Alexis Braun-Marks, Jarrett M. Drake, Patrick Galligan, and Erin Platte 2014-02-11 11:08:17
Little looms over graduate students more than the need to land a job following graduation. In turn, advisors, mentors, and managers strive to direct graduate students to pathways to enter the archival profession.One pathway—internships—has been a topic of great concern to many in the field. Last August in her Presidential Address, “Feeding Our Young,” Jackie Dooley characterized the conversation within the archival profession about internships.Dooley’s comments led to a thoughtful blog contribution by graduate student Samantha Winn, whose post provoked an equally thoughtful response by SAA Council member Michelle Light. Regardless of the various viewpoints about their viability, internships in the archival profession (both paid and unpaid) are here to stay because, if nothing more, employers look for candidates equipped with skills difficult to obtain without an internship experience. Rather than argue about their necessity, we will share our experiences to illuminate essential aspects of a successful internship.We believe our contribution is significant in two ways. First, we write from the combined perspectives of three recent MSI graduate students and one managing archivist. Given that the majority of thoughts opined about internships derive from the vantage point of a student or an employer, we contend that a jointly written perspective offers an insight particularly useful on a subject affecting many different stakeholders. Second, we share concrete examples from our various work environments that will adjoin many rhetorical arguments with practical experiences. To this end, we hope to outline principal considerations, encourage meaningful dialogue, and share multiple approaches. We have structured the article to cover the three stages of any partnership: before, during, and after. Each section has corresponding considerations that should be asked by both students and host institutions. Before Both parties should begin a successful internship with careful planning and conversation. The first round of communication between an intern and an institution should focus on the skills a student seeks to build. The second round of communication is equally important, allowing both parties to frame the relationship and establish a sense of direction. Both stages involve explicit conversations about expectations before the project begins and determine the extent to which the archivist functions as a supervisor or an advisor. Effective framing originates from highlevel leadership within an institution. For instance, for one project an author completed, students were required to explore a new area of professional interest within the university library. Once they selected an area to pursue, the first task was to solicit and identify a project mentor—not a supervisor or manager—but a mentor. The difference between a supervisor and an advisor is more than a semantic one. The verb to supervise is derived from the Latin words for over (super) and see (videre). But if the goal is to help graduate students embark on their careers, then interns—especially those pursuing fields in which internships are commonplace—benefit best from insight instead of oversight. The mentorship aspect of the aforementioned program is a policy that the library administration directs. The thought is that any value the library might gain from the students’ projects is secondary to the advice, guidance, and insight the mentor provides to the student. The arrangement cultivates a work environment that encourages students to think, decide, and perform as professionals but ensures them the freedom to experiment, fail, and ultimately succeed. Creating meaningful experiences in which graduate students thrive starts with archivists, students, and other organizational leaders sharing responsibility for students’ success by matching them with committed institutions and setting a mutually agreeable course of direction.This direction is important at the beginning of an internship, and effective framing of an intern-advisor dynamic assures its continuity during the internship. Considerations • Which skills does a student want to acquire? • How will an internship at this institution develop those skills? • How much are we willing and able to invest in an internship? • What will the internship produce tangibly and intangibly? During Stakeholders are requiring institutions to assess and demonstrate the value and efficiency of programs. Internships should be approached in the same manner.David Paper, professor of management information systems with research interests in change management and process reengineering, indicates that in an ideal business process improvement model, “people’s roles change from controlled to empowered, managers change from supervisors to coaches.” This sentiment speaks to where the conversation surrounding internships is heading.Borrowing these and other concepts from the for-profit world—specifically ways of documenting, improving, assessing, and placing value on processes—could give archives the tools needed to place value and identify areas for improvement. Continuous process improvement (CPI), which often results in process reengineering, can promote incremental improvement to increase efficiency or a complete overhaul to achieve maximum effectiveness during a short timeframe. CPI applied to an internship could be a targeted conversation both about the project and the process of identifying areas of weakness or could pinpoint the need for a complete project redirect to improve the student