Historical Materials LIS Internship with SUNY Upstate Medical Archives

MSLIS Internship Close-Up: Historical Materials

During my first semester at the iSchool, my IST 511 class (Intro the Library and Information Profession) had the opportunity to tour the Special Collections Research Center at SU Libraries. We saw printed leaves from the Gutenberg Bible, cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia, and original photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, among others. To say that I was in awe is an understatement. Although I only saw a quick glance at the University’s immense collection, the experience made me want to profile internships in the MSLIS program’s focus area of historical materials.

Historical Materials and Librarianship

Librarians play a vital role in making historical materials accessible to students, researchers, and members of the public. They deal with acquiring, organizing, cataloging, and preserving these materials for educational use and cultural memory. These items can range from manuscripts, photographs, maps, physical objects, rare books, newspapers, and more.

iSchool students have interned at historical societies, museums, special collections at academic institutions, and government archives. A few of the internships I profiled earlier in the series also fall under the umbrella of historical materials. Brian digitally archived recordings of NPR programs like All Things Considered and Senate Hearings on the Watergate scandal during his internship at NPR. Nura cataloged historical scientific field books during her internship at the Smithsonian’s Biodiversity and Heritage Library.

Jeremy Pekarek – MSLIS Candidate, 2017

SUNY Upstate Medical Archives Intern

This week, I interviewed Jeremy Pekarek, a current MSLIS student who interned at the SUNY Upstate Medical Archives. For those not from Syracuse, SUNY Upstate is a medical school and hospital only a few blocks from the Syracuse University campus. The school was first established in 1834.

The SUNY Upstate Medical Archives contain a large mix of historical materials. There is also a number of physical medical objects in the collection. This includes medical­ bags, stethoscopes, EKG machines, forceps, vials, and other types of medical instruments. There is also standard paper-bound objects, such as books and journals.

Jeremy’s project involved processing and accessioning every item in Archives’ physical object collection. According to the Society of American Archivists, accessioning means “establishing rudimentary physical and intellectual control over the materials by entering brief information about those materials in a register, database, or other log of the repository’s holdings.” To do so, Jeremy first ‘tagged’ the objects, giving each one a specific number. Once the objects were tagged, he identifies the name and purpose of each one. This way, he could organize the collection based on the object’s use. Unfortunately, many of the objects contained very minimal background information.

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A Little Bit Of History

The project required a lot of background research. Jeremy consulted multiple reference guides, databases, and books until he found identifying information. He was also in charge of cataloging the object number, location, and metadata for each item. Although it was a time-consuming project, it was a rewarding one. Jeremy ultimately helped improve the collection’s longevity and accessibility.

Of all of the objects he accessioned, one of the most interesting objects he came across in the collection was a trowel. Luckily, it was not for medical purposes. The trowel was actually used by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during a trip to Syracuse in 1936. FDR laid the cornerstone of Weiskotten Hall, one of the main buildings on SUNY Upstate’s campus. To Jeremy, this interesting tidbit raises an important question that underlies archival work: what makes an object historically and culturally significant? In any other situation, it would just be a regular household object. It wouldn’t be relevant to keep in the archive. It is the fact that it was used by FDR that turns it into a special and rare object.

To Jeremy, this interesting tidbit raises an important question that underlies archival work: what makes an object historically and culturally significant? In any other situation, it would just be a regular household object. It wouldn’t be relevant to keep in the archive. It is the fact that it was used by FDR that turns it into a special and rare object.

During our interview, I was curious: why did Jeremy want to intern for the SUNY Upstate Archives and work with this unique collection? I soon learned that the MSLIS program at Syracuse is actually his second Master’s degree. His first is in history. When it came time fulfill his internship credit, he sent applications to many different institutions.

He eventually connected with Cara Howe, curator of historical collections at SUNY Upstate and an adjunct professor at the iSchool. After discussing the details of the project with her, he realized how much the internship aligned with his professional interests as a librarian.

Advice For Students

When I asked Jeremy what advice he had for current students looking for internships and prospective students interested in the program, he offered up the following guidance:

  1. Find a professor to mentor you. Throughout his academic career – community college, college, Master’s, and now his second Master’s – Jeremy had a professor who was supportive in his academic and professional future. His mentors helped him search for internships, jobs, and instilled confidence in his abilities as a librarian and historian.
  2. Apply to a lot of internships. Don’t limit yourself to one type of archive or experience.

On a final note, Jeremy accepted a job as a librarian at SUNY Cortland last fall. He credits his internship at SUNY Upstate Medical Archive for giving him the tools to work with historical materials and preparing him for his current position.

Kara Conley

Kara Conley

Kara is a first year MSLIS student at the iSchool. She is the graduate assistant to the MSLIS Program Manager and works part-time at Dewitt Community Library. Kara is passionate about public librarianship, urban design, and Recess coffee.

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