MHS Undergraduate Library Residency

By Lauren Gray, MHS Reference Librarian, and Erin Olding, 2022-2023 MHS Undergraduate Library Resident

In September 2022 the MHS launched an undergraduate library residency program, aimed to introduce students who might not otherwise consider professional paths in public history or library science to the work of those fields.  Erin Olding, then a student at Cape Cod Community College, was one of the inaugural residents, working at the MHS from September 2022 through May 2023.  At the end of her tenure, Erin drafted this blog post to help spread the word about the program.  Knowing that we would be taking a year to evaluate and adjust the program, we held onto Erin’s draft.  Now that the call has gone out for our next pair of library residents, we share Erin’s words with you.  If you know anyone that could benefit from participating in this program, please share the link ( 


One semester, I volunteered at the little archive housed in the library of the small community college I attended. Through this slow-going but very insightful work, I gained firsthand experience processing and creating a finding aid for a collection. While I was working there, the archivist saw a posting for a pilot undergraduate library residency program at the Massachusetts Historical Society and forwarded it my way. The prospect of working at such a storied archive and library—not to mention having a paid internship – enticed me to apply. 

After making a successful application, I prepared for the interview. I scoured the Society’s website, finding as many articles, videos, and other resources as possible. Discovering more about the historically rich collections housed in the MHS was like finding diamonds in a goldmine. I most enjoyed stumbling upon a beautifully painted WWI propaganda poster featuring Joan of Arc, encouraging patriotic women to buy war bonds. 

Receiving news that I landed the job made me ecstatic.  I found the prospect of working in a professional environment after my previous employments in retail and fast food very exciting. But admittedly, that meant I also felt out of my element. From the first second of my first shift, all my coworkers, including fellow library resident CJ, acted generously and graciously. They understood that working just a few shifts a week meant that I wouldn’t get the hang of things as quickly as the other staff and offered much support.   

Retrieving items from the stacks felt familiar. I had stocked new merchandise and pulled old merchandise when working retail. The motor functions are the same. Working in the stacks, slowly committing call numbers and locations to memory, and the sense of accomplishment that came with recalling both left a deep impression on me in my first handful of shifts. Sitting behind the circulation desk, however, felt like an alternate reality. A lifelong lover of libraries, I had spent so much time on the patron side of the circulation desk; now I sat on the other side of the desk.   

Readings and field trips supervised by Senior Reference Librarian Anna Clutterbuck-Cook differentiated the residency from a part-time staff position. During the first semester of the residency, Anna brought CJ and I to various archival and historical institutions in the Boston area. Seeing different places, meeting different people, learning different practices, and listening to different stories— Boston is chock full of stories—provided deep insight into the library and information science (LIS) field. CJ and I also completed assigned readings, excerpts from books pertaining to the LIS field with topics from the MHS itself to the institutional biases within established LIS systems.  

In the second semester, CJ and I began work on special projects.  For these projects we each partnered with a non-library department at the MHS.  I worked with Cassandra Cloutier and Kanisorn Wongsrichanalai on the MHS’s podcast, The Object of History, producing an episode about medieval books in the Society’s collections. I examined the books in the reading room, drafted interview questions, conducted interviews with experts, and cut the raw interview audio. Being able to speak to three knowledgeable individuals (Curator of Art & Artifacts Anne Bentley, Stephen T. Riley Librarian Peter Drummey, and medievalist Agnieszka Rec) about medieval books and book collecting provided much insight. What a pleasure to learn history on the job! 

Completing the yearlong library residency at the Massachusetts Historical Society, working in both the Library and Research departments, was a wonderful experience. Through this residency, I’ve had the opportunity to constantly—and sometimes unexpectedly—learn about historical Boston, American, and even medieval life. I look forward to applying these learned lessons to my future. 

A note about Anna Clutterbuck-Cook 
The undergraduate residency program would not have been possible without the work and passion of Anna Clutterbuck-Cook. A few weeks after the first semester ended, Anna passed away after a long battle with cancer. I found Anna inspirational.  She taught me so much in a very short time. Her intelligence and activism bled into her work. I can only aspire to have a tenth of her spirit. With the anti-trans legislation passing in the United States, I hope to become an archivist for LGBTQ+ history, especially the history being made right now.