An Unpaid Archives Internship in Late Career

Phyllis Ann K. Bratton
Director, Raugust Library
University of Jamestown
6070 College Lane
Jamestown, ND 58405
(701)252-3467, ext. 5433

I received my library degree in 1978. In 2010, I decided to return to work towards a degree in archives and records management, as my last great project before retirement is to organize our university archives from the ground up and I want to do it properly. My problems and experiences will be different from younger archivists, but reading others’ accounts, it becomes clear that most of the difficulties in each case revolve around trying to keep one’s life in balance.

In the summer of 2013, I proposed completing an unpaid internship at a university archives that is 100 miles from where I live and work. The archivists there graciously accepted me into their space, gave me my own project to work on, were extremely helpful with direction and advice, and accommodated my schedule.

Additional positives included that I lived with one of my daughters, who was a student at the university; since I was paying for her apartment anyhow, I felt no qualms about this! Also, as an assistant professor at my own institution, I was able to apply for and receive a summer sabbatical, so I continued to be paid while absent.

On the negative side were family concerns. Chief among these was trying to monitor and care for my chronically ill husband from a distance. Another was trying to organize my other daughter’s wedding, at an even greater distance and with an otherwise-occupied brain.

The biggest problem, however, is that I did not receive a full sabbatical. As the library director and only degreed librarian at our institution (yes, we are VERY SMALL), I was required to return to the library every Friday to do administrative work, as no one else could do it. This disrupted my project, but as noted above, the archivists were very kind about working with my schedule.

I finished my project, taking 19 huge and disorganized banana boxes full of records and reducing them to 21 organized boxes and a 26 page finding aid. I do not regret the time (which ran past the requirements of the class) or the work; it was well worth the effort. The archivists continue to answer my questions as I work through our collections here, and I feel that meeting them was one of the great benefits of the internship.

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Jeanne Lowrey on Unpaid Internships

Jeanne Lowrey
Archivist
Office of the President
Yale University
203-432-2553

I am a bit unusual because the bulk of my pre-professional experience was paid. The few unpaid internships I held were part of school programs and class credit was offered. As a result, the financial burden was essentially equal to that of talking classes without internships.

I was fortunate to have attended an undergraduate institution with a thriving archives and strong program designed to help undergraduates gain practical work experience. I worked full time for two summers (as well as part time during the academic year), learning the foundations of archival practice before I had even decided that this was my career path or learned about abstract theory. Had this not been a paying job, this life-changing opportunity would have been inaccessible to me, and I’d likely have had to settle for a much less in-depth experience.

Additionally, my college job set me up with the skills I needed to find a rare, paid internship after I graduated. True, it was one day a week, and I juggled one to two other jobs simultaneously during that time. But that internship eventually became my first professional job, giving me a solid two years of professional experience prior to my post-grad school job search. These paid experiences enabled me to leave grad school with over five years of invaluable hands-on skills obtained in a variety of organizations.

As someone who has been a Lone Arranger for all of my professional career, I know how essential volunteer support is to accomplish institutional objectives. There are only so many hours in a week (especially if you are part time) and having extra hands can be so helpful. But to me, there is a big difference between a volunteer who is just looking to give back or help out, and someone who is serious about developing a professional portfolio. With volunteers, you try to teach them the basics, give them specific parameters so hopefully they will produce an end-product that is useful for your organization. They give what they can give, and you take what you can take. But someone interested in interning wants to go beyond the surface level, to broaden their knowledge of the field and archival work. A good intern will run with what they have learned and be able to do tasks that are essential but usually beyond the capability of a regular volunteer. With any luck, these skills the intern learns will serve them well as they advance in their career. If we do not fairly compensate interns for their work, we are signaling that their work does not have worth. It also is a sign that only people who can afford to work without pay are welcome in our profession.

Sometimes there is a bit of a grey area. Maybe someone interested in the field wants to volunteer just to get a sense of what archives are all about. Perhaps a professional or pre-professional volunteers for an archival organization because they are passionate about it and are willing to donate their time because they care about the cause and can bring a special skill set to the project. But these are either very short term or entirely self-selected projects. In these cases, the worker controls their interactions with archival institutions. If we accept that initiation into the archival profession requires unpaid labor that many people cannot afford, potential archivists no longer have that luxury. When it’s a decision between unpaid field experience and a paying job doing unrelated work to survive, there is really no choice.

