Embarking on a great adventure to uncover hidden treasure is one of those dreams many of us have as children. As we age, though, we tend to stop believing a dream like this could ever become a reality.
However, the University Libraries’ Special Collections Division recently made this dream possible for several UNLV graduate students. Special Collections has an amazing array of “relics” of Southern Nevada’s past, and this summer, the division sought additional help in processing archival collections and preparing online descriptions for researchers. Who better than our campus’s very own history scholars for the role? “UNLV Libraries recognized that a solid education in the field of history equips students with critical thinking skills, the ability to synthesize information from a variety of sources, and the advanced writing skills needed to communicate the information to the public,” said Cyndi Shein, head of UNLV Libraries’ Special Collections Technical Services. “These students were a perfect fit for the tasks at hand, and compensating them fairly for their unique skills helped them support themselves while in school.”
These internships were highly competitive, so the students began their adventure with good old-fashioned interviews. Mindful that some applicants had never held professional positions before, Special Collections staff treated the interview process as a learning experience for the students. “Special Collections faculty viewed the internships as opportunities to demonstrate the value and practical application of the campuswide University Learning Objectives as well as opportunities to mentor the students in a way that would prepare them to compete for and land entry-level professional positions,” Shein said. Special Collections invited interns to biweekly staff meetings, during which project goals were discussed and individual accomplishments were highlighted. Staff also discussed students’ career goals, gave feedback on interviewing skills, helped students represent the internship on their curriculum vitaes/resumes, and coached students on how to create an online professional profile.
Meanwhile, the work of uncovering hidden treasures was underway. “That’s where students really got excited because they got their hands on Nevada’s history,” Shein recalled. Students dug into the collections; sifted through box after box; and began conducting research, gathering information, and consulting curators to piece together and accurately describe what they had found. Special Collections staff taught the students national professional descriptive standards and trained students to use the ArchiveSpace collection management system. Students then published work online for the world to discover, utilize, and enjoy.
Students also actively contributed to the scholarship surrounding the collections by interpreting both the historical and present-day significance of the materials in blogs they wrote (https://www.library.unlv.edu/whats_new_in_special_collections) as part of their employment experience. Students connected with the treasures in a variety of ways. UNLV grad student Hannah Robinson wrote, “As my knowledge about Jewish culture and history is limited to family stories and food, I jumped at the chance to assess, research, and learn more about Jewish history in Las Vegas while writing a collection description for the Nat Hart Papers (MS-00161) as part of my summer internship in the UNLV Special Collections. … Overall, this experience … has been really interesting to me on both personal and academic levels.”
“My favorite part of working with the Robert Beckmann Photographs (collection) has certainly been seeing Mr. Beckmann’s process,” wrote UNLV grad student Lindsay Oden. “To me, these kinds of photographs underscore the importance of archival work because they provide the context and setting for works of art that seem to uniquely blend into the background of daily life.”
Students were inspired personally and professionally by the experience. Shein indicated that two students are now considering pursuing careers in archives. One of the former interns has integrated Special Collections materials into the curriculum of an undergraduate course he teaches and sends his students to embark on their own adventures in Special Collections. Most of the interns have returned to Special Collections to conduct independent research, leveraging what they learned last summer to support their current studies.
Given the valuable contributions of these enthusiastic, hardworking students, Special Collections worked to keep two students on board part-time, using the opportunity to deepen the students’ knowledge of archival management with additional training in the physical processing and arrangement of materials. The division hopes that it will be able to find the funding required to continue the summer program so this invaluable collaboration can continue. “In ten short weeks, these students helped accomplish what it would have taken years to do without them,” Shein said. “Funding this internship is an investment in preserving the history of Southern Nevada as well as an investment in the future of very deserving UNLV students, and we are eager to ensure that it continues.”
For more information on how you can help UNLV students grow with the Libraries, contact Director of Development Tamara Josserand at email@example.com.