STEP Reflection: Library of Congress Junior Fellowship Program

Name: Courtney Ann Johnson

Type of Project: Internship Experience

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in an internship experience at the Library of Congress, serving as a 2018 Junior Fellow. In this role, I was tasked with producing visual and informative outreach materials, researching and developing campaigns to reach key audiences, and recommending a program to evaluate how well these strategy reached the desired demographics. A significant element of my fellowship was the direction of all communications efforts for “Inside Baseball” – a major symposia on digital scholarship as it relates to the national pastime, hosted by the Library of Congress Labs.

My first day of work, in front of the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.

My fellowship was impactful in countless ways. I spent my summer surrounded by the treasures of humanity, working with some of the smartest and more talented people I have ever encountered. As I walked to work on Capitol Hill every morning, I was keenly aware of this history and dedicated civil servants surrounding me. I was brought face to face with some of America’s greatest artifacts – Abraham Lincoln’s glasses, the first Bible ever published in the original colonies, a tome from Thomas Jefferson’s personal library. I was invited to meet federal employees who dedicated their lives to furthering the public good, including the Librarian of Congress, the Library’s general counsel, and Sen. Sherrod Brown. The net result of these encounters and work was a huge increase in my desire to work within the public sector.

The oldest known belonging of Abraham Lincoln – a grammar primer, preserved by the family of his childhood sweetheart.

I already knew, prior to beginning my internship, that federal employment would almost definitely be a part of my future. As a David L. Boren Scholar, I had made a commitment to working for national security following my graduation from Ohio State, and had vaguely incorporated that fact into my expectations of what my prospective career might entail. However, my STEP Project transformed my conception of what public service might actually looks like, by bringing me in close contact with dozens of civil servants who felt passionately about the good they did by working on behalf of the American people.

In addition, my time at the Library totally altered my views on what careers in public service could entail. I had previously conceived of federal work as just nuts and bolts – policy, finance, and defense-oriented positions that worked for the safety and security of citizens. However, my time at the Library showed me that federal employment can also improve the lives and culture of the body polity. On Capitol Hill, there are thousands of employees who preserve the history, the material culture, and the architectural beauty of our nation. My exposure to these different career paths excited me, as many of these positions spoke to my creative nature. It also changed my conception of what government can be, as many of these organizations showed that government is capable of not only sustaining, but enriching, the lives of its citizens.

The office of the Poet Laureate of the United States.

My tenure at the Library of Congress additionally impacted me by evolving my conception of what sort of office environment is right for my temperament. Prior to this position, I had few specific wants in terms of the setting for my career – my attention was primarily focused towards the field and responsibilities of any given job. In this fellowship, I was stationed within a relatively small division of the Library staff, primarily consisting of three main innovation specialists. This setting had its pros and cons. Positively, I was given a great deal of autonomy in the completion of my project, handed a level of responsibility one would expect for a full-time staffer, not a temporary intern. It was a great delight to stretch my legs and be able to run with a task, and I was grateful for the level of independence granted to me. My project was a success, outpacing the metrics I had set as my own goals, and it was deeply fulfilling to receive positive feedback from upper levels of Library management on all I was able to accomplish.

However, there were some drawbacks to this environment. Firstly, I found the lack of dialogue within my office to be isolating at times, as I was positioned with another fellow on a different, entirely silent floor of the Library of Congress’s Adams Building. We often felt removed from cooperation and communication. Secondly, as I was the only communications professional within my division, I sometimes felt that I was lacking in career role models from which I could learn new things about my field. My team members were great mentors in the realms of professionalism and project management – however, they had limited media experience. This exposure imbued in me a desire to work in a setting with exposure to larger teams, and the collaboration that they enable. I also am excited about opportunities with mentorship components, due to the skill enhancement that they allow.

The rotunda of the Main Reading Room at the Library of Congress.

The transformations enabled by my time at the Library of Congress will be invaluable in looking towards my future career. My experience there has redoubled certain ambitions and passions I already had – such as my commitment to public service – while lengthening the list of priorities I have in evaluating certain opportunities. My fellowship was undoubtedly and immeasurably valuable in refining these professional goals, but I also feel that my sense of self-efficacy and independence were ameliorated by my time in Washington, D.C. The receipt of a STEP grant enabled me to live alone for the first time, managing the adult responsibilities of commuting and budgeting without the safety net of a university setting. This dual development – both personal and professional – has provided me with a significant sense of enthusiasm and confidence in looking towards my post-graduate career. I am excited for what my future might bring!