My interest in the Smithsonian Institution, as an entity, began a long time ago when I was a young girl. I came to DC with my middle school to visit the National Museum of Natural History and since that trip, I was completely in love with museums and wanted to know how they operated–how all of those magical exhibits came to be, who was responsible for making that happen, and all of the different people who got to work together to make this large organization thrive. Simultaneously, being a studious girl who enjoyed reading books and doing homework in my free time, I had developed a deep love of libraries–those dark, quiet places filled with shelves and shelves of books just waiting to be explored and enjoyed. There’s nothing quite like the feel of a book, the smell of its pages, the weight of it in your hands. And when I discovered, a few years later, the rare books sections of different libraries, I was even more intrigued and anxious to discover not only the content of these old books and manuscripts, but also the process involved with making them, and the way that librarians and curators store, classify and preserve them. If only there were a way to combine my two loves: museums and libraries…
So a few years intervened and I went to graduate school at Princeton University for medieval English, getting to explore my love of old texts and rare books, and to further enjoy the quiet, cavernous delights of the Princeton Library (where 500-year-old books lay casually on the shelves along with modern books, all of them ripe for consumption). Serendipitously, I moved from my home in PA to DC, home of the Smithsonian, after I got married and was still a graduate student. I found great joy in going to the Library of Congress for the first time to pursue my graduate work. I was in awe of the magnitude of holdings at that Library, and the idea that it was free for anyone to read books there–and what a gorgeous place to read books! I started to develop a serious curiosity in Library Science since I thought that being able to turn my love of books and libraries into a career would be the culmination of a lifelong dream. And when I heard that the Smithsonian had its own system of libraries, my two loves collided, and I went to the first open house that I could at the Smithsonian Libraries inside the natural history museum (a library inside of my favorite museum–heaven!!!). At the open house I met quite a few Smithsonian librarians and staff, including Bonnie White, Bianca Crowley and Grace Costantino. I explained that I had recently completed a marketing internship with the Smithsonian Associates (another amazing adventure that would need its own post to tell the whole story), and Bianca and Grace suggested I try to apply for their new marketing internship with the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). I left that open house feeling lucky to have met so many kind people in the field I hoped to explore, and having gotten so much great advice from all of them about pursuing a Library Science degree and career.
I applied for the internship at the BHL and was accepted. There is something wonderful about going to get your Smithsonian Intern badge from the security office because I felt like I was finally a member of a community of people just like me–book lovers, library lovers, museum lovers, people who enjoy internet marketing and all of the new possibilities that the Internet could bring to help libraries and museums expand their audiences and make their collections more readily available to the general public. The idea of using the Internet to make more books more freely available to all people is something I’ve always believed in ever since I learned of the concept in grad school, and the BHL’s project of doing just that is one that I wholeheartedly wanted to contribute to and support, in any way possible.
I began my 4-week internship under the guidance of Bianca Crowley, and I learned that I would be responsible for finding 5 books from the BHL collections which I would read and write about for the “Book of the Week” blog posts for the BHL blog. At my fingertips I had one of the most amazing collections of digitized, full-text biology- and biodiversity-related books through the BHL website, and it was fun to explore the collections to find books that could be the topics of my blog posts. I found books about human deformity caused by corsets (a physiology book), about taxidermy, cicadas, cats and rabbits–and I could have found even more, the possibilities were endless. These books had beautiful illustrations or photographs, amusing anecdotes or gruesome and strange facts, and were intriguing subjects on which to write. Bianca worked collaboratively with me to make sure I had picked good books to highlight and was always available if I needed any guidance at all. Another highlight was being able to talk with Grace Costantino about how the BHL carries out its social media and marketing work, which gives me a better sense of how large libraries operate and hope to expand their audiences.
The absolute best thing about this internship–aside from being able to show my badge and enter the National Museum of Natural History early, when all is quiet and the exhibits are completely empty of people–was being able to work with the kind and generous staff of the Biodiversity Heritage Library and learn how this operation functions. Bianca knew I was interested in pursuing my Library Science degree, so each week she made sure that I got to meet a different member of the staff, who explained to me their job and gave me advice about applying to Library Schools. I will always be grateful for this amazing opportunity, the wonderful people I have met, and the advice that is sure to help me on my path to Librarianship!
Written By: Laurel Byrnes, Marketing Intern at the Biodiversity Heritage Library
Connect with me: http://www.linkedin.com/in/laurelbyrnes