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May 8 / Matthew Fredericks

SLIS Alternative Spring Break at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library & Museum

By Nathaniel Arndts, MLIS Student

SLIS Student Nathaniel Arndts

Though short, my experience at the Ford Presidential Library was both illuminating and constructive. My fellow interns and I gained a thorough overview of the functions of the Presidential Library System while seizing an opportunity to hone the skills learned from classroom study.

Putting aside the excitement of handling letters and documents once in the hands of congressional and White House staffers, the actual processing of records was thrilling in and of itself. Despite the pressure of having to go through as many letters as possible, I felt I had to slow down to review them for their historical value. If it were not for this close examination of the details, I would not have noticed several amazing finds. In one letter, the writer claimed to be First Lady Betty Ford’s high school classmate. The processing archivist and I did a little digging and were able to verify that this writer was who she said she was. To me, this demonstrated that a document scanned quickly and in a cursory manner can lead to a piece of history left behind in obscurity.

For every day at the Ford Library, our group was able to have an in-depth discussion with the staff on the day-to-day and big picture functions of this institution. Not only did the staff inform us on how this one archive operates, but also the workings of the entire Presidential Library System. It was a novel concept for me to think of an individual archive as part of an expansive network operating under a uniform policy. I may have been interning at one archive, but I felt I was contributing to the mission and goals of an extensive organization that serves such a large public. I certainly will entertain any future opportunities of employment in a presidential library.

Just one week at the Ford Library provided me with so much insight and experience into the profession of my aspirations.