There is something deeply rewarding about setting up a plan and then executing it. Thought the “heist” metaphor was perhaps a stretch, and though I would never want to implicate myself or my colleagues in “theft” (--though, my brief walk through the British Museum suggested to me that historians, archeologists, and anthropologists have perhaps done their fare share of that, under different names--), finding what I was looking for where I looked for it was a satisfying experience.
What was I looking for? And what did I find? I was looking for the correspondence of Robert Swinhoe relating to Natural History. His “day job” as it were was as a diplomat in the British Foreign Service, and he produced volumes of material related to his work in the consulate. I wasn’t incredibly interested in all of that work, however, and I wasn’t sure what, if anything, I would find in his diplomatic writings with respect to his natural historical work. I did manage to locate all of his archived diplomatic writing. The day after arriving in London I went to the National Archives and spent the morning and afternoon browsing microfilmed catalogues of Foreign Service Office material, looking for things that Swinhoe produced. I spent the whole of Saturday and Sunday at the National Archives—it was the only one open over the weekend.
I had planned to do the archival work here over my first weekend because, although of lesser importance to my overall research interests, it would give me the opportunity to “practice” doing the work of a historical researcher.
For my externships, I worked for a couple of days with the Multnomah County Library early childhood outreach services. I also went to Northampton, Massachusetts for a week and worked at Forbes Library. I went into the experience wanting to learn about what day-to-day work was like for librarians; I didn't have very high expectations, I just wanted to see what I would learn when I was there. I didn't even really think that I wanted to pursue the library world very strongly before my externship. I was totally blown away! I learned so much, and had a wonderful time. I am completely considering getting an MLS now.
The best part of my experience was working in the archives at the Forbes Library, which housed not only the local history archives for Northampton, MA, but also the collection of the Calvin Coolidge Presidential Museum. I felt completely at home in the archives, and like I could have spent days and months on end just exploring.
When I first started working in the Calvin Coolidge archives, the archivist Dylan told me that NBC had called the day prior and asked for a recording of Calvin Coolidge's first State of the Union address (the first State of the Union that was on the radio). He had looked around for it a little, but didn't think that it even existed, and told the reporter it wasn't in the archives. A few days later, a former archivist called and said she knew the recording was around...she said "it is in a cassette tape, in a drawer." This collection wasn't organized in a particularly accessible fashion; it was basically a room full of large cabinets and boxes with all sorts of different things in them. So when Dylan told me to go look for the recording, he didn't have very much hope, but he thought it would be fun for me to at least familiarize myself with all of the material. After sorting through for a while, I found a very old shellac 78 with the speech on it. Dylan came back and told me that we couldn't really send that to NBC, and after looking for a little while longer, we found a CD someone had transferred the speech to. Success!