The Beehive: the official blog of the Massachusetts Historical Society

My Internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society

During my senior year at college, I finally reached a point where I had to decide what I was going to do with my B.A. in history. Then, my mom offered a suggestion I'd never thought of before: what about being a librarian?  As I began to explore this career possibility, I learned more about archives, and, through a tip from a Tufts University archivist, wound up with an internship at the Massachusetts Historical Society. I enjoyed my time in the collections services department and decided to get my masters degree in library science at Simmons College. Last year, I was lucky enough to get another internship in the collections services department as part of one of my Simmons classes, and this semester, I came back for more! This time, I worked in the reader services department answering researchers' reference questions. 

Getting a taste of public services in an archives has been extremely valuable and a great complement to my behind-the-scenes experiences. It's rewarding to help people directly and see the immediate results of one's work. However, being in direct contact with researchers has its added pressures. For example, I received one question about how slavery ended in Massachusetts that I spent half a day on but still could not find the answer. Despite the frustration, the search for the answer was educational for me because I learned a ton about the end of slavery in Massachusetts. As a plug, an especially great resource was the Massachusetts Historical Society's online exhibit:

This internship also reinforced for me the importance of building connections between different cultural institutions, such as museums, archives and libraries, and knowing other institutions' collection strengths. Researchers asked me several questions this semester that our library didn't have the right resources to answer, so I sent people to other repositories. For example, since genealogy is not a collecting focus of the MHS I referred several people to the New England Historic Genealogical Society and the Massachusetts State Archives. However, I did have one genealogical victory. A researcher wanted information on an ancestor that lived in Charlestown during the 17th century, and I was surprised to discover several mentions of him in our ready reference collection, as well as an autobiography on Google Books!

Overall, this internship gave me a greater appreciation of reference librarians. There is so much information, not only in the physical collections but also on the web, that knowing which sources to check takes trial and error, experience, and a great memory. I was lucky to pick up a few tips in my time here.

permalink | Published: Monday, 6 December, 2010, 7:10 AM


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