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DC, ALA and the Smithsonian: An Intern’s View

This post was written by Autumn Raw, recent graduate from the University of Puget Sound and summer intern in Discovery Services.

D.C. is one of the very few cities that can be classified as “you won’t understand it until you work there.” Two months, two months of humidity and traffic and work that shows the story behind the facade, the actual thrumming momentum of this city. This city never stops moving, and although I have visited this city before, this is the longest I have ever stayed here. The last time I was in D.C. for an extended period of time it was below 40° and I was wearing winter gear like it was going out of style. Barack Obama had just been inaugurated for the second time, and I was holding hands with classmates as the twenty of us tried to navigate away from the National Mall. We were all laughing at the image of us, impenetrable and ridiculous in that way only fifteen year olds can exist, forming a chain as we trudged through two million people to get to our coach bus. I remember exactly where I was standing, and I remember it because I see my reference point every day on my way to work.

The dome of National Museum of Natural History.

Before I came to D.C. I spent four years attending college in Washington state, working in my school’s library. The department I worked in is called RMS, which stands for Resource Management Services, and in that job I handled everything from invoice cataloging to book shifting. The four years I spent working at the library were excellent, and left me suitably prepared to take on work as an intern in Discovery Services at Smithsonian Libaries.

Rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History.


The experiences I’ve had here have been pretty unmatched, but one stands out in particular: getting the chance to attend American Libraries Association Annual Conference and Exhibition (ALA). Attending my first ever ALA conference was pretty exciting, because although I love books, but I’d never really thought about the business side of it. To me, the consumer, a book is hyped up in the months leading to its release, and then poof! It’s in the bookstores and then in my hands. Everything else happens behind some curtain somewhere, the time between being told this book is coming and when it lands in my hands more or less obsolete. I feel like the opportunity to attend ALA was beneficial because it helped me develop a deeper appreciation for books and what goes into having them out in the world.

Keynote speech at American Libraries Association Annual Conference.

At the end of the day, I’m just a twenty two year old who really lucked out–this summer has been a lot to process, what with college graduation, and the move to a city I’ve never truly lived in. My time here has also shown me how libraries interact with the world at large-I was able to see how my school’s library worked with other libraries, but the differences between a small liberal arts college and the Smithsonian Institution are, as you can imagine, pretty substantial. The scale has increased ten-fold, the outreach has also grown to an exponential amount. But the enjoyment remains, the love of working with books and sharing that with others, is a constant between these two instances. I feel that every time I spy the dome, every time I walk through the doors of the library at National Museum of Natural History. It’s a pretty great feeling, I can’t lie.

The view from my window.
Interns on behind-the-scenes tour of the Smithsonian’s Pennsy Drive facility.
View of Smithsonian Institution Archives collections, during intern tour.


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