Lead Article, May 2023

By AIC News posted 05-05-2023 17:05


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Centering Voices: Undergraduate Preservation Internships for Students of Color

By Lescia Valmond, Tempe Stewart, Paul Springer, Jr., Kayla Rolle, Jasmine Malone, and Darshai Hollie, with article coordinator Priscilla Anderson for the Book and Paper Group (BPG)

Above: HBCU Library Alliance Preservation Intern Justus Jenkins shows a Japanese stab bookbinding he had just completed during a live Zoom tutorial with Duke University Libraries’ head of conservation, Beth Doyle, in June 2021. Credit: Preservation Underground blogpost, June 25, 2021, Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0


We are a group of students and emerging professionals from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) who have recently participated in undergraduate internships in library preservation and conservation. Organized by the HBCU Library Alliance working with the Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, several large academic and research libraries in the United States hosted six-week undergraduate summer internshipsin-person (before COVID-19 hit) and online (during the pandemic). We were invited to collaborate on this article by Book and Paper Group (BPG) members who served as our site hosts, and who are presenting multiple perspectives (interns, site hosts, and administrators) at the 2023 AIC Annual Meeting.

Related Annual Meeting Discussion

Please join the lunchtime discussion on Thursday, May 18, 2023, at 12:00 pm EDT on “The HBCU Library Alliance Preservation Internship Program as a Model for Diversity, Equity, Accessibility, and Inclusion in Conservation Education.” A blog post is planned to document the outcomes of the discussion.

We accepted the challenge because our lives, education, and futures were fundamentally impacted by these internships.

We encourage you to develop your own undergraduate internships for people of color (POCs) and others from marginalized backgrounds. We provide concrete suggestions to help you and your interns succeed. See Table 1 below to see the advice.

Our internships were different from graduate internships: as undergraduates we were looking to broaden our career horizons, not narrow them. Our site hosts introduced us to different aspects of their work and professional networks, often rotating through different preservation-oriented activities. Introducing us to other POCs, undergraduates, and interns/fellows in the community gave us additional resources to draw upon when we needed comfort, encouragement, or personal information. Sharing our accomplishments publicly through blog posts and presentations had the potential to influence other POCs at our host institutions. We took what we learned and shared it with our organizations, communities, and families, fostering preservation of diverse material culture beyond our internship sites.

Seen and Heard

We also wanted to author this article because it is an opportunity to be seen and heard, which is difficult for POCs in primarily white contexts like the sites where we interned, organizations like AIC, and professions like conservation. Co-author Paul Springer, Jr. feels included in his home institution (HBCU Fisk University), but when he enters a Primarily White Institution (PWI, the acronym for colleges and universities that are not historically Black), he sometimes experiences imposter syndrome, feeling like he doesn't belong there. Co-author Jasmine Malone, whose 2020 internship started days after George Floyd was murdered and at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown, found that participating in a virtual internship hosted by PWIs proved challenging because there was little space to discuss how race, ethnicity, and culture directly affect the profession.

Students like us are more likely to pursue careers like yours when they see your space enriched with our distinct talents along with our diverse faces. For co-author Kayla Rolle, being seen and heard in a PWI context empowered her and helped her to feel welcomed. Other students of color could feel more comfortable because they saw someone who looked like them being recognized for their unique contributions. As a member of the native Kalinago tribe from the Commonwealth of Dominica, co-author Lescia Valmond points out that recognizing interns’ individual backgrounds, especially international students, gives an even greater depth of diversity, because people from other countries and cultures bring something different to the table.

Your organizations can improve your efforts to diversify when you share and elevate the experiences, images, and accomplishments of interns of color, in our own voices as individuals with unique perspectives and backgrounds.


