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.

Introduction to Archives

As my last post indicated I’ve been thinking a lot about archival instruction and introducing students and other new users to archives.  As part of this process I’ve been gathering resources that explain how archives are organized, introduce the basic of archival processing, and explain different aspects of archival theory.

Some of the best resources I’ve come across so far include:

  • How do Archivists Organize Collections?” by Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives (PAMA). A clearly written introduction to how archives are organized.  This post touches on physical processing, the concept of fonds, and how archives are different from libraries.  PAMA has also written excellent posts on what archivists do and on what it’s like to visit the archives.
  • Archives Association of British Columbia Archivist’s Toolkit. The toolkit provides resources for archivists on a range of archival topics including basic archival principals, uses of archives, and a range of outreach topics.
  • Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology created by the Society of American Archivists. The glossary contains more than 2,000 entries on a wide range of archival terms.  I’ve used this resource when creating presentations to help explain terminology specific to archives.
  • About records, archives and the profession” by the International Council on Archives.  A primer on archives and archivists.  My favourite line of this piece is “archives are for life and for living.”
  • Animating the Archives video series by Tate Gallery.  The series explores the different facets and uses of archives. A number of the videos explore art based archives and the relevancy of archives to artistic and research practices.
  • Archives Association of Ontario Introduction to Archives Youtube series. Includes presentations on using archives, describing archives, arranging archives, and wikipedia for archivists.

What resources do you turn to when teaching about archives?

Community and Student Supervision

During the month of December I am participating in #reverb14 as a means of getting my writing habits back on track. I will be altering the prompts as needed to fit within the scope of this blog. Today’s prompt: Victory Laps: What was your biggest accomplishment this year? 

I was fortunate to be part of many great projects this year.  Being part of the effort to bring Walking With Our Sisters (WWOS) to Sault Ste Marie was a humbling and amazing experience.  WWOS is a commemorative art installation honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada and the United States.  The project is community and ceremony driven.  It was inspiring to see so many people in Sault Ste Marie work together on the project and so many people visit the installation.  I learned a lot during this project and had the privilege of working with a great group of community volunteers.

This past year I also had the opportunity to supervise a fourth year undergraduate history thesis.  The student’s thesis focused on the early years of the Shingwauk Residential School.  Acting as a supervisor was an extremely rewarding experience.  The sense of community amongst the supervisors and thesis students was inspiring and allowed for many a good historical debate. 

Being able to see a student work their way through an idea, background research, archival research, and the writing of a thesis was a unique experience that I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of. Having the chance to talk about writing strategies, research methods, and archival research with people who are just as enthusiastic about history is always a great thing.