#SpotlightSeries: Internship Experience
From the perspective of MARA student, Samuel Henley

MARA Blog
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Published: October 1, 2019 by Kenna Wulker

Internships are an excellent way to enhance your resume and gain experience. Many programs, including SJSU’s Master of Archives and Records Administration (MARA), require an internship to graduate. Read through to learn more about one MARA student’s journey navigating multiple internships. 

Tell me about yourself. What program are you studying? When did you start? When will you graduate?

My name is Samuel Henley. I started the MARA program in the fall of 2017 and will graduate this fall (hooray!). I’m a lot older than the average grad student, as I had been following a different career path, but a work injury forced me to abandon it. I have always had a passion for photography, in all aspects including history and restoration, and so when faced with having to  reset my life I decided to focus on something related to that, eventually stumbled upon archives, and found the MARA program fit my needs and goals nicely.

Where all have you interned? Which internship was your favorite?

I have had three internships, completed two and am in the midst of a third. The first was in the summer of 2018 in Anchorage, Alaska, at the Anchorage Museum. It was incredible in every way. I’ll leave off the location, the people and the seafood–but they were great–and just talk about the setting.

The museum is an incredible place that houses not only the archive and library but also a contemporary art section, historical installations, a Smithsonian office and display, a children’s activity area, interactive exhibits, and more. It is an impressive place that I think is a must-see for anyone who visits Alaska. They offer an internship every summer, which includes a stipend for travel and living expenses, so don’t let that frighten anyone away.

The archive holds the records of the Alaska Railroad Corporation and, at one point, one of their donations was not handled properly and didn’t get accessioned into the main collection. These were mainly photographic materials and therefore fit with my area of interest.

My job was to survey, evaluate, and make some sense of the hundreds of linear feet of items. I sorted, rehoused, and integrated about half of it directly into the existing series and subseries and was able to prepare the other half for the next person so that all they had to do was number and describe the rest of the items. I believe my final count of slides, negatives, and prints was 12,000 +/-. It was a blast!

This was my first real experience in an archive and I loved it all! I wish I could have finished the whole collection and built a complete finding aid, but that was impossible considering the volume and that I could work there for only a few months, but it was a remarkable learning experience and assured me I had made the right career choice.

My next internship was in the spring of 2019 at the American Film Institute in Hollywood. This was another wonderful experience and Emily Wittenberg, the archivist, went out of her way to accommodate my goals and wants for the internship.

I had worked with photographic materials extensively the previous summer, so she helped craft tasks for me that would give me experience with different materials and exposure to new aspects of the profession. I worked with oral histories, manuscripts, movie scripts and posters, financial records, and lots of photographs, too. It was almost all connected to the Golden Age of Hollywood, so extremely interesting and glamorous on top of everything else.

I was able to finish processing a couple of collections, add accessibility to another, and almost fully process and create a finding aid for another. All-in-all it was a rich experience and added to what I had already done and learned.

My current internship is at UC Merced, and I am tasked with making sense of and organizing records pertaining to the founding of the campus and its first decade of existence. This also builds on my previous experience and is especially nice as it is only 45 minutes from my house, not the other end of the state or all the way in Anchorage like my other internships. I am halfway through it and while I am making good progress, this is another task that I cannot finish so I am making sure to leave good notes and structure for the next person.

How have your internships helped prepare you for future jobs?

Experience is key. These three internships give me a year’s worth of experience for my resume. Another key thing I learned is that we must deal with poorly processed collections or downright mishandled items. In an ideal world unqualified people would not touch materials, but they do and we must mitigate the damage, even if the actions were well-intended (someone “helpfully” put white-out on each individual negative and wrote an item number with sharpie on it in one photographic collection). The real world is messy and frustrating, but after completing these internships, I am no longer surprised at what we find in collections that make you wonder just what that person was thinking.

Do you think internships should be required by schools?

Yes and no. I think the experience is totally valuable and the fact that you are an intern means the employer knows that you have no experience and you can go in as a novice without quite as much fear. My problem is that most internships are unpaid and while I feel the one I did was worth it, I know there is a lot of exploitation going on. I think the archival profession is full of passionate, caring people, but other internship opportunities may not be handled in the same way. I believe at least a minimal stipend should be encouraged by this and other universities so as to weed out undesirable internship experiences.

What tips do you have for other students applying and interviewing for internships?

The employers know you have no experience in the field and have only theoretical knowledge (at least for your first internship), so focus on other things you’ve done or know about. For example, for the Alaskan internship, I told them in my resume and interview about my interest and experience in photography, the fact that my grandfather was stationed there in WWII, and that I have an abiding love for the Pacific Northwest. Maybe it didn’t factor into me getting the position, but I would like to think adding personal and tangentially related details helped me.

Thank you, Samuel!

Thank you, Samuel for sharing your experience with us and letting us learn from your internship expertise! Congratulations on your upcoming graduation! 

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