At Auburn Heights in January, students inventoried items in the collections—from Stanley Motor Carriage Co. sales brochures to the 100-year-old steam-powered autos themselves, and from delicate teacups in the mansion's dining room to large rugs and sofas in the parlor. Each item was assigned a collection number, containing such information as when it was acquired and whether it was part of a set with other items, and then the number and a full description were entered into a database designed for museums, called "Past Perfect."
"The biggest problem students have is getting the opportunity for hands-on experience working directly with collections," Grier said while at Auburn Heights. "Even when they have internships in large organizations, they often specialize and don't get the wide-ranging experience that a smaller site like this one gives them."
Graduate student Laura Muskavitch agreed, saying that, during a two-week period at the site, she had cataloged photographs, inventoried and labeled glassware and silverware, measured and cleaned portions of a model-train layout, "and now I'm helping to clean the cars."
"I just love the variety of this museum, and I feel like we've had a chance to see it all," she said. "This is such a well-rounded experience for all of us."
Students found variety in unexpected places. While cataloging the library of steam-power-related printed materials, a 1933 children's book turned up among the automobile owner's manuals, mechanic's guides and sales brochures, and so The Packard Book With Jack and Jill in Motorcar Land now has been added to the library's online inventory.
Graduate student Lee Roueche said the Auburn Height project stands out among her previous internships. "This has been a great experience, because we get to make a lot of decisions and solve problems," she said. "And we're all learning from each other."