Sunday, 10 November 2013

Society of California Archivists Fall Workshop

Making the Most of the Intern: Working With and Managing Students, Interns, and Volunteers
SCA Fall Workshop
UC Riverside – November 5, 2013

Liza Posas, the archivist at the Autry National Center of the American West prepared a PowerPoint that outlined nine keys to successful volunteer programs. She described the importance of drafting good job descriptions, solid staff commitment to the project, well planned recruitment, careful screening and selection, appropriate training, good supervision, appropriate surveillance, adequate recognition and rewards, and lastly systematic evaluation. Liza gave us time to do some exercises that would allow us to reflect on the structure and success of the programs that we currently have in place, and brainstorm about how we can improve our programs. Liza also gave handouts that instruct volunteers on how to draft biographical/historical notes, a sample volunteer packets (includes contact information, library policies, places to eat, how to use institutional databases, volunteer application, and internship project sheet), preservation notes worksheet, and a processing checklist. Liza explained that her institution does not have many computers so she utilized many low tech processes and forms, many of her forms were adapted from the online “Forms Forum” from Georgia State University Library.   

The afternoon’s panel included Joanne Lammers, director of Writer’s Guild Foundation Archives, Jackie Dooley, a program officer at OCLC, Liza Posas, and me, the project archivist at Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum. We had discussed the format over the past two weeks; intended to use our session as case studies of our diverse institutions and give the audience plenty of opportunities to share their experiences. I learned about a plethora of resources that can help archives set up volunteer programs, namely a pdf from SAA, “Resources for Volunteer Programs” that gives guidance. Joanne shared that she asks her interns about the current classes that they are taking and tries to give them work that will allow them to apply what they are learning about. The general theme was to take time developing projects that will allow archival professionals to nurture and mentor interns, volunteers and student workers.

Chaitra’s Panel Remarks
I was very honored to be asked to participate on the panel with my peers, so I spent a great deal of time preparing my comments. Of course, the panel was after lunch and it took our group a good amount of time to get started, so we all needed to truncate our remarks from 15 minutes to 10. For my time, I gave an institutional background to the Mayme A. Clayton Library and Museum and how we incorporate volunteers into our workflows, and four examples of challenges and solutions that I have tried to incorporate in my 15 months working there. For one, we have a wide variety of obstacles to task completion, such as internet is down, computer has a virus, insufficient supplies, etc., so I make sure that I go through the process before I assign the task to a volunteer. I explained how our volunteers can make mistakes on their assignment, and how I check in often in order to catch problems early. I went on to talk about maintaining “realistic” relationships with older volunteers who may not be willing or able to work on collection processing. “Realistic” meaning that we encourage their membership, institutional memories, and presence but utilize newer, more focused volunteers to get the archival work done. Lastly, I discussed how high expectations from the museum’s leadership can crop up when a high volume of volunteers are present; we rely heavily on volunteer metrics to demonstrate how attendance, attitude and aptitude can reduce the positive impact of volunteer hours.

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