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Apr 11 / Christine Illichmann

Alternative Spring Break 2018 – Smithsonian Institute

Colleen Cirocco at the Smithsonian

Colleen Cirocco at work for the Smithsonian Institute.

Alternative Spring Break offers students at the Wayne State School of Information Sciences unique, one-week internship opportunities in real-world settings. This guest post is by student Colleen Cirocco, who spent her Spring Break at the Smithsonian.

It’s hard not to feel a bit of imposter syndrome when walking into an internship at the Smithsonian. The name itself invokes images of marble columns, long hallways, deep recesses of history and heritage. I had a hard time reminding myself that I would be able to offer much to this prestigious institution. I had to remember that I was selected for a reason, to spend one week offering my fledgling skills as an information professional. I arrived in Washington DC on Sunday, March 11 to much colder weather than I had packed for.

The next morning I clumsily found myself at the corner of 12th St and Constitution Avenue. Of course, I was nervous, but felt very reassured by Alison Oswald, our conscientious guide for the week. We walked through the empty museum, on our way to the back room of the archives center.

Alison explained that I would be going through as many boxes of their LGBT collection as possible in order to select images for an upcoming publication on LBGT history. There was a cart, about ten boxes, a Xerox machine, a log sheet, a pencil, and that’s all I would need. From examining a collection of One Magazine, an LGBT periodical dating back to the 1950s, I quickly realized I wouldn’t run out of work to do. I could have spent an hour looking at each magazine, reading the text and images, absorbing the sense of history that they carried. The cover illustrations were beautiful, with mid-century modern designs and provocative titles. I selected almost the entire box for scanning, not wanting to leave anything behind.

When choosing the images, I felt like history’s gatekeeper. I wanted to take my time to let each object have its say, and in selecting one, I felt like I was voting. As an intern, I did not have a final say as to which of the thousands of images would become one of the 50 chosen for the book. But if I took the time to log and Xerox an image, it was a vote for it to be taken out of hiding and given a voice. I wondered, if I don’t pick the image, who will ever see it? It’s almost as good as not even existing. I wondered, how are my own biases affecting which images I’m selecting? Am I being objective or just selecting what I think is interesting or beautiful? Does this mean that history is really just shaped by those who compile it and the biases that influence their selection?

I began to just trust my own judgment, thanks to the feedback and guidance of archivist Franklin Robinson, head of the book project. By the end of the week, I had gone through 25 boxes, selected 70 images, and digitized and uploaded dozens to their virtual archives. It was incredible to see an image go from inside a box on a shelf to a searchable image file because of my vote. I had a part in ushering these people, these events, these voices back into the world.