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Volunteer of the Month: Janika Seitz

1. October 2021

Janika Seitz is a person who doesn’t really have hobbies but a lot of interests: from occasionally breeding butterflies to fanfiction to literary theory, there’s a lot she can talk about. On top of that, since the spring of 2021 she’s active as a volunteer at the library of the Schwules Museum, where she’s particularly interested in donated books and non-German literature. She talked to us about the motivations behind her voluntary engagement and how the Schwules Museum can be an even more open space.

SMU: Janika, would you like to introduce yourself?

Janika: I am Janika and I’m a volunteer in the archive and the library and try at first to get to know the whole institution. I find this question in general always quite difficult. Many people answer always with their work, when they describe themselves – or with their children or animals and then with sports. And all of that are things I don’t use to define myself. I’m just a person without hobbies who has been living in Berlin for a long time. I already found this question hard as a kid, when you had to fill in what you wanted to become and which hobbies you had in friendship books. In my case, the only thing that was there was always „reading“. But I have many interests. It goes hand in hand: when you have a few hobbies that involve obligations or take up a lot of time, such as allotment gardening or kyte surfing, then you have a lot of time somewhere to chat, chat with people and read stuff online and offline. You always find exciting things there.

Just because I’m interested in it: do you have pets at the moment?

I have no pets. I always wanted to have a cat. But that’s nonsense in an apartment in Berlin. And I had once for a short time butterflies that I got for my birthday still as caterpillars. Then they ate a lot and pupated. My God, that was stressful! I was all the time afraid that they would starve, that I would miss out on them or that they would die. Then I went home earlier from an event cause I wanted to know if my butterflies could fly already. It’s all too demanding for me…

And how did you come to us?

I once lived here in the neighbourhood, in Bülowstraße. The Schwules Museum is naturally known in the neighbourhood. And I have seen some years ago the big exhibition „Homosexualität_en“ at the German Historical Museum and through that became more familiar with the exhibitions here. Last year during the pandemic, when I was dealing with the question of what I wanted to do professionally from then on, it turned out to be either libraries and archives with a thematic focus – not like a city library that collects everything. We also have here a lot of historiography and topics, which are usually not collected or that society at large doesn’t give a lot of value to.

Have you already found books or documents that were particularly exciting?

I have ealier here at first for a long time put books in the shelves and I found very exciting, how many works by Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are here in the shelves under the title „Worldview“. I find that funny because I think that all three philosophers would be turning in their graves if they’re classified as „Worldview“ and not „Critical theory“ or something like that. Other than that, I’m always surprised how there are certain particular things. Today I organized books in Albanian and Serbian in the shelves. I also find it fabulous that there aren’t only publications in German or English but also in languages that fewer people speak.

What else do you do in the library?

I have recently also used this place a lot to escape my own homeoffice cause after so many months, I can’t work on my kitchen table anymore. The scientists who do their research here were my motivation to also be active. I have read here very productively for my studies.

Why do you volunteer?

My motivation to work here voluntarily are the alternative historiographies and the holdings available here. It’s simply important that there are resources and sources for this – and to make them accessible and maintain them. And not only on-site on the shelves, but also in digital catalogues and databases. The institutions museum or library are for many people inaccessible places and the internet is just the most beautiful and open place. In digital repositories you can simply reasearch through the holdings of the library or archive. But I believe that there’s still a lot to be done in this direction.

What are your personal wishes at the moment?

That I can rev up my practice of going to museums again, which came to a complete withdrawal for me due to the pandemic. Also the kind of engagement I have with friends has changed. Then I only had one appointment for exactly one thing with one person and then the meeting is over. And I usually come to cultural institutions by looking at a flyer somewhere and thinking to myself: “Hey, cool, that’s going on right now. There’s a vernissage here, I’m going in now”. And then one thing leads to another. And at the moment I have no idea what’s going on in Berlin. I would like to change that.