2020 Alternative Spring Break Program

Elisabeth Anderson


"During my week as a (virtual) intern at the Smithsonian National Museum of National History, I helped with research for upcoming events in the Public Relations and Marketing department. I looked up different libraries from around the country and studied their marketing approaches to the public through their websites.                                

I learned a lot! I was definitely struck by the differences in marketing between different libraries, based on what library type they were and their targeted patron base. Perhaps my biggest take-away overall was that previously I had thought that a well-made website might replace the need for and decrease an interest in an in-person library or museum visit. However, I found it was just the opposite. Some of the websites that appeared dated or had limited visual data stood in stark contrast to some websites that were clear, simple, fun, and easy to use. I found that an enjoyable website experience actually increased my interest in making an in-person visit!    I was impacted by my internship in many ways. It was easy to complete the work virtually, and I had the added benefit of feeling like my recommendations were genuinely valued. Now I have a connection to the Smithsonian. This positive experience both helped reveal the many opportunities available in the world of library science and encouraged me to try more internship opportunities and learn new things. Finally, I would like to thank Ashley DeWitt for helping coordinate everything and my Smithsonian supervisor for helping me have a fun, professional internship experience. I’m so thankful for this opportunity and experience. Even though I didn’t get to see the Smithsonian in person, I was able to learn more about different information organizations and hopefully contribute something to this well-known institution."


Laura Cossette


"During my week-long remote internship with the National Library of Medicine I conducted an evaluation of Health Services and Sciences Research Resources (HSRR), with the end goal of improving the database resources and saving money. Specifically, my project involved going through a spreadsheet of the datasets, instruments, and software resources in the HSRR database and searching for medical research projects that utilized that dataset, instrument, or software tool in the HSRRProj database. The goal is to eventually link the HSRRProj records to the HRSS information on the datasets or tools that were used for that project and get rid of the old HRSS database altogether. NLM wanted to know how many of the resources in HSRR are referenced in HSRRProj projects, and how many records in HSRR would be orphaned if they removed the database after linking the relevant datasets and tools to HSRRProj projects.

This was a chance to apply the database search skills I gained in LIS 601: Information Search. As I made progress during the week, I became more confident in my search strategies, using what I knew about operators, limiters, and query modification to alter the precision or recall of results as needed. My goal was to find any projects that utilized a specific resource, which often required multiple query attempts to ensure I didn’t miss relevant projects, using quotes for exact string matches, the AND and OR operators, dropping some of the less relevant words, or searching for the acronym of a dataset or tool.

Because the internship was turned into a remote internship at the last minute due to concerns over coronavirus, I also learned how essential strong communication skills are in these situations. On my first day, after having technical difficulties with the WebEx portal due to overload (everyone was teleworking and using the system), I struggled to get some of my complex questions answered by email. On Tuesday morning I was able to use email to send examples of a few datasets/tools I was struggling with, and then scheduled a phone call with my supervisor to work through those. Communicating by phone was much more successful, as we could explain more complicated and nuanced questions more quickly.

I also had the opportunity to attend video presentations on web archiving and linked data projects from other librarians at NLM. This was a huge benefit, as I am very interested in these topics and hope to pursue similar projects in my future career. I learned a lot about the Archive-It software and tools, MeSH RDF linked data, and got helpful career advice from the presenters. I am very thankful for the opportunity this internship afforded me and am looking forward to following the advice I was given and applying the skills I learned in the future."



Ella Gibson


"Working with the National Library of Medicine (NLM) for a week was an amazing experience. With the COVID-19 pandemic I unfortunately did not get to travel to Bethesda in person, but was able to spend a week learning more about NLM and NIH virtually. NLM staff, at the start of Alternative Spring Break, had transitioned to remote work as well so it was amazing to see all the ways that the staff had precipitated an event like this happening. Their move to remote working seemed seamless and I was beyond impressed with how efficient and functional everything was. I was even more impressed with Kathel Dunn’s and Sharon Han’s ability to quickly change an in-person experience into an immersive virtual one. Being able to sit in on a Library Operations meeting, and having staff teach us more about what they are doing at NLM regarding web archiving and metadata was truly phenomenal. Throughout the week I constantly thought about what a unique experience I was having and how much it made me want to be able to work with NLM in the future.

My project specifically was focused on using a past webinar on Common Data Elements (CDE) to create an immersive, functional, class. NLM and other medical institutions use CDE’s to help streamline their research and clinical studies. The CDE repositories essentially act as guides for future and past research by utilizing the same terms or questions so that queries can be connected to other relevant studies. The goal was for me to create learning goals and objectives while also identifying formative and summative assessments that would benefit the student taking the class. As the audience is intended to be health science librarians, it was fun for me to transition to creating these items for adults rather than children. At points it was shocking how much my educational background benefitted the project and enabled me to make connections that may have otherwise been missed. Seeing how I can use skills I already have in my toolbox in my future career was reassuring to me as a graduate student. My project lead, Kate Majewski, was appreciative of the way I was able to chunk the webinar down into clear learning goals that could be reached with simple, but applicable, assignments. 

Currently I am not able to work in a library so it was a fantastic experience to get to work with NLM for a week. I connected with the associate fellows and learned more about how they ended up in their respective careers, and I connected my librarianship interests with applicable career opportunities. Previously I hadn’t considered how NLM would combine my love of working with the public while utilizing skills I already had established. By working with Kate and learning more about the Office of Engagement and Training, though I can visualize a spot for myself within librarianship that combines elements of my teaching skills with my future career goals. Librarianship is an ever-changing career field and being able to help educate is an important tool that a librarian can utilize."