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Experiences Galore! My Time as an Intern at the Smithsonian Libraries Advancement Office

Intern Mckenna Heim standing in front of large glass and brass doors with Smithsonian Libraries signage.
Me in front of the Smithsonian Libraries door in the Natural History Museum the day I arrived in Washington, D.C.

This post was written by McKenna Heim, Smithsonian Libraries Advancement Office intern from June 2019 to January 2020. Interested in interning with our Advancement Office? Positions are available for Summer 2020.

As a recent graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, I was looking for an internship where I could make an impact. I sought an opportunity where I could help inspire people to find history, culture, and science fascinating. What better way to go than to apply for the greatest research, education, and museum institution in the world? This internship not only changed my perspective on the Smithsonian and the Smithsonian Libraries as a whole, but greatly impacted my life.

When I received the call that I had been accepted for the Smithsonian Libraries Advancement Internship, I couldn’t have been more excited. I didn’t know much about the advancement side of the Smithsonian, let alone the Smithsonian Libraries. However, I wanted to understand all aspects of the Smithsonian, and seeing how advancement supports the mission of the institution was a very important insight into how this institution runs. With this in mind, I gladly made the 13.5-hour drive from my hometown in Iowa to our nation’s capital.

It quickly became clear to me that the Advancement department is integral to the success of the Libraries. Because of this, I decided early on that I wanted to extend my internship until January 2020. I worked directly with the Director of Advancement, Eliza White; Advancement Officer, Allie Swislocki; and the Advancement Manager, Engagement and Programming, Gabi Kahn. These incredibly hard-working women run the Libraries’ fundraising program.

As an intern, I explored many different aspects of advancement and assisted on numerous projects. This   gave me a great range of experiences in fundraising and stewardship, and an understanding of the impact philanthropy has on the entire Libraries system. I helped create the “Impact” section of our endowment reports by compiling statements from branch librarians about how the donors’ contributions helped their library. I worked on the quarterly donor e-newsletter, Page Turners, where I created new segments highlighting Libraries staff, sharing fun facts and figures from the Libraries, and adding gifs to the newsletter. I also assisted in researching prospective donors for an upcoming Libraries exhibition.

One of the biggest projects I worked on was our Adopt-a-Book event. At this event, donors were able to “adopt” Libraries materials. These donations went toward the preservation of books and building the Libraries’ collection. Each donor received an “adoption certificate,” along with an information sheet describing their adopted book in detail. I made over 150 certificates and information sheets for donors. I take great pride in this project. It took time, effort, and creativity to create these documents. I absolutely loved this project because it contributed directly to the promotion of the Smithsonian Libraries and engaged directly with donors. Along with these certificates and information sheets, I also created a survey to gather constructive feedback from event attendees.

Left image: shelves of 18th and 19th century books. Right: 15th century early printed book open to a page with marginalia.
Left: A picture I took of James Smithson’s (the founder of the Smithsonian) book collection. This collection can be found in our rare books vault in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History. Right: A picture of a book written in 1491 by Pliny the Elder. This collection can be found in our rare books vault in the Joseph F. Cullman 3rd Library of Natural History.

What was especially cool about the internship is that it allowed me to explore the Smithsonian at large. In June 2019, I was able to volunteer for the Smithsonian Congressional night. I helped check-in and direct Members of Congress through the event at the National Museum of Natural History. This event was extremely fun because not only was I meeting and directing many important congressional people, relatives, and friends, but I also was able to hold the third molar of a megalodon!

Young woman holding large fossilized megalodon tooth.
Here I am holding the megalodon molar at the Smithsonian Congressional Night.

Overall, I had incredible experiences and developed wonderful relationships: from exploring the libraries and seeing their rare books and collections to going on luncheons and exploring a cemetery with board members and alumni, my eyes were opened to numerous opportunities in and outside of advancement. I have a better understanding of how much time and effort goes into running such a wonderful institution and how fundraising for the Libraries is integral to the operation of the Smithsonian.

Group of eleven men and women standing outside in front of gravestones.
Allie, Advisory Board Members and Alumni, and I exploring Oak Hill Cemetery.

With this internship, I was able to fulfill my desire to be a part of something impactful. I cannot thank the Libraries staff, especially Allie, Eliza, and Gabi, enough for making my journey through the Smithsonian so unforgettable! It has been an honor to have been granted an internship with the Smithsonian Libraries and to be able to be a part of a team that contributes greatly to the promotion of education, research, and history.

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