Networking continued after the short internship ended. Several of us have been accepted to graduate and post-baccalaureate programs with support and recommendations from our site hosts, who also have provided references for successful job and fellowship applications in our chosen fields, including conservation and librarianship. Co-author

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Layla Huff

“I remember very vividly that this was a turning point in my life. I was working in the archives at Morgan State University, and Dr. Simone Barrett, my supervisor, strongly encouraged me to apply for the program. I didn’t know anything about conservation but I was interested in the basic concept.”
(Huff, Survey Response 2023)

Layla Huff is currently a Collections Care Specialist at the Margaret Herrick Library of the Academy of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles. Layla recently finished a post-baccalaureate conservation internship at The Getty Research Institute, and previously worked at Los Angeles Art Conservation and the Fowler Museum at UCLA. 


One of the most successful aspects of our internships was the intern cohort, which gave us access (via Zoom) to interns at other sites in the program. We all wanted to learn, to support each other, and to be buddies going through an intense experience together. The shared HBCU experience bonded us. We celebrated each other’s different but fundamentally common backgrounds. We learned a lot from each other as well as from our site hosts (who have also said they learned a lot from us!).

The cohorts started group chats to share questions, struggles, and frustrations. If a fellow intern missed a group session, we helped them catch up. We all researched and presented individual final projects on a topic of our choice; seeing our cohort’s projects helped us see preservation and conservation from different perspectives. Congratulating and encouraging each other after the presentations was a truly warm moment. After completing the internship, Jasmine Malone returned with Lescia Valmond and Layla Huff to offer advice to the next cohort.

Preserving Our Own History

We come from HBCU environments where we feel like we are at home, surrounded by our own history, taught by people who look like us about our history. These internships taught us the importance of preserving our own experience through personal material culture.

Through our final projects (Tedone 2020, 2021, and 2022) we realized that we can create and preserve Black history by bringing our own uniqueness to preservation and conservation. Among many impressive and informative presentations, here are some highlights:

    • Paige Lloyd brought the audience to tears describing how a tattooed cardiogram on her hand of her grandmother’s final heartbeats helped her preserve memories of their loving relationship.
    • Payton Murray created “A Beginner’s Guide to Photograph Conservation and Preservation” while conserving family photos with common household products, using family photos that had recently been damaged in a flood.
    • Darshai Hollie created a virtual “Preservation Emergency Response Kit” for Spelman College.
    • Jasmine Malone co-created care and handling videos for Xavier University Archives and Special Collections.
    • La’Sha James wrote and illustrated a charming and informative conservation/preservation children’s book.

We now know that advocating for preservation of Black communities’ cultural heritage can make a huge impact on providing a holistic view of history where future generations can see themselves represented.

Our communities’ histories are underrepresented in many cultural heritage organizations. We realize how important it is for preservation and archival work to be accessible within the HBCU community. Tempe Stewart has become the unofficial archivist of her family, keeping evidence of her family history. It has also fostered her interest in working in libraries and with research materials in archives. Lescia Valmond learned skills that would assist her community to document the oral history and culture of the Kalinago people.

Looking over the shoulder of a chocolate-skinned man sorting through a large plastic storage bin filled with historic audiocassette tapes.

Bishop Jelani Faraja Kafela

Zaina René conducted an oral history with author, teacher, and community leader, Bishop Jelani Faraja Kafela (pictured here), and discussed preservation of his vast archive of recordings, documents, books, and ephemera. (René, Survey Response 2023)

“Church folks keep volumes of Black history, most of which collects dust in storage units and garages all over the nation. I see Black faith leaders as demonstrators of our collective ability to transcend hard places. I chose this oral history project to contribute to the legacy of celebrating Black history.” (René 2023)

Zaina René is currently a senior at Elizabeth City State University majoring in History with a concentration in Digital and Public History, and she plans to apply to graduate school in library science.

Career Development

As a result of our internships, several of us changed our majors from something familiar and practical to liberal arts (for example, Criminal Justice or Psychology to English or History). Paul Springer, Jr. went into the internship thinking “maybe I'll learn something I can do for a career, explore a career path other than the professor route for a history major.” Undergraduates are still open to going down a previously unknown path, changing our perspective, and making room to shift our direction. Paul developed skills in his internship that made him competitive for a library assistant position at Fisk’s library after he graduated.

