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Behind the Double Doors

Lebanon Valley College student Julia Wiker attends a conference related to archives and libraries

Conferences are a whispered possibility for undergraduates. Graduate students attend conferences all the time, especially to present their work. For undergraduates? Maybe we could set you up to attend a conference. Maybe this is a paper or idea you could present at a conference. “Maybe,” or “in the future.”

But I never really considered that it could be me, as an undergraduate, behind the hotel doors, listening to other people share their collaborative and enriching experiences in the field in which I am interested in pursuing. The Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference (MARAC), a biannual conference, gave me exactly that opportunity. When my supervisor, Maureen Bentz ’00, LVC Access Services Librarian, offered funding through Vernon and Doris Bishop Library for me to attend the Spring 2018 MARAC in Hershey, I accepted right away. I had little conception of what it would entail at the time.

I attended all three days of the conference—Thursday, Friday, and Saturday—though Friday was the “main event,” with three sessions, speakers, poster presentations, vendors, food, and receptions. I arrived, excited out of my mind, with Maureen and Dr. Adam Bentz ’04, my internship supervisor at the Lebanon County Historical Society where he is the archivist and librarian. As anyone would be, I was hesitant and overwhelmed at first. Even though I’d been to the Hershey Lodge on Thursday, the conference room I was in was considerably bigger than the classroom-sized chamber I’d sat in yesterday for my photo-dating workshop. The huge room, with two long tables in the middle where breakfast was served, was ringed by vendor tables. I dizzily observed a book scanner and learned about audio conservation processes.

Some of the best moments of MARAC came when could relate my current position as an archival intern at the historical society to the session I attended. During a session on archives and interns, a young archives professional explained the benefits of her college internship at the local historical society—digitizing postcards and writing blog descriptions for them—to her current job. It was encouraging to see how her internship helped her develop necessary skills for the field, and I feel the same way about my current internship, especially my work with databases.

I similarly got encouragement for the utility of languages in the profession when I heard a young archivist presenting her poster on multilingualism in archives. She argued that multilingualism is important for customer service and for successful engagement with documents and historical materials as an archivist. I work with German documents and use my German-language skills every day, and in one instance, I deciphered about 90 percent of a Pennsylvania Dutch document. I feel that I understand the Lebanon area better when I engage with local history in the original language of the German immigrants to southern Pennsylvania.

I was ecstatic all Friday, but I think I was most in my element during the second session, where two archivists discussed how they brought the university archives and a special collection on sexuality together. With a deep interest in queer theory and sexuality studies, I was enthused about the way these two women had connected this undercurrent of sexuality to the more “public” university history, and I enjoyed the opportunity to interact with pamphlets and documents on sexuality. I truly felt in my element in a session in which my love for archives and my love for sexuality theory converged; it reminded me of my own honors essay, which combined the very same topics in a study of Emily Dickinson’s envelope poems through the lens of asexuality.

It is difficult to express just how deeply MARAC affected and enriched my view of my own profession and future. The opportunities, experiences, and collaborations I observed inspired me profoundly. As I work toward completing my M.S. in library science, concentrating in archives and records management, at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I will carry the spirit and enthusiasm instilled in me by MARAC to my study and to the profession. I will never forget what LVC’s Bishop Library and my supervisors, Maureen and Adam Bentz, helped me experience at the undergraduate level, and I am extremely grateful to them.