Meaningful Student and Internship Work

WorkSince starting at Algoma University in 2010 I’ve supervised and worked with a number of students, interns, co-op placements, and volunteers. At any given time I might be working with 3-6 different individuals who are working in the archives on a part or full time basis. I enjoy this part of my job. But it also requires a substantial time commitment and planning.

Every student/intern/volunteer comes to the archives with a different background, a different skill set, and different reasons for wanting to work in the archives.  They might be interested in residential schools, interested in history, looking a library career, or simply desire work on campus.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past five years is how important it is to find work that is suited for the individual.  I have a running projects list that I can draw from that require a range of skills.  Some work requires attention to detail, other requires technical and computer expertise, some is outreach or education based, and other work is research driven. And yes, some of it does fall into the menial or physical work category like moving boxes, cleaning display cases, or cemetery maintenance.

In my mind placements should help build skills, provide meaningful engagement, and also help the archives.  This is sometimes a tricky balance to find. What one individual might excel at might be require a lot of oversight and hands on instruction for another to learn.  The time required to teach a new skill isn’t a bad thing but I also don’t want to give a task to a new student that they will find frustrating or that I will have to redo at a later date.

I’ve stumbled at times.  Early on I didn’t have in-depth conversations with new students about their skill sets and interests.  I’ve learned that having these conversations can help build stronger relationships and that gauging competencies needs to be done on an ongoing basis.  I’ve also come to realize that there’s nothing wrong with moving an individual to a better suited project and chances are the move will make us both happier.