March 2014 PSN

‘Using’ volunteers and interns in oral history work?: the ethical, the practical and the beautiful

Monday, March 31, 2014
1:00pm – 2:15pm EST

There are a maximum of 8 spots available for this PSN Video Chat. To participate, you’ll need to register via EventBrite using the button below.  We ask participants to make a sliding scale donation of $3-$10 to reserve your spot. Your donation will help us continue to organize and offer these chats in the future!

Rebecca Lorins, Acting director of Texas After Violence Project.  (One or two interns from TAVP will also participate in the chat.)
Charlotte Nunes, Lecturer in World Literature at the University of Texas at Austin and co-Chair of the UT-Austin Rapoport Center Human Rights and Archives Working Group.

It is no secret that oral history work is a labor of love: even the well-endowed oral history initiatives and collections housed in large institutions are experiencing “declining budgets” as Doug Boyd observes in his case study, “Is Perfect the Enemy of Good Enough? Digital Video Preservation in the Age of Declining Budgets.” There are many oral history projects that are sustained solely or primarily by volunteers, and so the title of this PSN may ring hollow to those who find themselves operating within these realities.

On the other hand, it is also true that many oral history initiatives that live within institutions such as libraries, museums, historical societies, nonprofit organizations, and universities, rely on volunteers and interns as crucial members of the team who are still defined as “other” than staff. Many times, these distinctions are taken for granted and unquestioned, but at other times, the role of the intern or volunteer may raise uncomfortable questions about how to create a working environment that is mutually beneficial for both the working individual and the organization.

This PSN seeks to address dilemmas and success stories that have come up in your work with volunteers and interns.

As the title suggests, we may break the call down into three main components:

1.)  The Ethical and 2.) The Practical:

  1. In 2010, the US Department of Labor released a Fact Sheet outlining six criteria for determining the eligibility of a work experience to be recognized as an “unpaid internship.” We can discuss the applicability of this document and its regulations to our experience running internships in oral history.
  2. Have you faced difficulties or tensions in crafting internships that satisfy the pressing needs of the organization, advance the organization’s mission and address the intern’s need for a meaningful educational opportunity?
  3. What are some ethical dilemmas you’ve faced when working with interns?
  4. Do you make clear distinctions between the work of “interns” and “volunteers”?
  5. Do you routinely seek volunteers and interns with a set of skills (media production skills, for example) or do you expect to train volunteers and interns during the internship?
  6. Is a semester long enough for an oral history internship? What of the work that is left unfinished? Have you found other timeframes more suitable for your work?

2.)  The Beautiful

  1. We can use some of our time—and perhaps the bulk of the time—to share some models of successful internships and structured volunteerships.
  2. What has worked for you? Why has it worked? What are its major components?
  3. What are some of the major learning outcomes of your internships?
  4. If you have concrete examples of internship documents, from calls for interns (recruitment) to internship assignments, to links to intern work, feel free to bring material to share during and after our call.