Tag Archives: intern

Interning at the Research Library

UMASS Amherst Emily Esten has just completed her internship in the Research Library. Below are her reflections on the experience:

The New Bedford Whaling Museum has always been a fascinating place inside – you’ve got the Lagoda, the forecastle, and the whale skeletons hanging over you. The exhibits detail answers to every question about whales and whaling that could ever be asked. But there is so much research and materials that the Museum can’t possibly display and discuss them all – for those stories, you have to visit the library.

I interned in the Research Library over the summer, looking for an experience that would allow me to further my interests in New Bedford whaling as well as teach me some new skills, like library management. I enjoyed my experience, and I certainly learned a lot in just a few months.

  • Organization: My tasks primarily focused on organizing Manuscript (Mss) collections. These collections can have all sorts of items – correspondence was common, but there could also be business records, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, pictures, or various mementos. Many of these collections had been accessioned by the Museum (purchased or donated) but not processed (organized with a complete finding aid). This is where I came in – to process the collections. First, I would take a thorough inventory of what was initially in the boxes, taking notes on the content I came across. Next, I’d review my notes and attempt to think of a series arrangement in which to sort the content – whether that was by type of content, time period, or individual associated with the materials. Once running my organizational ideas by Mark, I’d typically start arranging the materials and folders in chronological order. When all the folders were organized, I’d have to officially process them, writing descriptions on each folder. Finally, I’d write the finding aid, have it checked by Mark, and code it for the website. It wasn’t always easy to do, especially as the collections became larger and less organized. It required attention to detail, focus, and great organizational skills – all of which I was able to perfect.
  • New Bedford (Whaling): Working with unprocessed manuscripts was like a crash course in Old Dartmouth history, jumping from century to subject in a matter of pages. And unlike most history courses, which provide overviews of a topic or period, I was able to use primary sources of a particular individual or family to begin to understand what life might have been like. In regards to the whaling industry, the Mss collections covered more than just the experience at sea. I read about whalers writing home to their wives and children explaining day-to-day activities on board; I analyzed records of businessmen managing their vessels and crew; I saw the cards and drawings from children and wives detailing their lives as they waited for fathers and husbands to return. These primary sources served as guides to the stories of whaling I already knew. Through the Delano Family Papers (Mss 134), I saw the beginnings of whaling as various young businessmen traded ships amongst themselves. I saw a wife in the Eliza Russell Papers (Mss 136) writing to her husband on voyage in the North Pacific. I saw as the Matthew Howland family triumphed in the business and then failed disastrously in the Arctic disasters of the 1870s in Mss 135.
  • New Bedford (Outside of Whaling): I also got to view New Bedford as a city of its own – sometimes in its heyday, sometimes long after. Within the Akin Family Papers (Mss 140), I saw the success of industrial businesses, such as the Howland Mills or F.T. Akin & Company, come into power. And from a social perspective, I was able to some of the work of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society through the papers of Charles Gardner Akin, Jr., as well as the sales and exhibitions of Winfred W. Bennett and his Old Colonial Antiques Shop (Mss 138). I even read things entirely different from whaling, like Walter Teller’s research of Joshua Slocum (Mss 131) and Walter Rounsevell’s quest for gold in California (Mss 126). In general, though, I learned a lot about the people that made New Bedford and the surrounding community important.
  • The Library: Other than New Bedford history, I discovered what it takes to work in a library. It’s nowhere near as impersonal as people make it out be – with all the activity, every day was a different experience. While I’d often be in my own little corner working on the project of the week, I’d see all sorts of people looking at all sorts of materials and for all sorts of reasons. Unlike the way people portray or talk about libraries, it’s not this still or stationary place. A library is a haven and a home, ever-growing and shaped by the needs of the researchers. A librarian or an archivist has to be able to think about information differently – not necessarily on linear terms, but in a form that allows you to link ideas and people together. You have to know where to find things off the top of your head, and how to help people find exactly what they are looking for. It’s not an easy job, but it certainly seems like an interesting one.

