A linguistics scholar designs mysteries in the Library of Congress


As long as she can remember, Kevynne Dimaano has been interested in linguistics—it's what drew her to George Mason University, one of the only schools in Virginia with a linguistics program.

Kevynne stands inside the Library of Congress wearing her work vest and ID.
Photo by Evan Cantwell/George Mason University

Dimaano didn’t know, at the time, that her studies in syntax and language construction would lead down a path of speaking Mandarin and writing rebuses in a competitive summer internship for the Library of Congress.

Dimaano, majoring in English, worked with two departments at the Library of Congress: the Informal Learning Office (ILO)—a newer office dedicated to connecting kids, teens, and families to the collections and resources of the Library—and the Visitor Engagement Office (VEO). Her days were split between the two roles.

“I didn’t want to be in a cubicle all day, isolated from people. I wanted to interact with the public,” she said. Both offices gave her the opportunity to engage with guests in the library: answering questions, scanning tickets, and supporting events.

Working in a public-facing role comes with unique challenges. The Library gets up to 4,000 visitors a day, so Dimaano needed to problem-solve to help guests quickly. Her required language education in the Mason Core became an invaluable asset. “I took Mandarin,” she said, “and the library sees a lot of guests who speak Mandarin. Even though I’m not fluent, being able to communicate with them in their native language was really useful. And it was good practice!”

Apart from staffing the Young Readers Center and helping visitors, her role with ILO required the completion of a summer project of her choice. Using resources in the library, she decided to create an activity for the library’s mystery-themed family day in October.

Kevynne points to the back of her vest which reads "Ask Me About the Library" while she stands on the steps of the Library of Congress
Photo by Evan Cantwell/Office of University Branding

“I love mysteries,” she said. “Rebuses had been suggested during the brainstorming, and as I learned more about them, I remembered doing them in elementary school and thinking ‘oh my gosh, I love these!’”

Rebuses were popular newspaper games from the 1930s and 40s: a language puzzle combining pictures and letters to form words the player has to decipher. With her linguistics education, Dimaano was well-suited to pick up the patterns and methodology of the pictograms in order to create her own.

“Looking back through the old newspapers was really interesting,” she said. “You see ads for things like wigmakers, or photos of people smoking indoors. The text is so much smaller, too, because this was the only place for them to put news back then and they had to fit everything in. It was like a time machine.”

But the summer wasn’t all work for Dimaano and the other interns. “We got a tour of the building when we started, and they took us up to the dome,” she said. “It’s was mind-boggling. The Capitol is right in front of you, and the view is amazing."

She also remembered vividly the day that Douglas Emhoff, second gentleman of the United States, came to visit the library. “There’s probably a photo of me behind him talking to my supervisor,” she said. “I almost ran into one of his Secret Service agents. I couldn’t wait to tell everyone.”

Dimaano has one more year at Mason, but if the library is hiring, she’ll be the first to apply. “It was an amazing experience. I felt so welcomed there,” she said. “To get to work with and meet people from D.C., different states, and different countries was really cool.”