Internships are extremely important for students who are thinking about entering the museum field. How else can you really know if this career is right for you?
Most museums operate with a staff that is too small to complete all of the projects on the To Do List. Interns can contribute to the museum by sharing some of the workload while they learn about what goes on behind the scenes in your department.
Creating or revising an internship program takes some planning and organization. Here are some tips to get you started.
In order to legitimize your internship program, you should have a formal selection process that includes submitting a resume and cover letter by a specific deadline and an interview. Treat your internship as if it were an open position on your staff. Ask each candidate if they are seeking an internship for college credit and how many hours they are required to work. Know how many interns you can handle in a given semester and donít hire more than that number. It is better to provide a quality experience for one intern than a sub-standard experience for ten interns.
Provide projects that will create a valuable learning experience for your intern. Although some photocopying and filing may be helpful to you, the internship should include real museum work such as cataloging, researching, leading tours and writing exhibition text. If you do not have a small exhibit space in your museum, try partnering with a local nursing home or library and ask your intern to do a small exhibition. If your museum has a website or newsletter, ask the intern to write a short article on an item in the collection or report on an event. Have the intern meet with other staff members to discuss what they do in their positions. Require your intern to attend at least two museum programs or special events during the internship so they can see how they are different from day to day museum work.
Consider creating a syllabus of readings for your internship on various topics within the museum field, such as collection management, exhibitions, education, conservation and grant writing. Ask the intern to write 10 points of interest and/or questions about the readings so you can discuss them. Or create a set of questions for them to answer. Guided journal entries can also provide a valuable learning tool for your intern. (We will explore specific assignment suggestions in a future article)
Be clear up front that an internship is an important responsibility. Make sure the intern understands your expectations, such as your policies on calling in sick or the dress code in your department. Interns should be taught the proper way to handle artifacts as soon as possible.
A paid internship is always preferable, but not always possible. Graduate level interns will expect a stipend for an internship. Look for grants for specific projects, partner with local foundations or ask your Board to sponsor a graduate level internship. Undergraduate internships are often unpaid, but provide important experience for finding a job or getting into a graduate program.