Every summer, under the leadership of the Internships & Fellowships Program Office (IFP), the Library of Congress welcomes a cohort of Junior Fellows to this oldest federal cultural institution to work on projects in support of the Library’s mission and goals. This summer, although confronted by travel restrictions and other challenges during COVID-19, instead of calling it quits, the IFP office successfully converted the Junior Fellows program into a virtual initiative. This means that interns can participate in this program without having to leave the comfort of their homes. As a result, on May 26, the African & Middle Eastern Division was delighted to welcome three Junior Fellows on board! They are Chelsey Brown, Briana Gausland and August Kahn.
Supervising the three Junior Fellows is Amal Morsy, Arabic Cataloger and Leadership Development Program Fellow on a 120-day detail to AMED. In the coming weeks, we will publish another post of our interview with Morsy, who will talk about what it means to be a LDP Fellow and to supervise Junior Fellows’ projects.
But first, in the following interview, the three Junior Fellows talk about themselves and their virtual internship experiences during these extraordinary times. Preceding the interview are their brief bios.
Chelsey Brown is a student at the University of Missouri with a Major in IT and a Minor in History. With her mentor, African Specialist Laverne Page, she is creating a finding aid, documenting digital databases concerning African Studies, both freely available and subscription-based. Her work products will enhance the division’s reference services and make the Library’s online African resources more discoverable.
Briana Gausland is a 2020 graduate of Wheaton College with a History Major and experiences in digital archiving. She is working with her mentor, Amal Morsy, to create a country resource guide for Egypt covering both internal and external resources. To that end, she is surveying the Library’s digital collections, databases, social media, and other resources for valuable content. As part of this effort, she is also creating metadata for the Near East Section’s vast webcast archive.
August Kahn is a 2020 graduate of Pitzer College with a Religious Studies Major and knowledge in three languages – Hebrew, Arabic and Yiddish. With his mentor, Hebraic Specialist Ann Brener, he is creating a LibGuide for the Hebraic Section’s “Finding Aid for Sixteenth-Century Hebrew Books.” After completing the LibGuide, he will work with the Exhibits Office to create an online display suitable for the Virtual Display Day. (For more information about VDD, please see the end of this post.)
Tell us a little about your background.
Brown: I grew up in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, which is about 45 minutes away from Kansas City. I am going into my senior year at the University of Missouri pursuing a Bachelor of Science Degree in Information Technology with a minor in History. My hope is to one day have a career impacting the development of technology and resources that make history more accessible and interactive.
Gausland: I was born and raised in Barrington, Rhode Island, where I also attended high school. This past May I graduated from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, where I studied European History and ran varsity track for the past four years.
Kahn: I grew up in Barrington, Rhode Island, but I attended Pitzer College in Claremont, CA. There, I majored in Religious Studies, with a particular focus on Judaism and modernity. I wrote my senior thesis on Isaac Meir Dik’s 1868 Yiddish rewrite and translation of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” published in Lithuania and retitled as “Slavery or Serfdom.”
How did you find out about the Library’s Junior Fellow program and what drew you to apply?
Brown: I was drawn to the program because of deep respect for the Library and my desire to learn from the various departments at the Library. I began to research and found this opportunity. The first time I found this program in my sophomore year; I was too intimated to apply then. But I dug deep, found some courage, and applied this year!
Gausland: This past fall I took a class, “Introduction to New Media,” in which, each student created a twitter personality that embodied our academic interests in the digital world. On my twitter, I began following a few accounts run by the Library, and caught a tweet about the program. The ability to work on an independent, hands-on project alongside top individuals in the field drew my interest immediately. It almost seems meant to be!
Kahn: A professor had sent me an article published in “The Forward” calling for Yiddish speaking students to apply for the internship. Soon enough, I had submitted an application. Now I am working with the Hebraic Section, spending the summer immersed in its impressive collection of 16th-century Hebrew books. I was drawn initially to the Library of Congress for its unique dedication to disseminating information and knowledge, not just to scholars or seasoned academics, but to the entire public. The Library’s goal of providing access to the world’s greatest literary and scholastic contributions to all people is an inspiring mission, one I am lucky to support as an intern.
Have you ever visited the Library in person? Or used any of the Library’s online resources before applying for the fellowship?
Brown: While I have never visited the Library in person, I have used its online resources countless times for school assignments.
Gausland: Although I have visited DC, I have never had the opportunity to visit the Library in person. I was looking forward to that this summer! I have not had a wealth of experiences with the Library’s online resources in the past, however, my professors would often use primary sources found through the catalog.
Kahn: I haven’t made it to the Library yet! I haven’t spent time in DC for more than a couple of days. Much of my career as a student benefited from the resources of the Library. Writing papers in college, the Library’s online resources were especially helpful.
How is going so far to be part of the first virtual Junior Fellow program?
Brown: The staff’s determination to really open the doors of the Library to us is outstanding. In this short period of time, I have been able to learn a vast amount of new things by attending various classes and meetings. Ms. Morsy is also a major driving force in the program’s success to me. She has made the experience meaningful, productive and fun. Lastly, my project is coming along great! I am really looking forward to having a finished a LibGuide that allows for African content to be more accessible!
Gausland: Prior to the start of the program, I was a bit discomforted with starting a new project and making new connections online. However, at every turn, supervisors and staff have provided us with assistance, support and opportunity. Their commitment is what makes me feel truly lucky to be a part of the first virtual Junior Fellows program. During these first few weeks I have the great opportunity to learn more about digital resources and organization, as well as the pleasure of making many new connections.
Kahn: It’s been a real pleasure working for the Library these past couple of weeks, even in an unorthodox way. I’ve really appreciated all of the hard work that the directors of the fellowship have put into making the internship possible and productive under the challenging and unprecedented circumstances. I’ve learned so much working with my project mentors, who have been terrific and generous leaders. I have felt so supported by the guidance of my supervisors and I am grateful for their kindness and willingness to include me in their projects. So far, I’ve been helping the Hebraic Section expand its research guide for the “Sixteenth-Century Hebrew Books,” working intimately with the Finding Aid to make titles more accessible for researchers and scholars. Working closely with these titles has helped fuel my excitement for my Display Day project, where I will be focusing on a few important Hebrew books from 16th-century Venice that sparked great controversy both in the printing presses and in the eyes of the Church, contributing to sweeping political changes in Italian-Jewish literary life.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Brown: I am a really creative person so, in my free time, I love to paint and I enjoy reading. During quarantine, my great-aunt and I have been selecting books and reading them together so we can have our own virtual book club. We also both love film so we have been watching many different shows and films so we can talk about them.
Gausland: Despite graduating from college, I am continuing to run every day. I love to read in my free time (who here doesn’t!), shop at thrift stores, and practice photography.
Kahn: After hours from the Library, you can usually find me running, cooking, or gardening. Staying at home, I’ve been able to spend more time playing piano and catching up on all the books I didn’t have time to read as an undergrad.
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Currently, Junior Fellows are busy with not only their designated projects, but also the preparations for the Virtual Display Day. This end-of-summer display is a vital component of the Junior Fellowship Program. It normally involves a physical display of projects and in-person interactions with Junior Fellows. This year surely is going to be very different but promises to be an invigorating experience. Please stay tuned for more information.