~Analysis & Evaluation ~

~EcumenismA movement that seeks to achieve unity among all religions through cooperation and the fostering of greater mutual understanding.  It attempts to arrive at the truth through a careful weighing of contending viewpoints.

Creating Mutually Beneficial Internships
Lessons from the Ecumenical Collections at the Burke Library Archives

IMAG1393

Bree Midavaine
LIS 698: Seminar & Practicum, Fall 2012
Dr. Tula Giannini, Dean Pratt-SILS
Brigette C. Kamsler, Site Supervisor Burke Library Archives

Introduction

My internship at the Burke Library Archives has been the first internship that I have actively sought out with a specific purpose in mind; to learn how to process archival collections and how to manage interns effectively from someone I felt excelled at both jobs.  I met the Burke Library Project Archivist, Brigette Kamsler, while I was interviewing her about her job for a class I had on archives and special collection management.  About half way through the interview I knew that I had to convince her to take me on as her Fall semester intern.  I was impressed with the level of thought that she put into managing the interns that came to the Burke.

By the time I started at the Burke my experience with internships was quite varied, ranging from institution management not only treating interns, but other employees, as free labor for menial tasks such as cleaning and window washing to an environment that while a bit lax nevertheless encouraged me to pursue tasks that I felt would be beneficial and pushed me to add to my body of knowledge, additionally they genuinely cared about their interns and employees and offered lectures and outings to augment our experience.  However, if I had been a less motivated individual I could have found the lack of structure surrounding my daily duties frustrating, especially on the days when I came in to work with absolutely no idea of what I could find to occupy my time.  Both experiences were valuable because I took the initiative and created experiences that helped develop my skills as a librarian.  I found ways to teach myself new things, make new connections with the people I was able to work with, and invented or inserted myself into tasks that not only caused me to apply concepts that I had learned in class, but created materials that were beneficial for the institutions I was interning at.  For my final internship as a library science graduate student I was ready for a change.  I was ready for a carefully organized internship that pushed me in a direction that I was unfamiliar with and that was supervised by someone with vision of internships as learning experiences that should and could be mutually beneficial for both the students and institution.

My time at the Burke Library Archives was focused mainly on the William Adams Brown Ecumenical Library Archives.  I was not only unfamiliar with practical archival work, but with ecumenical religious materials.  I was able to learn through my research for history notes, scope and content notes and various blog posts on the collections I was able to process, that these collections were focused on creating place where an atmosphere of trust could grow, where divisive issues could be discussed and where the reception of the results of ecumenical dialogues could be encouraged.  I worked on the records for the Federal Council of Churches, State Council of Churches and American Bilateral Conversations, learning that each of these various councils or conversations was an effort to encourage disparate religious denominations to collaborate together and create unity out of their divisions.  This required the various churches to physically come together so that they may acquire new experiences and insights derived from association with one another.

It was easy to draw correlations between these ecumenical discussions and councils with my own experience in attempting to unify my experiences at my various internships into one body of knowledge that would benefit me professionally.  Ecumenism is a movement, it is a conversation, these are action words, ecumenical success is not achieved through passivity, but through dedicated and continual actions.  It was apparent to me that action and doing is a vital part of the learning experience.  The classes where I retain the most information are those that require action on my part; making a fresco to understand why Michelangelo’s back hurt while he was creating the paintings in the Sistine Chapel ceiling, writing code to create a website in order to understand the technology that is so often used by libraries in the form of EAD, Dublin Core and other metadata schemas, or examining a rare book in order to write collation formulas.  In order to understand the best way to gain this knowledge it is important to understand where knowledge and wisdom come from.  Once we understand the relationship between knowledge and wisdom it is easier to figure out the best teaching methods for imparting that knowledge and wisdom to others.

Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom

According to Stefan Gradman’s white paper on the website Europeana, knowledge can be defined by a DIKW-Hierarchy (abbreviating the terms Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom.)  “The continuum starts with data…small portions of ‘givens’ that have no inherent structure or necessary relationship between them.  Data exist at different levels of aggregation and abstraction…”  When patterns emerge or begin to be recognized among all these different ‘givens’ and start to become meaningful, this is when data is transformed into information.  Information transforms into knowledge once it “has been made part of a specific context and is useful in this context.  This new forming knowledge can be based on

“social relations (information as part of a group of people’s apprehension of the world, information present in the memory of a person) or semantically based (information related to contextual information via shared properties and thus becoming part of a semantic class of information.)”

Knowledge can then build on itself, with each bit of knowledge leading to different conclusions and more knowledge.  Wisdom is much more complicated to achieve.  Wisdom more verb like requires action!  Wisdom requires a person to make ethical, socially considerate judgment calls and complex decisions based on their knowledge base.  It is “an interpersonal phenomenon, requiring exercise of intuition, communication, and trust.”  (Gradman, 2010) The question is how do we go from just jumping from new connection to new connection (creating knowledge) to wisdom (integrating that knowledge into practice for the benefit of society)?  It is easy to jump to conclusions based on theory, but without the experience it is almost impossible to stop jumping and actually leap into the action that the formation of wisdom requires; this is where internships can help students.  Internships correctly designed can help bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and experience based professional wisdom. 

