Museums and Libraries

Courtney Rodriguez

Courtenay RodriquezCourtney Rodriguez graduated in 2017 from UW-Madison with a double major in Political Science and History, as well as a certificate in Chicano and Latino Studies. She is the Assistant State Coordinator for National History Day in Wisconsin at the Wisconsin State Historical Society as the Assistant State Coordinator for National History Day in Wisconsin.

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My Junior and Senior Years

In this video, Courtney describes the anxiety of switching majors from Biochemistry to Political Science and History and having to re-train her brain to think creatively.  She studied abroad in London and took a museum studies course that offered good experience and ultimately helped her get a job at the Wisconsin Historical Museum. Despite her initial plans, she decided not to pursue a law degree.

How I Got My Current Job

Courtney recounts how her time in London and a position at the Wisconsin Historical Museum helped her realize that she enjoyed working in museums. She also notes the importance of making connections and building networks as an undergraduate: she took a job as Frontline Staff at the Wisconsin Historical Museum her senior year, and a connection she made there told her about the job at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

My Work Life

Courtney describes a typical day in her job supporting the National History Day program in Wisconsin.  She notes that her responsibilities change depending on the time of the year.

Thinking About Grad School

Before my job at the Wisconsin Historical Society, I was actually planning on going to Law School. My senior year of college I had planned to take the LSAT and go to Law School. However, I realized that what I really enjoyed was speaking and working with the public, so I eventually decided against Law School and got my job at the Wisconsin Historical Society.

Sharing History with the Public

Customer service, Courtney explains here, has been an important influence in her career path: she enjoys interacting with people.  She expresses her enthusiasm for talking with and answering questions from students – they ask “raw and unscripted” questions – and having the chance to discuss the history behind current events.

Identity, History, and Representation

In this video, Courtney credits a course on Latinx history with fueling her passion for history and research, giving her a new perspective on her own identity and culture, and introducing her to new voices and stories. She was able to create a tour at the Wisconsin Historical Museum on Latinx communities for a diverse student group from Milwaukee, which she describes as the highlight of her career so far.

Advice on Internships and Careers

In this segment, Courtney advises undergraduates to look for internships or, for those who need the financial support, for other opportunities that can build your résumé or help increase your interest in a topic.  She also advises student to ask questions to get to know what people are working on and how you could be an asset in their field.

Lisa Saywell

Lisa SaywellLisa Saywell is the Director of Public Services for Library-Archives at the Wisconsin Historical Society. She completed her MA in History of Science, Medicine, and Technology at UW-Madison in 1996.

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First Job and Internship

My first professional internship-job was working at Indiana University Historical Society, while still a history undergraduate there. I worked there with microphone collection, re-boxing hundreds of microphones as a summer project. That was my first introduction to working in a cultural heritage institution. This experience gave me the bug, but I still did not know that I wanted to be a librarian at this time in my life. I had a rather circuitous route to becoming an archivist and a librarian. However, this opportunity got me thinking that I could actually do something like this with my history degree after graduation.

How I Got My Current Job

When I was a graduate student studying History of Science and Medicine at UW-Madison, I spent time at the Wisconsin Historical Society doing my research. While I was there, I also got to know some of the librarians, which gave me an introduction to the Historical Society. Then when I came back as a graduate student in the School of Library and Information Studies, I got to know more people that worked at the Historical Society. One of them was my previous instructor, who also became my mentor. After I graduated, I worked at Memorial Library for a number of years. I had kept in touch with my mentor and he told me that he was retiring and asked me to apply for his job, Director of Public Services and Reference, Library—Archives, which I did and got.

My Work Life

This is pretty much my dream job. It combines my interests, loves, and passions. I am a North American history person, which my current positions focuses on. I get to combine doing archival work and librarianship. My job also allows me to stay involved in technology and digital innovations. I am still able to keep my hand in some of that work and make some contributions. I am also able to work with people, which is what I enjoy. I do programming, community engagement, and public history sorts of work is really important to me, as well as educating. I would like to have a larger impact, though, so I am always looking for professional development.

