary sources McGill Library has to offer.

Q: What kind of work have you been doing?

MD: I helped students understand the rare books library rules (e.g. how to handle old books, how to request them, how to get in touch with archivists, etc.). I also worked during events the library was hosting. I helped prepare pop-up exhibitions, set up the room and refreshments, and helped clean up the room after the event so everything would be back to normal the next day.

Q: What surprised you the most about working at Rare Books & Special Collections?

MD: I really didn’t think Rare Books & Special Collections was that busy! I had in fact never been there during my first year of university so I really discovered the place as I worked, and it is busy! So many scholars from all around the world from China to Germany or Brazil, come to the library for their research because it has such an astronomical amount of resources on every topic possible.

Q: Any “Aha!” moments or takeaways from the experience?

MD: I think the most eye-opening moment was when I would tell people who entered the reading room to take off their coats, give me a piece of ID and sign up (i.e. basic rules of a rare books library) and they would not listen and just storm into the room. I had to run after someone across the room one day and that was definitely an unexpected moment.

Q: Coolest, oddest, most interesting things you have come across/experienced?

MD: Working at the library was in itself one of the coolest experiences of my life. My first year of university was very hard. As an international student who didn’t live in residence, I didn’t have friends and was super lonely. But when I started working at Rare Books and Special Collections in my second year, I made so many friends, with who I am still in contact even though we don’t work together anymore. They were and still are a pillar in my life and I honestly don’t know how my university experience would have turned out without this job because again, I was very, very isolated.

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