Six months in the New York Public Library’s Photography Department

By Cassandra Tavukciyan, Master’s Student in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management

Greetings from New York City! For the past five months, I have been completing an internship at the New York Public Library’s Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs. This internship is a residency requirement for my Master’s degree in Photographic Preservation and Collections Management at Ryerson. As an intern with a focus on photographic preservation, I have been able to gain hands-on training and experience in archiving and managing photographic collections of a major research library. Ryerson International and the RIWEF Award further assisted me in this pursuit with minimal amounts of financial constraint thus ensuring I complete my internship to a high standard.

The New York Public Library (NYPL) is a public library system in New York City. With nearly 53 million holdings, the NYPL is the fourth largest public library in the United States and the fourth largest in the world.  Established in 1895 with 88 branches and four research centers, the NYPL provides free and open access to a variety of materials including rare books, films, videos, maps and more.

The NYPL’s Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, widely known as the Main Branch, is the flagship building in the NYPL’s system and a prominent historic landmark in Midtown Manhattan, housing research collections in the humanities and social sciences as well as a circulating children’s collection. Located on 42nd and Fifth Avenue, the Library is surrounded by Bryant Park and in close proximity to the International Center of Photography School (ICP) and Grand Central Station.

My main responsibilities in the Photography Collection include assisting in research, supporting and enhancing cataloguing practices, managing the re-housing and organization of photographic collections and maintaining digital records through the library’s database. I have additionally supported staff in assisting and registering patrons with external research requests and appointments in the Prints and Photographs Study Room. The internship is additionally the basis of my thesis work in Ryerson’s MA Program, where I am researching cases of misattribution in the context of Ottoman-Armenian photography. Through these initiatives, I have achieved a high degree of fluency in navigating and organizing archival spaces and my thesis work has additionally attuned me to the particularities of specific objects and how they fit into archival collections.

In addition to the work experience and my thesis research, I am also taking advantage of being in one of the most diverse and exciting cities in the world.

During the evenings and weekends I’ve enjoyed participating in local cultural events, film screenings, and concerts and visiting the city’s incredible selection of cultural institutions such as the Morgan Library, the Met, The Brooklyn Museum, the Tenement Museum and much more.

I also had the opportunity to attend a conference in Watertown, Massachusetts, just outside of Boston where I got to meet and connect with individuals who share similar research interests with me. 

On the whole, my experience in New York City has been very valuable for both my academic and career goals. This wasn’t my first international placement, but it was certainly a memorable one. Living here for six months allowed me to become familiar with my surroundings and the institution.

While at times, living in this expensive and high energy city can be very stressful and challenging, I am confident that the skills I have acquired and the relationships I have formed with my colleagues will allow me to succeed in my future professional pursuits.

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