When the Reed library decided not to hire me my sophomore year I moved on to other things and contented myself with straightening books (to preserve their spines!) and relocating the occasional mis-shelved loner (so people can find it!) both at Reed and all my favorite public libraries. I'd briefly considered going for a library science degree, but that seemed like a big investment when all I really knew was that I Love Books and Libraries Have Books. So when I saw the posting for Winter Shadow at the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine I knew I wanted to get it. While ideally I'd have tried a shadow before my senior year, better late than never right? Part of the description for the OCOM internship was also that they needed help cataloging a large donation of Chinese-language books--a dream come true for a linguistics major with a focus on Chinese!
After being accepted to help out at the library I began to see more of the behind the scenes work I'd been curious about. Veronica Vichit-Vadakan patiently trained me in all the ways of inter-library loans and the particular system OCOM uses, giving me a very every-day look at how a small library runs. OCOM is also unique in that it has a medicinal herb library for students to work with--something that makes sense for the school but that you probably wont find in a larger public library. These kinds of details are now helping me think about what kind of library I'd want to work at, and what kind of degree I'd then want to focus on. Public libraries sometimes have literacy programs or larger historical reference projects, while smaller libraries can have more focused resources and a more focused audience. The cataloging of Chinese language books is one of these more focused projects; unsurprisingly most of the books are about Traditional Chinese Medicine (I certainly picked up some new vocab). It was kind of wild typing a title into WorldCat and seeing that another library copy of the book I was holding was in Hong Kong! Even small libraries are part of this huge global thing. The conversion of older lectures recorded on VHS to DVD was another project happening while I was there. I realized libraries do a lot of work not only innovating new ways to access materials but also in making sure older resources don't get dusty and "left behind." To me this is really exciting--a combination of technology and curating abilities.
All in all, while re-shelving and scanning articles is not most people's idea of a good time, to me it's sort of satisfying. You run into things you wouldn't have looked up yourself. It's also just the most obvious work libraries do, there are larger issues like how libraries handle the increasing push for digital works, how libraries are also one of the few public places people can get together or use computers for free, how libraries can assist with life-long learning, or home schooled or virtual learning, and on and on. Taking the time, if only for a few days, to absorb the library atmosphere, talk about and research libraries, has made it clear to me it's a future I'd consider pursuing. Waiting to be hired in a library would have been a stressful alternative, so many thanks to Victoria and OCOM, and to Reed for organizing the Winter Shadows program.
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!