borrowing energy

Late November and early December is always a hard time in the academic cycle — the semester is almost over, and everyone’s wearing down, but we haven’t hit the frenetic energy of finals week yet. The pile of things you planned to get to “during the fall semester” or “before the break” or “after Thanksgiving” is staring at you balefully and you’re staring back thinking, “I have to kill it before it develops language skills.” It’s also registration time for students, when they choose classes and projects for next semester — and set up internships.

Next semester I will be acting as site supervisor for between 3 and 7 interns, supporting the college’s Bicentennial. These are project-based internships, in that each of the interns will be working on one or more discrete projects, on their own schedule, with weekly check-in and collaboration meetings with me and the other interns. The projects are things like “use the digitized college newspaper to find facts, events, and people we can showcase in a This Week In SUNY Potsdam History series” and “find photos that are suited to doing Then And Now recreations with current students” and “help me make sure we’ve hit all of these Big Themes in our online timeline of the College’s history.” We’ll do some scaffolding work early in the semester, meeting with various Bicentennial stakeholders (the Organizing Committee, our Public Affairs staff, the Archives team), discussing themes and communication throughlines for the Bicentennial, teaching them to use our online historical resources, discussing how the research they do will be used in social and traditional media, and giving them a crash course in the history of the College. And then I plan to set them free, to sink, swim, or fly, as they can. (I also plan to be waiting by the side of the pool with inflatable floaties, as necessary…)

And up until this week, I was thinking about this project with a mix of resignation and duty. It needs to get done, and this is the best way to do it while meeting all of my varied priorities — I have limited time to ask of my full-time staff, the Archives cannot handle a huge influx of volunteer alumni workers (another option I had), we have been offering very limited internship opportunities and there are always a few Museum Studies students who want to work with us, we’re on a tight timeframe, we want to appeal to a student audience with this information, etc — but it really just seemed like more work.

Right up until I started talking to the students interested in the internship itself. Their energy, and their interest, is an amazing and powerful thing. One student, who wants to be an archivist, was so excited when the internship coordinator told him I’d take him on that he gleefully asked if he could have a hug. Another, a creative writing major, just lit up when I started describing the social media aspects of publicizing something like a celebration of 200 years of history, and wanted to talk about hashtags as a cultural phenomenon. A third has emailed me several times, clearly eager and just waiting for me to take the next steps.

How can you be resigned, or apathetic, or simply dutiful in the face of that? I can’t. Now I’m excited. This is going to be fun. It’s going to be hard work on my part, but that’s my  job, to work hard on behalf of this institution. And our institution exists to work for our students. It’s rare that the Director of Libraries gets the chance to work directly and meaningfully with students, but if this goes half as well as I suspect it will, I’m going to make sure I have more opportunities to make those connections and foster that excitement.

Because that’s the point of this gig, really: the students.

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