Heather Kiger was looking for her next adventure and had her eye on Yosemite National Park. She looked into volunteering opportunities years ago, but things turned around once she was at the iSchool taking courses on the special librarianship path. Browsing the internship pages, she saw the listing for a library intern at Yosemite, California’s grand national park.
“I always wanted to get into the national parks, to get into nature somehow,” Kiger says. “I went into the MLIS program seeing it as a gateway to all kinds of opportunities. I needed a specialization, an edge [and] a direction.”
Kiger contacted the Yosemite librarian, Virginia Sanchez, had an in-person meeting, waited a few weeks and found herself packing up and moving across the state to start her dream internship.
The Library at Yosemite
Yosemite’s library is a small room on the second floor of the park’s museum (pictured, right). There is no public internet access and only a few electrical outlets in the ceiling, a fireplace and one table for researchers, interns and volunteers.
“It’s like stepping back in time,” Kiger says. “It doesn’t get a lot of park visitors - the majority are National Park Service staff - interpretive and education division staff who put on educational programs [andn] take groups on nature walks. They do a lot of their research in the library. People working with wildlife, geology, botany, park planning - they’re looking for what has already been done in the park, to see what records exist from previous years.”
Kiger’s internship was funded by a grant to modernize the library, which still uses card catalogues and the Dewey Decimal classification system to organize over 10,000 books, 20,000 photographs and untold numbers of articles and other ephemera. She joined Sanchez and a group of volunteers in their work to bring order to the library.
“My task was to convert the circulating book collection and their records in the OPAC (Online Public Access Catalog) from Dewey to the Library of Congress (LOC) classification; find what could be weeded; do the de-accessioning and reorder everything. No cataloging was done in about seven years - there are still so many things that need to be catalogued.”
Fortuitously, Kiger participated in an iSchool virtual internship in cataloging prior to her on-site experience, which helped her immeasurably at Yosemite. And since it was such a small library team, she was able to get involved in a variety tasks that might not have been available at a larger, fully-staffed library.
Kiger performed a mix of library, archive and customer service duties, from researching if the park had ever experienced an otter sighting (answer yes, in the 1930s), to finding old photographs for marketing materials and families who come to explore their ancestors’ history with the park. Every day, through the library and the park itself, she learned more about Yosemite’s history, geology and wildlife. “It’s kind of like the small town gas station where everybody comes to share the local gossip,” she explains. “People show up interested in learning about some random thing we didn't even know exists and we go down our own rabbit holes to help them find out more about it. It was so much fun.”
Kiger notes that the National Park Service did not have archives until the early 1980s: the current archive is stationed well outside the park’s boundary. Yosemite’s library contains artifacts like historical photo collections that researchers in particular want access to, but which are difficult to locate and aren’t online - yet.
“There are boxes of biographies, old correspondence [and] things that haven’t been looked through or organized at all!” Kiger says excitedly. “There was a big element of managing the archives side - it’s a special collection/research/archives/information center in a very tiny room. A complete wealth of amazing, rare materials.”
Archival materials stay in the library room (pictured right); only park employees and volunteers are allowed to check out books and serials, which are enclosed in mylar sleeves to protect them. But photographs are still deteriorating at a rapid rate, creating an urgent push to get records digitized.
The library did not have any standard operating procedures for handling materials in the collection, so part of Kiger’s job was developing the scope of collections and procedures to make sure future librarians don’t have to start from scratch. “It’s an opportunity to come into a big mess and start making sense of it, put things in order, gain bibliographic control, create systems that didn’t exist before,” Kiger marvels. She is aware that the project can’t all be completed in a one semester internship, but is proud of her work and happy to be able to see immediate results.
“I always wanted to be capable of being a solo librarian, full charge, handling library, archives and records for a small organization,” Kiger says. “In terms of getting a broader picture of how to operate all aspects of the library, this was a wonderful opportunity.”
The Adventure Continues
After her internship ended, Kiger (pictured right) got a job working in The Yosemite Conservancy bookstore, selling books and continuing to be a park service expert. “The Conservancy is the nonprofit for the park, providing fundraising and grants for park programs, trail maintenance, library and archives and museum projects - things that the Park Service can no longer fund,” she explains.
“There were over 4 million visitors in the park last year, and there will be more this year,” Kiger adds, referring to travelers celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service and the 90th anniversary of Yosemite’s museum. There are a lot of people to talk to, educate and share the park’s rich history with.
She’s found that having this and the virtual cataloging internship experience on her resume have opened up doors in the library world. “I used to go months without getting an interview, and now that I have all this experience and I’m passionate about the jobs I’m applying for, I get a lot of interviews,” she says. “It’s made such a big difference to even be exposed to these tasks, platforms and technologies.”
Kiger reiterates that her work at Yosemite's library is a reward in itself: learning from a fascinating collection, exploring the park from the inside and gaining invaluable library experience she’ll take with her for the rest of her life.
“Librarianship is the means by which I decided I was going to see the world and make a difference in as many types of environments as I can,” Kiger ways. She’s looking forward to the next great adventure.
You can learn more about Kiger’s Yosemite experience on her blog, or meet her in person at the California Library Association (CLA) annual conference, where she’ll be doing an Ignite Session.