A Dream Job Takes Form in the Face of a Pandemic
“We grew up in libraries, so we stayed. That’s really what it comes down to. We recognize where the magic happens.”
Bethany Rice, ‘15 MLIS
Curator of Collections, Kern County Museum
Bethany Rice, the new curator of collections at the Kern County Museum in Bakersfield California, recalls walking into her new job for the first time: ”There were these aisles of historical artifacts. You’re like, ‘This is my playground now? This is what I do?’ That was the most incredible feeling.” Since then, it has been an adventure full of research, learning and adjusting to new circumstances.
A Passion for Sharing Knowledge
An avid reader since childhood, Bethany has always loved researching, spreading information and helping connect people to resources. In high school, she was a member of the varsity reading team. The team worked with the school librarian and reached out to kids who might not be interested in reading, helping them identify things that they are passionate about and matching them with appropriate books. The project raised the percentage of readers in the school by the end of that same academic year. This is just one example of Bethany’s history of engaging her community by expanding their access to information.
With an undergraduate degree in history, Bethany decided that a Master’s in Library and Information Sciences degree would provide her with ample career possibilities, and San Jose State University’s School of Information program was the perfect fit. She didn’t follow a specific pathway because she was interested in being a librarian, teacher, historian and/or curator and didn’t want to settle into one option. Her passion for research, however, did inform her inclination to focus on information research classes.
The information organization classes at the iSchool have been of particular help in her journey thus far. “I’ve worked with several organizations in getting all of their hard-copy information to digital. [The iSchool’s] information organization courses and the classroom discussions about findability and organization has been incredibly helpful,” she explained.
Growing up in Bakersfield, Bethany was a frequent visitor to the museum and volunteered there in high school. While visiting the museum for a project she was working on, she learned about a curator position that was open. It was the opportunity she had been waiting for – her dream job – and everything fell nicely into place. Her first official day was February 3, 2020.
One of the biggest surprises in her new job was the discovery that research never stops. “There are so many questions that come in, and people needing photographs, or having a request for this information.” Housing the third-largest photograph depository in the state, there are many photograph requests but none of the records are digitized. This is a huge project and Bethany credits her previous experiences and iSchool education for being equipped with the skills and knowledge to take on the challenge.
Adapting Community Engagement Among the COVID-19 Pandemic
Bethany has enjoyed being able to connect with the community through a variety of means and media. One of the things she gets to do is contribute historical articles to some of the local publications; writing one of these articles was among the first things asked of her. Bakersfield used to have the largest bamboo grove in the United States, so with this topic in mind, she went on a little “driving around town adventure,” sharing the journey with people on Instagram and “making my research into a public history forum… getting people excited about it.” This connection with the larger community has continued through her time at the museum – with social media playing a larger part of late.
After just over a month into her new position, Bethany was required to adjust her approach and work to reflect the new reality of a stay-at-home order in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The museum closed its doors to the public on Wednesday, March 18th.
Bethany had been doing a lot of research, writing historical placards, summaries and docent scripts for a large exhibit that opened to the public on March 17th. Those items are now being digitized to make available to the community despite the closure. Thanks to their community engagement staff member, Bethany has been able to do short videos talking about the items and putting the materials onto the museum’s Facebook page in order to invite the community to interact with the exhibit in a different way.
The movement of most of her interaction with the community to social media has “been an interesting shift. I like seeing people’s reactions for those types of things and engaging them on social media for that, especially in our Kern County of Old groups, where everyone interacts and posts freely…you see people become more involved and want to be a part of their own history.”