Without paying archival work experience, I would not be where I am today. I would have had to postpone grad school for many years due to cost, delaying my ability to earn the degree I’d need to get a better paying job. I would not have been able to pay down my student loans. I would not have had the practical experience that made me stand out to my current employer. Being paid for my work from the start facilitated my entry into the archival world. It also assured me that yes, this is something I could make into a career, something worth investing in. I am beyond grateful that I was able to find employment in places that valued my work and compensated me for it to the best of their ability. But I strongly feel that my experience should not be the exception to the rule.

Unpaid Internships: A Message From The Chair

Deb Schiff
Archivist
Chair, SAA Lone Arrangers
debra.schiff@gmail.com

When SOLO editor Ashley Levine asked me to write about my experience with unpaid internships, I thought about a number of things, including the privilege associated with programs requiring students to have unpaid internships. I also recognize my own great privilege in being someone who, thanks to a variety of circumstances, could afford to take unpaid internships during my MLIS. But first, let’s go back to a time when I was paid for an internship.

In 1989-1990, I was a Communications major at William Paterson University (College, then), studying radio, TV, and film. My internship at the brand new CNBC studios in Fort Lee, NJ paid $75 per day. Interesting historical fact: To equip CNBC, NBC reused the audio and video equipment employed to broadcast the previous Olympics. I could still see some of the mic labels on the audio engineering boards.

I operated a camera during the early morning show (Neil Cavuto was a young unknown and Kathleen Campion was the star) and supported the audio department (think mic-ing folks like Morton Downey and Dick Cavett, and their guests). It was as hands-on an experience as one could have as an intern, and after the internship ended, I was hired part-time until I completed my degree. I was very fortunate to have gotten the internship, importantly to see another woman working as a professional audio engineer. In the NYC area at that time, we were rare.

Fast-forward to 2009-2010, after careers in technical publishing and corporate communications, I sought an MLIS at nearby Rutgers University. I took internships and independent studies primarily because I couldn’t get as much hands-on experience as I wanted in the program. My first unpaid internship was at the Zimmerli Museum, on campus. It’s a great museum with the world’s largest collection of Soviet Nonconformist Art.

Working in the Registrar’s office, I chased down “missing” artworks in administrative offices and learned how to deaccession a collection of works on paper. The collection contained original artworks designed to accompany Bell Telephone bills. They were paired with short blurbs, often about historical information. These works no longer fit the collecting policy of the museum (my first experience with a collecting policy, too!), and were destined for the NJ Historical Society. However, the Society was closed due to budgetary concerns. The materials would stay with the Zimmerli until the Society reopened. In that experience, I also learned a great deal about art handling and preservation techniques, and condition reporting that I still use today.

I also took an unpaid internship at the Plainfield Public Library (NJ) in the Local History Department. My boss, Sarah Hull, head of Local History, gave me a host of great opportunities to practice everything I had learned, and to learn many new skills as an archivist. I worked with collections that had everything from architectural drawings to wedding gowns. The mentorship I received provided an important foundation for how I approach newer archivists and volunteers today. After I completed that internship, I volunteered at the library for a time. Later, I was written into grants for several years (part-time).

I’m not in favor of unpaid internships. Just because that’s what I experienced, it’s not what I expect others to do. Frankly, if my circumstances were different, I likely would not have been able to afford to stay in this field. At the end of the day, I gained a great deal of experience that I use and teach to others. I can only hope that more funding becomes available for the current generation of student archivists, librarians, and museum professionals to take the internships that will prepare them for their future careers.

 

Strange and Slightly Spooky: Unique Findings at Illinois College

Samantha Sauer
Illinois College Archivist, Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives
Curator, Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum
Assistant Professor of History
samantha.sauer@ic.edu

Jenny Barker Devine
Associate Professor of History
Illinois College
jenny.barker-devine@ic.edu

I am a lone arranger at Illinois College. I manage and coordinate our archive and museum, and I also teach courses in public history, offered in the Department of History, Philosophy, Political Science, and Religion.

Founded in 1829, Illinois College is the oldest degree-granting institution in the state and is located in Jacksonville, Illinois. In 2014 the College received a $200,000 Challenge Grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), resulting in its first archive – a state of the art facility, the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College. As a three-year old young archive for a 188-year old institution, there is much to do. The campus also is home to the Paul Findley Congressional Office Museum, one of the few museums of its kind in the nation. There are daily “found in the collections” moments, each revealing information and often prompting questions. I share with our students that each artifact and every document has a story. Here are two stories.

