Post 3 — Mapping Out an Internship

Overall, I have mixed feelings about my internship due to the mixed experience. Since I was split between two different areas and skillsets within the same building, I made less progress exploring either than I originally hoped.

While my archival work proved fruitful, I am just finishing the mass inventory and categorization. If I had been in that space 3 or 4 times a week instead, I would have been able to plumb my interest in archival work further. Conversely, if I had spent more time in the New Orleans Jazz Museum, I would have grown more accustomed to planning and management, marketing strategies, and the development of the Museum.

Nonetheless, I was interested in both parts of the Museum, so I feel that the depth vs. width tradeoff was necessary, if not regrettable. Working in the archives has still forced me to think about historical categorization in significant ways, and I hope I get to keep working or volunteering in the field.

I believe this internship has helped cement that my writing and synthesis skills need to be a part of my job. Even if it is not the kind of writing I am familiar with, it was a bit of a fun puzzle writing newsletters and memos to potential donors. I had to excerpt all the vital pieces of information, order them properly, and ensure that all my descriptions were concise. In the past, I have struggled to keep my writing brief, so it was refreshing to have the professional and creative boundary that short-form writing provides.

At the same time, I have also learned that I enjoy having some kind of long-term goal to work towards. Many of my projects in the Museum were self-contained, so I spent one to two days working on them and finished. However, some of the work I found most engaging was exploring how the Museum will conduct its Gala auction later in the year. I worked with the Museum’s Squarespace website to best design forms and spreadsheets collecting information about donations, and I assessed auction websites for best results. I did not anticipate these tasks pulling me in, but I think the feeling of the different functions building on each other was a satisfying progression for me. In my future internships, work, and academic life, I will have to experiment with more ways to monitor my own goals and progression to best enhance my work.

If another student were interested in an internship at the Jazz Museum, I would recommend committing to a single field in most cases. And above all else, ask for work whenever you can! The Jazz Museum has a relaxed work environment, but most of the staff have so many different jobs that even taking one to two extra small 15-minute tasks a day helps everybody. Plus, it opens communications and makes sure that if your supervisor hears about a job, you are on their radar as a potential candidate.

For students interested in the field, I would highly recommend attaching goals to all tasks you receive. While it seems simple, it is easy to fall into the trap of compiling information for no exact purpose. Suddenly, you have thirty quotes when you needed four and the editing time has shot up from 30 minutes to 3 hours.

This review sounds more negative than my genuine opinions on the internship due to the way I criticize myself and my work, so I will end by discussing the work for which I feel most proud. My work in the Museum has been the most eye-opening for me since I have found new fields to which my skills apply. My time in the museum has also helped me analyze my work patterns; however, in terms of accomplishment, my work in the archives is my best.

As of the writing of this blog post, I have categorized over 1,500 items in the Louisiana Historical Center, and I am satisfied with that. The quantity is relevant of course but feeling out the process and finding both the fun and rhythm within the work has been a key takeaway from this internship.

Gaze upon my works- the 1500 maps I ended up categorizing lay within all these cabinets.

Post 2 — How I’ve Learned at the Jazz Museum

So far, I have found enjoyment in unexpected avenues working in both the New Orleans Jazz Museum and the Louisiana Historical Center (LHC). I have been rewarded for many of the skills and behaviors I have built during my academic life, but these rewards are typically for skills I have discounted.

For instance, in my work in the LHC, I primarily work on data entry related to map collection. Surprisingly, I believe my time working with historical documents and writing papers has made me significantly better at finding and correcting discrepancies between finding aids, labels, and the maps these tools are meant to help researchers navigate. Although history is not the field most associated with spreadsheets, the ability to efficiently scan and prioritize the right portions of maps and their associated text has been invaluable.

Within the Museum, I have been primarily writing marketing material and collating important copy related to the Museum. Although I typically use these skills to decide what portion of an 18th-century French diary is useful for my paper, the same ability is valuable when treating Jazz Museum reports as source texts. It is gratifying to see these skills transferring, even if it’s not the same kind of academic writing as my student life.

