For over a decade the Kutztown Area Historical Society (KAHS) and the Department of History at Kutztown University have collaborated to help KAHS to process a wealth of documents and artifacts that would otherwise be inaccessible to members and researchers. Since 2001, 14 interns have done a variety of projects, the majority of which have been scanning and digitizing materials and posting them online so that the public has access to these materials. KAHS is completely volunteer run and thus only open to the public a limited number of hours and days. Posting content online allows KAHS’s documents and artifacts to be accessible 24/7.
The speakers for the presentation were representatives from the Kutztown Area Historical Society, and the Department of History at Kutztown University, and several of their former interns, discussed the various parts of their successful collaboration. I enjoyed hearing from the former interns and the positive impact the project had on them. Michael P. Gabriel mentioned a comment from a former intern, who is currently an archivist out of state, that the hands-on experience taught him to preserve the past in the present for the future.
Matthew Harris, Carly Plesic and Sheila Joy all explained their intern experience and the various different projects that they worked on. Harris discussed the different scanners he had to use and the trouble shooting he had to do with technology and how this experience was used on his graduate school application. Plesic discussed the tedious and very detail-oriented transcription project that she worked on but also how much she loved it. Joy, currently an archivist at United Lutheran Seminary, explained how experiencing challenges in her internship prepared her for the real world. Troubleshooting scans, editing scanning, creating naming conventions and folder structures, etc., are all skills she uses in her daily work.
This collaboration allows students get a hands-on experience in a professional setting. In most cases this is their first real life work experience, which can have a life-long impact on potential future historians and archivists. They learn how to summarize a collection, index, use naming conventions, create folder structures on a server, etc. In some cases, the development of these skills have led students to apply to graduate school and eventually become archivists.
Even if interns do not enter the profession, they find a newfound appreciation for local history and many go home and become interested in or involved with their hometown historical society.
In addition to having processed collections, this collaboration also gives KAHS fresh, new ideas from interns.
However, it seems the true success of the collaboration is the vetting process of interns before the internship can happen. The program is very selective in picking their interns and, since 2001, only 14 interns have gone through the program. So, not every year or every semester. During the question portion, an interesting idea / suggestion was mention – the local historical associations should create a state ‘group’ of some sorts so that resources, ideas, a place to share ideas, and possibly connect potential interns with local historical societies.
A thought-provoking question of whether the interns were just scanning or where they scanning for long term preservation was brought up. This lead to an interesting side discussion of history students doing archival work without any archival background. Can historians be archivists when simply upload a file to a website is no longer seen as ‘enough’? Maybe a future MARAC presentation?
Karolina Lewandowska, M.A., M.L.I.S.
Naval History & Heritage Command