A Piece of “Hair-itage”

It is Friday, April 17, 2009. There is no modern archive – or an archivist – at Illinois College. Searching through stacks of papers, oversized leather-bond texts, and collapsing boxes, an unopened envelope postmarked 1983 is spotted on a shelf in the library. Dr. Jenny Barker-Devine, associate professor of history, and the campus reference librarian at the time, Mike Westbrook, opened the 26-year old envelope. Inside the sealed package was a picture of Mount Vernon, embroidered in 1815 with human hair.

Hair Piece (pre conservation)
1815 embroidery of Mt. Vernon by Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, using human hair, pre-conservation. Photo of Jenny Barker Devine, Associate Professor of History, Illinois College.

After a little detective work, the ad hoc archivists discovered the piece was embroidered by a young Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, aged fourteen or fifteen, living in Virginia. Born in 1801, Fanny would be married a couple years after completing this piece in 1818, before dying almost two years later at the age of 19, shortly after the death of her son, Ira Wilkinson. Young Ira and his father then left Virginia, first to the frontier of Kentucky and then further out west to Jacksonville, Illinois in 1830, when the town was just five years old. Ira went on to become a prominent citizen of Jacksonville and a law partner with the future Civil War governor of Illinois, Richard Yates (a 1835 graduate of Illinois College).

The skills and artwork shown in this picture grant some insight to the life of a young middle-class woman at the start of the nineteenth century. The embroidered image of Mount Vernon is significant, showing that just fifteen years after George Washington’s death, his home was already considered a landmark. Today, the piece has seen been conserved and enjoys a nice climate controlled storage space in the new archive. To learn more about this piece and its history, explore Dr. Barker-Devine’s reflection of its discovery on her blog in a post from 2012.

post conservation
1815 embroidery of Mt. Vernon by Frances “Fanny” Macklin Ellis Wilkinson, using human hair, post-conservation. Photo courtesy of the Khalaf Al Habtoor Archives at Illinois College.

 

The Lobster’s Tale

Congressman Paul Findley is a 1943 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Illinois College. Established in 2011, the museum serves to collect, preserve, and make available manuscripts and artifacts related to his life and career.   The museum’s collection contains material related to Findley’s career in the U.S. House of Representatives, his lifelong interest in Abraham Lincoln, and his involvement in the quest for universal human rights and justice in the Middle East. Congressman Findley represented the 20th Illinois Congressional District from 1961 to 1983. The museum is in historic Whipple Hall, on the Illinois College campus in Jacksonville, Illinois. Nestled on a shelf between his congressional office desk and Abraham Lincoln’s law office sofa is a preserved lobster.

The lobster, a gift to Representative Findley in 1974 from Mohammed Motie, foreign minister of South Yemen, is a unique crustacean. (As far as I know, it is the only such lobster in our collections and the area.) The crustacean is also an artifact of Representative Findley’s inaugural visit to the Middle East – the “Mission to Aden.”

lobster1
Lobster gifted to Congressman Paul Findley from Mohammed Motie, foreign minister of South Yemen, during Findley’s “Mission to Aiden,” in May 1974. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Papp, Public History Graduate Intern, Illinois College.

In May 1974 Paul Findley visited the Middle East for the first time. In Findley’s words – his goal was to “end the abuse of the human rights inflicted on one of my constituents by an Arab Government.” The constituent was a young man, Ed Franklin, serving a five year solitary imprisonment in Aden, the capital of the then People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen, best known as South Yemen. Franklin had been traveling from Ethiopia to Kuwait, with the airplane landing briefly in Aden for repairs. While waiting, Franklin snapped photos of the harbor and airport, before the police mistook him for a spy. A year later, Franklin was still in prison. The U.S. Government did not have a presence in the country. Representative Findley’s mission was considered an act of desperation and would prove to be Findley’s most “substantial effort in constituent service.”

To free Franklin, Findley traveled to South Yemen and met with President Salim Rubyai Ali and Foreign Minister Mohammed Motie. Meetings involved an exchange of gifts, including a piece of pottery made by Findley’s young daughter and an Arabic edition of an Abraham Lincoln biography. After further discussion, the Congressman’s well-rehearsed plea was interrupted by President Ali, who quickly agreed to release Franklin. Findley would later describe the trip as the most “productive of many foreign trips [during] Congress and since.”