Teaching Methods

Anthony Cocciolo a professor at Pratt Institute SILS teaches using a Constructionist approach.  I have been unable to take a class by him, but one of the reasons I sought out an internship under Brigette, was related to the fact that her method of teaching archival processing is Constructionist in nature.  “Constructionism is a teaching method that ultimately results in the creation of an artifact that is beneficial for the community, it “places the learner in the role of designer” of that artifact. (Cocciolo, 2011) In essence the materials that students create as a result of constructionist teaching cause them to more readily identify with those materials and retain the knowledge they used in its creation.  Additionally there is a social aspect to constructionism, it is particularly effective when students are “actively engaged in creating something that is meaningful to themselves or others around them.”  (Cocciolo, 2011)

The first collection I worked on I processed at the highest level, meaning I counted every paper and basically created line items notations in the finding aid for almost everything in the collection.  In addition to that, I had to research what exactly was meant by “bilateral conversation” and try to fit it into an historical context, I had to learn digital asset management, catalog the finding aid, advertise the collection on the blog, Twitter and Facebook, re-house the collection, affix labels and finally place the collection on its final shelves in the archive stacks.  This level of processing and the knowledge that what I was doing would benefit researchers, allowed me to take the knowledge that I learned and apply it to the next three collections I worked on.  I was able to work faster on each successive collection and I gained a certain amount of satisfaction knowing that what I was creating contributed something meaningful to the community the Burke supports.  According to Cocciolo, “understanding how each of these elements works, and assembling them into a coherent whole inspires a sense of ‘know how.’  These real artifacts become objects in the mind, and new connections are formed by working with them.”  (2011)

The idea that “students should see their development as personally enriching and of value to the individuals with whom they are collaborating and communities they are serving” is also a factor in situated learning.  (Cocciolo, 2011) According to Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger situated learning emphasizes “the relational interdependency of agent and world, activity, meaning, cognition, learning, and knowing.  [It] also claims that learning, thinking, and knowing are relations among people engaged in activity in, with, and arising from the socially and culturally structured world.”  (1991)

Other studies on learning communities or communities of practice suggest that they can affect motivation and encourage the continued use of the learning strategies acquired after students have participated in integrated courses and collaborative learning.  “Learners interact with the physical and social world to actively create rather than passively receive knowledge.” (Yukawa, 2010)  It is interesting to note that in all of these teaching methods action is important, words like; “serving”, “actively engaged”, “collaborating”, “interact” and “actively create” all inspire movement and “doing.”

Just as ecumenism, or gaining wisdom was associated with action words, it seems that the best way to learn how to do something is not just through theoretical academic discussion, but also from the application of newly acquired knowledge in the physical world through the creation of tangible artifacts.  Learning becomes more than passive knowledge acquisition; it becomes a process of identity formation and empowerment.  Mentors, supervisors, and teachers who use these approaches make it easier for students to see their work not only as personally enriching but also of value to the community they are serving.  As such, new knowledge is not only more effectively embedded in the students mind, but the students eventually begin to identify and relate themselves to the communities they serve.

Implementation

When I asked Brigette for a list of resources she used to help her create the organization of her internships she recommended that I read a book by Jeannette Bastian and Donna Webber, Archival Internships: A Guide for Faculty, Supervisors, and Students.  They wrote this book to help fill the gap between an increasing population of students interns and an institutions need for internship standards and for “literature to assist in planning, offering, managing, or evaluating these experiences.” Internships are set up to assist in the transfer of knowledge from one person to another.

Current Society of American Archivist guidelines state that internships should not be a “static processes which only formally apply classroom knowledge, [but it should] allow students to verify their understanding of archival principles by applying them in real-life situations and to understand how to make adjustments so that archival principles fit archival practice.”  Bastian and Webber then offer practical advice to all members involved in internship facilitation, faculty, supervisors and students.  They provide guidelines for communication, creating conducive learning work environments, forms for creating work plans or interviewing prospective interns and a number of do’s and don’ts aimed at students for helping them make the most of their internships.

A full list of SAA recommended standards are included as well as extra author recommended best practices, which include, focusing on “defined projects that result in specific products.”(Bastian & Webber, 2008).  It is important that the focus of the internship should be on allowing the student to verify their theoretical knowledge, through the creation of a physical artifact and in collaboration with supervisors and other students. These are the same methods that Brigette employed to teach me how to put archival theory into practice.  My internship was carefully organized and involved “doing” on a large scale; it is a method that should be encouraged at all internships.

Conclusion

Whether applying constructionism, situated learning or constructivism theory to undergraduate classes, online graduate courses, museum exhibits or internships the method is the same.  Engage the students in an activity that places them in the “role of designer” and creator of an artifact based on theoretical knowledge taught in the classroom.  This tangible artifact can be used to create conversation between students in the same class, or create new connections in the mind of the creator.  Additionally the process of creating “something that is meaningful to themselves or to others around them” effectively and permanently places the student into that community.  It gives them tangible ties to the community they are engaged in and encourages them in the creation of more artifacts that will be beneficial to that community.

My internship supervisor was intent on creating an environment that would foster trust and give me a place where I could create my own meaningful artifacts, thereby tying me to the community of archivists.  I did not just create finding aids, but I made them available online increasing access, spoke about their relevance in various blog entries, posted information regarding the new collections on Twitter and Facebook, I was even informed one of the collections was given to me because a user had requested the material and the library wanted to accommodate the request in a timely manner.  I did not just learn archival theory or just the do’s and don’ts of archival processing, but I created a tangible object that tied me to a community of archivists and archives users.  Eventually I began to describe myself as an archivist when asked what I do.  I am no longer just a library graduate student, but because of what I was able to accomplish I now identify with being an archivist.

Previous to my experience at the Burke it was easy to be on the fence regarding being an archivist, all my knowledge of archivists was purely theoretical and had no grounding in the real world, but through the simple act of research, organization and the creation of access points in the form of finding aids it is now much easier to identify myself within that community of archivists.  The effectiveness of these teaching methods is evident in the way that I responded to them.  It would be interesting to expand this theory and test it on a research base of more than just one.

For a list of resources used in this paper please see the Literature Review section of this website.  Click here for a PDF version of this paper.

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