Pruning passions, finding focus through internships
By Peggy Binette, firstname.lastname@example.org, 803-777-5400
Some people are born knowing exactly what they want to do in life. Jessica Dame is not one of those people.
The Hampton, Va., native was born curious and passionate and with a variety of interests – literature, nature, art and technology among them.
Dame said it was a journey of discovery through a series of research projects and internships that led her to her life path: library special collections.
“I’m interested in all facets of special collections – cataloging, preservation, digitization, metadata creation, social media and research,” Dame said. “I want to work one-on-one with materials while at the same time providing an important service to the community – be it scholarly or the general public – by providing access to those materials.”
Having graduated in May with a master’s degree in library and information science, Dame headed north to Washington, D.C., for her latest internship at the Archives of American Gardens within the Smithsonian Gardens. The competitive internship combines archives with gardening and botanical studies.
“I am actually not what you would call the ‘outdoorsy’ type, but I love nature and feel most comfortable when I’m outside with plants all around me,” Dame said.
Her career path began to take shape with a pair of undergraduate internships that shifted her focus from biology to art librarianship.
“As a horticulture intern at the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News, I had the cool opportunity to learn the native plants and animal habitats of Virginia. While I love botany, I missed art,” Dame said. “It was an internship with the Chrysler Museum of Art in its Jean Outland Library in Norfolk, Va., that I discovered a passion for art librarianship. I was able to weave my interest in botany and biology into my art studies. There I studied 17th-century artist Maria Sybilla Merian, who made scientific drawings of plants and animals, and in the symbolism of 19th-century painter John William Waterhouse.”
With her passion for librarianship ignited, Dame enrolled as a graduate student in USC’s School of Library and Information Science, where she found herself immersed in an array of projects that further focused her interest and expertise in special collections.
With USC’s Center for Digital Humanities, she worked on the companion website for the bestseller “Van Gogh: A Life,” organizing and entering 28,000 footnotes. She also worked on the center’s Handheld Art project, which developed mobile technologies for the teaching of art.
In the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections in USC’s Hollings Library, Dame did a condition survey of the Scottish Literature Collection, catalogued a series of girls’ books and digitized a 14th-century missal.
She said it was the medieval missal that was the most fascinating.
“Digitizing the 14th-century missal was really exciting. I had never been part of a project like it, and I was able to work on it from start to finish,” Dame said. “I photographed the missal, front cover to back cover, edited the images, created metadata and uploaded them to the digital collection management software. The public now has access to the digitized missal and scholars can use it anytime, anywhere.”
Dame said she had to enlist four pairs of helping hands to assist her with the photography by holding down the pages in order to capture the entire book. The missal can be viewed online.
She said it was through her research and internships that she gained confidence, developed her passions and found her focus.
“All of my internship experiences were extremely rewarding,” Dame said. “It is a fantastic way to learn about an institution or profession and to network and get experience. They are a great complement to course work, because you are able to put what you learn in the classroom to use in the profession.”
She said she is looking forward to her summer with the Smithsonian’s Archives in American Gardens where she will process collections, catalog images and blog as part of an outreach effort.
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