An Internship Exploring the Missionary Research Library


The Columbia University “Ask a Librarian” Internship had been presented to me three different times on three unrelated platforms before I decided to apply. The first time someone close to me reached out and thought I would be a good fit. The second time it appeared in my school email. The third time it was shared on a chat for Queens College MLIS alumni and students and I took it as my sign to apply. Despite having a lot on my plate as a recent grad, a full-time employee at the New York Public Library, and a part-time one at a community college library, I knew that applying would be worth a shot. Initially, I thought to myself what would be the chances of actually getting accepted when there were only 5 positions available. The possibility seemed unlikely so I applied and thought nothing of it.


While on vacation, I got the acceptance email with directions to confirm participation. I thought about it for 5 days before responding. I questioned if I would be able to juggle what was currently on my plate and whether I would be able to do it successfully or if impostor syndrome would kick in and tell me that I couldn’t do it. While there was doubt, I also thought of all that could come from accepting the internship which made it clear that I had to participate. The internship intends to provide current and recently graduated Library & Information Science students with hands-on experience in academic librarianship. Though my coursework at Queens College introduced me to core values and lessons in librarianship, I felt that the internship could only add to those already existing foundational skills. I believed this was an opportunity to work with students and experienced librarians in a way that would contribute to my professional development and allow me to think about my next steps as an emerging librarian. Having been involved with Columbia in different ways like a short-term casual exam administrator job or a high school participant in the Double Discovery Center’s SAT program, it would not be my first time at the university. However, it would be my first time working directly with Columbia’s library staff and I was eager to learn from them.


The next step in the internship was getting connected with an intern supervisor that would serve as a collaborator on a semester-long project. I was later virtually introduced to Caro Bratnober, the Public Services Librarian at the Burke Library, and learned the description of my project. I was going to focus on the Missionary Research Library (MRL) held at the Burke Archives to discuss what it was, why it was there, and its importance. With no prior knowledge of the Burke Library, the MRL, or archival experience, I was equally anxious and intrigued to start. Leading up to my first visit to the Burke Library, Caro and I had met regularly to discuss the digital MRL content that I was combing through. Each week my understanding of the MRL grew and prepared me for my first special collections visit.


Image description: black-and-white photograph of the Missionary Research Library and staff, showing two women and two men in the foreground seated at tables reading books and papers.
Photograph of MRL Library and Staff, circa 1930-1963 (date unknown). MRL 12 “Missionary Research Library Administrative Records, 1851-1994” Series 7 Box 1. Housed at The Burke Library at Union Theological Seminary, Columbia University in the City of New York



My first visit to the Burke Library started with a brief guided tour with Caro. Walking through Union Theological Seminary reminded me of a church with arched glass windows and intricate high ceilings. The tour actualized the research and reading that I had done before my visit and I was ready to get started. As an archival novice, I decided that examining one box would suffice for my first visit. In the timespan of three hours, I had read, touched, skimmed, and photographed countless items from the MRL’s Administrative Records box. Throughout my academic career, I developed an interest in history and research. Finding digital archives for my undergraduate projects and assignments always felt like a reward and being able to physically look at archival material at the Burke Library channeled that same feeling. Though missionary research was far from my expertise, I was engrossed with handwritten itemized lists from 1929, postcards mailed to the library, crinkly unsourced articles, and glossy photographs of MRL staff in the same space I was currently occupying.


Image shows the home page of the Missionary Research Library Archives LibGuide. There are pictures of the MRL Archival collections and screenshots of digital content including pamphlet covers
Screenshot of the MRL Archives LibGuide at


My initial expectations for the internship were limited. I wanted to sharpen my reference skills, work on a small project, and add to my curriculum vitae. I did not expect to feel invested in a project that I had no prior knowledge of; however, I am proud of the work that both Caro and I have done up until this point and look forward to seeing how the project will evolve. We hope that this LibGuide for the MRL Archives serves as an introduction to the Missionary Research Library archival collection housed at Union Theological Seminary. -LC

Lauren Capellan is a New York City librarian. She graduated from Queens College with her Master’s in Library and Information Science. Lauren is currently working at the New York Public Library as an Information Assistant while simultaneously doing Open Educational Resources work at Guttman Community College. This fall she participated in the Columbia “Ask a Librarian” Internship to enhance her reference and research skills and worked with Caro Bratnober at the Burke Library Archives. 


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