It is said that experience is the greatest teacher. I agree. New tasks and new researchers each day in an inspiring atmosphere made my RAC-CCNY internship experience a productive and memorable one. You can walk into the Rockefeller Archive Center with background information that seems black and white, but each interaction brings new elements that create a complete picture of the day to day workings of an archive with a welcoming environment.
So how does one fit in with such a smoothly run system? Do you just stay out the way and do your best to blend in? Do you immediately take action to prove that you belong? Or do you just take a step back and appreciate the fact that you even made it through the opening gates? I always tried my best to demonstrate my strengths and interact with staff as much as possible. I tackled new projects with an open-mindedness and willingness to learn, honed my time management skills by working with my supervisor to set weekly benchmarks, and felt at ease knowing there was a supportive staff whenever I had a question or needed guidance.
As an intern, some people expect to be given tasks like fetching coffee and answering phone calls all day. However, at the RAC, I was able to learn the ins and outs of archival practices by being given my own archival projects.
My main project was processing the Wilson McNeil Lowry papers. Lowry was a Vice President at the Ford Foundation, and the first official to heavily focus on the Humanities and Arts. Reading the memos, correspondence, and grants, I quickly learned of Lowry’s passion for the arts, and it was easy to recognize the impact Lowry had on the Foundation and the grantees. Processing this collection was inspirational, personally. I say this because it shows what great things can come from you being a supporter of someone else’s talents. This is a huge lesson to learn in society because a lot of people in this generation feel like they need to be the star in everything and forget the importance of the supporters that give them a platform.
The RAC is full of these great supporters when it comes to helping the interns on a day to day basis. I was able to sit down and have meetings with every department and get to know what they do and how they work together as a team. It showed how each person’s work supports access for researchers. As an intern that has never done processing, support played a big role in my success.
I had a range of other tasks that allowed me to work across departments. I learned brief coding skills with the Digital Team, processed an AV inventory and stabilized still images with the Collections Management Team, learned about the Reference Team’s systems, and participated in educational outreach. I truly enjoyed being able to work with students because I believe our time with them and the research they are doing will have an impact on them throughout their education. Working with the community means a lot to me, and I’m so glad the RAC gave me the opportunity to work with the 5th graders. The overall experience I’ve gained at the RAC will stick with me forever.
They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. The challenges of learning unfamiliar skills in this internship were the lemons, and the RAC staff and skillset I have developed are the water and sugar. Together we made some amazing lemonade to quench the researcher’s archival thirst.