Thinking About Grad School

I went to graduate school right after I got my undergraduate degree. I knew that I liked research and being in an academic environment, it just appealed to me. I also was very interested in the history of medicine, so UW-Madison’s History of Science and Medicine graduate degree program further attracted me.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

I learned a number of things from my History major that I still apply today. For instance, writing skills, even though it’s not my forte – I have to write reports. Although, it’s actually the kind of writing that I like, short easily accessible writing; boiling down a historical moment so that folks can have that experience as well. Majoring in History taught me communication skills, and I am able to communicate to a variety of audiences. I learned the ability to critically analyze a situation and come up with creative, practical solutions. Also, to be critical of the information that is available and how to synthesize that in a number of ways. The research skills that I learned are one of the foundations of what I do on a daily basis. I learned interdisciplinary thinking; taking all sorts of sources and approaches to work has been really helpful to thinking through various problems and tasks. Being a history major also taught me curiosity and gave me a desire to learn more.

Advice for Students

I wish I would have taken advantage of the opportunity to study abroad as an undergraduate. I kind of had an opportunity, but I passed on it, and I think I should have taken advantage of that. However, I did do some internships and they were really helpful and helped solidify what I thought my next steps were. They either validated what I thought I was interested in or showed me that it’s not the right path for me.

Anneke Kingery

Anneke KingeryAnneke Kingery graduated from UW-Madison in 2012 with a B.A. in History and Classical Humanities. She is currently the Visitor Experience Manager at Madison Children’s Museum.

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First Jobs and Internship

I started babysitting at twelve years old. This was how I first discovered that I loved being around kids. I continued working with children and later became a lifeguard in high school and taught swimming lessons. Then, I noticed my desire to work with children and educate them. My first internship was actually at the Madison Children’s Museum as an Education Intern in 2013, after I got my bachelor’s degree from UW-Madison. This is what got me hooked on museums.

How I Got My Current Job

After my internship at the Museum, I kept in touch with my supervisor and decided that I wanted a career in the museum field, specifically in education. I attended graduate school at NYU and obtained my master’s degree in Museum Studies, with a focus on museum education for children. During this time, I started working at the Brooklyn Children’s Museum and realized that I loved the children’s museum niche I found. After graduation, I moved back to Wisconsin and stalked the Madison Children’s Museum. I knew that I wanted to work there again, so I checked their website every day. In the meantime, I worked at the Madison School District as a Tutor Coordinator through Schools of Hope AmeriCorps Project. As I was finishing up my service at AmeriCorps, the Museum was hiring for my current position. I reached out to my previous supervisor, who was also the supervisor for the open position. The fact that I had kept in touch with her really helped get my foot in the door; she remembered my work ethic and I told her that I had acquired my master’s and more experience now. It all worked out perfectly and I got the position!

My Work Life

This job is perfect for me in some ways, because I get to do some of the education piece and get a lot of face-to-face time with my staff and kids. However, I am really detail-oriented and organized, so I like that I get to do some of the administrative work as well. I do not think that I will be in this position for the rest of my life. The Museum is an amazing place to work and I really believe in our mission, which is connecting children to the world around them and encouraging them to learn through play. I am at a mid-level management position right now and I do see myself moving up from where I am. My position is a hybrid between museum education and visitor services. The Museum actually does not have a visitor services department, otherwise I feel like director of visitor services would be the natural next step for me in this organization. I am definitely happy here now, but that curiosity and desire to keep learning makes me want to eventually pursue other opportunities in museums.

Thinking about Grad School

I remember finishing up college and feeling like I had no idea what I wanted to do. I knew I loved to learn, work with kids, and educate, but I did not want to be a teacher. I got odd jobs for a while and then I got my internship at the Madison Children’s Museum, which hooked me on museum education; however, I knew that I needed more experience. I applied for a couple graduate programs, all in New York, because I knew that I wanted to be in a city with a ton of museums. I was pretty burnt out after college and I knew that I did not want to go to grad school right away. So, it was good having a gap year in between; it gave me more perspective and experience.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

The biggest skills that I learned as a history major were those basic skills that you can use in any job. I learned how to write very well, use important critical thinking skills and analysis, how to speech eloquently, problem solve, and sift through a lot of information. History majors learn how to be really good learners; we are just this huge group of nerds who really like learning! That curiosity has really served me well, in both this job and in life, in terms of wanting to learn more and finding creative solutions to problems. That is something that I use every day in my current role. I honestly think that grad school was easier for me after being a history major at UW. It set me up well, because was used to all the reading and writing.

