STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: Meet Spencer Talbot and learn more about his conservation and book repair work at Gutman Library

The Gutman Library is happy to have Spencer on our team! Spencer’s display featuring his book repair and conservation work will be available to view at the Gutman Library, on the Main Floor, in the display cases across from the Check Out Desk for the Spring 2024 semester.  

We sat down with Spencer to learn more about his work and what inspires him about preservation, conservation, book repair, and libraries.  

What is your name, major, and class year? 
My name is Spencer Talbot. I am a Pre-Medical Studies major with a minor in Psychology. I’m a sophomore set to graduate in 2026. 

What made you decide to become a pre-medical studies major?  
I found my path to medicine during COVID. I was able to volunteer with a fire department during COVID, which led me to EMS and ambulance work. I found that volunteering as an EMT gave me an inexplicable feeling of both satisfaction and challenge, a path I have pursued since. Pre-Medical Studies is one of the best paths available to continue onwards in medicine. 

What inspired you to do conservation work?  
Growing up, I visited museums and libraries almost every week. My favorite and most frequently visited museum was the Academy of Natural Sciences. As a child, I was fascinated by watching the paleontologists, conservationists, and geologists work on specimens at the Academy in real time. In high school, I continued to explore conservation and science, working with the Moorestown Historical Society on a series of three projects. These involved both cultural anthropology and oral histories. I found my way to bookbinding during high school. It became a meditative activity I did to unwind. I also wanted older books for my personal library and primary source research, and since I was unable to afford them in good condition, I bought them in poor condition and fixed them up. I found the work to be gratifying and continued with it. 

What is your favorite thing about preservation and repair?  
My favorite thing about preservation and repair is the role they play in constructing and maintaining history. Being a part of that process gives me a great sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. I also enjoy learning about the past in the process, which I find endlessly fascinating.  

What interests you most about libraries?  
I am very interested in the thrill of discovery and intellectual pursuit that libraries make possible. To me, there is no greater feeling than chasing new knowledge that I lose track of the time. I am a champion for what libraries stand for and uphold; the right to information access, freedom of speech, intellectual freedom, information literacy, and accessibility.

Libraries play a key role in our communities and in democracy that cannot be replaced. An educated population that has access to quality information and understands how to use it can make informed and rational decisions. To have access to libraries is an information privilege and I encourage anyone to use and support their local libraries.  

Why is conservation important?  
Conservation is the lifeblood of knowledge. We have the ability to gain quite easily what the brightest scientists and thinkers labored their whole lives for. Without conservation, or documenting the past, it is impossible to learn from it.  

Conservation by nature is the act of prolonging information for as long as possible. In many cases this is essential, such as a Van Gogh painting or the Declaration of Independence. Surely, I can have the Sunflowers of Van Gogh as a PNG image anywhere, but conservation preserves the multitudes of information only available through a primary source. I can lift the chemical formula for his paint from the canvas, alongside a sampling of the fabric itself. I can count brush strokes or look at the stroke types to determine what brushes he used. Through the preservation of books and materials we can maintain information for future researchers with better analytical techniques to learn more. Maintaining this allows for continuous knowledge creation. Knowledge is made of maxims stating things are true or untrue. By building up small truths solely from documents and works, larger ideas and facts can be uncovered. 

What career paths are you interested in pursuing after graduation?  
After graduation I intend to pursue a career in medicine. I am deeply interested not only in medicine, but also medical history. As medicine advances, past misgivings of medicine need to be recognized and improved, something which medical history encapsulates. My hope is to continue along these tracks simultaneously, advancing my historical research regarding Schizophrenia and pursuing medicine at a clinical level. 

How can people get in touch with you to collaborate? 
I am happy to provide guidance or work alongside interested folks. For those at Jefferson, you can get in touch with me using my University email, but otherwise I can be contacted through my business email: STalbot.Inquiry@gmail.com. You can also find me on LinkedIn. In terms of starting new research involving history, I’m open to consultation and would be willing to help. 

I am still recruiting researchers for a transcription project with the American Philosophical Society. Those interested can send me a resume and general interest statement.  

Is there anything you’d like to mention that we didn’t ask? 
I am very grateful for the opportunity to share my work and what I’m passionate about. I want to give a big thank you to the Gutman Library for hosting my display, to Megan Donnelly, Outreach and Engagement Librarian, for helping me assemble it, and to the folks at the Surface Imaging Lab for helping me create materials for the display. My work with conservation was guided by the mentorship of Valerie Lutz and the fantastic people with the American Philosophical Society, alongside Cynthia Heider at the University of Pennsylvania, all of whom I am incredibly grateful for.  

In terms of advocacy, I was inspired through the digital scholarship and conservation awareness work of Hannah Polasky. Through giving space online for the history of medicine and healthcare, she has enabled outsiders to have an informed view of her field.