Conclusions from working at the Yosemite Museum
By Molly O’Connor
B.S. Candidate in Computational Imaging, 2014
Summer Intern at the Yosemite Museum
Read about our summer research projects on the OutWest student blog. Throughout the summer, the Center's interns and Research Assistants will be sending in virtual postcards, snapshots and reports on their summer work.
When I was about to head up to the Yosemite Museum at the beginning of the summer, one of the most confounding questions people asked me was what I was going to be doing there. I had vague ideas of researching things and putting them online, but I was also under the impression that I might be emptying mousetraps for eight hours a day.
Two months after my initial confusion, you might ask again what exactly I’ve been doing all summer. And the answer (besides chain-drinking tea) is, well, everything. Because that’s what the people who take care of the museum’s collections need to do – everything. I dusted cabinets, changed lightbulbs, covered shelves with tyvec, and gathered climate monitors. I researched, asked questions, cataloged an Eadweard Muybridge photograph, and photographed nearly one hundred rocks so that I could select a dozen or so to put on a web page about the geological collection. It might have felt like grunt work some of the time, but even the little operations are necessary to take care of the collections. I may have spent hours plugging information about baskets into spreadsheets, but those spreadsheets were the necessary first step before designing a cultural exhibition for the next summer.
When it comes to what I learned, the answer is just as varied, though I’ll spare you the list. The revelation that struck me the most, though, is one day when I was busy worrying about not being able to cover every single basket shelf with the right-sized tyvec rectangle, and my supervisor told me that it was okay. Most projects, she told me, never really end, and it’s just something that you learn to deal with. Being the classically-Stanford-obsessive-perfectionist that I am, this musing came as a bit of a shock.
The more I started to think about it, though, the more it made sense. A lot of the problems the staff face come from being a small part of a much larger organization. After seeing visitors come into the office at age sixty to ask a question with the excitement of a five-year-old, it quickly becomes apparent that the mission of the Yosemite Museum is by no means unimportant. Nevertheless, some of the collections are crammed into tiny spaces, stacked up and not properly cared for not out of carelessness, but simply because there isn’t nearly enough space to store all of the artifacts that the museum holds. I painstakingly crafted web pages about the historical, geological, and paleontological collections for the Yosemite website, yet my finely-honed designs may well be altered nearly beyond recognition in order to fit them into the government template.
There are also just forks in the road where there isn’t one clear path. Different conservationists consistently provide conflicting advice on how to care for artifacts, and while we would like to collect everything we can, there hits a point where we just can’t take everything because there isn’t enough space for it. It’s up to the museum staff, then, to make the impossible decisions about what should be preserved.
There’s also, of course, the ever-mounting pile of work that comes with an expanding collection and progression over time. Everyone just does the best they can, because the preservation of a history held dear in millions of hearts really is something worth working for.
And so it occurs to me that maybe “everything” isn’t the right explanation of what I did this summer. Maybe what I did this summer was closer to everything in moderation. Or maybe, just maybe, I spent two months simply doing the best I could.
Read more at the Out West Blog for Summer Interns »