What Does Eleanor Roosevelt Have to Do with Drafting Internship Guidelines? Everything!

Guest author: Renée Elizabeth Neely
Archival Consultant for the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Brown University


Eleanor Roosevelt receiving the Mary McLeod Bethune Human Rights Award from Dorothy Height, president of the National Council of Negro Women at the Council’s Silver Anniversary Dinner in New York, 1960. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration and Wikimedia Commons.

One year ago I was asked to draft guidelines and supervise an intern who would assist with the development of a digital textbook on Rhode Island history for K–12 teachers. The intern would conduct extensive research in our collections. Initially I was enthusiastic about this unexpected opportunity, but it began to wane almost immediately when I realized that I had never written any guidelines before. Not knowing where to begin fell like a silent, heavy cloud.

Enter Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” This quote hangs above my home office desk and has carried me through multiple experiences that at first seemed daunting. Many of us who are young professionals or just out of graduate school may not have landed our dream jobs or may not be working in our specific area of expertise. We may even be asked to do something that was not in our original job descriptions or is considered “other duties as assigned.” These factors along with the reality of how archival theory and practice are applied in the workplace can cause many layers of anxiety for newbie archivists!

For this project I began with my usual top-down approach to research and quickly realized this was too time-consuming and ineffective. Then I remembered a useful resource when I was a graduate intern: Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students by Jeannette A. Bastian and Donna Webber (SAA 2008). The text gives precise information for supervisor expectations and internship outcomes with case studies, sample forms, and easy-to-follow advice. For further guidance, I referred to Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education (http://www2.archivists.org/standards/best-practices-for-internships-as-a-component-of-graduate-archival-education). Both of these SAA resources gave me a thorough overview of the internship experience through multiple lens. Now I really could begin!

After many drafts I finally submit guidelines that were accepted as a 130-hour internship program at Simmons College. Here is my basic outline that could be a starting point in developing your own internship proposal:

  • Overview of Project. Briefly describe the project and its goals.
  • Description of Internship. Share why an intern is needed and the specific expectations and responsibilities of the intern.
  • Internship Outcomes. State how this internship will create a robust field experience for the intern and add value to the project.
  • Detail the supervisor’s responsibilities for the project’s best outcome.
  • Outline providing emergency contacts and timely notification of absences or schedule changes, setting mutually agreed upon hours, and daily logging hours and work performed.
  • State how the supervisor will track the intern’s progress. Keeping a consistent record will help supervisor compose final evaluations that will be submitted to the intern’s graduate program. Also include an evaluation by the intern on his or her professional and personal development, accomplishments, and challenges throughout the project. This will help you in future assessments.
  • Final Product. Describe what will be the culmination of the intern’s work, which should align with the requirements of their graduate program. If possible, give interns an opportunity to share their work with staff and receive feedback. This will provide valuable experience for the intern.

Before this experience, I had heard the pros and lots of cons about what an internship could potentially turn into for supervisors—such as a bottomless pit of time management and backtracking in work. None of this happened. The more specific your guidelines, the better the experience for you and your intern.

The guidelines provide the structure for our intern to accomplish the project goals in a timely, comprehensive and creative manner. As supervisor, I offered guidance, answered questions regarding research, set deadlines, and next steps. And I learned from our intern’s critical thinking and approach to the collections.

A very positive and embedded outcome of supervising an internship is becoming a mentor. You have an opportunity to encourage a future colleague’s professional development. This helps us all to move our profession forward.

Whatever the next unforeseen or daunting task, remember to pause, take a deep breath, and channel the inspiring words of Eleanor Roosevelt.


ReneeNeelyRenée Elizabeth Neely is a Brown University alumna, with an AB in English Literature and Cultures. She holds a Master of Library and Information Science from Simmons College, Boston, MA, specializing in archival practice.

Since 2014, she has been Archival Consultant for the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice, Brown University, and is former Research and Public Engagement Coordinator for the Rhode Island Historical Society.

Published in Provenance, Journal of the Society of Georgia Archivists, Archival Outlook, and Callaloo, A Journal of African Diaspora Arts and Letters, Renée is a sculptor and native of Norfolk, Virginia.


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