Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ostriches + summer interns, part 2

What’s the connection between South African ostriches and summer interns? For the purpose of this post, it’s Krystal Appiah (pictured above), a Brown University graduate student and former summer intern in the Archives Division at the Auburn Avenue Research Library. Had she been here last week when Anita Martin, Library Associate, inventoried issues of the Penny Magazine from a recent acquisition, Appiah would have delighted in the mid 19th century publication of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, a London-based organization, and would have written an engaging, well-researched post about the aim of the publication, its intended readership, and the racialized political economy of British colonization and its affects on Africa. Alas, Appiah completed the internship and returned to Providence, Rhode Island.

That post is forthcoming, but for now Appiah’s departure offers an opportunity to reflect on the benefits of internships to interns, host institutions, and beyond. In Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students – one of the few resources on the subject – authors Jeannette A. Bastian and Donna Webber write that internships have the potential to be “transformative, revelatory, and life expanding” (p. 20). While Archival Internships is written from the perspective of academic institutions, much of it can be tailored to government, corporate, and non-profit settings. Done well, internship programs can go far beyond course requirements or attractive resume add-ons for interns and, conversely, a simple means to get the tedious and mundane completed for host sites.

As a public research library specializing in the use and preservation of unique materials related to African and African American culture and history, AARL’s “public” varies in myriad ways as does the backgrounds and parent institutions of its interns. For the past two years, AARL has partnered with the International Rescue Committee’s Youth Futures Internship Program, working with Clarkston High School (Decatur, GA) students, some of whom are originally from Burma, Mexico, and Nepal. We host interns from the Georgia Archives Institute, as well as students from several Atlanta metropolitan colleges and universities, including Emory University, Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Georgia State University, Kennesaw State University, Morehouse College, and more. This summer, we welcomed our first out of state intern, Krystal Appiah, who literally transformed the Archives Division, giving it a welcomed “social media make-over.” That wasn’t the only change for the better.

Appiah made the very most of her time, attending library programs, assisting staff in other divisions with professional projects, visiting archivists at neighboring institutions, working with the Georgia Humanities Council, and, as a result of her post on Mary Parks Washington, catching the attention of the executive director of the African American National Biography, who asked that she submit an entry on Washington. Framed another way, that’s one intern, one university, a public research library, a state humanities council, and a publisher brought together over a relatively short amount of time through one arrangement that, at a very basic level, is designed to provide one party with a little hands-on experience and the other a free (or almost free) set of hands to work on day-to-day activities.

Archival internship programs, then, are and can be so much more. They can foster inter-institutional relationships, encourage interdisciplinary dialogues, and facilitate transnational cultural awareness and understanding. In so doing, they can create the conditions for the life expanding, the revelatory, and the transformative noted by Bastian and Webber.

Returning to the Penny Magazine, isn’t that the purpose of useful knowledge?

Works Cited:
Bastian, Jeannette A. and Donna Webber. Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008.

Posted by Wesley Chenault, Library Research Associate

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