Working with interns

Summary of activity

Over recent years London Metropolitan Archives (LMA) had a steady stream of placements undertaking work on an ad hoc basis. However, this meant obtaining work experience in an archive was only available to those who were able to work unpaid and also went against LMA's desire to diversify its workforce.

LMA developed year long internships that provided participants with a year's paid work and an opening into archives. The posts were advertised on the University of London website to reach Londoners and graduates, as the adverts are syndicated around various university websites. Through this method LMA could also engage with people who might not think about training as an archivist but who would look at graduate job boards.  LMA also participated in the The National Archives' 'Opening Up Archives' and has hosted two traineeships through this scheme.

A key feature of the internship programme was an emphasis on training. This has been sourced primarily through the large amount of internal training that generally goes on in LMA around collections, and supplemented with a small number of external commercial courses. Trips to other archives were also arranged for the interns to see the range of services they could work for as an archivist.  

Work of the interns

The work was organised by the individual departments to which the intern was assigned. 

Those working in 'Collections' started off with data entry of draft lists so they could learn what a catalogue looked like. Then they were carefully led through cataloguing smaller and then on to larger collections, under the close supervision of the archivist.  They also undertook a lot of packaging of the archives. 

Those working in 'Imaging and Media' were trained to undertake large-scale digitisation projects. They also created the accompanying data and ensured digitised content was connected to the correct catalogue entry.

Interns in Development undertook a wide range of activities such as helping to deliver sessions to schools and helping to run the LGBT conference. One intern even ran the Wednesday night film as she had a specific interest in film history. Furthermore, all interns had front-of-house experience helping researchers in LMA's busy public rooms.

What resources did the interns require and how did you fund these posts?

The posts were paid for primarily through spare funding capacity generated by a high number staff on maternity leave in one financial year. Rather than back-filling the posts LMA used the funding to employ interns in new fixed-term positions where they could become operational more quickly because they are working at a more junior level and could be used flexibly. 

Four internships were funded from The National Archives' scheme 'Opening Up Archives', which was established to diversify the archival workforce.

However, funding posts is a constant problem and although LMA has looked at finding sponsorship, it has been unsuccessful so far.

Apart from pay the other major resource required was staff time to recruit and manage the interns. Management required a significant investment of time by the line manager for each intern. However, they were in a position to directly benefit from the work carried out by their interns.

LMA also paid for occasional external trainers. On such occasions other staff also attended these paid for courses to get maximum benefit from the paid training.

What benefits did LMA get out of working with interns?

There have been numerous benefits for LMA:

  • The interns brought an intense burst of energy and enthusiasm. The interns reminded staff what a privileged role they had working with collections in an archive.  They all worked for a week in the public rooms, which they loved, and the public really responded to their enthusiasm
  • The interns completed a large amount of work that although important was not a high priority for existing staff - for example data entry, packaging, and labelling
  • Workshops, open days and conferences ran much more smoothly with the extra help of the interns
  • The interns were able to see work through fresh eyes and question current practices. This occasionally resulted in LMA making changes to its work
  • The interns were very happy to post things online so they blogged about their work which created an online advert for their work and LMA 
  • The interns reflected on their experiences and as a result they wrote a new office manual as they could see what a new person needs to know. LMA has a lot of new staff because many jobs are fixed-term contracts, so having a better manual is very helpful for many people
  • The interns bought a real willingness to help. For example during an open day for Conservation Studies, which involved a circuitous route, the interns led the public round so giving the staff time to talk to the public instead of being tour guides.
  • Finally, the interns joined the LMA cake club and brought in nice cakes!

What does the intern get in return?

The interns each received a number of benefits:

  • A paid job for a year.
  • The opportunity to see how lots of different people work, gaining experience of how offices and institutions work
  • Lots of training, which was part of the deal in return for lower pay
  • Staff benefits
  • Lots of opportunities to experience different work in different areas within LMA  
  • Seeing how a large archive operates and whether the archive world is for them
  • Talking to staff about what work they do and get insight into how to use archives in a range of other jobs e.g. as a teacher so the experience could be a stepping-stone to other professions and provided experience that other professions will appreciate
  • Company of the other interns with whom they could talk and learn
  • Line manager who acted as their mentor, providing them with support to achieve and seek out opportunities
  • Possibility of employment.  One intern went on to become a para-professional at the Imperial War Museum

What advice would you give to other services considering taking on interns?

Employing  interns is worthwhile because they bring a freshness and positivity that the staff may have lost, which is very invigorating. Furthermore, it is very worthwhile for undertaking pieces of work you would like to do but are unable to with current staffing and funding. Also, it is very worthwhile to give people a chance to experience working in an archive, even if they don't become an archivist. By communicating this experience to their friends and family they can take on an ambassadorial role for the archives sector. 

However, it is important to talk to permanent staff about why you are employing interns to allay any fears. Managers must ensure that interns are not doing work that permanent staff ought to be doing. Interns should do desirable rather than essential work.

How will this work be developed in the future?

LMA would love to have more interns in the future, and develop intern posts in Conservation. However, finding sufficient funds is always the limiting factor.

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