The curtains are about to fall on my time here in the Special Collections department of Randall Library at UNCW. It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that I sent the email to Miss. Rebecca that asked if I could do an internship here for the summer. That was the email that would officially begin my road towards achieving my dream of becoming an archivist. I have spent almost two months in this department honing my budding skills and gathering the professional experience that I was sorely lacking. To reach the next level from part-time grocery clerk and graduate student to the Archival version of the Jedi Padawan. Those two months have been one of the greatest experiences in my entire graduate career.
I was like the excited, energetic little kid that was walking through an amusement park. From the first collection I processed to the last, I was journeying through and learning about a multitude of different subjects and topics that range from the theatre to environmentalism to World War II and more. You get to learn a universal amount of topics, which is one of my favorite things about the archival field. It is one of the things that attracts me to the career. From different topics to careers/fields to an individual’s personal story, I could practically learn about a host of things that come together to create our world. A world that I could access at any time either from the comfort of my office desk or taking a short stroll to the archival storage area to pull out a collection box. Overall, becoming a resident of a realm where having a detail-oriented mindset, the endless thirst for knowledge, and an unwavering passion for a field that you worked so hard to be a part of is a goal that I am now more determined than ever to see come to fruition.
With these qualities that will help mold me into the archivist that I want to be, I processed three collections in total with a “go get them, wake up, get up, get out there” attitude. The very first collection that I got to work with and process was the Steve E. Cooper Collection, who is a resident playwright who mainly wrote scripts that focus on LGBT rights. This collection was made up of ten scripts in total, which includes the Lambda Series, Aladdin, Think of Me in January, etc. It was both a fun and exciting first collection to ease me into the world of archiving.
The second collection that I got to process was a bit of a doozy, which put my attention-to-detail mindset to the test. It was the Lena Ritter Papers. She was an environmental activist who relentlessly worked hard to protect the coast of North Carolina, including Stump Sound and Permuda Island. I was meticulous in making sure that all of those newspaper clippings, letters, copies, etc. were where they were supposed to be. I’ll admit, there were times where I was becoming a bit paranoid in making sure that this collection was not only chronologically arranged, but also in making sure that it was virtually clean of rusty staples and paper clippings. I can definitely say with confidence that this is the collection that I learned the most about archival work from.
Finally, the last collection that I processed was probably my favorite collection out of the three that I got to work with. It was the North Carolina Shipbuilding Company Collection, which is a collection that tells the story of a Wilmington shipyard that was built for the purpose of building naval war ships for World War II. Not only did it include a historical document that was written up in 1945, a map, and two printing plates, but it also includes a variety of photographs that are of the shipyard, as well. Among these photographs were photos of the different ships that the NCSC built, which includes the Zebulon B. Vance. This ship was not only the first ship to be launched from the shipyard, but was also christened by Alice Broughton, who was the wife of North Carolina Governor, Joseph Melville Broughton. I also got to put the skills to use I learned from obtaining my history degree by conducting a lot of research for the historical background notes for this collection, which was a lot of fun. It was like doing journalism work to uncover the truth. The truth can’t hide for long when this future archivist is on the case!
All three of these collections come together to create that coveted professional experience that I have so desperately been looking for. An experience that has both enhanced and given skills that will prove to be valuable allies in my quest to acquire the Holy Grail that is an archiving career. Of these skills, the ones that I am the most happy to learn are the ability to work with different archival technologies and the ability to familiarize myself with different arrangements that are used to organize collections physically and logically. For the latter, what I mean by that is that there is a big difference between arranging collections physically for storage and arranging them in a digital setting that allows researchers to specifically find what they are looking for. I learned this from processing the Ritter Collection. I was struggling to grasp this at first, but after I took my time and exercised patience, I eventually understood this skill.
That was one of the challenges that I faced in this internship. Like everything else in life, there is no such thing as a completely smooth road. You will encounter a few speed bumps or potholes along the way, which is what I did. The biggest challenges that faced me in this internship were maintaining a “patience is a virtue” attitude and swallowing my pride to ask for assistance for what I perceived to be issues that I felt I should have been able to resolve myself. I have a perfectionist mindset, which means that everything I do in a job has to be absolutely perfect. There can be no room for mistakes. If I make even one slip up, no matter how big or small that slip up may be, then I criticize myself. To say that I have high expectations of myself would be an understatement.
The way I handled it is that I keep remembering the fact that I am only human. I am supposed to make mistakes, which help me become a better archivist. There are going to be instances where I am not going to know how to resolve every issue. There is no such thing as an individual who virtually knows everything. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. When you ask somebody for help, you are also helping the researcher who is looking for information, as well. It hurts the researcher when you do not ask for assistance from your fellow archivists. Overall, I took it slow and got in the mindset to ask for help when I needed, which was how I overcame the challenges that came up during the internship.
These challenges did not put a damper on my perception of both this internship and libraries as a whole. Before I even began this internship, my initial perception was that the library is an information powerhouse that allows researchers to not only look for information in peace, but also to meet up with their fellow colleagues to exchange ideas. This internship not only bolstered that perception, but it has also changed it a little bit, as well. Now I perceive libraries as a community center where not only different departments can come together to exchange ideas, but also the entire town as a whole. There are almost no rooms in a library that are isolated in a back corner and hidden from the public. There were a couple of instances where I witnessed a few guests visit the Special Collections department to look through the vast treasure of collections that the department has. That further proves that both the Special Collections department and the library as a whole aim to continue fostering a strong relationship with the community that they reside in. It has made me want to be a part of that effort
Ultimately, I had a wonderful and enrichening experience here in the Special Collections department. I was finally able to put the knowledge that I have been gaining from my master’s program to practical use, which is one of the things that I am most happy about. I was able to create and build connections here that will last long after I leave. This will be an experience that will be a great resource for me to glean from as I eventually begin an archiving career of my own. It will also be an experience that I will never forget. I would like to thank both Miss. Rebecca Baugnon and Miss. Nicole Yatsonsky for taking me on as an intern in Special Collections. I also would like to thank everybody on campus, as well as the community of Wilmington, for showing me that awesome Seahawk hospitality. Thank you everybody and enjoy the rest of not just this summer, but the rest of the year, as well.