Hello WWPL Volunteer Diaries, nice to meet you!
Before getting into the good stuff I figured I’d at least introduce myself so I’m not a complete online stranger, kind of explain who I am and how I got here to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum (trust me, it’s a story). I’m Bri, a local grad student from Harrisonburg, only 40-45 minutes north of Staunton, who commutes every day to both intern and work five days a week; the drive’s not too bad with the right kind of music.
After completing my undergrad at James Madison University I was conflicted for about a year as to what to do with my life; I really thought editing and publishing was the route for me, had filled out a graduate program application and everything, but chickened out at the last minute after talking to someone already in the industry. They had nothing but horror stories and while you shouldn’t always believe what you hear or read, their stories had some merit after further research, so there I was: kind of directionless and dog sitting for a family friend.
One who happened to be a librarian at JMU. An untapped source of inspiration. Not to be cliche, but actually sitting down and asking her about her job, her experiences in the LIS field, is what changed my life. I applied for the online MLIS program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee shortly after, got accepted, and fell in love with archival studies my third semester in. So here I am.
Back in January of this year I emailed my graduate school advisor to make sure I was still in line to graduate in the spring of 2019; I had just had her for a class the previous semester and had expressed interest in taking more of her courses if or when she offered for the rest of 2018. For two months I didn’t hear anything back and automatically assumed the worse: Was she fired? Did something happen to her? Did she just up and quit without notice? Or, on a more positive note, did she just quietly retire without any fanfare?
Not really knowing who to contact at the university, I sent out some feeler emails only to find out nothing on the whereabouts or status of the woman who had so enthusiastically welcomed me to the MLIS program with what was essentially a glitter bomb version of an email; I’d never seen so many glitter GIFS in one place. Add in the factor of being a completely online long distance learner and I had myself quite a doozy of a situation — I’ve never even been to Milwaukee to see the campus let alone meet any of my actual instructors or advisor. I’ve thought about it, have loosely made plans for it, but will it ever happen? Maybe.
So there I was: advisor-less and hopefully where I needed to be credit schedule wise. I just really wanted someone to look over my color coded Excel spreadsheet and tell me I did the math right and had completed what I needed in order to graduate when I wanted to.
And then I was adopted. Kind of. My archival studies concentration coordinator was really the only faculty person to reply to any of my email inquiries about whether or not someone could at least look at my file and tell me I was going in the right direction. Having previously had him for all of my archival based courses I knew he was a pretty laid back guy who really liked interacting with his students — physically present or not — and that his patience for my millions of questions knew no bounds.
The very first thing he told me was to send him a copy of my resume and to sit tight, that he’d look both it and my unofficial transcript over. Couple days later I’m staring at an email telling me I can graduate this fall and that I also need some fieldwork experience — some volunteering or an internship or anything, really — and I needed it now. ASAP. Like, five minutes ago.
The first part was great, totally doable and unexpected, but the second? I’d like to say I didn’t panic but, well, that’s what it was. At this point it was already the first week of March, which seems random and irrelevant, but not when all the paperwork and applications required by the UWM School of Information Studies required everything filled out and submitted by March 31st. I had less than a month to somehow scrape up an internship, something you usually have to apply for well in advance.
And there was also all the logistics to figure out too: Was I going to have to quit my job? Was I going to have to move? Who did I know that I could pay in food to let me crash with them for twelve weeks? How long would it take for an application to go through? Was I even qualified enough for an internship? How long could I conceivably live in my car if I had to?
And then it happened. I saw it. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum. A shining beacon of hope.
This isn’t to say I had no knowledge of its existence before all this happened; I vaguely remembered visiting here for an elementary school field trip and I’ve looked up its hours, number, and directions for people at work. It wasn’t until I physically drove by while joyriding after work one day that I fully realized what it was: a library, a museum, and an archive. It was the holy triumvirate of all my interests smashed into one geographically convenient location that didn’t require me to quit my job, move, or live in my car.
I just had to worm my way in…which actually wasn’t all that bad compared to some horror stories you hear where landing an internship is equated to winning the academic Hunger Games. Yikes.
I can honestly say my interaction with WWPL in terms of inquiring about and eventually setting up an internship was painless and uneventful in the best possible way. There was really no confusion to anything; the paperwork and application were easy to understand and fill out and I liked that it asked for my specific interests and past experience which, honestly, wasn’t a lot. Karen, the Administrative Officer, got me the information I needed, I gave her what she needed, my unofficial advisor got what he needed, it was #winning all around. I was in, officially an intern.
Then I met Mark. Or I guess I was shuffled onto him, but hopefully he didn’t mind too much. He had me come in to talk scheduling and honestly I was amazed he was willing to work with my kind of weird hours of working Monday thru Friday, 1-5, right smack dab in the middle of the day. There wasn’t a lot of wiggle room and I’m not exactly known for being a morning person, but we got it hashed out and I’m not complaining; I really didn’t want to have to live in my car.
When or if anyone reads this it’s already been a week and I’m honestly still amazed I even managed to get an internship here; to actually be working in an archive in any kind of capacity beyond basic observation or interviewing someone. I’m excited to stretch my legs so to speak — my brain’s legs? — and finally put some of my textbook knowledge to practical use; to see if I do, actually, know what I’m doing. Plus, I’m just really excited to touch some old things, sue me.
Oh, and I almost forgot! For anyone still curious about my advisor situation…at the beginning of April my adoption with my unofficial advisor became official! I opened my email one day to find an invite celebrating the retirement of my previous advisor at some boathouse in Milwaukee and a list of faculty to pick a new advisor from. I didn’t have the heart to tell them I was already being Guerilla-advised under the radar, so I just made it seem like I was surprised my concentration coordinator was listed and asked if he was available (I won’t tell if you don’t!)