[Unlocking SAA]: Interning for an SAA Committee

The Unlocking SAA series will try to help new SAA members navigate all the things membership offers us. Thanks to Amy Lazarus for getting this series off to a great start! Since the time Amy submitted the post to us, the Intellectual Property Working Group has put out a call to find an intern.

Guest author: Amy Lazarus
Jewish Heritage Collection Processing Archivist, College of Charleston Special Collections

In this blog, I’m going to share my experience as an intern on SAA’s Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy. I’ll talk about how I found my way to the committee, what I was able to do as an intern, and why I found it a valuable experience.

When I decided I wanted to get more involved in SAA, I wasn’t fully aware of what opportunities were open to someone at my level or how to pursue them. I did know about the roundtables and sections of SAA, but I didn’t know of any opportunities outside of those.  When I set out to pursue my interest in advocacy I wasn’t aware that being an intern on a committee was even a possibility.

Fortunately, I joined the mentoring program and my amazing mentor, who knew a lot more about the opportunities of SAA than I did, helped me translate my interest in advocacy into a really great professional experience.  This was my first big lesson: ask around. Mention your interest to other professionals and put yourself out there. Even if you don’t know how you want to get involved yet, your interests can help guide you to opportunities you weren’t even aware existed. And though this entry isn’t specifically about the mentoring program, having a mentor was instrumental in making me aware of new opportunities within SAA.

I was eventually invited to be the Committee on Advocacy and Public Policy’s first intern in August of 2013. In fact, the committee had just been formed and on my own I likely wouldn’t have known of its existence until much later, or thought to propose an internship with them. So I’m going to put in just one more plug for reaching out to others who might be aware of possibilities you aren’t.  Even if you don’t have a specific goal in mind, having a passion for a certain archival issue or topic can help others direct you to opportunities where it can be put to use.

So now for the interesting part: what did I do as the CAPP intern?

First, I should start with what it is CAPP does. The bulk of the work the committee does is identifying issues appropriate for SAA to take a stand on (either proposed from within the committee or by SAA members) and then authoring an issue brief on a specific topic relating to advocacy or public policy. The briefs provide background, a summary of a problematic issue, recommendations for action, and additional resources. So at any given time there were usually drafts of something to be commented on and revised and I was allowed to give my feedback, pointing out areas of briefs that weren’t clear or I felt were perhaps problematic (and why).

While this may not seem novel to most (I’m sure many, if not all of us, have given some sort of feedback to peers at some point), it was my first chance to do this with a group of professionals all coming from different backgrounds within the field. It was a great lesson in how to give constructive criticism, offer suggested changes, and, most importantly, provide rational, clear reasoning behind my opinions. Doing this effectively can be hard when everyone is communicating over email, and, often coming from different perspectives.

Commenting on briefs also gave me exposure to a diverse range of issues, many of which I myself did not have extensive background on. I was able to read briefs and listen to others who had differing views based on their own professional experiences. There were times when I wanted to contribute but I simply had to sit back until I had a grasp on the context surrounding an issue. Debating suggested changes and recommended actions was also an important lesson on how to come to a consensus and, at times, concede defeat.

In addition to providing input on the briefs, the biggest project I worked on was doing research to be incorporated into an issue brief on state and federal archives budgets. This involved reaching out to colleagues in CoSA and collecting and compiling data- something I had little experience in. Large spreadsheets were not the most familiar sight on my computer screen, but it gave me experience I wouldn’t have ever gotten in my job at the time. And through this project I came to appreciate how crucial the data is to backing up an argument, especially one concerning funding.

Understanding the legwork that had to go into the brief was also important. Where there were gaps in the data, I had to reach out to try and fill those gaps by contacting various archivists I thought might have access to the necessary data. Numbers can often be a crucial part of advocacy work, but before my internship I only knew this in the abstract. Collecting, compiling, representing, and summarizing data was something I had never done on this scale. I will admit to being slightly intimated, but overall it was a task I was thrilled to take it on.

By the end of my internship, I felt a huge deal more comfortable offering succinct opinions with my reasoning behind them, working with other professionals to come to a conclusion even when we had differing opinions, taking on tasks that weren’t in my comfort zone (but that I was wholly capable of doing), and pursuing/accepting positions on other SAA committees if the opportunity should arise.

In addition to all the practical experiences the internship provided, I also had an amazing time working with everyone on CAPP. It was motivating, challenging, and interesting. I gained an appreciation for the challenges facing archivists in different areas of the profession, and a deeper understanding of the complexities often surrounding issues our profession must address.  It was a wholly engaging internship and provided an appreciation for all the consideration, discussion, and, even debate that goes into making recommendations to the SAA Council.

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