From BHL User to Virtual Reference Intern

Like most people who go for a library science degree, I was a kid who loved libraries and books, often checking out more than I could get through in three weeks. (Admittedly, this still happens today. So many books, so little time.) Surprisingly instead of wanting to be a librarian, I figured I’d become a writer. As things tend to happen, the plan wasn’t as straight forward as I’d expected. In a few years I went from wanting to write a darling hipster novel to interning at a paleoecology lab to finally applying for grad school to pursue a master’s degree in library science.
After finishing my undergraduate degree at Emerson College, I moved back to Maryland to jump into the MLS program at the University of Maryland iSchool. With so many libraries in the area, it was an easy decision to make. I completed my field study as a bibliographic data intern at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Central Library earlier this year. It was my first exposure to real-world use of MARC holdings records and OCLC standards. Around the same time I also started my internship at the Smithsonian Botany-Horticulture library. There I’ve been working on a collection management project in addition to some reference work. I even do some shelving every once in a while to get a better idea of what the library holds — not to mention there is something calming about shelving material.
 A few weeks into my Botany-Horticulture library internship I met Bianca Crowley and Jackie Chapman of the Biodiversity Heritage Library. As I had been helping fulfill BHL requests for items in the Botany library, it was suggested that I get more involved. Over the next few months I helped with scanning requests, a preview of the internship that was to be. However, that wasn’t my first experience with the BHL.
My relationship with the Biodiversity Heritage Library started years before I had the opportunity to intern here. During my senior year of college, I did some research at the Harvard University Botany Libraries — a BHL institution I interned for the previous summer — in hopes of finding a great image for a tattoo of Ulmus americana, commonly known as the American or white elm. I came across a citation for a white elm plate in Francois Andre Michaux’s North American Sylva. Unfortunately, Harvard’s copy was unavailable at the time so it was suggested I look in the BHL. Lo and behold, there it was ingested from the Internet Archive. Ever since, the BHL has been my go-to resource for natural history images.
Needless to say, officially starting as the BHL virtual reference intern was a great way to go from user to provider. Over the past few months I worked on the back-log of user requests submitted through the feedback form. The general process of going through a request would start by confirming the citation provided by the user. Sometimes the user is working with a partial citation so this can take some time. Thankfully, verifying citations is something I really like to do. From there I double-check that the title isn’t already available through the portal. Finally, if it’s indeed unavailable, I determine if a BHL member has it in its collection, and assign the scanning task accordingly.
One of the benefits of this internship is interacting with librarians from so many of the BHL institutions, be it through the Gemini interface, a staff call, or here at the Museum of Natural History. It’s great getting a chance to experience how every member does his or her part to make the BHL such a great resource.
My internship ends this month, but I will be sticking around the Smithsonian Libraries as a volunteer. Also (because I can’t get enough of these DC libraries) I will be volunteering at the Library of Congress to work with their mini-comics collection.
It’s been incredible interning for the BHL and Smithsonian Libraries. I’ve met some wonderful people I’m happy to call colleagues and mentors. Seeing the work they do is an inspiring reminder of why I chose to be a librarian. Plus, it’s been wicked cool working a short walk away from the Hall of Bones!
Connect with me via LinkedIn. To read about my internship with the Botany-Horticulture Library, check out my post on Unbound, the Smithsonian Libraries blog. 
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Adriana Marroquin is the project manager for the Biodiversity Heritage Library Field Notes Project and the Smithsonian Field Book Project. She previously served as a library technician at Smithsonian Libraries and as a contractor for two projects: the American Art and Portrait Gallery library’s Art & Artist Corporate Files Database and BHL’s Latino Natural History exhibition.