We also have influence with our peers, and we use word of mouth as a powerful tool to spread information. Payton Murray went back to their HBCU and gave a presentation on library careers to other students in their dorm. They continue spreading the word about preserving Black history through volunteer opportunities in their community. (Murray 2023)

Headshot of a chocolate-skinned person with tight chin-length reddish curls, a black graduation cap, a Hampton University t-shirt, and a broad, friendly smile

Payton Murray

"At the end of the internship, I felt like conservation was something that I wanted to do. Wasn't sure about library conservation, but I talked with someone about art conservation and what that field is. I'm grateful to the internship for teaching me about conservation in general and getting the background knowledge of what the field is, why it is important, and leading me towards where I am now.” (Murray, Survey Response 2023)

Payton Murray is currently an Art Bridges Fellow in Conservation at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and previously interned in conservation at the Brooklyn Museum. Instagram #gloves_in_thewind

Skills and Learning Conversations

In addition to broadening our career options, many of us hoped to gain useful skills. Developing conservation hand skills was the most tantalizing but maybe not the most important part of our internships. That said, a few of us really engaged with the hand skills and have gone on to pursue careers in conservation. We all loved the tools!

Some soft skills that have stuck with us include informational interviewing, writing, and figuring out how to collaborate with people way above our pay grade. In both in-person and virtual internships, some of us struggled with being unable to convey our outside perspectives to bring new insights into our hosts’ work; sometimes we felt that our mentors weren’t listening or weren’t respecting our opinions because we were inexperienced. (Murray 2023)

We would have benefited from more engaged conversations at this point, acknowledging the valid aspects of our points of view, and at the same time helping us understand nuances that we hadn’t considered.

Another aspect that challenged some of us in the online-only internship is that we were given some strong chemicals to work with, and we were told to be really careful but not how to be really careful. Paul Springer, Jr. ended up staining his bedroom carpet with cyanotype chemicals, and Kayla Rolle stained her sister’s countertop with iron gall ink (and then bleach, trying to clean it up)! We’re not embarrassed by these mistakes, but it’s a lesson in how to improve remote instruction by specifically addressing safety procedures.

Headshot of a chocolate-skinned man with close-cut black hair, a navy blue suit and shirt, and a 3D geometrical background.

Arnold Bhebhe

“I was compelled to join the [...] Preservation Internship Program by the prospects of learning and practicing hands-on library preservation skills. I believe that it is important for us to preserve our work for the upcoming generations and future research purposes. I believe that preserving our knowledge and ideas gives us the necessary tools to make informed decisions when faced with similar situations in the future. And I believe that the invaluable skills I have learned through this program are transferable to my future career in Biomedical Engineering and Computer Science.” (Bhebhe, Survey Response 2023)

Arnold Bhebhe is from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, and is a rising senior at Alabama State University majoring in Biomedical Engineering with a minor in Computer Science. And apparently Arnold is a rock star at cyanotypes.

Headshot of a honey-skinned woman with short black hair, square eyeglasses, holding onto her white dress with black sash, and a relaxed smile

La'Sha James

“[The internship] has impacted me by creating a connection, expanding my writing skills, and giving me confidence that I can achieve anything.” (James, Survey Response 2023) 

“I want to teach 3rd through 6th graders. I love stories and archives are full of them. [...] I want to be able to create a space for people like me, who look like me, to find an outlet. No matter what they're going through they can escape in a book, escape in their writing, or escape in the world of gaining knowledge. My career path will consist of creating and protecting stories. One way or another.” (Tedone 2022)

La'Sha James is currently majoring in Elementary Education and minoring in English at Bennett College and is working on publishing three children’s books.


Based on the number of us who have chosen to pursue conservation as a career, here is the truth about diversity statistics: The HBCU Library Alliance Preservation Internship Program alone will not solve the lack of diversity in the conservation field. Introducing more cohorts of well-connected, well-informed students of color to cultural heritage careers where they can advocate for conservation and preservation in their institutions, communities, and families will make a deeper impact. The reach will be greater if this successful model can expand beyond the libraries involved in this program and even beyond conservation into other cultural heritage fields. We hope our insights inspire you to create your own undergraduate internships for students of color, focusing on broadening their networks and career options, creating cohorts for support and richer learning experiences, teaching them how to preserve their own cultural heritage, and providing opportunities for them to shine as individuals.




