Alternative Spring Break at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
By Belle Teesdale, MLIS Student
My Alternative Spring Break assignment took me to the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I was very excited to intern at a presidential library because they have always been an interest of mine (especially as an American History major in undergrad). Additionally, all of my archival work experience has been in academic libraries or museums, so I was really looking forward to working with archives in a government institution.
Throughout the week, my main project focused on the first step of processing Gerald Ford’s Congressional Papers. Specifically, I worked on Series B, the Legislative Files. This project mostly focused on preservation issues—re-foldering materials, removing rusty paperclips and staples, and photocopying materials that proposed a threat to the archival documents such as newspaper clippings and thermofax copies. This project allowed me to work with archival materials hands-on and really sift through the materials to understand what I was looking at. Some materials I simply paged through while I spent some time reading others. I found it very enjoyable to read letters from the mid-1960’s that were written by elementary school children asking Governor Ford for help on their school projects.
When I wasn’t working on my main project, I met with different staff members at the library who explained to me what their position entailed and what their average day looks like. I met with the Audiovisual Archivist who showed me the varying types and sizes of photographs, audio, and moving images the library houses, as well as Archives Technicians whose roles ranged from supervising the Reference Room and interacting with patrons, to declassifying presidential records. I particularly enjoyed learning about the Reference Room because I got to act as a mock researcher—I filled out the same forms they would, I watched an intro PowerPoint on what I could and could not take with me in the room, and learned about how to properly handle the materials. The documents I decided to view as mock researcher were related to Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme who was part of Charles Manson’s cult and attempted to assassinate President Ford back in 1975.
The most memorable part of my week was assisting my supervisor, Stacy (the Archivist), with reference requests. One request came from a college student from Sweden who was looking for a particular message related to the National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger, and Spain. After Stacy did the detective work of narrowing down which boxes this document might be in, I got to look the folders one by one searching for this specific conversation. I was able to find the single document the researcher needed within my first box! It felt so satisfying to find exactly what I was looking for in addition to assisting a researcher. After we sent a copy of the document to the researcher, we received a very enthusiastic and pleasant reply back thanking us for our help. This experience reminded my why I enjoy archives in general—the handling, organizing, and preserving of documents, but also the act of making them accessible to the public and assisting researchers with their questions.
My week at the Ford Presidential Library was a fantastic experience and I feel very fortunate that I was able to be involved in this opportunity. I loved being able to work with archives in person and to learn about the National Archives and Records Administration in depth. I had really missed working in the stacks, sifting through old, and sometimes forgotten, materials, and helping researchers.