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This article was originally published in the ADLG Newsletter, volume 13, no.2 (Winter 2001): pages 4-6. The Navy Department Library gratefully acknowledges the Aerospace and Defence Librarians Group (ADLG) of the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals (CILIP), for giving permission to post this article on the Naval Historical Center website. All rights reserved by ADLG and the author.

Document Type
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials

Once In a Lifetime: A Library Science Internship
in Washington, DC

By Paul Levett

Washington, DC is a vibrant cultural center with five universities and many attractions for visitors including the White House and Congressional buildings, the excellent museums and art galleries of the Smithsonian Institution, and events such as the Independence Day celebrations. As the home of the United States federal government, and many business and financial institutions, Washington, DC has developed the internship system were young people can work temporarily in many of these institutions to gain useful experience.

I did my pre-library school graduate traineeship with Cranfield University Information Services at the Royal Military College of Science. I highly recommend this graduate traineeship as the training and support I received was excellent. In keeping with my interest in the area I decided to find out about internship opportunities in military libraries in Washington, DC. I searched the Council Exchanges Jobs USA database, available online at, where I found out about the internship program offered by the Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy, based at Washington Navy Yard. The Naval Historical Center undertakes historical research, writing and editing, and staff’s the Navy Department Library, the Navy Museum, and the Navy Art Gallery. The Center maintains significant collections of naval books, archives, photographs, artifacts, and art, and internships are open to international candidates in all these areas. I applied and was accepted to work in the Navy Department Library as a library science intern from June to the end of September 2001. The Naval Historical Center could provide details of local accommodation agencies, but I was fortunate to be able to stay with relatives living near the city. The internship would be unpaid but I could fund my flight and living expenses from my savings.

So far so good, but in order to work in the United States it is necessary to obtain a visa. I got in touch with BUNAC, the British Universities North America Club, who are well known for arranging international exchange visitor programs. I applied for BUNAC’s Overseas Practical Training (OPT USA) program where participants can apply for a J-1 visa which can last from 3 up to 18 months. The J-1 visa allows international visitors to work in the United States and learn about its culture and specifically “to improve knowledge of American techniques, methodologies or expertise within an individuals chosen field of endeavor.” The visa application process takes time and BUNAC recommend applying to join the OPT USA program at least eight weeks before departure.

I was nervous about working abroad for the first time, but the director of the Navy Department Library Mrs. Jean Hort, the head of reference Glenn Helm, and the fine staff at the library, welcomed me aboard and showed me their work to preserve, acquire and provide access to the most comprehensive collection of literature relating to the United States Navy. The library plays a key role in the work of the Naval Historical Center. In fact the Navy Department Library is one of the oldest federal government libraries in the United States having been established in 1800, which pre-dates the establishment of the Library of Congress! The importance of the collection and the library’s position as a federal depository library ensure high standards of classification, cataloging, preservation and inquiry work. During my internship I gained knowledge and experience of:

· Classifying material in the general collection using the Naval Science section of the Library of Congress (LC) schedule, and LC subject headings;

· Copy cataloguing electronic resource records in the OCLC CORC system to MARC/AACR2 format;

· An introduction to the Federal Depository Library Program;

· Digitizing manuscripts in the special collections and preparing web pages for publishing as online exhibits on the Naval Historical Center website;

· I was shown tools used for controlling the physical environment in the Navy Department Library;

· I brought with me a Power Point presentation about AERADE the gateway to aerospace and defense Internet resources, produced by Cranfield University Information and Library Services. Jean arranged for me to give the presentation to librarians in several military, historical, academic, and scientific research institutions in the Washington, DC metropolitan area;

· Jean arranged a program of visits to other libraries including: Library of Congress; Pentagon (Department of Defense); National Defense University; US Naval Observatory; Military History Institute (at Carlisle, Pennsylvania); IMF/World Bank; and the National Archives where I carried out some desk research for the library. I was also encouraged to attend workshops for federal government librarians at the Library of Congress, and I was able to go to a Knowledge Management Communities of Practice meeting organized by the Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer.

On September 10th, 2001, President George W. Bush came to the Washington Navy Yard on the occasion of a state visit to the United States by the Prime Minister of Australia, John Howard. The President presented the ship’s bell from USS Canberra to Mr. Howard. After the VIP’s left, the color guard of US Navy and Marine Corps personnel were saluted from the field by the Navy band playing “To the colors.” I would hear the same tune played two nights later broadcast from the rotunda of the US Capitol where a somber Congress gathered inside whilst I joined thousands of people outside around the reflecting pool for a candlelit vigil and prayer service for the victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, in New York City and Washington, DC.

American Airlines Flight 77, hijacked by terrorists, struck the Pentagon. The casualties included 33 US Navy sailors, 6 Department of the Navy civilians, and 3 Navy civilian contractors. Washington Navy Yard is near the confluence of the Anacostia and Potomac rivers, about 3 miles from the Pentagon, which is on the Virginia side of the river. I had toured the Pentagon library in July, and I was concerned for the safety of Kathy Earnest who had kindly shown me around the library and answered my questions. Whilst the attacks were happening, the staff at the Navy Department Library assembled in the reference area. Jean did a head count and asked everyone to keep their ID badges with them. The full impact of the attack came when I walked down to the river and saw the Pentagon burning on the other side. Despite the shock, the next day the staff were already discussing how they could help out. Right away they were able to assist a group of naval officers who arrived to research the line of succession for the Chief of Naval Operations. I later found out that Kathy Earnest and all the staff in the Pentagon library were safe and that the Navy Department Library was going to take in one of their displaced members of staff. That Friday, midday mass at the Navy Yard chapel was packed out as people mourned for lost colleagues and friends. My heartfelt sympathies are with the families of the victims and those affected by the terrible events of that day.

I cannot recommend highly enough the excellence of the internship program at the Naval Historical Center. I was able to do interesting work in a supportive environment where I gained practical knowledge of American library tools and techniques. From the Communities of Practice meeting I was able to bring back CD-ROMs which are helping me with my University studies. I was able to remain within the budget I set myself at the outset. I underwent a truly “once in a lifetime” experience and despite the shadow cast over the end of my visit I have brought back many happy memories of new found friends and wonderful weekend trips in and out of town. Washington, DC is a great place to visit, and in which to work and live. I met many Anglophiles and I’ll never forget watching England beat Germany 5-0 and, at the final whistle, seeing my American host leap up and dance around the room shouting for joy, or of playing a friendly softball game with the British Embassy team on the Mall, or of the emotional send off I was given by the Naval Historical Center staff at the Brickskeller pub.

I strongly recommend an internship at the Navy Department Library to anyone preparing for a career in government, military, or historic information management. More information about the OPT USA program can be found online at More information about internships at the Naval Historical Center can be found online at


Published: Tue Aug 18 12:06:34 EDT 2015