Special Collections Archive Internship Experience (Getting Started)


Last year I had the fantastic opportunity of completing an internship in a special collections archive for my Library and Information Science Practicum. I learned a lot and thought it would be fun to share my experience with others.

I was able to complete onsite visits and interviews of various archives in the city, as well as, processing a collection and creating the collections finding aids for both written and metadata records.

Below you’ll find some of the objectives, activities, readings, and web tutorials that I utilized throughout the process, as well as, a list of onsite interview questions that helped me understand the similarities and differences between each special collection archive.

Game Plan:


  • Gain exposure to archive and special collection activities and issues within a variety of institutional contexts.
  • Obtain a broad overview of activities, institution types, and positions in archives and special collections.


  • Observe reference service interactions in archives and special collections department; participate as required.
  • Observe and participate, as necessary, in collection development, acquisition, and donor relations activities.
  • Arrange and describe a small archival or special collections collection according to institutional guidelines and standards.
  • Create an Encoded Archival Description (EAD) finding aid according to institutional standards.
  • Complete site visits and interviews with area archival and special collection professionals.
  • Complete assigned and elective readings in archival and special collections topics.
  • Attend appropriate department and committee meetings, as identified by supervisor.
  • Participate in digital initiative activities, as appropriate.


  • Bradsher, J.G. (1989). Managing Archives and Archival Institutions: Introduction to Archives. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.
  • Daniels, M. and Walch, T. (1984). A Modern Archives Reader: Basic Readings on Archival Theory and Practice. Washington, D.C: National Archives Trust Fund.
  • Greene, M.A. and Meissner, D. (2005). More Product, Less Process: Revamping Traditional Archival Processing. The American Archivist, 68(2), 208-263.
  • O’Toole, J.M. and Cox, R. J. (2006). Understanding Archives & Manuscripts: Archival Fundamentals Series II. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.
  • Olivieri, B. And Mehaffey, A.M. (2015). Interlibrary Loan of Special Collections Materials: An Overview and Case Study. RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage, 16(2), 113-126.
  • Roe, Kathleen D. (2005). Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists.
  • Society of American Archivists. (2013). Describing Archives: A Content Standard (2nd Ed.). Chicago: Society of American Archivists.


Site Visits and Interviews:

Here’s a list of question provided by my internship supervisor…

  • What is your job title and what do you do?
  • What is the scope of your collection? What do you collect and not collect?
  • What is your parent organization?
  • Who are your primary users? What types of research and reference questions do you receive?
  • What system do you use to manage your collections? Do you use Archivists’ Toolkit, Archives Space, and a homegrown system?  Do you work with a library system?  What are the benefits and challenges of your system?
  • Do you work with born-digital or digitized materials? What type of digital program do you have?
  • What is your educational background? What is your professional history?
  • Why did you decide to enter this profession?
  • What types of preservation and conservation activities do you do?
  • What descriptive standards do you use? Do you use DACS?  Do you create EAD finding aids?
  • What suggestions do you have for someone considering archives and special collections as a career?