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Collecting the Past: Aspiring Museum Archivist Pursues Her Passion at the Smithsonian  

image of student at LBJ library

Image of Sarah Rung

At the young age of seven, Sarah Rung fell in love with history the moment she set foot in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. It was a family vacation to Washington, D.C. she would never forget.

“I loved everything the museum stood for,” Rung recalls. “I was mesmerized by all the amazing objects inside and wanted to explore it all. I decided that I had to come back again soon.”

Ever since that fateful trip, she has been exploring museums, art exhibits and libraries in Austin and other major cities across the nation. In fact, she even celebrated her sweet 16 at the LBJ Library and Museum on the UT Austin campus.

“They had a Beatles exhibit and I love their music, so I couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate my birthday,” Rung says.

Fascinated with Vietnam-era politics and pop culture, Rung often visits the exhibits at the LBJ Library and Museum, an iconic ten-story building that houses a wealth of documents, photos and recordings from President Johnson’s political career.

“I fell in love with the pop culture of the 60s and later discovered an interest in the domestic issues and policies that were formed during that period,” Rung says. “I feel very fortunate to have the LBJ Library right here on campus because I’ve always been very interested in the Lyndon Johnson presidency.”

Now a junior at UT Austin, Rung has taken her love of history to the next level. With her sights set on becoming a museum archivist, she is getting hands-on internship experience at the LBJ Library and Museum and, most recently, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.

During the summer of 2018, she worked alongside researchers and archivists in the museum’s Archives Center. Her experience in repository work galvanized her desire to continue following the path she set for herself long ago.

“I love the Smithsonian’s mission for sharing history with the world,” says Rung, who is majoring in history and earning a certificate in museum studies. It’s really hard to be prosperous in the future without learning from the past. Historians provide the resources for us to learn from our mistakes and find better ways to succeed in the future.”

When she wasn’t assisting researchers in the reading room or processing archival items, Rung was interviewing museum workers to learn more about their daily operations—and even writing blog posts for the Smithsonian’s website. With help from her faculty mentor in UT Austin’s Bridging Disciplines program, she published several posts about her work processing collections.

“It was wonderful having a faculty mentor reviewing my posts and helping me along my journey,” Rung adds. “Now I can say that I’ve been published by the Smithsonian, which is a great addition to my resume.”

Rung attributes much of her success to her favorite history professors, Julie Hardwick and Alan Tully, who both inspired her to pursue this line of work. She is also grateful for the supportive team of staff within Services for Students with Disabilities (SSD) who helped her secure the accommodations she needed while navigating college life with POTS syndrome, a condition characterized by low blood pressure and a fast heart rate. Symptoms (often triggered after lying down) include lightheadedness, heart palpitations and fainting.

“I’ve learned that It’s OK to have good and bad days,” Rung says. “During my freshman year, I had a lot of both, but I found a way to be successful by communicating with professors and reaching out to SSD.”

Diagnosed at a young age with POTS and a host of autoimmune disorders, Rung missed long periods of high school due to pain and fatigue. It was during this time when she learned how pro-actively reach out to her teachers for help with her studies.

“Growing up with this disorder pushed me toward maturity, which ultimately helped me succeed,” Rung adds. “Self-advocating has been a huge part of my life since I was 14.”

Her best advice for students with disabilities is to look beyond their limitations and take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way.

“During my freshman year at UT, I wouldn’t have imagined having an internship at the Smithsonian,” Rung recalls. “That’s why it’s so important to not limit yourself and seek out opportunities.”

Moving forward, Rung plans on returning to the Smithsonian in summer 2019 to work in collections management. After graduating in spring 2020, she hopes to land a rewarding archivist career in Washington D.C., or perhaps in Austin, a city that is home to several world-class museums.

“There are a lot of amazing museums in the D.C. area, but I would be happy to end up at a museum in Austin,” Rung says. “UT is so close to some amazing museums. The Harry Ransom Center, the Bob Bullock Museum and the Blanton are some of my favorite places to visit.”

Read more about Rung’s experience in this Smithsonian web story.