October 2, 2023

Conquering Congress

Just before dawn in the nation’s capital this summer—before tourists flooded the streets—UMW alumna Grace May placed her order in the Dunkin’ Donuts, located inside the James Madison Memorial Building of the Library of Congress.

Great mind feature, September 16, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Great mind feature, September 16, 2016. (Photo by Norm Shafer). Photographer

“I was the very first customer every day,” said May, who was in the city for her Library of Congress internship. “They even memorized my order, a blueberry donut and tea.”

This past summer, May was one of 38 students – out of 800 who applied – to be accepted into the 2016 Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program at the Library of Congress. It’s an appointment she owes, in part, to the hands-on experience she’s collected while working with UMW’s Digital Archiving Lab. As part of the library’s Humanities and Social Sciences division, May spent 10 weeks creating templates that resulted in a presentation on display in the U.S. Presidential Inaugurations collection.

“I was given projects such as taking old content and creating new templates for items housed in the Library of Congress,” said May, who would commute into the city each day. “I also worked to make the website for The Main Reading Room more accessible.”

With a focus on the digital, May would spend hours online making library materials more accessible to users. She also had the chance to tour the Library of Congress, getting to see incredible artifacts like President Lincoln’s inaugural Bible.

“It was the same Bible that Obama and Lincoln placed their hands on,” said May, describing what turned out to be one of her favorite experiences during the internship.

At the end of the summer, the junior fellows put on a presentation within their divisions. May’s presentation focused on the U.S. Presidential Inaugurations collection. She created a template for this collection that made it easier to view and research the items within it. While presenting, May showcased the current template along with her modifications.

Before her summer internship, May had spent one year working with UMW’s Digital Archiving Lab, helping to convert Simpson Library’s rare and unique archival materials to digital formats.

“Grace has been a crucial element in helping us get our digital collections online,” said Carolyn Parsons, head of UMW’s Special Collections and Archives. “She’s digitized various Mary Washington publications, added metadata and helped us get our campus blueprint online.”

May graduated this past spring with a bachelor’s degree in history but is still working on her post-baccalaureate degree in computer science at Mary Washington. With only three classes left, she will officially finish her undergraduate studies this December.

“It’s one thing to learn about it in school,” said May, reflecting on how her experience at UMW positioned her for success at the Library of Congress. “But to actually apply it and make sure that you’re doing it to the best of your abilities – that’s the real goal.”