Monthly Archives: May 2013

Summer Adventure: Internship at Burke Library

I was thrilled to be offered the internship at Burke after investigating several opportunities for the summer. Having just completed my first semester at Queens College, where I will pursue the Certificate in Archives and Preservation of Cultural Materials simultaneously with my MLS, I wanted to immerse myself in the field in order to relate what I was learning in the classroom. I also wanted to get a jump start on my summer course, Archives and Manuscripts and the Shapes of Material History.

I am in awe of the library itself; the Gothic architecture, the peaceful atmosphere, the open glass floored stacks! Brigette’s tour was informative and thorough although I know I will need to be reminded of some of the details about the collections she shared with me. I was especially fascinated by a box labeled with the name “Albert Schweitzer.” He was a formidable figure when I was growing up, having been introduced to us as a “medical missionary” bringing modern medicine to remote areas of the Congo (now Gabon).

One of the reasons I accepted the internship at Burke was that I will be gaining first-hand experience from a professional archivist, and  from someone who is extremely organized and focused. Brigette is eager to teach me and encourages questions which is a wonderful environment to be working in.  As a professional organizer, I know the advantages of a structured, well organized work environment and I personally thrive in that setting.

Although my first semester posed some challenges, I enthusiastically welcome the readings Brigette has planned for me during the summer. I look forward to being a contributing member to the Luce archival project and gaining what I know will be invaluable experience for my future career.

Thoughts and Expectations of a New Intern

Setting off on a new and unknown endeavor is always as exciting as it is nerve wracking. Personally, my nerves overcompensate leaving my nights preceding the start of something new riddled with strange and outlandish nightmares. For example, this week I have been plagued with the normal nightmares of missing my early morning train or getting lost in New York City’s expansive subways, to the more bizarre nightmare of accidentally knocking over the expansive shelves of archival material and being buried up to my neck in papers and books, while a spider tickled my face (to my relief I woke to find my cat’s whiskers brushing against my face). I have always been plagued with an overactive imagination, although it does sometimes come to my aid, especially in the library world.

Although I am nervous to start my internship at the Burke Library, I am also extremely enthusiastic to begin learning about the archival field. In the beginning of 2012, after moving back to New York after living in Pittsburgh for a year, I began a new chapter in my life by enrolling in the Palmer School of Library and Information Science, beginning my M.S. in Library and Information Science with a specialization in Rare Books and Special Collections. Before deciding to pursue my education in the librarian profession, I received my B.A. in History and Secondary Education from Saint Joseph’s College. Throughout my bachelor’s and the time after receiving it, I worked in both an academic and a public library. During my time in Pittsburgh, I had the privilege of working at the Dormont Public Library, where I learned many lessons from the exquisite professionals, fellow staff and patrons. Upon my return to New York, I was offered the job I held prior to moving to Pittsburgh, at the Callahan Library of Saint Joseph’s College. Working at the two libraries taught me many skills, for example, at the Dormont Library, I had the ability to assist in developing information literacy programs and creating community outreach programs, as well as gain knowledge of cataloging and collection development. At the Callahan Library I have had the ability to participate in academic research, public speaking, technical services, and management services. Although I have garnered knowledge from both my education and my employment, I have yet to learn about archiving. I believe that interning in a field that I have little experience in will be extremely beneficial, as well as enjoyable.

As a history major, the thought of being able to preserve historic materials while making the items available for educational and research purposes, excites me greatly. I look forward to working with Brigette this summer and learning about archiving from her. I was happy to hear that Brigette uses a hands-on approach, as well as educational approach to teach interns both the theories behind archiving as well as the actual practical applications that must take place in order to archive materials efficiently. I believe that this method of learning about the field of archiving will benefit me greatly, as I enjoy understanding the theories behind the processes that I will be partaking in. I am eager to begin my internship at the Burke Library, and I cannot wait to see the materials that I will have the privilege to work with that are housed in the Burke Archives.

1st Day – New Intern Posting

Today is my first day at the Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary as an archival intern. First days are always exciting and nerve racking. What will the new desk I am working at look like? What if my new boss doesn’t like my outfit? What if I trip on that spiral staircase mentioned in the internship posting I responded to? These and many other random, rather frenetic thoughts began racing through my head pretty much as soon as I woke up this morning.

I applied for the position because the posting on the Pratt Institute School of Library and Information Science list serve specifically mentioned Japanese language skills as being a benefit to the internship experience. In my time at Pratt Institute no internship posting has advertised a need for Japanese language – a skill I had the luck and experience to acquire as a young child and pursue throughout my first academic stint in undergraduate and graduate studies. I am eager to pursue a project that melds my current academic pursuit of working within a library or archive with my previous academic field East Asian Studies with a focus on Japanese studies.

My first half day at Burke has consisted of a tour of the facilities past a mind boggling assorted of acronym labeled archival boxes, a fantastic gothic inspired glass floored set of stacks and a small taste of the kind of work I will be engaging in this summer under the guidance of Brigette Kamsler an archivist at the Burke Library.  I have to admit that just like when I applied to the Library and Information Science program at Pratt Institute, my expectations and ideas about what is possible are always far below the water mark of what the actual experience will bring into my life.

Through the completion of a variety of other internship experiences I have discovered my affinity for tackling projects of organization and re-housing of materials. There is quite a lot of material here at Burke! I have been given a brief outline of the initial project I will be working on with a fellow intern which is really exciting – group work- the bane of many graduate students – is something I really enjoy. I understand that once the initial group project is completed I will be delving into working on a collection of materials concerning the American speaking tours and engagements of a Japanese evangelical preacher and social activist Kagawa Toyohiko.