Advice for Students

I wish that I would have gotten my teaching certification when I was still an undergraduate, because it opens up more job opportunities. It is another level of expertise, with being a museum educator, that would be helpful if I were to go into more of an education role rather than visitor services. However, I look back on my college experience and I realize that I did not pursue a major that goes into a specific career. I took classes that I liked and full course loads every semester, because I was really excited about the subjects. So, that I do not regret at all. I do wish I would have worked at the Chazen Museum of Art as a student though. I love that museum and they are rarely hiring; I am sure there are more work opportunities as a student. My college experience was really awesome otherwise and I loved my majors! As much as I wanted to be done with school then, I would love to go back to school now. If it was free, I would go back in a heartbeat; learning is the best!

Anita Doering

Anita DoeringAnita Doering graduated from UW-Madison in 1985 with a B.A. in History and International Relations (French Area Studies). She is currently the Senior Archivist and Archives Manager at a medium-sized public library in La Crosse, WI.

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My Work Life

A typical day is filled with people asking questions about our city’s past or about their family. It is also filled with departmental staff asking questions, guiding them toward their individual goals, toward our goals as a department as well as toward the goals of the parent institution; checking on progress of various initiatives that we hope are helping us reach our goals; problem solving; visioning; teaching either formally or informally; juggling projects and prioritizing finite resources. Communicating and educating within the department as well as with the public and others within the Library takes a lot of time as well.

I also do some basic archival “hands on” work as well working alongside the staff on the public service desk, doing collection development for the Archives Department and certain areas of the non-fiction collection in the general library. And there are meetings…and forging partnerships outside of the organization.

I am thankful that I have been able to grow our collections and staff in the Archives Department and have achieved state awards and honors, served on professional committees and boards, been a leader in the profession as well as an educator. However, to me, it is more meaningful and satisfying to learn something new every day.

Graduate School and First Jobs

I went right from an undergraduate degree double major in History and International Relations-French Area Studies at UW to what is now called the iSchool at UW or the School of Library & Information Studies. My MA degree is in Library & Information Studies with a concentration in archival administration.

After graduate school, I continued working at the Wisconsin Historical Society Archives PT as an LTE on both a grant-funded project and as a processor on pharmacy-related collections. I was applying for FT jobs mainly in the Midwest as that’s where the boyfriend was but did an interview at Yale. I did marry the boyfriend and joined him in Indiana where he had an FT professional job at DePauw University. I worked in the archives there PT until I landed my first professional job at the La Crosse Public Library as archivist so he quit and we moved back to Wisconsin.

The part-time positions were crucial to my landing a full-time professional position. During my graduate years, I also volunteered at the Special Collections Dept. at Memorial Library working with early modern British books. For me there was nothing like holding the original primary source object or document – it had a huge impact on me and that passion helped project me where I am today.

The Biggest Influence in Shaping My Career Path

Talking informally with UW History faculty when I was an undergraduate and then adjunct faculty at the Wisconsin Historical Society when I was in Library School as a master’s degree student. There were so many opportunities to observe different kinds of libraries and departments within those libraries it was rich in exposing me to many different types of jobs within the field.

Skills I Learned as a History Major

As a student progresses through a history major, they are naturally exposed to the “end product” of history – textbooks, other non-fiction reading, museum exhibits, and the like. Eventually, a student becomes exposed to primary sources and is faced with creating innovative history – in other words, finding evidence to back up a thesis that they have crafted themselves. Weaving that history responsibly from fragments of sources is a challenge. The students who were heavy “history consumers” either drop the major, switch to education in the social sciences/humanities, or step up and begin to be “history producers” themselves.

I don’t recall that we had a formal historical methods class when I attended the UW, but I use methodology, logic, critical thinking and evaluation skills every day. When I got my first “real” job, I was in charge of the archives and local history area of the library. I knew absolutely nothing about my new community, the street names, neighborhoods, industries, businesses, people, etc. But after about six months, I became acquainted with the area and schooled myself on the basic secondary sources of the local history. Soon I was using primary sources to see historical patterns to help myself and others better understand and predict behavioral outcomes within the community.

Advice for Students

If you want to work in archives and libraries, try and get relevant part-time work at any of the UW libraries, or better yet, at the Wisconsin Historical Society. A library degree is an absolute must but an additional master’s degree in history can also be helpful, especially if you see yourself in an academic setting.