Guest Post: Dispatch from the 2023 King County Heritage Internship

Our King County Heritage Internship Program connects heritage organizations with students and emerging professionals seeking work experience in the heritage field. This year, we partnered with the Museum of Flight on an internship opportunity to work with their collections. Andrew Le is the intern for this year’s program, and he recently received a master’s degree in Library and Information Science from the University of Washington. Andrew started working with the Museum of Flight in February, and he will complete his internship in August. Here, Andrew shares insight into his experience.

I am originally from Wichita, Kansas, which earned its nickname “the air capital of the world” by producing more airplanes than anywhere else on Earth. Aviation is part of my heritage. Understandably, I jumped at the opportunity to work at the Museum of Flight through 4Culture’s King County Heritage Internship. Not only do I work in an incredible aerospace museum with many friendly people, I also get to improve access to the diverse materials in their collections and gain valuable experience in my field.

The collections department at the museum is full of unique and interesting things. From Chinese-language airplane design handbooks to secret model wind tunnels, the department has no shortage of objects that stop aviation nerds like me in our tracks. However, having so many interesting things can cloud access to important areas of history. The folks at the museum needed to filter through everything to highlight specific areas of diversity, specifically material created by or pertaining to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color), LGBTQ+ individuals, and women. Thus, this Heritage Internship program aimed to improve the visibility of the diverse material within the collections and took off at supersonic speeds.

The project took shape in two parts. The first half of the internship focused exclusively on identifying diverse materials. This process mirrored the Commemorative Initiative created by the museum’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, which identified five months commemorating specific identities. Using these months as a launchpad, I searched each of the collections (archives, library, and small objects) for materials related to these identities and scaled the project to fit the findings. In practice, research began in the library in order to create a list of terms (for example names of diverse aviators or engineers, organizations, or specific historic events) which could be keyword searched in each of the collections databases. While this process often landed on trial and error, the result was a list of over 400 items and collections representing substantial diversity, significantly more than previously thought.

The second half of the internship focused on documentation. Although the project had already identified a lot of Cool Stuff, it wouldn’t be worth much without some form of access. The list of over 400 items lived as an Excel Spreadsheet with lots of data. I retained the original spreadsheet for internal use and created a clean, public-facing copy with an instruction manual for external use. Additionally, I documented the search process for reproducibility and future iterations of this work.

This internship at the museum, most of all in the collections department, is a perfect intersection of my personal interests and professional goals. Working closely with museum staff and uncovering bits of under told aviation stories has been an immensely fulfilling experience, especially for a recent graduate. I hope this project not only helps the museum, but also helps the understanding of aviation history as a whole.