Each experience and internship opportunity I have pursued while studying at Pratt has allowed me great growth both personally and professionally. I am eager to see how my time at Burke affects me and how I am able to affect the ongoing efforts of the archivists at the Burke Library.

New Intern Thoughts and Expectations

This past year has been an exciting one; last May I graduated Rutgers University with a B.A. in History and English, and I can now say that I have successfully completed my first year of graduate school. Looking back, I remember thinking about my post-college plans and how unsure I was. Pursuing a career as an archivist wasn't an obvious path for me until my final year at Rutgers. During the summer between my junior and senior years, I completed a rewarding and ultimately invaluable internship with an autograph dealer. Though I had previously been introduced to archives through a class at Rutgers, this experience was my first hands-on interaction with primary documents. It was through this internship that I learned to love paging through old letters and documents and deciphering 19th century script. During that summer I had the opportunity to view firsthand some truly remarkable documents, but this was also something that I found problematic. Due to the nature of that business, I was going to be one of the few people who would be able to see these historically important items, and after that summer, I began to seriously consider how I might be able to work with primary documents in a public setting. That experience led me to the Masters program in Archives and Public History at New York University and this internship at the Burke Library Archives working on collections from the Missionary Research Library Archives and the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives. 

As part of my coursework at NYU, this past semester I completed an internship at Rutgers University Special Collections. This experience was my first true experience working in an archive, and I was fortunate enough to be able to process an entire collection from beginning to end. That experience was truly formative and has motivated me to take the path of a processing archivist. The initial fear of manipulating original order and removing important documents gave way to wonder and a sense of confidence, as I discovered new avenues to the collection and fit them together within the overall scope of the collection. The collection itself was large enough that it kept me busy for an entire semester; I am now able to say that I processed the Mohegan Colony Association Collection and completed the finding aid for it as well.

Though I now have experience processing a complete archival collection, I believe that I still have much learning to do. I am looking forward to working with Brigette this summer and learning from her. In order to be a successful processing archivist, I need to gain confidence in my skills. For the first month or so at Rutgers I was hesitant to rearrange the collection and tended to second-guess myself. When I first spoke to Brigette about this internship, she advised that she would initially provide hands-on guidance and have me start by processing a smaller collection. Though I am interested in learning about the materials within the collections, it is Brigette's willingness to teach and help me gain that confidence in my abilities that has me excited for my summer at the Burke Library Archives.

Last Day at the Burke

This semester flew by far too quickly, and with the end of the semester arriving, my last day at The Burke has arrived as well. My brief time here was wonderful and something that I will look back on and treasure. As mentioned in my expectations piece, I just wanted to gain exposure to the Archives field. Starting this internship, I wanted to fill my curiosity with Archives and Archival processing. However at the same time, I was a bit terrified at the thought that I may ruin a collection and make matters worse with my lack of proper ‘archiving knowledge’.

Brigette was one of the greatest mentors I have encountered in my Graduate career. She is well organized and gives you readings that help prepare you and give you a better understanding of Archiving. Brigette’s presence has been comforting and encouraging. I never thought that in my short time here (once a week for a little less than a semester) that I’d be able to go through two collections. I was able to take my time with these two collections and get a proper plan in order for each. Brigette and I talked today about the “More Product, Less Process” concept. I think it’s incredibly valuable to be able to start learning about archives by going through more processing and less product. I am incredibly thankful to Brigette and the Burke for giving me this opportunity. It’s an incredibly rewarding feeling once you complete a collection.

As I sit here and stare at my boxes with their beautiful shiny new labels on them, I remember all the time, patience and care they took. Removing each staple carefully to make sure the pages don’t rip, appropriately interleaving acid-free paper in between each group of papers, delicately unfolding the pages to make sure no damage occurs, carefully handling photographs etc. etc… It all sounds pretty simple. But when you are going through this process and you keep in mind that these pages are so fragile and need to be treated with the utmost care, you treat each step as if it is the most important step in the processing process. Taking boxes full of papers, going through them all and trying to make sense of them all is no easy job. But as you turn each page and as you start making sense of the collection, that becomes the driving force that allows you to push through the long process. Realizing that this collection may help a researcher, even if one piece of paper in this collection may help someone, that was more than enough for me to keep going through each page and figuring out a way to organize them all in a sensible matter. It was incredibly helpful to have Brigette around. I was able to ask for advice and to go over my thought process for the new organization of the collection. Talking through my plan and my ideas for the categories with Brigette was a great resource. I think when it comes to archival processing, it’s best to have someone to talk to for feedback.

The collection I worked on, Church World Service Records, was an amazing collection to work with in that the Organization still exists today. The articles and documents I had in my hands were some of the first pieces of the Organization that has helped it grow to the large and successful organization it is today. It was interesting to read about the history and mission about the organization on their website and to see the documents that the Burke has.

Overall, this was a great learning experience. I know that if the opportunity presents itself, I will be able to take on an Archival project.  Having a better grasp of archiving and the core theories that go along with archiving, it helps me look at the field differently and reminds me to always remember that this may be of benefit to someone else. As a librarian, I believe it’s my job to safeguard knowledge and present it to my users the way it is, and when archiving, I felt this being put into action. I’d like to thank Brigette and the staff at the Burke that have made this experience not only a great learning experience, but also very enjoyable.