Spotlight on Staff: Jennifer Martinez Wormser ’95, Director of Ella Strong Denison Library

Jennifer Martinez Wormser '95

This spring, alumna Jennifer Martinez Wormser ’95 was appointed Denison Librarian of the Ella Strong Denison Library. An English major and French minor at Scripps, she earned her MLS degree with a concentration in archival management from the University of Maryland, College Park. Returning to Southern California, she worked in Special Collections at UCLA and at San Diego State University, in the Manuscripts Department of the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, and at the Sherman Library and Gardens in Corona del Mar before becoming library director at Laguna College of Art + Design in 2010. On the occasion of her return to Scripps, we asked her to share her thoughts about honoring Denison’s legacy, her vision for its future, and a life lived among the stacks.

Scripps College: Welcome home! What’s it like being back on the Scripps campus?

Jennifer Martinez Wormser: Its exciting—it’s a gift to have the chance to come back in this new capacity. Like many alums, Scripps has a special place in my heart. I appreciated it as a student, but I appreciate it now even more. It’s also special because my mother-in-law, Barbara Cook Wormser ’59, is also a graduate of Scripps as well as the 2004 recipient the Distinguished Alumna award.

SC: This isn’t your first time working at Denison; tell us about your time as a student, and how those early experiences jumpstarted your career as a librarian and archivist.

JMW: I was fortunate to discover working in libraries while a high school student. I got a job at the local public library shelving books a few days per week after school. Because I lived in the Pasadena area, that job led me to shelving books at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. When I toured Scripps as a prospective student my senior year of high school, I walked into Denison and said, “I belong here”—I didn’t even bother applying anywhere else. While a student in Claremont, I had the best of both worlds: During the school year, I went to classes and worked at Denison and, in the summer, I had a job at the Huntington. I eventually moved into the Huntington’s Manuscript Department, which first exposed me to working with archives and manuscripts, and that really got me into archival work and librarianship.

SC: What is your favorite part of being back in Denison?

JMW: The great joy of Denison is that there are so many unique works of art complementing the library’s amazing book collection. There are sculptures by Albert Stewart and in my office, there is a beautiful bust of Nefertiti looking over me. Libraries aren’t just about books, they are about inspiration and ideas too. With its architecture, the college archives, and its art, Denison especially is a living, breathing entity unto itself. Everywhere you look, you find something that makes you ask, “What is that, how did it get here, and how can I learn more?” I’m hook, line, and sinker in love with the place.

SC: Do you have a favorite object? Or is that like asking a parent to name their favorite child?

JMW: There is so much in the “exciting-take-my-breath-away category.” As a student, I saw cuneiform tablets, the medieval illuminated manuscript book of hours, William Morris’s Kelmscott Press books, and so many more. Since my return, I’ve seen historic photographs of Coretta Scott King’s visit to campus in 1986 and also found that the library’s first edition of Mary Poppins was autographed by P. L. Travers when she visited Scripps in 1970. It’s wonderful to come back and be reunited with these objects and think about ways I can share them with other people.

SC: Have you made any acquisitions yet?

JMW: We just purchased an artist’s book about the #MeToo movement. One of our missions is to collect materials by and about women, not just throughout history, but also the women of today. History continues to write itself! My predecessor, Judy Harvey Sahak ’64, did an amazing job of developing a stunning collection of artists’ books at Denison, and I intend to build on that already strong foundation. We’ve also had some items donated to us for inclusion in the College archives that document Scripps’ history and the achievements of our faculty, students, and alumnae.

SC: How has Denison changed since you were a student, and what plans do you have for its future?

JMW: In many ways Denison is timeless—it retains the wonderful charm and grace of the original 1930s building, which prompts people to look up and gasp and say, “This is marvelous.” But, of course, there have been many changes, too. When I was a student, the Drake Wing (built in honor of long-time librarian Dorothy Drake) was still open. The collection has grown, leaving the library more than a little tight on space. I hope to expand not only its physical space and storage capacity, but also its visibility on campus.

I believe strongly that all students should have the opportunity to engage with Denison’s rare and magnificent materials as part of their college experience. I know how transformative it was for me as an undergraduate to hold a woman’s Overland Trail diary from the 1840s in my hand while I was working at the Huntington Library, and my goal is to make sure every student touches something in our collection that ignites that same feeling. I’m looking at new and creative ways to get students, faculty, and the community to interact with our collection. I want students to know that the library is here for them not only during their academic years but also as alumnae. I don’t want to be here alone surrounded by all of these beautiful things—they need to be shared. That’s what brings them to life.