Any and all opinions, thoughts, experiences, and photos represented in this blog are my own and do not represent the opinions, ideas, and core values of the European Division or the Library of Congress. This is my personal blog meant to document my experience working and living as an intern in Washington D.C.
Much like my favorite extra-terrestrial being from the critically acclaimed novel, The Man Who Fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, I feel a bit like an observer learning how to mesh with a different civilization in this land which feels like a strange new planet called Washington D.C. Luckily, for me, the European Division is filled to the brim with some of the most brilliant people whom I have ever had the pleasure to meet. These librarians and researchers have made their journeys from the four corners of the globe to this hallowed institution, the largest library in the world–the Library of Congress–to provide the service of preserving and sharing the knowledge of their expertise. I am surrounded by a never ending supply of knowledge, beauty, politics, and culture. It is a simultaneously enthralling and overwhelming experience, and I would have it no other way. Allow me to back track my story to Sunday morning, 5:00 A.M. EST.
Driving East from Ohio early Sunday morning.
I left as early as I could in order to avoid any traffic for the Memorial Day holiday weekend. With a full tank of gas and giant travel mug of coffee I left my native state of Ohio behind me and set off for a new adventure. Eight hours and two pit stops later I found myself in Maryland at the house I found on Craigslist which, I might add alongside Air B&B, is an incredibly effective and much less expensive way of finding housing if you are considering interning in Washington D.C. in the future. I am staying in what I have referred to with my friends as “The Genius House.” Everyone living in this house is involved in incredibly important projects and academic fields. To protect the identity of my housemates I will not go much further, but just know that they are incredibly brilliant and incredibly kind.
My first whole day living in Maryland was Memorial Day. In order to get a feel for my commute I felt it was incredibly important for me to do a test run. From my summer home I walked to the nearest metro station which takes 10-15 minutes. I take the Wheaton metro station, which has the longest escalator in North America, to Union Station, which takes between 20 and 40 minutes depending on the day, construction, and any or all other reasons the metro could be delayed. From this station I walk to the Library of Congress, which takes another 10-15 minutes depending on how close to my clock-in time I am cutting it. I must add, this is my first real time experiencing D.C. aside from a short four day visit I made to study at the National Archives for my undergrad honors thesis, the summer before my senior year at Wright State University. During that time I did not have much time to experience D.C. in all of its splendor, so if at any point I seem too amazed by everything I see and experience, just know that this is the first time I am seeing or experiencing any of this.
There is something about my daily commute that I find very pleasing. I enjoy my walk to the station wherein I listen to my favorite Pandora playlist and make a mental list of my day. I enjoy riding the metro which screams like a TIE fighter as it hurtles through tunnels at its top speed. And finally, I think I may have one of the prettiest commutes to work as I walk from Union Station, past a flowering garden, past the Supreme Court, up to the striking Jefferson building, which faces the Capitol. In this regard, I cannot complain. The only thing I do not like about my commute is the D.C. humidity. I do not like how frizzy my hair becomes and how sweaty I am as I arrive at the very well air conditioned Library of Congress. But the work I have been entrusted with and the experiences I will have make up for all the hairspray I use to tame my mane and every bead of sweat which runs down my back as I walk toward Independence Avenue.
Orientation began with HR paperwork filing and an overview of the program. I met four of my intern colleagues who were all equally impressive in terms of work and academics. At my table were two interns set to work on the Veterans History Project: one who will be working on a project for making packets of WWI primary resources for outreach and programming, and another who will be working on a project involving transcribing Spanish language oral histories. If you do not know which project I am working on please refer to my introductory blog post here. We all introduced ourselves and exchanged stories of our university towns and our experiences working in libraries and within our programs. Everything began to feel much more real after we took the oath of office. Once it settled in that I was an employee of the federal government who, as an employee of the Library of Congress, was entrusted to serve Congress and the public, academic or otherwise, by preserving and helping disseminate the knowledge of the world, I began to feel the importance of my project.
After finally meeting my project managers, Grant Harris, head of European Reading Room, Barbara Dash, rare book and manuscript cataloger, and Harry Leich, Russian area specialist, I was introduced to nearly everyone who works for the divison. I feel extremely flattered and welcome as everyone seems very happy to have me. I hope to live up to their expectations.
The first two days of the program were mostly filled with tours, history lectures, fingerprinting, a wonderful opening remarks lecture about what libraries are and how we should think about physical space by the executive director of the D.C. Public Library, Richard Reyes-Gavilan, and wonderful lunches with two of my project managers, where I was able to get a better feel for what I will be doing during my 10 weeks in the capital and a better feel for who they are as people. It is always wonderful to get to know Slavic librarians as people as they usually have extremely compelling and wonderful stories of travels, studies, projects, and other experiences. I always like to see how they view the world and, while sometimes their stories can be dark, the portraits of life painted by the hand of a librarian focused on the Russian, East European, and Eurasian region are usually quite ornate and beautiful to behold.
Finally, after a course on searching the Library’s ILS (Voyager), I was given my first assignment on Thursday. A previous intern left a large group of Yudin related material in drawers at what I assume was her desk when she worked for the division. Four drawers were marked with sticky notes labeling this intern’s confidence in whether or not an item in the drawer was Yudin collection related or not. With the help of Barbara, I loaded up a cart with all of the materials and took a pile of catalog records, which the previous intern identified as part of the Yudin collection (even verifying these items in Yudin’s handwritten card catalog) but missing from their location as stated by the record, and a healthy pile of books up to my desk in order to start my work.
Friday began with instruction by Barbara in the proper way to update catalog records via Voyager. After a few issues with programs not working properly and issues with my login password, I learned the ins and outs of minimal level cataloging. While it is not much, I felt very accomplished in updating the few records I could (minus the proper diacritics for the moment as my version of Macro Express is not working). I feel incredibly lucky to work with the items I am responsible for. Novels, text books, dictionaries, biographical material, collections of works, drop-dead-gorgeous portfolios of lithographs and much more are at my fingertips every day. I still feel so honored and quite honestly blown away that I was chosen for this opportunity. I cannot wait to discover and share more as I work with this amazing collection and team. I look forward to what week two will bring to this observer who hopes to slowly but surely prove herself and integrate into the ranks of the European Division of the Library of Congress!