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My internship at The Wiener Library

Posted by Franziska Zenkel, Monday 26th March, 2018

volunteer blog



My name is Franziska Zenkel and I am a third-year Library and Information Sciences student from Munich, Germany. In February I was overjoyed to be able do a short one month internship abroad at The Wiener Library in London. In this short blog post I would like to share my experience with you.

There are many reasons why I wanted to do an internship here, but the most important one was probably that I had never worked with a specialized collection before. In Germany, in addition to a few smaller work placements, it is customary to do at least a full 6-month internship at a library of your choice – in Bavaria this is usually a university library - which teaches you everything you need to know about the basic workflows in big research libraries. However a special collection library like The Wiener Library is different in many ways and is something I wanted to explore for myself.

During my internship, I was able to get to know most of the functions of the Library. This included working alongside the collections team (which includes the document and photo archives), as well as the digital, and education and outreach teams.

During my first week I met everyone for a short talk about what they do in their roles. If possible, they suggested small projects that I could help with during the rest of my stay. I also learned about the different locations where books, archival material and photographs are stored. This came to be important as I was going to help fetch items from the secure basement for users in the Reading Room.

For my first small project, I helped to reorganize the Polonsky Collection in the basement. This collection was given to the Library as a donation from the retired Professor Antony Polonsky in 2012. Before all the books in this collection could be catalogued and organised systematically, collections staff had left room for additional books on each shelf. Now that nearly all of them have been catalogued into the collections catalogue, there is no need for so much space on every shelf. I moved all the books closer together, resulting in more room for new purchases by the Library in the future.

In the second week of my internship, I started two new projects. Firstly, I wrote a short blog about books held by The Wiener Library which are being presented by their authors during the Jewish Book Week at the beginning of March.

Secondly, I became familiar with The Wiener Library’s collection of early eyewitness testimony from Holocaust survivors and refugees collected by Wiener Library staff in the early to late 1950s. The Library is currently translating and cataloguing this collection, in preparation for a new website, ‘Testifying to the Truth’, they will launch later this year.. It will explore the Holocaust through the eyes of people who witnessed it first-hand and create a better understanding of the reality of people’s lives during that time. For this collection, I started to assign geographical keywords, so that in the future people can search for all eyewitness testimonies from certain places, e.g. from the city of Munich. This was also the first time that I had  worked with archival material and I developed a better understanding of how unique and important for research documents like these can be.

During this week I also helped with uninstalling the exhibition On British Soil: Victims of Nazi Persecution in the Channel Islands and installing the new exhibition Fate Unknown: The Search for the Missing after the Holocaust, which discusses the fate of millions of people at the end of the Second World War searching for the whereabouts of their families and friends with the help of the International Tracing Service. It was impressive to see the work put into these exhibitions and I was glad I could also partake in the opening of the exhibition the following week.

In my last two weeks, I mostly continued my keywording task, but I also had the opportunity to visit the bookshop and library supplier Foyles in their flagship London store and the Senate House Library. Outside of work I went to a talk at the Library and Information Sciences (LIS) department of UCL on the treatment of pamphlet collections in libraries, which was partly held by Gregory Toth, Head of the Collections at The Wiener Library. It was nice to see how big the LIS department here in London is in contrast to our department in Munich, where we currently only have around 50 undergrad students in total.

Moreover, I helped with three evening events, one of which was the aforementioned opening of the exhibition Fate Unknown. The other two were a lecture on the geography of the Holocaust by Professor Tim Cole and the book launch of The Participants: The Men of the Wannsee Conference with authors Hans-Christian Jasch and Christoph Kreutzmüller. Taking part in the organization of these was something that helped me grasp not only the effort behind such events, but also how important outreach can be for a library, especially one which relies heavily on donations.

After these events and after assigning geographical keywords to nearly 200 testimonies, my four weeks here were nearing their end and I was saying my goodbye.

I enjoyed my stay here very much and I am glad I came to The Wiener Library to broaden my understanding of working with a special collection. I hope I will remember all the things that I learned here when I will finish my studies and go on to work for some library in Germany or elsewhere in the world. I would like to thank everyone at The Wiener Library for an amazing learning experience and for taking their time explaining and helping me (be it for work or for living in London, which was an adventure of its own) during this month.

If you are interested in working at The Wiener Library, they are always searching for volunteers. It is a great way to get to know the collections better and to help an institution important for the research of Holocaust and the Nazi era.

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