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Special Interest Group Archive: Archives SIG 11/7/2019

These are the notes from meetings dating back to 2015.

November 7, 2019 Notes

Topic: Managing volunteers, students, interns.


Attendees have a mix of experience with students, interns, and volunteers.


Need to be trained and managed. Be ready for your volunteers. Match jobs to their interest (not everyone likes to clean).


Volunteers disappear. 


Often students only work for a semester.


Some organizations are in transition. Need help. Need professional support. Need digitization support. Don’t know where to start. 


Solo librarians become accidental archivists. Relies on students/volunteers for archival/digitization projects. Southeastern provides support and continued training for archival work/digitization projects.


Student workers in academic libraries: Try to get sophomores. Try to keep them for 3 years - treat it like a job. They get busy and sometimes don’t show up.


Interns: Have to match a project to their interest. Try to have 3 projects in mind. Talk to them. See which they are interested in. Try to have something they can show at the end. 


Volunteers to help with backlog. Many of us inherited a large backlog. 


DHPSNY, GHHN, and Southeastern are good support agencies. 


DHPSNY assessments and services are awesome. Learned about spider poop from one of their site visits, which is often underneath objects (and can be missed during cleaning). 


Policies and procedures are important for volunteers to know what they need to do. Keep them clear and simple. 


Volunteer sign up sheet where they can indicate their interest, skills and availability. Best volunteers are senior citizens; second are high school students; worst are college students. Has found that 2-hour shifts are good. Senior citizens tend to be afraid of technology. They are also donors of the library so need to keep them happy.


Have to factor in your oversight and management when considering volunteers. It will take up time. Have to check their work.


Volunteers can sometimes have an agenda. Can be needy (need emotional support, rides, friendship) which can be time consuming. Devolve into a social clubs.


Or have preconceived notions of what they are good at. Think they are experts, but they are not. Or the expertise they have isn't needed.


Establishing goals is important.


Students in the archives come in with no experience. Might not be good at what they were assigned to do. How do you move them around without making them feel bad? 


Former IBMers have tech skills, show up, work hard, have the skills to fix things. IBM retirees have their own social network. They have a wide reach in the region. 


Look for groups on facebook. Bell Labs group; IBM group. Might find volunteers in those groups. Or look at Restores and 


Search for Change: work with a wide range of people with disabilities. 


Work needs to be diversified so volunteers don’t get bored and make mistakes.


After some time you get a sense pretty quickly whether they are a good fit or not. 


High school and middle school community volunteer requirements. Don’t have canned 10 hour projects to assign to them. 


Most kids can’t read cursive so they can’t be transcribers.


Crowd-source transcription services. Check out From the Page 


HHHC working on a transcription project for Duke which had a collection of Eltinge civil war letters. They got to keep a copy of the transcripts. They reached out to Duke with the offer to collaborate.


If volunteer program is so formalized (background check, tons of paperwork, getting  access to facilities) it can be difficult to get help.


Outsourcing services are typically outsourced overseas which is problematic.


Quality control in transcriptions. USMA has levels of QC. Several reviewers. 


How do you find people who can translate/transcribe foreign language documents. Put it on your website you need that, contact genealogy groups, German-American, Italian-American groups, etc. Facebook groups.


Latest Smithsonian Mag has article on collecting letters. There is a project to collect letters from personal collections. 


Students come from different countries, cultures, don’t know historical context for our records. 


Best practices, documentation, and workflows for interns, volunteers. One attendee has a collaborative project idea that involves the local historical society to work with their archives to tell a story. American Association of State and Local History has resources for members (journals with technical inserts that address training topics). Doesn’t know where to start.


AASLH publication: Organizing Archival Records: A Practical Method Of Arrangement And Description For Small Archives Worldcat link:


Facebook Groups (but beware of advice!)

    Archivists Think Tank

Joan Garry runs a non-profit Facebook Group Thriving Non-Profit (closed group - have to ask to join).


Talk to your colleagues and peers in the region. 


Collaborating with small historical societies: under-resourced, don’t have a lot of people and time to dedicate to collaborating. Or they have their own focus and your project might not be  something they want to do.


How do you talk to students so you don’t make them feel bad about my lack of knowledge? Have to break things down. Need step-by-step documentation, procedures. Avoid jargon and abbreviations. 


Long term institutional memory (the good and the bad of it). Volunteers who have been with the org a long time knows a lot of people and things, but have one way of doing things. Or one collection of interest or their own priorities. 


Understanding legacy processes and workflows when they aren’t documented. Especially when they are were done by non-professional staff. Not a lot of control, things are unorganized. Tip: retain old numbering/identification somehow even if you change it. Power structures exist. How do you get buy-in for a succession plan. 


New to organization and archives. Lots of unwritten rules (ex: what is restricted and why?). 


Sticky notes are not good documentation. Document all-the-things (just don’t use sticky notes).


What do you do with collection materials that don’t seem to fit anywhere else. Might be significant, but you don’t know. Document that you have it. Put it somewhere where you think people might look for it. Make cross references. It’s a judgment call. You might make a mistake and that’s OK. 


Include created and modified dates to your internal docs, policies, forms, procedures. Don’t rely on computer “last modified” date - because that could change simply by opening the doc.


Hard to find interns. Put out asks to local colleges, but don’t get any takers. Distance to college matters. Being able to pay them helps. Make listings look as professional as possible. Have to be willing to do it through official channels so they get credit (requires documentation reporting). 


Listing on Handshake: system used by colleges and universities to post internships and jobs internally. Geared towards paid work. Have to jump through hoops to post an unpaid internship. 


Think about providing opportunities for virtual work. 


Can be feast or famine: none or too many. 


Can you host people onsite?


Host events as a way to cultivate volunteers (pop-up exhibit). First Presbyterian Church in Marlboro hosts senior citizen group - maybe host an event there for them.


Lifetime Learning Institutes: Bard, Vassar and SUNY New Paltz have them


Greater Hudson Heritage Network as a resource


Put flyers up around town


Some researchers want to come in on weekends and evenings. Hard to support them. USMA uses Aeon to facilitate patron requests and serve them remotely. How do you get organizational buy-in for expanded hours? Certain materials can be left with other (non archives) staff who work later hours. Track foot traffic to see if end of day is heavy to make the case for later hours. Track virtual request to see if they are coming in after hours. Document how you support users now with the limited hours. Let the stats work for you.


Would like to have a future meeting on planning for digitization. 


Next meeting: February 20th


Convener: Margaret Stanne 


Open Discussion


Southeastern NY Library Resources Council
21 South Elting Corners Road | Highland, NY 12528
Phone: (845) 883-9065