Time Well Spent: A Books@Work Participant Shares His Insights
May 16, 2018 | Maredith Sheridan
Image: Morris Graves, Time of Change, 1943, [Fair Use] via WikiArt.org
We are thrilled to feature an interview today with Jon Schmitz, the Archivist and Historian for the Chautauqua Institution and a six-time Books@Work participant.
Tell us a little about yourself. What kind of work do you do on a day-to-day basis at Chautauqua?
I am responsible for acquiring, preserving and providing access to the records that document the Chautauqua Institution and Movement. I answer inquiries from the public, assist researchers, support staff and various Institution programs. I offer advice and support regarding archival practice to groups both on and off the grounds. I teach classes in archival practice which are open to the public and oversee educational internships. I also organize a lecture series and speak about Chautauqua’s history at the Institution, in the local area and around the country.
Books@Work discussions occur in all kinds of workplaces – manufacturing companies, healthcare providers, law firms, schools, universities, etc. Participants come from varied fields and bring their own unique perspectives and experiences to the table. Do you think your background as a historian & archivist colors how you read and participate?
Absolutely. One of the great features of the program is that it allows people to bring their own knowledge and experience to the discussion. This not only helps us to understand the books, but also to learn things we did not know and to learn more about one another.
What kind of things have you learned about your colleagues through Books@Work? Have you ever come across an idea, a text, or a comment that has made you see things differently?The [Jorge Luis Borges short stories] were definitely something I wouldn’t have read; just being exposed to a different literary tradition was quite interesting. It’s Argentinean but it’s very much in a Spanish world. It’s universal unto itself, and it’s unique and different from everything else, and that came through in our discussions. We were able to talk about all sorts of things I hadn’t thought about or talked about for years: Ionian philosophy, Zeno, religious symbolism, biblical references and whatever else.
I was quite impressed with how people interpreted things. I have found that the interpretations and insights offered by others have allowed me to understand what I did not and notice what I had missed. At the very least, I am able to reconsider my own opinions in light of those of others.
You’ve just completed your sixth go-around with Books@Work. How has the experience evolved for you over time? Have you noticed a change in the depth of your relationships?
I look forward to reading each new book. Some books I have liked very much, and some not at all; but, because of the input of the instructors and the group’s discussion, I have never regretted the time spent.
It’s been very engaging because you learn so much about people and their backgrounds. Sometimes it changes your mind and clarifies things. To come together like that is very important. In terms of morale, I think it’s a great perk. I don’t see how anyone can argue. We get a free book. We get to read it as a group with an instructor on the company’s time. It is a serious pick-me-up through the year.
The individuals participating vary from one book to another; but, even in the course of reading just one book together, I have come to know my fellow workers much better, their personalities, likes and dislikes, and to discover what jobs they held in the past or where they have travelled. Sharing a common experience always brings people together.