I’m Taylor de Klerk. I’m almost finished with my Library Science degree from UNC Chapel Hill, and I hold an MA in Public History from NC State. I have been working as the Josiah Charles Trent Intern for the History of Medicine Collections at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library since August 2018.
I’m very fortunate to have had many incredible experiences through this internship, including helping with “Anatomy Day” for medical students, curating my first exhibit, and even playing a board game with a scholar as part of her research. However, I’d like to use this spotlight to share one of the more unique (and unforeseen) projects from my time at Duke: an inventory of medical substances.
My supervisor, the History of Medicine Collections curator Rachel Ingold, had hinted at such a project throughout the year, but I never expected to be the intern that was responsible for this task. The goal was to have a better handle on the substances in the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection. The result was a spreadsheet with about 650 rows detailing each medicine’s consistency, quantity, and container attributes for the library’s internal records and to ensure compliance with university safety standards.
There were some practical challenges to this work. Not all of the medicine kits were in the best condition, some of the containers were damaged or opaque so it was difficult to determine their contents, and we knew that the labels on each container were not 100% reliable. Also, each artifact listed in the finding aid was different from the next. Some medicine kits were comprised of over fifty containers with a variety of contents, while others were just one empty bottle. My task was to list each of those containers in a spreadsheet and connect them to the artifact’s centralized information from the finding aid.
This level of intellectual control was new to me. Most of my previous professional experience was comprised of processing collections. Ever since Mark Greene and Dennis Meissner introduced MPLP, item-level description doesn’t happen in archives very often. I had created metadata and descriptive elements for digitized collections before, but this was very different. This project allowed me to connect my archival description skills from previous jobs to artifacts for the sake of intellectual control. Hopefully the library and its researchers will reap the benefits of this work, but in the meantime, it was definitely enjoyable for me.