An example of a map that I’m currently marking for deaccession. This map is part of a large collection of maps related to the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878. This raises an interesting question when deaccessioning: Do I keep this collection of maps together due to their subject matter or do I separate them due to the LHC’s geographic focus?- Image credit to the LHC

Overall, I am very pleased with my work at the Museum even if it was not precisely what I expected. I came into this job with a hazy idea of what the backroom work of a museum looked like, and through my own work as well as attending meetings on development, exhibits, and marketing, I’ve widened my understanding.

Although my work in the archives has been enjoyable, I complete the same tasks over my days. Because of this, I am interested in exploring diverse kinds of archival work in addition to the kind of work I have already completed. How might I directly engage with researchers? How do archives go about searching for and acquiring new items? This internship serves as a great foot in the door to begin finding avenues to some answers to these questions.

Above all else, communicating clearly and concisely has been integral to this internship. Even though I may only spend 10 minutes a day checking in with my superiors or writing emails, this internship has lifted the importance of logistics in my eyes. To begin any project, you do not need a long meeting, but you need that meeting to be well planned. If I were to sum this skill up as a lesson, I would say that even if you only send a two-sentence long email, the 20 seconds it takes to write that email can advance your projects more than hours of work if you send it to the right person at the right time.

In the archives, I have had to devise systems to ensure I log information about maps efficiently, and I’ve found the process of grappling with organizational systems surprisingly interesting. I have improved a lot at using different sort functions on Excel to best cross-reference my new inventory with past finding aids.

Since I also primarily work by myself within the archives, I have had a lot of time to feel out my own workflow and regulate my time. I have kept a lot better track of my productivity in terms of maps logged vs. time spent, and I think improving time management and awareness is useful in all professional capacities. The first step in addressing problems in my academic workflow, my focus while reading, or administrative work for my e-board is setting a standard by which I can evaluate my performance.

Post 1 — Maps, Music, and Museums

This summer, I’m equal parts invested in and intrigued by my opportunity to work for the New Orleans Jazz Museum. The Museum is a state-run institution located in the historic French Quarter district of New Orleans dedicated to celebrating the history of Jazz through educational workshops, live performances, and exhibits. At the same time, the Jazz Museum is home to the Louisiana Historical Center (LHC), the largest archive on the history of Louisiana stretching from the colonial period to now. As a history student with an interest in museum studies and public history, I believe that the Jazz Museum is a perfect place to intern in order to learn about how a museum organizes and develops its public-facing programs.

As an intern, my work is split between the Museum and the LHC, with the two areas comprising fairly distinct work within these first three weeks. Within the Museum, I most often find myself writing & collecting copy, creating marketing materials, and editing and updating Museum reports. Although I’m not currently creating one large cohesive project, this kind of work demonstrates how many avenues the Museum ends up exploring. Because of this, the Museum values succinct and widely applicable descriptions and explanations of events and material that can be edited and shared across multiple platforms and documents to reduce the need to rewrite and reinvent constantly. In the future, I will be working with multiple staff members and interns on designing material for the NOLA River Festival, a festival designed to celebrate the role of the Mississippi in New Orleans’ life.

Over this summer, I want to explore how my writing and organizational skills transfer to museum work along with how I can build new skills. Sometimes the work environment is chaotic in the Museum with so many different people being pulled into new projects, and I’m hoping to learn new ways to track project development.

Within the LHC, my primary project at the moment is a comprehensive inventory of the LHC’s maps. With maps being sent to new collections, exhibits, and other museums, it is essential that the LHC has full knowledge of the status and whereabouts of all its material. To this end, I am going through multiple flat files of maps and comparing the maps found within to the maps listed on the Center’s finding aids, tools used by researchers, librarians, and archivists to easily locate documents. While this job is not particularly flashy, it is absolutely crucial as this kind of survey of the map collection has not been performed since 2011. As of this blog’s writing, I have recorded information on around 400 maps, and I am hardly a quarter of the way done. In many ways the work is solitary, but it also means that I get to spend two days a week recording information about some really fascinating maps. I think the most important question I want to begin to answer over this internship is “how do you make material found in museums and archives more accessible to researchers and the public physically and virtually?”

One of the Fascinating Maps in Question- Credit to the Louisiana Historical Center
An example Finding Aid that I am currently updating- Credit to the Louisiana Historical Center