When you visit the Masonic Temple and Masonic Library & Museum, one of the people you’ll meet is Cathy Giaimo, who has worked as a librarian for nearly 25 years.
Cathy’s job includes overseeing the circulation library, ordering books for the collection, cataloging books and manuscripts, and handling genealogy and record requests, as well as requests from the online catalog and lending service.
“I like that every day is always something different,” she said. “We get a lot of people coming in, some from all over the world. They mostly come to see the Temple, tour the building and stop into the library to look at the books and see what we have. They are curious about Freemasonry after they tour the building.”
The Library, founded in 1817, is considered to have one of the finest collections for the study of Freemasonry in the United States. Housed within the stacks are thousands of volumes (about 75,000) covering all aspects of Freemasonry and its relationship to the Commonwealth.
The Library remains a resource for members and academics alike, providing research and lending services in an effort to advance knowledge and understanding of the fraternity, its meanings and its place in history.
One of the Library’s prize possessions is an “incunabulum,” or book printed before 1501. Completed in Basel, Switzerland, in 1489, it is really two books bound together, a theological religious book and treatise, Cathy said.
“It’s one of the earliest printed books (between a manuscript and a book), and I believe it’s in Latin,” Cathy said. “That’s the oldest book in our collection. We have some other items from the 16th and 17th centuries. For people who are members of the Mormon Church, we have a Mormon Bible from 1842 that many people come to see because they can actually look at it and hold it.”
While Cathy loves what she does today, she admits that being a librarian was not always her first career choice. She earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design from Moore College of Art & Design, but being a designer didn’t work out for her. After college, she got an entry-level job working as a library assistant at the Philadelphia Art Museum. While she was employed there, she attended Drexel University to earn her master’s degree in library science.
“Working at the Art Museum was a really good fit for me,” Cathy said. “I enjoyed working in a museum. I figured I would go back to school and learn how to become a librarian.”
After several years at the Art Museum, Cathy worked briefly for a publishing company before starting her job as assistant librarian at the Masonic Temple. She’s been the solo librarian for the past two years.
“We have an archivist [Mike Laskowski] who has his master’s degree in history,” Cathy said. “He started as a tour guide, and now he is working to get the archives in order, but I’m the only librarian.”
When she has time, Cathy enjoys writing short book reviews or “synopses” of books to post online.
“I try to find a book that would interest people to read, and then I write a blurb about its content,” she said. “It’s usually just a few paragraphs.”
Current books of interest include “Over 300 Years Of Masonic Ritual” and “Speculative Freemasonry and the Enlightenment: A study of the Craft in London, Paris, Prague, Vienna and Philadelphia.” In recent years, interest in the online catalog has been growing, she said.
“Some brothers enjoy educating themselves and writing research papers for presentations. Others are interested in Masonic history.”
Genealogy and record requests also keep Cathy busy. It can take up to three months to complete individual requests for Masonic records or a family history.
“I get a half dozen or so requests a week. Last year, I processed 225 requests. It’s not too difficult. It depends on the era I’m looking for. Our records start at 1789 and go up to 1905 in the index books. After the 1900s, they are listed on cards. That’s a lot more time consuming.”
One of the ongoing projects is to get the index and membership books scanned and computerized, she said.
Cathy encourages everyone to visit the library if they are interested in learning more about Freemasonry.
“If you want to know the real history, that is the place to start,” she said. “In order to understand Freemasonry, you need to know its history and what it stands for.”
The Library is open Tuesday through Friday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Cathy can be reached Monday through Friday at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-988-1933.
Note: Public tours are temporarily closed due to the coronavirus pandemic