Kristen Gravelin dates her interest in libraries, archives, museums and other repositories of learning to the January Term course she took during her first year at Elmhurst College.
Gravelin, a third-year senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, was enrolled in an honors course called Great Libraries of Chicago that took her from the Rare Collections Room at the Chicago Botanic Garden to the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago to McDonald’s Golden Archives in Elk Grove Village, with its life-sized Ronald McDonald mannequin and its display of retired Happy Meal toys.
But it was a visit to the DANK Haus German American Cultural Center in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood that set her on her professional path. Gravelin had gone there as part of a class assignment and took an immediate liking to its 6,000-volume research library. Gravelin began asking the librarian about the library’s collection and history. Before the conversation was over, she had been offered an internship.
“That’s where I developed my passion for librarianship,” Gravelin said of her internship at the DANK Haus, where her duties included cataloging and sorting rare books. She enjoyed trying to use her conversational German to read the many German-language books in the collection. “That internship was one of the best experiences of my life. I could see how great it would be to work in archives or special collections.”
Her stint at the DANK Haus was just the first of three library-related internships Gravelin took on during her time at Elmhurst.
In the summer of 2015, she worked at the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids as a Padnos Intern, a competitive position that includes a $1,000 stipend. Gravelin’s duties there included cataloging objects—everything from campaign buttons to the wardrobe of First Lady Betty Ford—related to the life of the 38th president of the United States.
Her work at the Ford Museum gave Gravelin a deeper appreciation for the legacy of Betty Ford, an outspoken supporter of the Equal Rights Amendment and an advocate for education related to breast cancer and other health issues.
“She was ahead of her time in so many ways,” Gravelin said of the First Lady. “It was really cool to be able to learn about her and to work in a place that could educate the public about her.” Gravelin joked that to make sure visitors did not miss exhibits related to Mrs. Ford, she would walk through the museum and turn on the audio commentaries related to the First Lady.
“It’s all part of educating people,” she laughed.
Most recently, Gravelin spent Fall Term working as an intern at the Pritzker Military Museum & Library in downtown Chicago. Her work there included cataloging books and making the library’s collection more accessible.
She said that working at three different institutions, each with its own mission and character, gave her an enhanced understanding of the professional field she hopes to enter.
“I tell people to do as many internships as they can,” she said. “It’s such an important part of professional development, and it really gives you an idea of what your field is like.”
Gravelin has already begun applying to graduate programs in library science. And her interest in all things archival has even extended into her leisure time. A friend recently helped Gravelin celebrate her birthday by taking her to Chicago’s Field Museum for a day among the exhibits.
“It was way better than getting a present,” she said.