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Photographs and Firehoses

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This guest post was written by Bailey Ward, a 2020 Junior Fellow in the Business Reference Section of the Science, Technology & Business Division,  who is working on a project to identify sources relating to the use of beads in trade.

Looking back on my first week, I can certainly say that I never thought it would be like this. Ever since receiving the offer to work at the Library of Congress, my idyllic image of this internship consisted of marble staircases, accessible bookshelves and spacious reading rooms. Instead, I signed on to my first virtual meeting at 8:30am in the quiet of my own bedroom and began my first day.

Photo mashup of personal photograph of Bailey Ward, Junior Fellow, 2020, with photograph of the Elevator in the lobby of 2nd Street Entrance courtesy of Shawn Miller. Edited by Bailey Ward.

Do I wish that I could be standing in the Adams Building right now? Yes. Do I wish that I could be taking field trips to the Smithsonian to look at trade beads with my mentor? Of course. However, the preparation leading up to this program and its much-awaited beginning has been a good lesson in adapting to change when things do not happen according to my expectations. In times like these, I constantly count my blessings. I’m lucky to be working at an institution that is often called a palace of knowledge – even if it is in an unconventional capacity. I’m lucky to be with an understanding adviser, Mrs. Nanette Gibbs, who also has a good sense of humor. Most of all, I’m lucky to be learning from a staff of people who are willing and able to teach me. Ultimately, I recognize that many of my cohorts are not as fortunate.

Photo mashup of personal photograph of Bailey Ward, Junior Fellow, 2020, with photograph of South Reading Room courtesy of Shawn Miller. Edited by Bailey Ward.

After scrolling through photos of previous interns at the Library, Mrs. Gibbs and I chuckled over the next best thing – entering into the Adams Building virtually. With that goal in mind, we dove into the Prints & Photographs collection searching for ideal backgrounds. My experience browsing through Special Format Collections turned out to be the very tip of the iceberg in terms of what the Library has to offer.  Using some photo editing magic, I was able to virtually travel to my workplace. Although these photos serve a comedic purpose, they have a motivational one as well.

I hesitate to say the phrase “when this is all over” but knowing that the world’s largest library will re-open to the public inspires me to move forward. When that happens, I will be there. I will get to ride the 1930s elevator to Mrs. Gibb’s office and I’ll get to flip through the pages of a book in the reading room. Believing that these hopes will come to fruition prevents me from losing perspective in the face of exigent circumstances. Even remotely, the Junior Fellows program provides us with the opportunity to have our research guide us. In the midst of confusion and loss, we have a goal in mind. Regardless of where we are, we are able to strive towards that objective.

On my first day, Mr. Eric Eldritch told the incoming interns that a common saying among the Library’s employees is that “getting information from the Library of Congress is like trying to get a drink of water from a firehose.” For a 20-year-old college student like myself, having access to this firehose is thrilling, albeit intimidating. Nevertheless, I am ready to begin a process that I suspect will morph into a year-long venture into trade beads.

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