This week’s guest contribution is from Elizabeth Skene. Elizabeth is currently working at the American University in Cairo and will be starting her final year at the School of Information at Michigan this fall. She is also author of the blog Nerd Hugs. Alternative Spring Break is a great program, so we really appreciate her willingness to share her experiences. Thanks so much, Elizabeth! ~ ed
This March, I was able to spend a week at the National Library of Medicine as an volunteer through the School of Information’s Alternative Spring Break program at the University of Michigan. The National Library of Medicine [NLM] is the largest medical library in the world, located on the campus of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD.
About Alternative Spring Break
The School of Information’s Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program places interested and motivated graduate students, during the week of Spring Break, in professional work environments in the public sector where they can…
- provide a service to an organization, institution, or community
- gain practical job experience
- develop leadership skills as information professionals
- learn new skills
- create professional partnerships
- pursue their fields of interest
School of Information students are placed in non-profit, cultural, governmental, and educational institutions in New York City, Chicago, and Washington D.C. (source)
This year, 112 students were placed with 48 host organizations in 4 cities. You can explore the ASB 2010 website to see the organizations, projects, blog posts and other information related to this year’s trip.
About my project
This was the description of the project I received before the trip:
The Exhibition Program at the National Library of Medicine produces a wide variety of exhibitions and websites that use a diverse assortment of assets including print photographs, digital media, and analog media. Over the course of the last 10 years, hundreds of individual assets have been accumulated. The Rehousing plan for exhibition assets will organize, house, and label all materials for archival purposes. (source)
While I wasn’t sure what types of exhibitions they put together or what types of materials I would be working with, I knew that it would be good, hands-on experience.
My co-volunteer, Heather, & I were given large binders of materials that were used in past exhibitions. Our task was to take out all the photos, sort out duplicates, put the photos into acid-free sleeves, label the photo with its exhibition number and put them into new containers. Over the course of the week we were able to get through not only the materials for one exhibition, but also the binders for all the past exhibitions. Additionally, we updated the catalog records for the materials that had been moved and rehoused. By the end, we reduced the size of the assets from 8 cubic feet, down to 3 cubic feet.
Additionally, we sat in on a few meetings of the exhibition staff in the History of Medicine department. They work full time creating new exhibits, not only to be shown in the library, but as online or traveling exhibits. [If you work at an organization, make sure to check out the amazing, free traveling exhibits!!]
Everyone we met was so helpful, friendly and enthusiastic and it felt feel like we were really able to accomplish something for them – especially since they remarked a number of times that this was a project that had wanted to do for a while, but didn’t have the time or the resources.
Becoming a participating organization
If your organization is located in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York City or Detroit & is interested in hosting an SI student next Spring Break, check out this organization FAQ page. You can also explore the types of projects offered by other organizations to get an idea of what has been done in the past.
Final thoughts on the experience
Joining an organization for just one week presents a lot of limitations – time being the biggest. It can be difficult to strike a balance between an interesting project and one that can be accomplished without spending too much time on training. While my project wasn’t the most challenging, the chance to experience a professional work environment, learn more about typical day-to-day tasks and explore future career options was invaluable.
Lastly, since you may not be able to take a similar Spring Break trip, check out the NLM’s Associate Fellows Program if you’re a recent grad interested in medical libraries and archives. It’s a year-long program and it provides a lot of fantastic experience and training.
Also, D.S. Apfelbaum’s guest post here on NewArchivist gives some good advice and perspective on the value of volunteering in his entry “Ask Not What Your Archives Can Do for You: A Volunteer’s Perspective.”
Thanks to Lance for allowing me to contribute! Please share any thoughts, questions or comments!