Findley received unique gifts from the leaders – an antique ceremonial dagger, an oil painting of rural Yemen, and the mounted lobster. Each of these gifts are currently on display in the Congressional Office Museum, helping document the Representative’s first of many trips to the Middle East. Of all the objects on display in the museum gallery, the lobster gets the most questions.

 

Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan

Stephen Logsdon
Archivist
Washington University School of Medicine
logsdons@wustl.edu

The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan (BADCOP) outlines the file-naming convention used for all digital content maintained by the Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives at the Washington University School of Medicine. To explain how it works, I want to first draw your attention to the ornate document labeled Number 1 which is the US Army commission given to Dr. William Beaumont during the War of 1812. This document can be found in the William Beaumont Papers at the Becker Library. President James Madison signed this commission appointing Dr. Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812.

Imagine that a patron wanted a scanned copy of this document in PDF format. Once you scan it for them, you’ll need to provide a filename for the PDF on a screen that looks similar to the image labeled Number 2. What filename do you give it? Should the filename begin with “William Beaumont” or “Beaumont-William”? Should you only say it’s a commission, or should you be more specific and indicate it’s a surgeon’s commission in the US Army? Should James Madison’s name be in the filename anywhere? Should you include the date of the document in the filename? All of these questions are important to consider when choosing a filename.

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The Becker Archives Digital Content Organization Plan, with the unfortunate acronym BADCOP, takes the guessing game out of assigning filenames because this plan centers on a methodical file-naming system. The basic premise of BADCOP is that the organization of digital content should follow the principle of archival arrangement (the organization and sequence of items within a collection). All filenames assigned using this method will use a series of symbolic letters and numbers that represent the scanned file’s arrangement within a collection. The BADCOP-compliant filename that I would assign to this document is labeled image Number 3: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

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Briefly looking at this filename, you’ll see that it does not say it’s a surgeon’s commission, it does not include William Beaumont’s name or James Madison’s, and it does not even contain the date of the document.  However, if you look closer at the filename, all of that information is included.  The filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf is a code, and you can see how that code breaks down into identifiable pieces in the much abbreviated view of the finding aid to the William Beaumont Papers represented in image Number 4.

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PC012 is the collection code for Personal Collection #12, the William Beaumont Papers. S05 stands for Series #5, which is the series in which the commissions are located. B20 is Box #20. F03 is folder #3, which contains the 1812 surgeon’s commission signed by President Madison.

There are numerous justifications for using BADCOP, but the most important reason to implement this file-naming convention is to answer this question: Once you have scanned this document, and you have assigned it the filename PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf, how are you ever going find that PDF again? The answer to that question is the beauty of BADCOP. Let’s say several years from now, a different patron asks you for a PDF of that exact same surgeon’s commission. How would you find it amongst the 1000s of digitized images on your computer, server, or wherever you store your digital content?

You would find the PDF of the surgeon’s commission in exactly the same way as you would if you were looking for the original physical copy of it. You should use the finding aid for the William Beaumont Papers. Don’t start this search with your digital files. Instead, go to the finding aid first and search for the description of the item you are looking for, which in this case is the 1812 surgeon’s commission. Once you find it, then you have also identified the BADCOP filename because you know its organizational location in the collection. It’s the third file of Box 20 in Series 5 of the Beaumont Papers. You can then create that corresponding filename on the fly while you’re looking at the finding aid: PC012-S05-B20-F03.pdf.

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Now that you know the filename you need, you are sufficiently prepared to find it amongst all your digital content. The ease of finding the correct digitized file is illustrated by the filenames listed in image Number 5. In this case, you have scanned only six documents in that collection. Picking out the filename you need is rather easy in this case.

Imagine that instead of six scanned documents, you had scanned 600 documents from this collection. If you have assigned BADCOP-compliant filenames to each file, all 600 scans will line up in your file directory in exactly the same order as your finding aid lists them. So all of your scanned documents from Series 3, are going to follow all of those from Series 1 and Series 2. All of the scans from Box 13 are going to be found after all the scans from Box 1 through Box 12. This means there is no need to open up random files on your computer from this collection to check if it’s the specific document you want. Because you have the filename in hand, you know the exact file you are looking for. So whether there are six, 600, or 6000 PDFs from this collection, finding the exact file you need takes only seconds, and that’s what makes BADCOP such an effective tool to use.