experience as well as the project outcome. In our own experiences, having targeted conversations throughout the internship enhanced project outcomes as well as our overall satisfaction. Additionally, inviting the intern to discuss shortcomings of training materials or documentation can help to reengineer the internship program in a way that engages and empowers students to contribute. For example, the staff training manual at one author’s institution is a working document that is continually improved and modified based on student input. Empowering interns to be flexible and contribute to the conversation encourages archivists to engage not as a manager or supervisor but as a mentor. It allows for the opportunity to refresh and rethink processes. Considerations • Determine what is working well and look for areas of improvement. • Include benchmarks throughout to assess and reflect. • Be considerate of an individual’s time by posing questions that are both meaningful and purposeful to the project and the process. After Open dialogue and continuous process improvement are critical aspects of a successful internship and must be incorporated throughout the course of the internship. Additionally, as the experience winds to a close, it is important for both parties to consider how this opportunity and any resulting deliverables—either tangible or intangible—can be used to promote the career of the graduate student and the host institution. Establishing open dialogue from the start leads to the development and initiation of projects in which students build and expand their skills and ultimately create a deliverable. Asking interns to work on these types of projects will help them to build their résumés and professional portfolios, assisting in the promotion of the intern as he or she enters the job market. At the same time, an intern’s work should also be used to promote the host institution by enhancing its profile within the field.As an example, one author created an online exhibit through Omeka as the final stage of her internship project. The exhibit featured and promoted her work while also promoting and creating access to a portion of the institution’s collection. Promoting the deliverable also leads to continued relationships after the internship. The aforementioned author is still working with the host library to increase exposure to the exhibit and is continuing to build and maintain the professional relationships developed during the internship. The host institution’s investment in the graduate student’s future career in turn manifests itself through continued relationships and promotion of the institution. Considerations • How can both parties promote the student’s work? • How can the student’s work be used to promote his or her career? • How can the institution be promoted through the student’s work? Conclusions There is no set recipe that will guarantee a perfect internship, but our experiences as students and manager indicate that communication is a foremost ingredient to success. Open dialogue and continuous process improvement are but two examples of how critical it is to communicate during every stage of an internship. As such, we do not intend these considerations to be ruminated in silo; rather, they derive their meaning and reach their full potential only when all stakeholders engage them. Moreover, a successful internship yields two types of benefits: direct and indirect.Directly, internships assist in student development and further the mission of an institution—the most obvious and desirable outcomes of the entire experience. But indirectly, internships provide an opportunity for archivists to shape the future of the archival profession by investing in their interns as not only students but also as future colleagues. As a result, this indirect benefit produces more purpose-driven archivists who possess the leadership capabilities to usher our profession forward. Archivists are, by nature, deeply invested in preserving legacy. Through the records we collect, the services we provide, and the patrons we serve, we perform a vital role by ensuring that future generations inheriting our society have an understanding of who we are and how we came to be. Now is the time to focus on another legacy, the one developing within our own profession.It’s that legacy—the current students and interns—who will soon be chiefly responsible for the preservation of our societal legacy, and the litmus test for their success tomorrow depends on the training current archivists provide them with today. Notes Alexis Braun Marks, CA, is university archivist at Eastern Michigan University. She has hosted numerous graduate students from Eastern Michigan University, the University of Michigan, and Wayne State University. Jarrett M. Drake completed his graduate degree from the School of Information at the University of Michigan in 2013. He was recently hired as the digital archivist at Princeton University. Patrick Galligan completed his MSI degree from the School of Information at the University of Michigan in 2013. He has begun work as a digital archivist at the Rockefeller Archive Center. Erin Platte completed her MSI degree from the School of Information at the University of Michigan in 2013. She currently works at the Stephen S. Clark Library at the University of Michigan. This article is a concise version of a panel titled “Making Your Student Job Work for You: or Getting the Most Out of Your Internship,” which was presented at the annual meeting of the Michigan Archival Association in June 2013.
Published by Society of American Archivists. View All Articles.