I’d like to thank the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the opportunity to work in the Research Library, especially Mark Procknik as my supervisor, and Michael Dyer and Michael Lapides for support.

Walter Magnus Teller Collection

Emily Esten from UMASS Amherst is currently interning in the Museum’s Research Library. Her first project centered around Manuscript Collection #131 (Mss 131) with a complete finding aid serving as the finished product. Below are Emily’s reflections on her first completed project:

Essentially, Mss 131 is a collection called the Teller Papers, a gift from Dr. Walter Magnes Teller that consists of correspondence and research materials from his work on studying Joshua Slocum. The collection was assessed in 1989, but a proper finding aid didn’t exist. That was my assignment: create the finding aid.

Joshua Slocum is an interesting character – born Canadian in a small town of Nova Scotia, later became an American citizen, and managed to make many impressive sea voyages, the most notable being his solo voyage around the world. The sloop he used for that particular voyage, the Spray, was given to him during his stay in Fairhaven, Mass. Slocum mysteriously disappeared while on his way to the West Indies. Teller wrote two books on Slocum: The Search for Joshua Slocum in 1959, and The Voyages of Joshua Slocum in 1971.

The collection includes a wide array of documents – over one-third of the collection is correspondence, but it also includes photos, a draft of a script for a movie of Slocum’s life, and photostats of original Slocum letters. It’s divided up into three separate sections: Correspondence, Research Materials, and Additional Teller Publications and Materials.

I found lots of interesting items in this collection – here were some of my favorites:

  • A handwriting analysis report of one of Slocum’s letters, 1954 (I don’t remember the results of this report, but it reminded me of the fact that a biographer needs to go through literally EVERYTHING in order to get a good idea of who the individual was.)
  • A draft of the speech Teller gave at the Fairhaven plaque dedication ceremony, April 1959
  • Joshua Slocum stamps from Christmas Island, 1977 (You know you’ve made it when you’re on a stamp.)
  • Slocum’s marriage license to Virginia. (I’ve never seen a marriage license before, but the language used in it was a little frightening, to say the least.)
  • A copy of Canadian Geographic, 1980. (I didn’t realize the entire magazine would be in the folder – it had to be at least an inch thick!)
  • A letter from Teddy Roosevelt to Joshua Slocum (the two met on at least one occasion.)

The really interesting finds were in the newspapers. I spent several hours standing by the photocopier in order to make copies of newspaper clippings, since clippings are printed on paper that will quickly fade and fall apart. Clippings are difficult to decipher – sometimes, the particular article or picture was difficult to find, and so I had to scan the page and figure out its relevance to the topic at hand.

I also loved reading all the letters reading through the correspondence – some of it wasn’t so interesting (mostly the receipts), but a lot of them explained little details of Teller’s and Slocum’s life that couldn’t be expressed through basic records. Also, letters are rare gems in today’s technological environment (at least for me,) so being able to see the beautiful (and ugly) handwriting was very neat. By the end, I could recognize the author of some letters by their handwriting!

One of the last steps of the process was using the Library of Congress’s authority listing. Authority listings are similar to tagging things on Tumblr – it’s a way of organizing relevant topics of the finding aid. For example, in this finding aid, listings like “sailing,” “Spray (Sloop),” and “Smithsonian Archives,” are included.

Once I finished adding that into the XML coding, my supervisor posted it directly into the site so we could see if there were any issues. I’m not perfect – there were a few mistakes, as well as one really noticeable one, which had random commas in front a list of entries. Fortunately, this was a quick fix, and all that was left to do was add a link to the finding aid on the main page.

After all the computer stuff was all set, I put official labels on the boxes and placed the nine boxes back on the shelf, ready to move onto the next project.

Working with this collection was definitely a challenge – I had the inventory list to give me an idea of what should be found in these folders, but little guidance as to what to do with it. But as I’m starting to learn, that’s an archivist’s job – what to do with all this information.