IU student living out her dream as intern for Smithsonian Institution library

Post by Katie Martin, an IU master’s student in library science with a specialization in archives and records management. Martin is spending her summer as an intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Library in Washington, D.C.

This summer, my typical day might include a private tour of a world-class museum, time spent flipping through catalogs and lunch near the Washington Monument. No, I’m not on vacation. I am an art deco trade literature research intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Library in Washington, D.C.

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Katie Martin outside the Smithsonian National Museum of American History Library in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Katie Martin.

I have always wanted an internship that could offer amazing learning opportunities every single day in a fun location. The Smithsonian is definitely that place. I applied for a professional development internship with the Smithsonian Libraries in January and found out in early February that I had been selected.

I earned my bachelor’s in history and American studies from Purdue University and am working toward a master’s in library science with a specialization in archives and records management from Indiana University. I realized I wanted to be an archivist when I started working as a student assistant in the Purdue University Archives and Special Collections three years ago. I loved how archival materials brought history to life. The experience inspired me to apply to the IU Department of Information and Library Science.

Archivists collect, preserve and provide access to records of enduring value. Although I am a library intern, the research skills are highly applicable to my goals. In the first year of my master’s program at IU, I found work in the Department of Information and Library Science, the IU Archives and the Richard G. Lugar Senatorial Papers.

With my background, I couldn’t ask for a better place to complete my required internship credits than the National Museum of American History Library. For six weeks, my task is to identify materials that address the art deco period in Chicago within the Smithsonian Libraries’ trade literature and world’s fairs collections.

Art deco style was everywhere in the interwar years of the 1920s and 1930s. The style permeated all aspects of decorative arts from fashion to architecture and even household products. Art deco reflects advances in transportation, communication and advertising, and the style is typified by use of bright colors, geometric shapes and modernistic designs.

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Smithsonian interns at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Photo courtesy of Katie Martin.

The 1933 Century of Progress Exposition in Chicago epitomized the art deco style in the Midwest. The streamlined and stylized art deco was a perfect visual representation of the fair’s theme: progress. To prepare for my internship, I read books on the 1933 Century of Progress Exposition and the art deco movement before I left Indiana.

The National Museum of American History Library’s collection of trade literature is enormous. There are 460,000 catalogs and related materials representing over 36,000 companies. Trade literature refers to materials used to sell a company’s products such as advertisements, price lists, company histories and manuals. The trade literature collection offers valuable insight into the history of business, design and consumerism.

At the start of my internship, the thought of searching through so much material was daunting. During my first week, I used secondary materials to compile a small list of Chicago companies with connections to the 1933 World’s Fair. From there, I checked this list with a finding aid of World’s Fair correspondence held at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

The trade literature is organized by company, but most catalogs do not have dates online. This can be challenging when I need to search through boxes of material from many different decades. To track down even more companies with connections to Chicago, I have been working my way through the 144 pages of the library catalog of “Chicago” search results. When I find a relevant catalog, I add it to an Excel spreadsheet that will be used to determine a digitization plan for the materials.

Because art deco products were mass produced, I have already found 70 catalogs with examples of art deco materials in the library’s collection. I expected to find art deco lighting, furniture and jewelry; however, I have been quite surprised to see art deco baby carriages, waffle irons and stylized mini-cars for children. I never realized the breadth of the art deco movement until I started working with the trade literature.

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Martin stands near the Indiana pillar at the National World War II Memorial. Photo courtesy of Katie Martin.

I will have the opportunity to present my research in a brown-bag session for Smithsonian Libraries staff, and I will also give a presentation upon my return to IU to receive course credit. However, it is definitely not all work and no play as a Smithsonian intern.

Each week, interns from across all departments have the opportunity to experience a different Smithsonian museum. The Smithsonian Libraries also organizes tours. So far, I’ve watched a planetarium show at the National Air and Space Museum, visited the Smithsonian Institution Archives, completed a scavenger hunt at the American Art Museum and gone behind the scenes of the Bird House at the National Zoo.

In addition to the Smithsonian guided tours, I have had the chance to do my own exploring. I’ve toured the Capitol through Sen. Joe Donnelly’s office, visited Ford’s Theatre, gone up in the Washington Monument and watched the Fourth of July fireworks from the National Mall. It’s been a wonderful experience so far, and there’s always so much to do. I am determined to see all that I can while I’m here, but with 16 Smithsonian museums and galleries in D.C., I know I’ll have to come back to see them all.

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