A Summer at the Newberry
I had been looking forward to the summer internships since I started MAPH. There are, of course, many amazing organizations to work with, but, as someone with a previous library degree, I had my eye on the Newberry Library from the start. My summer experience there did not disappoint and was fulfilling in unexpected ways.
I worked specifically with the archives at the Newberry. While I had done some prior coursework and volunteering in archives, I did not have a great deal of processing experience (basically, arranging and describing papers and records in an archival setting), something pretty important if one wants to become an archivist (while I am still exploring career options, this is one of them). Most of my work at the Newberry revolved around processing two Midwestern collections: the William Edward Parsons Papers and the Elbert Ozial Taylor Papers.
Parsons was a Chicago architect, who specialized in city planning. He worked on plans for cities from Detroit to Manila. You might also recognize his work in Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain. Elbert Ozial Taylor, on the other hand, was a minister who became a national temperance lecturer. He was also a graduate of the University of Chicago. Unfortunately, most of the materials do not deal with the sins of alcohol, but they do give a sense of how Taylor thought through his sermons and perhaps a key to his philosophical and spiritual origins prior to his prohibitionist calling. Working with these collections gave me historical insight into figures, time periods, areas, and vocations of which I had little knowledge, especially revealing some facets of the Midwest in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Deciding how to organize items (knowing that there is not just one way!) proved challenging, and the entire process of getting a collection ready for public consumption often took a long time. However, I felt excited and proud to see the final products of my efforts: the papers neatly organized and labeled and a finding aid available online so that people could start requesting the documents immediately.
One of the aspects I appreciated the most about this internship – in addition to the experience of working at such a prestigious library, of course – was the amazing people with whom I had the opportunity to work. Right from the interview, I knew that the staff were warm, funny, friendly people. They helped me in terms of my daily tasks and by giving me career advice. Furthermore, they have allowed me to stay on as a volunteer since the summer ended and have continued to be incredibly supportive of my endeavors to get a job in libraries/archives. I also had the privilege of working with one other MAPH person and a few other grad students, a lovely group of people with whom I could discuss work or enjoy gelato. These are people I still consider friends.
Naturally, there are many perks to working at a great library like the Newberry, and I would feel strange not at least mentioning some of those that one might expect. Toward the end of the summer, we (the archives interns) were taken to the vault to see (and touch!) some of the rarest and most valuable items that the Newberry owns. Highlights included an Oscar (I did get a picture holding it), a signed Chopin piece, a Thomas Jefferson letter, and a Shakespeare first folio. There were also various sessions designed just for interns on getting to know the Newberry’s resources, as well as weekly colloquia that we were encourage to attend, during which various scholars and librarians would present some aspect of research based on the resources they had found at the Newberry. Basically, we had the opportunity to see how incredible the Newberry is for humanities work.
As I mentioned before, not all was fun and games; processing, in particular, could take a great deal of work and patience. Sometimes you had to label and stamp hundreds of folders; sometimes you had to sort through many, many photographs without really knowing the subjects. The list of time-consuming tasks could continue on and on. Yet this was also an internship that exposed me to the Newberry’s approach to archival processing (both similar and not entirely the same to what I had experienced elsewhere), interesting historical documents, thought-provoking research, wonderful people, and, of course, a stand-out humanities library. I am exceedingly grateful for this. And yes, still hopeful that this work will somehow help me find a job.