Pamela Pierce 2016-11-16 12:37:51
Thanks to ever-evolving technology, working with long-distance interns in digital archives has never been easier. Since 2010, the Theodore Roosevelt Digital Library, hosted by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University in North Dakota, has worked with long-distance interns, providing them with valuable work experience and mentorship. In return, interns have become a vital part of the digital library, contributing to each collection and providing valuable input to ongoing projects. The digital library was created when historian and professor Clay Jenkinson recognized the need and opportunity to create the equivalent of a presidential library in digital form. The library, with partnerships that include the Library of Congress, Harvard College Library, the Massachusetts Historical Society, and the Newberry Library, aims to be a comprehensive archives of every document related to Theodore Roosevelt. Getting the Summer Started The internship program is funded by the digital library’s state appropriation. Each summer, staff sift through applications to select six to eight graduate students or recent graduates from library and information science or history programs. In 2016, staff received 150 applications. The call for interns is distributed to listservs, job sites, and graduate schools across the country. Interns are offered an hourly stipend. With web-based cataloging systems, interns can work from any location, which makes the program attractive to applicants who may not have the desire or resources to live in North Dakota for the summer. Applicants are ranked according to their attention to detail; commitment to accurate, high quality work; self-motivation; knowledge of Theodore Roosevelt or American history in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries; strong oral and written communication skills; and experience in digital collections, including the creation of metadata and knowledge of digital standards and controlled vocabularies. In recent years, we have seen an increase in applications from history graduate students who are looking to diversify their skills in a competitive job market. The TR Center uses Blackboard, a distance teaching tool, to provide interns with three initial training sessions where staff explain expectations for metadata, cataloging, and copyright review. After training, staff switch to Basecamp, a web-based project management tool, for central communication. Staff can share documents with interns, sit around a virtual campfire for group discussions, and easily field questions. Keeping Momentum Strong Once interns have been hired, trained, and given their first projects, there is the challenge of keeping them engaged in the program—made even more difficult with interns scattered around the country, working in solitude. Here are a few tips for keeping your internship program running strong throughout the summer: Let interns engage in every stage of the cataloging process. Our interns catalog and review items, conduct copyright research, and share their feedback on different projects. Being involved at all levels strengthens their connection to their work and further develops their job skills. Use different modes of communication. Distance teaching technology like Blackboard and Basecamp, alongside email, is great for communicating projects and schedule, but phone calls and even in-person visits, if possible, help interns feel connected to the culture of the archives. In addition, written communication can easily be misinterpreted negatively. Make sure that interns can hear your personal voice. Last summer while attending a conference in New Orleans, I met with two of our interns in-person— and shared the unforgettable experience of eating alligator with them! Provide interns with feedback on a weekly basis—and perhaps even more during the first weeks of the internship. When working remotely, interns won’t receive the immediate response that they would in a physical repository surrounded by staff to guide them, and they will want to know exactly how they are doing. Be intentional and frequent with your feedback. Find ways to add value to the internship program. This summer we held a virtual professionalization panel with archivists and librarians from institutions around the country. Panelists talked about their transition from student to professional and shared tips for students to position themselves for success. The interns asked insightful questions and benefited from the real-world experience of successful young professionals. Many of the interns cited this experience as one of the best parts of their internship. Lastly, have fun! Enjoying what you do is one of the easiest things to communicate—and the feeling is contagious! Your enthusiasm will help interns feel connected to their work and the mission of your archives.
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