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USHMM Internship – Five Week Update

It is already the fifth week of my internship with USHMM and I can honestly say that I continue to love every minute of it. The public presents its unique challenges and tests of patience, but then surprises me with moments of sincerity and appreciation. The experiences this internship is presenting to me- in terms of public interaction and museum management as well as collections work behind the scenes- are proving to be invaluable. Five weeks ago I could not have imagined that I would be doing the tasks I am engaged in daily and I cannot wait to see what the coming weeks will bring in terms of growing experiences and lessons.

In the past few weeks that I have been serving Ramee at the portals building, I have been using the collection database, FileMaker Pro. I use this database to assist Ramee with tasks that she cannot always get to, but have been on her to-list for a while. Specifically I am working on the Propaganda Special Exhibition by helping with its object rotations. I check to see what objects are being rotated in and if they require a new label or “script”. If there are changes or additions to these scripts I make a note that they will need attention and fresh labels. To make this more accessible and to break it down into manageable lists, I created three documents for the upcoming rotations that will run into 2012, when the special exhibiton will close. Also, I look for holes in the rotation schedule and correct them as needed. This proves tedious but I really do enjoy it. There is something satisfying with “cleaning up” a database.

Meanwhile, I have continued to fulfill a variety of tasks specific to Visitor Services. I participate in the opening and closing of the museum, and help in the processes of both while dealing with the public. On any given day I am assigned rotating positions which include manning the information/pass desk, giving group or elevator speeches, roving throughout the museum, and running various visitor facilities and functions such as films and coat check.

As I mentioned in my last response, we are able to be involved in several programs and projects which serve as enrichment opportunities while at USHMM. Since that first response, I have learned what those projects will be. Aside from cross-training with Ramee Gentry, I am facilitating survivors’ speeches, conducting interviews with volunteers in order to improve staff relations, and will be involved in docent training. The docent training will specifically focus on speaking about the architecture of the building. Edward Linenthal’s Preserving Memory is very appropriate and fitting for this program. I look forward to incorporating that reading with my presentations.

In terms of projects, I am now involved with a Book Club which will meet once a month in order to talk about and select either memoirs or academic works regarding the Holocaust. The second project I am currently involved in is writing for Volunteer Voice, the newsletter which is distributed via Visitor Services. At present, I am writing my first article based on observations thus far and will be brainstorming for future article topics. Finally, I will be helping one of my supervisors, Sarah Campbell, with her ISP project in which we will conduct surveys with the public who come to USHMM and try to obtain a better understanding of visitor experience. This project is reminiscent of this past semester’s visitor observations that Jen and I conducted at Arlington. Also, this relates to such works as Falk and Dierking’s article regarding museum visitors and their experience. (Sarah Campbell’s ISP proposal sites these authors)

I have learned a great deal about the public through Visitor Services especially as well as the dissemination of knowledge to the visitors through my database work with Ramee. Through working with Visitor Services, I have obtained a better appreciation for what these staff members do and the patience they have to have daily. I am able to interact with the public, hear their reactions and concerns (some more constructive than others) and help them navigate the museum. I think that what Visitor Services does is essential and I am sure leaves a lasting impression with many of the visitors.

As a side note:  I have noticed that, in general, people do not like to read signs. (This makes me a little nervous about the Arlington Waysides!)

I have also noticed that disseminating knowledge to the public while serving in VS is difficult. Many questions are not historically or content based, so I spend a lot of time answering where things are and how to work through the museum. (While this is necessary, I wish I could talk about content more) Yet, I also think the nature of USHMM is more of an individual experience because it is self-guided, so that the opportunities for that engagement are limited and really less needed. Finally, I can see how Ramee’s job and the work done with the database relate to the public. The work I have been involved in is on a micro-level. While changes may seem minute, it really does affect the end result of what the visitors will see and will shape their experience while in the exhibit/museum.

{ 1 } Comments

  1. Joe Chidley | July 9, 2010 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    We love having you Sam. You do a great job for us.

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