A guest post by Sarah Wingo
[Editor’s note: This is the second in an ongoing series of posts written by interns at the Folger. For the introduction to the series, see the first post.]
I am a student working towards my Masters of Science in Information from the University of Michigan’s School of Information (UM-SI). I recently had the opportunity, along with six of my peers, to volunteer my time at the Folger Shakespeare Library during the week of our spring break.
Our experience was made possible through the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program run by UM-SI. Each year, ASB provides opportunities for students to volunteer their time in professional work environments in Detroit, Chicago, New York, and Washington, D.C. This year, a total of 135 students participated in this program with 57 of them working in and around the D.C. area.
The process of getting involved in ASB began in early November when the fundraising team began working towards raising money to support the ASB program. While participating ASB students are only required to pay a $25 application fee, transportation to and housing while in the respective cities is covered through the year-long fundraising of the ASB team. In January, project descriptions were posted to the ASB website. Students began writing their applications and ranked the top five projects that they wished to work on; applications then had to be approved by both UM-SI and the institutions and organizations where the students had applied to volunteer.
I will presume to speak on behalf of the six of us who gave our time to the Folger this year when I say that the Folger was at the very top of our lists for our ASB experience. We each came to the Folger with different backgrounds and experiences, but we all share an interest in history, cultural heritage, preservation, working with old and rare materials, and, of course, Shakespeare. Needless to say, we had all drunk the Kool-Aid before we even arrived. The opportunity to visit the Folger and actually contribute to the work done there, even for a short time, was a dream come true.
The six of us worked on a variety of projects during our February 27-March 3 stay at the Library. Below I highlight these projects, noting the individuals who worked on them and giving a brief description of each project.
Allison and Adriana:
Allison Bailey and Adriana Maynard’s project was carrying out finding aid retrospective conversion (a.k.a. “recon”). They entered information about manuscript collection into Archivists Toolkit, information that was previously only available onsite in typescript. 1 Their work also extended to the actual objects in the collections, which they had the opportunity to document at the item level, reading actual letters kept in the Folger vaults! The collections worked on by Allison and Adriana are described at the collection level in Hamnet: Winter, William, 1836-1917, correspondent. Autograph letters signed from William Winter to various recipients [manuscript], 1864-1917; and Autographs, chiefly of actors and actresses [manuscript], ca. 1800-1922. But eventually item-level descriptions will also be available online through the Folger’s Finding Aids Database, with Allison and Adriana credited for the work they did. Adriana noted that a highlight of her project, was coming across Charles Dickens’s autograph.
Karmen and Stacy:
Stacy Lee Maat and Karmen Beecroft worked on the Folger’s digital image databases. Stacy worked on creating Luna BookReader Views; for an example of her work, you can now virtually “turn the pages” in this beautifully-bound copy of Thomas Lant’s Funeral Procession of Sir Philip Sidney. Karmen worked on a not-quite-public-yet digital image database containing high resolution images and descriptions of bindings from the rare book and manuscript collections of the Folger. She added controlled vocabulary to better enable searching of the Folger Bindings Collection. 2 This database is now openly available for onsite testing by Staff and Readers at the Folger; anyone interested in helping to beta-test it is encouraged to email InsightBindings@folger.edu for the password! Stacy said of the work: “When I started the project, there were only 8 complete BookReader views, and during my time at the Folger, I was able to more than double the size of the collection, bringing the total to 20 books!” 3
Jacqueline DiOrio worked in the Acquisitions Office for her project. Initially her project was to exchange duplicate journals with other institutions. However, Jacqueline said that it ended up being more an overview of the many duties of the Folger Acquistions Office. For instance, she did a lot of work in support of “Acquisitions Night,” an important fundraising event where patrons get the opportunity to “adopt” books in the Folger’s collection, reimbursing the library for their purchase price, funds that then go back into the Acquisitions Budget. 4 Jacqueline said that although her project ended up being different from what she had initially expected, she really enjoyed her work and the experience has sparked a new interest in her for acquisitions.
I worked in Cataloging on the Post-1700 Shakespeare Book Collection, updating bibliographic records using the Voyager Cataloging module. Working from Hamnet records for the Shakespeare Collection prepared by descriptive catalogers, I identified and searched authority files for names of illustrators and booktrade personnel, added the name headings to the records with proper relationship designators, and identified those needing heading creation. My work will help to increase access to materials within the Folger’s collection by allowing for more precise searches. Before ASB, I didn’t have any experience with cataloging, and now I have worked on a cataloging project within an institution that has been influential in impacting cataloging practices for rare material. 5 Like Jacqueline, ASB provided me with the opportunity to discover a new area of interest that I hope to pursue during the rest of my time at UM-SI. (For a detailed account of my own project, please feel free to check out the personal blog that I kept of my ASB experience).
ASB provides a mutually beneficial experience to both student volunteers and the participating organizations and institutions. In working on our projects, we provided an important service to the Folger, assisting them in their daily work processes, while we simultaneously gained valuable on the job experience, made professional connections, and added to our professional skill sets.
Beyond our individual projects, the Folger provided us with the opportunity to meet with and ask questions of many of their staff members. We were also given the opportunity to take tours of the Photography and Digital Imaging lab run by Julie Ainsworth, the Conservation Lab run by Renate Mesmer, and—perhaps the highlight of the trip—the Folger vault containing (among other truly amazing things) 82 copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio.
One of the things that struck each of us was how incredibly generous the Folger staff was with their time. Everyone we interacted with went above and beyond to ensure that we got the most out of our experience, especially Jim Kuhn, who coordinated our internship week. I know I speak for all of us when I say that we cannot even begin to adequately express our gratitude for the time and on-the-job training that all of the individuals we worked with gave to us during our week at the Folger.
“I can no other answer make but thanks, And thanks; and ever thanks”
SARAH WINGO is a graduate student at the University of Michigan’s School of Information; more information about her time at the Folger can be found on her blog.
- Folger catalogers use Archivisits Toolkit to create online finding aids in the Encoded Archival Description format.
- The Library uses many of the RBMS Controlled Vocabulary thesauri; Karmen specifically worked with Binding Terms: A Thesaurus for Use in Rare Book and Special Collections Cataloging.
- For more on the Folger’s cover-to-cover digitization of books and manuscripts, see Jim Kuhn’s Collation post.
- See Erin Blake’s Collation post on the topic and visit the Folger website to learn more about Acq Night.
- For more on this project, see Rare Book Cataloger Carrie Smith’s Collation post.