Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Paul Vinelli.
This summer I’m working as a reference/research librarian at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, New York. Specifically, I’m serving as part of The Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development.
I was nervous before I began the internship for two reasons. First, I had never served as a librarian before, so I was uncertain what to expect on a day-to-day basis. Second, I’m what our coordinator calls a “non-traditional intern,” meaning someone who is going through a career change. At 35, I’m roughly a decade older than anyone else in my program, which I worried might make me a strange fit.
Halfway through my gig in Cooperstown, I feel that I’ve learned a tremendous amount about what librarianship entails, and have creatively employed my professional skill set to solve problems big and small. I’d like to reflect upon some of the insights I’ve gained as well as what makes the Hall of Fame a unique place to learn.
Our patrons are deeply invested in the subject matter. The Hall of Fame is a source of history and nostalgia, and its content often invokes emotional experiences. It’s not unusual to see people well up with tears in the museum, as well as the library.
Most people walk into the Giamatti Research Center after spending hours absorbing the Hall of Fame’s exhibits. The museum covers an immense spectrum of baseball and its relationship with society and culture; thus, the questions we handle range from broad to incredibly specific. For example, I’ve been asked whether Eddie Collins hit left-handed (easy) and who invented baseball (a debate that will rage for eons). We also prepare materials for historians, sociologists, stats devotees, and families seeking information on a relative who played in the minors in the early 20th century. Given the colossal amount of baseball history, we often have no idea what’s coming next – but we do know that our patrons will be very passionate about the information they are seeking.
This is my first time working as a librarian, so when I began the internship, every patron question induced personal panic. I felt like I had to know the answers immediately, or to at least deliver them within two to three minutes. I’m now learning the fundamentals of the reference interview, as well as how to jumpstart informal conversations; if a patron walks in wearing a Yankees jersey, I can gush about how Mariano Rivera dominates using his cut fastball. This technique helps prepare the fan to ask questions, but also establishes a valuable rapport that I can use to build trust and solicit important information.
Our library director has a motto that I’ve taken to heart (and occasionally said aloud): “I don’t know the answer to your question, but I can look it up.” I’ve spent years working as an academic and professional researcher, so I’m learning to trust my instinct to dig. Nevertheless, the hardest thing to accept is if I don’t have an answer to a patron’s question, that’s perfectly fine – I can at minimum direct folks to additional institutions and resources.
Filing can be awesome
I do a lot of filing in this job, as we have records for over 18,000 individuals – including every person who has ever played in a major league game. Any patron can request any file – and as one can imagine, the Babe Ruth folder is summoned frequently. We also cover a diverse range of subject areas such as the All American Girls Professional Baseball League and famous extinct ballparks such as Ebbets Field.
When putting away large batches of material, I often fall into a rhythm – as I go through each group of files, I always make sure to pause and look within one folder of a player I’ve never heard of; or, if the subject area looks compelling, to spend two or three minutes browsing it. This has given me a greater command of the library as well as distinct stories to tell. For example, I became fascinated with our file on the knuckleball. So I traded emails with my friend Kyle, who’s an expert in fluid dynamics at UT-Austin, and asked for his explanation of the physics behind the pitch. His writing was so clear and accessible that I got permission to add it to our collection – a huge thrill for both of us.
Relying on others
Our library staff has a second sense of when to come to the rescue. I’ve never been rebuffed when I have a question for my supervisor or a senior staff member, whether it’s related to procedure, information, or location of materials. And if my awesome fellow intern and I have been managing a massive influx of patrons, we’ve learned to support each other and share heavy responsibilities. I’m not certain if this is the norm in all libraries, but I do hope it’s a trait that’s inherent in the profession.
My supervisor has been terrific about helping me arrange informational interviews within and beyond our department. I’ve had one-on-one sessions with our directors of Research, Communications, Museum Education, and Curatorial. Each interview has given me larger insight into the institution, and I’ve been amazed at people’s accessibility during the most packed season of the year. My experience networking as part of the South by Southwest Libraries + Archives + Museums and ER&L communities has prepared me to ask questions of people in very different positions. I am gaining a greater understanding of the Hall of Fame with each conversation, as well as the role the library plays in its collective mission.
If you work as an intern at the Hall of Fame, you get to see some really cool stuff. The Hall only has about 10% of its collection on display at any given time, so there are priceless behind-the-scenes artifacts that have blown my mind. I personally like the absurdist features of baseball, so I’ve included a photo of myself with a stuffed animal tribute to The San Diego Chicken – a legendary mascot for the Padres and comedic foil for a baseball show I used to watch as a kid. Thanks for reading.
Paul Vinelli is a graduate student at The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Information. He serves as a consultant for UT’s Undergraduate Writing Center, and is the author of the Unofficial South by Southwest Interactive Primer for Rowdy Librarians. His long-term goals include working in a special or academic library and becoming the fifth knuckleball pitcher inducted into the Hall of Fame. You can connect with him on Twitter @pavinelli