History in the Making

As a junior fellow at the Library of Congress, Frank Vitale ’16 walks in the footsteps of two Dickinson history buffs.

As a junior fellow at the Library of Congress, Frank Vitale ’16 sharpened his research and digital-archival skills while putting a human face on Vietnam War veterans' issues. Photo courtesy of Vitale.

Frank Vitale ’16’s junior fellowship at the Library of Congress taps alumni success

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

There are 838 miles of bookshelves snaking through the Library of Congress, and they wrangle more than 120 million items—the largest library collection in the world. Naturally, it’s a hub of research and a mecca for history majors like Frank Vitale ’16, who fell under the national library’s spell during a visit last year.

This summer, Vitale lived the dream as a Library of Congress junior fellow. The summer internship placed him with some of the best and brightest in the field—and in the footsteps of two other Dickinsonians who helped pave the way for his success.

Building a foundation

A longtime history buff, Vitale volunteered with two local historical societies in his native Pennsylvania before cutting his archivist teeth during an internship in the Dickinson College Archives & Special Collections. Through that position, he worked on the Carlisle Indian School Project, under College Archivist Jim Gerencser ’93, a frequent presenter at professional archivist conferences with a strong interest in digital archiving.

Gerencser, who studied history and political science at Dickinson before earning an M.A. in history (Shippensburg University) and a master’s in library science (University of Pittsburgh) has led Dickinson’s archives & special-collections department since 1998. He’s mentored many Dickinson students and interns along the way, teaching not only digital-preservation and research skills but also the importance of accuracy, efficiency and emerging technologies in the profession.

For Vitale, the highlight of that project arrived when he and his fellow archives interns took a field trip to the Library of Congress, arranged by Gerencser and led by Special Collections Librarian Malinda Triller. Impressed by the library collections and operations, Vitale was determined to return, so he applied to the national library’s 10-week Junior Fellows Summer Intern Program.

The odds weren’t great—the majority of Library of Congress junior fellows are graduate students, and they hail from across the nation—but Vitale became one of just 48 chosen from a pool of about 1,000. Soon after receiving word of his acceptance, he learned that his supervisor-to-be was a fellow Dickinsonian, Andrew Cassidy-Amstutz ’05.

Shared mentor, shared opportunities

As the archivist for the Library of Congress’s Veterans’ History Project, Cassidy-Amstutz analyzes, curates and preserves firsthand accounts, correspondence, visual materials and other artifacts that tell the personal stories of American war veterans. He’s also a caucus representative for the Mid-Atlantic Regional Archives Conference and a co-chair of the host committee for the 2014 national conference of the Society of American Archivists.

Like Vitale—and many recent Dickinson graduates who now work in libraries, archives and museums around the world—Cassidy-Amstutz says he learned the tools of the trade as a Dickinson intern. After earning an M.A. in film archiving from the University of East Anglia, he briefly returned to Dickinson to work as a film-archive consultant before taking his current position at the Library of Congress in 2011.

As Vitale’s internship supervisor, Cassidy-Amstutz worked closely with the rising junior, offering instruction and guidance as Vitale digitally processed an array of audiovisual and digital materials. “Every day is different, because you never know what might cross your desk—and that’s the joy of it,” says Cassidy-Amstutz, noting that a recent memorable item was a wartime scrapbook that included a pair of Army-issue socks. “And because I owe much of my success to Dickinson and Jim, it’s gratifying to be able to work with a student like Frank—to give back a little of what I was given.”

Alumni giving back by helping students with internships is nothing new at Dickinson. This summer alone nearly two dozen students found internships through alumni connections or interned alongside established alumni in fields ranging from film production to politics.

For Vitale, the connections also made the internship more rewarding.

“It’s great to see how the Dickinson archives prepares students for the professional world, and to meet successful professionals who got their start there,” he says, noting that his internship not only places him on the cutting edge of new technologies and other industry developments, but it also exposes him to some of the key figures in the field. “I’m learning so much, and I’m excited to see what lies ahead for me.”

Learn more about how Frank Vitale ’16 studies history in thoroughly modern ways in his Student Snapshot, “Days of Future Past.”

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Published September 1, 2014