If I had a dollar, ladies and gentlemen, for every time I heard this question, I may successfully be able to purchase the entire new autumn wardrobe I so long for. Alas, the magical dollar fairy does not appear when summoned, so I have to resign myself to answering. Depending on who is asking, there are two scenarios that will play out, and for the benefit of you readers, I would be more than glad to outline each. Also, my name is Shannon Ratliff, and I am a junior double majoring in History and English with a minor in Latin American studies, just in case you were wondering.
The short, basic story is that I had an internship at the Maine Historical Society (MHS), a small, yet beautiful building set amidst newly renovated gardens in the middle of downtown Portland, Maine. My title was Library Intern, but the task I was assigned was so much more than sitting at a circulation desk. My supervisor for the summer, Nancy Noble, placed me in charge of processing my own collection for the Maine Historical Society catalogue. The collection was a gift to the society from the Women's Literary Union (WLU), a generous donation of six huge archival boxes that contained everything from financial ledgers to receipts to correspondence reports to photographs that ranged from 1889 to 2011. Because the WLU is moving to a smaller location, they decided to grant their documents to the historical society for scholars to access for research purposes and to guarantee the safe preservation of their history for the years to come. My task was to comb through the documents, find a pattern that makes sense for cataloguing, and to meticulously organize the collection into series, volumes, and folders to allow the easy location of such documents for scholars and library patrons of the MHS.
The longer, truer story is that I picked a location on a map this previous winter and decided to discover New England, lobster rolls and all. With my dual major of History and English, both under the Liberal Arts umbrella, the collection offered to me by Nancy was perfect for my interests. The WLU was one of the most prominent women's study clubs in New England during the early 20th Century, and this combination of English and History fit my degrees perfectly. I had never been to New England before; born in Maryland, most of my travels always stayed below the good ol' Mason-Dixon line.
At this point, you may be wondering what this has to do with my internship and the skills I have learned while completing it. While we are at university, while we have the means and the time (most importantly, the time), to travel somewhere new for the summer, carving out a fresh life beyond our comfort zone is one of the most important aspects of a college experience, in my opinion. This is why I love my Liberal Arts degrees: you can go anywhere, you can do anything. Yes, you will be asked about a million times if you will be a teacher or a tour guide, but scholars of the College of the Liberal Arts understand the value of the foundations we learn while attending Penn State. Critical thinking, organization, and adapting to new situations are all skills we utilize in our fields every day in the classroom, but they also prepare us for the real world. Finding a new place to live, creating a new existence for yourself is never easy, but approaching these problems the way we are taught to approach a historical question or the meaning of literary metaphor is one of the best ways I have found to conquer pesky, yet basic questions of life, such as: "Where will I live for three months?" "How do I live like a local?" "Why don't these dishes magically wash themselves?" So yes, eking out a new existence is difficult, but I promise that if you try and follow your Liberal Arts hearts, you will be successful! Go anywhere! Email everywhere! There are so many options, from publishing agencies to historical societies to multi-national corporations, that the only question that will truly be the hardest to answer is this: "Where do I want to live next summer?"
Watch this video to hear more from Shannon about her summer internship with the Maine Historical Society: