Call for Member Comment: Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Archival Education


The following draft was prepared by four SAA Council member-volunteers—Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Geoffrey Huth, Elisabeth Kaplan, and Lisa Mangiafico—following a Council discussion in September 2013 about the potential benefits of providing members with a set of guidelines or best practices for internships as a component of graduate archival education. Adopting procedures from the Standards Committee’s review process, the Council subgroup has sought feedback from a number of SAA component groups with a particular interest in this topic.  The draft is now presented to all SAA members for comment.  Following the comment period, a draft incorporating appropriate revisions will be reviewed by the SAA Standards Committee and presented to the SAA Council for adoption at its January 22-24, 2014, meeting.

To comment on the draft:  Send an email message containing your comments to or log in and use the “Add a Comment” function below the text.  Deadline for comments:  November 22, 2013.   


DRAFT: Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Graduate Archival Education1

Prepared by Tanya Zanish-Belcher, Geof Huth, Elisabeth Kaplan, and Lisa Mangiafico


Professional internships are an important part of an archives education that allows graduate students to gain new insights into the nature of archival practice by engaging in meaningful work under the mentorship of experienced and knowledgeable archives professionals. Professional internships provide students with a unique opportunity to connect the skills and knowledge gained in their archives education with practical experience supervised by a professional archivist. For the majority of archives positions available, practical experience is often a requirement.

Because graduate internships are, if possible, offered for academic credit, archives internships should be designed with clear educational objectives. Onsite archivist supervisors should collaborate with teaching faculty to utilize the appropriate methods to evaluate graduate student interns and to determine whether or not students have met the course’s educational objectives. Onsite work may also be accompanied by additional assignments as required by the faculty supervisor.

While internships are first and foremost intended to educate archives graduate students, it is important for programs to remember that internships are partnerships between students, archives programs, and the sites hosting interns. No two internships will be exactly alike, so it is vital that faculty, students and onsite staff who will be supervising interns take the time to discuss the project and to establish clear expectations about what will take place during an internship.  It is the responsibility of the academic program to ensure that both students and supervisors at internship sites are well informed about what is expected from a successful internship. Once an internship begins, it is vital for student interns, faculty and onsite supervisors to maintain open lines of communication in order to address problems should they arise. Successful internships balance the needs and goals of all partners.

While it is expected and desirable that programs shape internships to meet their unique missions and pedagogical goals, the Society of American Archivists has defined a set of overarching recommendations common to most good programs.


Nature of work: Internships engage graduate students in professional-level work that supplements formal archival education, strengthens or introduces new skills, encourages collaboration and teamwork, and helps to develop their understanding of how archival theories and methods are applied in practice. Such work is performed under the supervision of experienced archives professionals willing to share their knowledge and insights with student interns. Internship projects are designed so that a student can later refer to his or her discrete role and accomplishment when applying for employment. In many cases, this means that internship projects are designed so that students can produce a complete work product--a digitized or processed collection, a finding aid, or an exhibit--from beginning to end. Alternatively, a project could be designed so that an intern plays a significant role on a group project--drafting a preservation plan for a set of maps to be digitized, creating metadata guidelines for an Omeka implementation, etc.  Interns should be allowed to use works generated during their internship as part of a portfolio or job application.

Compensation for Student Internships: Academic Credit and/or Stipends: Recognizing the value of archives work and the skills possessed by archives graduate students, interns should receive compensation (whether in the form of academic credit or a stipend) for their work commensurate with the qualifications required for the position. Graduate internships without any form of compensation should be rare in order to avoid devaluing the professional nature of archival work. Institutions that cannot offer compensation should ensure all other recommended best practices are met.

Internship Agreements: Before a professional internship begins, the student intern, the onsite supervisor, and the faculty internship supervisor must agree to a clear set of guidelines for the internship. These specify the conditions of employment including the educational objectives of the internship, the expected final work product of the internship, and the evaluation criteria that will be used by both the faculty member and the onsite supervisor. This agreement may take the form of informal letters of agreement, or a more formal written contract signed by all parties, but the parameters of the internship are in writing and approved by all parties before the internship begins. Archives programs may also find it useful to provide both students and sites hosting interns with online or printed information explaining the role of internships within their curriculums and the academic requirements for student internships.

Onsite Supervisors: Interns are supervised at their internship site by individuals with sufficient training or experience in archives to ensure that interns are exposed to methods and procedures consistent with the best practices in the field. Onsite intern supervisors will meet regularly with interns to answer questions, provide feedback on their work, and mentor the interns. Intern supervisors and their institutions also have a responsibility to ensure a professional and safe work environment.

Faculty Internship Supervisors: Internships must be supervised by faculty members who are knowledgeable about the field of archives and who can appropriately evaluate all of the components of an internship.

Regular Communication: Regular contact between the intern faculty supervisor, the intern, and the onsite supervisor must be maintained during the internship. If possible, hosting sites provide student interns with opportunities to share their experiences with others and to reflect on how the internship experience connects to their coursework and issues of archival theory and practice. This can take many forms, including face-to-face meetings or virtual discussions.

Evaluation: All internships include evaluation methods that allow institutions to determine that students have met the educational objectives of the internship. Evaluation methods and procedures are clearly defined at the outset of the internship and include written input from onsite supervisors. Interns are given an opportunity to discuss their performance and experiences with both their academic advisor and their onsite supervisor at the end of their internships. After the completion of an internship, both students and onsite internship supervisors evaluate the internship experience to identify areas for future improvement. These surveys can be used to enhance future internship experiences and to identify sites that may not be appropriate for hosting future interns.

Interns Do Not Replace Professional Staff: Work performed by interns must be educational and provide students with hands-on experience. The work of interns must not replace the work of professional staff. 

Post-Graduate Internships: SAA recognizes some professionals may investigate additional post-graduate internships, in addition to any sponsored by archives graduate programs, and recommends participants obtain fair compensation. Institutions should also follow these best practices to the best of their ability.


1Graduate archival education refers to MA/MLS/MLIS programs, with a minimum number of credit hours dedicated to an archives specialization. SAA Directory of Archival Education:

Adapted from Best Practices in Public History, Public History Internships. Prepared by the National Council on Public History Curriculum and Training Committee, 2008

For additional information, please see:

Bastian, Jeannette A. and Donna Webber. Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students.  Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2008.

U.S. Department of Labor.  Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act.

BestPracticesForInternshipsAsComponentofGradArchivalEd_Posted11-12-13.pdf224.84 KB
5 Comment(s) to the "Call for Member Comment: Best Practices for Internships as a Component of Archival Education"
rebeccagoldman says:
More suggestions

I submited comments on an earlier draft of this document. Below is a list of my suggestions which

were not incorporated into this latest draft. If any of you agree with any of my suggestions,

please leave a comment orlet the authors know. I also want to say that although I think there are

problems with the guide, I am very appreciative of the time that SAA and Council members have put

into it. The result isn't perfect, but your intentions are good.

What’s the relationship between this doc and SAA’s volunteer guide? Or, put another way, what’s

the difference between an unpaid intern and a volunteer? (The volunteer guide is located at, and it does not

distinguish between unpaid interns and other types of volunteers.)

When internships are unpaid, they should follow the Department of Labor’s guidelines for unpaid

internships: Although non-profits can legally

host internships that don’t meet these guidelines, I think the guidelines provide a good framework

for developing an internship that benefits the intern without displacing paid staff. You say "the

work of interns must not replace the work of professional staff" but don't provide any guidance on

how to accomplish this.

Archives is different from some other professions, such as law and medicine, in that employers

expect archivists to have at least some professional-level experience prior to graduation. The

internships guide should note this.

It’s fine to hire graduate students for boring, routine stuff like photocopying or data entry. And

if you’re a non-profit, legally, you don’t even have to pay them. But don’t call it an internship,

because they aren’t learning professional skills.

Why should interns receive academic credit? I did (paid) internships in grad school and chose not

to get credit. Getting 1 or 2 classes worth of academic credit, and paying my school to get that

credit, would have meant not being able to fit 1 or 2 classes into my degree. Receiving credit for

internships can be positive, especially if it helps students save money by graduating earlier, but

there are good reasons not to require academic credit.

This guide lists a few examples of good internship projects, but it would be great if you included

or linked out to actual intern projects.

At my library school, students doing for-credit internships are all enrolled in the same course,

where they have to write weekly journal entries about their internship. Most of the time, the

faculty member “teaching” this course is a library person, not an archives person. So it's not

always possible to do an internship for credit AND have a faculty supervisor who knows about


beausten says:
Internship best practices

I host many Simmons interns, and they all have a specific number of hours to fulfill. I agree with Mark that there should at least be a minimum amount of time suggested, enough so that the intern gets exposure to various aspects of archival management and can complete a project. Interns should attend committee or staff meetings to see how the rest of the organization operates. We even encourage our interns to observe one or more of our educational programs for school children. says:
Lisa, et al: I'm glad to see

Lisa, et al: I'm glad to see this guidance, and can hear the weight of the Fair Labor Standards Act bearing down on the beams of the profession. Once an exploited student, now as a professional working with paid interns and volunteers -- just llike virtually all of us -- I've seen this from both ends. I think even the red-meatiest capitalist has to see the virtue of paying people for their work. I've seen way way better work out of paid interns than practicum students -- the time committment is longer, and people take work more seriously if they're getting paid. 

Institutions should not poor-mouth their way into unpaid labor. If you want projects done, pay for them. We have to end this cobbler's-elves magical thinking.



mgreene says:
Guildelines for Archival Internships

Thank you for drafting these guidelines, they are very welcome.  I do have some questions and concerns, however.  First question, about nature of work, is the recommended length of an internship.  What is too short, particularly, to provide sufficient experience for the student? Second question, about evaluation, is whether onsite supervisors can be expected to shoulder the time-consuming task for formal (written and verbal?) evaluations, on top of the time spent teaching and supervising the intern in the first place?

Third question, about interns do not replace professional staff, is how can this be true?  After all, the interns are being asked to do professional work, so by definition they are replacing (standing in for) professional staff.  Whether processing a collection, digitizing a collection, devising a rehousing plan, or whatever, these are professional tasks normally done by professionals. And what is wrong with this? Interns need professional experience and many repositories need more professional work done than their other professional staff can accomplish.  Seems fair to me.

First concern is about nature of work, and the absence in that description, of any sense that the interns should be exposed to more of the workings of a repository than simply the act of processing or digitizing or such.  They should be given opportunities to learn someting of the other functions and activities, by shadowing other departments for a half-day (or so) at a time or by attending committee meetings (perhaps once or twice), or by having time one-on-one with professionals performing other duties.  This gives the intern even more knowledge with which to impress potential employers, but also gives him/her a better basis upon which to choose an archival speciality (eg, processing, reference, appraisal).

Second concern is about Post Graduate Internships and the admonition that interns should receive fair compensation without any hint about how to judge what is fair.  Of course I don't mean specific dollar amounts, but some reference point.  For example, perhaps they should be paid at a rate one half that of permanent professionals?  Or is "fair" more like a stipend that covers modest room and board in the respective city?  Or is fair the going rate for a graduate assistant at a university close by? I think it's only reasonable to give some sense of proportion as to what constitutes fair.

Again, thank you for your good work on this important document.  Best regards, --Mark

Mark A. Greene, Director, American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming

dwallen says:
To borrow from the SAA's Guidelines for a Graduate Program

Yes, no two internships would be the same, but should there be some incorporation of the "Knowledge of Archival Material and Functions" as outlined in the Guidelines for a Graduate Program in Archival Studies as a recommended subject that should be covered at some point during the internship?