For more information about the BADCOP file-naming convention, visit:

https://becker.wustl.edu/resources/arb/policies/becker-archives-digital-content-organization-plan

becker-archives-digital-content-organization-plan-saa-presentation-2016
Commission signed by President James Madison appointing Dr. William Beaumont as a surgeon in the Sixth Regiment of Infantry in the US Army on December 2, 1812. Personal Collection #12, William Beaumont Papers, Bernard Becker Medical Library Archives, Washington University School of Medicine.

Launching a Digital Preservation Program as a Solo Archivist

Mike Satalof
Archivist and Digital Collections Librarian
Bard Graduate Center
mike.satalof@bgc.bard.edu

Bard Graduate Center (BGC) is a graduate research institute in New York City. Founded in 1993, it examines the decorative arts, design history, and material culture through academic programs, research forums, and exhibitions. As part of a small Library staff, and as its first archivist, I have found rewarding opportunities and challenges in planning, advocating for, and—finally!—beginning to acquire and preserve the institution’s born-digital collections.

In 2014, soon after the BGC’s 20th anniversary, the Library began undertaking an initiative to roll out a modest institutional archive. Though at the start of this initiative our familiarity with digital preservation concepts was low-to-moderate, we knew it would be important to build in sound policies and infrastructure to preserve born-digital materials. To solo archivists taking on such a project for the first time, my advice would be to take an approach that fosters a shared sense of purpose with your stakeholders; think broadly in gathering information about how your institution’s digital assets are created and managed; and aim for a scale within the limitations of your resources.

We made communication an essential part of this project from the beginning, focusing on outreach and advocacy while preparing for an institution-wide inventory. To make our case and propose a game plan, a Digital Preservation Committee was called, including stakeholders, departmental representatives, and IT. During the inventory process, I held more than 20 meetings with staff from 13 different departments to compile technical data about their digital materials, recording information such as file formats, size, and storage locations. I found that along with gathering data, these “bring out your dead” meetings were also useful for gathering the stories behind those digital files directly from the staff members most familiar them: Which were of especially high value? Which were lost when a long-time employee left? What kind of anxieties did staff feel about managing, storing, and preserving their department’s electronic records? Combining institutional memory with an in-depth inventory provided a detailed map of the landscape of our digital assets and informed the next phase: prioritizing for preservation of materials most at risk.

With the inventories completed, I reported back to the departments with findings and recommended next steps, including a series of proposed pilot preservation projects. We aimed to identify “low hanging fruit”—high value digital materials already in danger of becoming lost or unreadable, including exhibition records, publications, public programming materials, and thesis projects. While planning several discrete pilots, I also began drafting policies to formalize our archive and its mission.

To plan for a digital repository, we were able to secure funding to hire a great part-time digital archives consultant to provide recommendations for a repository that could be managed at our scale (a solo archivist and small institutional IT staff). The consultant and I worked with IT to identify a solution under $5,000 that could be administered by a lone archivist and monitored by IT with little maintenance. We selected a three-copy solution with a server that would be used both to store collections and serve as the “drop-off” point for other departments to transfer digital materials to the archives. The consultant and I produced workflow documentation for the accessioning, transfer, processing and description of materials (in ArchivesSpace), and he provided a script that leverages the LoC’s BagIt tool to monitor file fixity. With IT’s assistance in setting up the server, I have been able to begin processing and preserving pilot collections this fall, with hopes to complete processing and revise documentation in the coming months.

One interesting thing that emerged as I completed the inventory was the number of staff members raising questions about records management and especially feeling unsure about how to take on some of these seemingly-overwhelming tasks (like cleaning up a large file backlog of project files or creating procedures for disposition). While a large-scale records management program is beyond our scope, it became clear that for many departments, these issues represent a more tangible priority than getting materials into an archive. I have tried to provide some records cleanup recommendations in response to specific questions, and it is clear that records management training will be a key activity that the archives is in the best position to offer as a service. In the future, I would like to explore outreach to staff and faculty through best practices workshops and an online documentation portal (via Google Docs), and by providing individualized consultation on request.

I’m grateful that this project has been well received and to have the support of administrators, library colleagues, and allies in other departments who have given thoughtful direction to our still-nascent archives. In a role that allows me to work with the institution’s many different constituencies, I am eager to make sure the archives is inclusive, transparent, and trusted as a repository for the record of their most important achievements and efforts—digital or nondigital.

Thanks to the LART for providing a wonderful platform for solo archivists to share our experiences and resources.

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Slide for: Preserving in Digital Formats: Challenges and Solutions in Small Archives, SAA Annual Meeting, Atlanta, Georgia, August 3, 2016.