Professors and professional mentors of undergraduate students of color likely exist in your community, even if there is no local HBCU. By reaching out to them, you’ll have a direct line to students like us. Local public high school guidance counselors, college career offices, and Black philanthropy groups can act as matchmakers for you.

Logistics and Wages

Encourage questions from intern(s) about any aspect of the program before and during the internship and prepare to pay intern(s) a living wage, assist with transportation and housing needs, and fund professional development activities. If your organization can’t afford it, try applying for a grant or partnering with another local organization to split the cost.

Personalized Program

Get to know each intern at the start and tie their needs, interests, and learning styles into the internship. Personalize the experience to each intern rather than attempting to fit them into a prescribed agenda. Give them a chance to meander and find a passion to explore, rotating through different areas and encouraging their curiosity. Focus on how they can find a way to interact meaningfully with cultural heritage and be interested in joining the field.


Building relationships is the standout positive takeaway for interns. Make sure cohort interns meet each other first and have time to mingle. Create fun ways for them to meet and collaborate with other team members in the department, especially Black and POC team members in your institution and other local sites in your network. Coach them on informational interviewing techniques and questions. Invite them to department meetings and integrate them into your organization's systems and cohorts at all levels. Set up tours of other local cultural heritage organizations. Encourage them to explore campus/local/community events.


Encourage interns to offer feedback throughout the program so the internship organically forms to fit their learning goals and host site project outcomes. Understand how intimidating the environment can be and invite them to work with you to create an open, safe space for course correction and dialog.


Collaborate with interns to give them a voice, leeway, and flexibility. Let them creatively suggest ways to do things differently; if they innocently propose something that’s actually going to risk damage to an object, make it a great teachable moment rather than a power struggle.

Visibility and Success

Ask interns for their opinions and wisdom from their life experience. Encourage them to promote their internship experiences and accomplishments through blog posts/social media and presentations at your organization and beyond. This sharing should include the interns’ names and ideas/activities/accomplishments, not just an anonymous Black person in a stock photograph. Token images actually alienate POCs instead of helping them to feel included.


Stay in touch with former interns to whatever extent they prefer. Send them job listings, additional opportunities, and information relevant to their interests. Provide references for job and graduate school applications. Partner with them on independent research projects and provide opportunities for them to mentor current interns.


In addition to the former interns mentioned above, the authors are grateful to the following colleagues who contributed to this article by contacting and encouraging former interns, conducting interviews, gathering photographs, completing surveys, consulting during in-depth conversations, and editing.

Brenda Bernier

Whitney Baker

Valinda Carroll

Ellen Cunningham-Kruppa

Beth Doyle

Liz Dube

Dhyana Edwardsberry

Lisa Goldberg

Nancy Lev-Alexander

Consuela Metzger

Ronel Namde

Laura O’Brien Miller

Sandra Phoenix

Andrew Robb

Melissa Tedone


Murray, Payton, 2023. Personal communication with Priscilla Anderson, Senior Preservation Librarian, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

René, Zaina, 2023. Personal correspondence with the authors.

Anderson, Priscilla. 2023. “HBCULA Preservation Intern Survey.” Unpublished Qualtrics Survey Response Document, February 16 - March 17. Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

Tedone, Melissa. 2020. “HBCU Library Preservation Internship Program Final Presentations.” Unpublished Document, July 28. Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Wilmington, DE.

Tedone, Melissa. 2021. “HBCU Library Preservation Internship Program Final Presentations.” Unpublished Document, July 15. Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Wilmington, DE.

Tedone, Melissa. 2022. “HBCU Library Preservation Internship Program Intern Project Presentations.” Unpublished document, July 14. Winterthur/University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, Wilmington, DE.

Further Reading: Internship Blog Posts

Bhebhe, Arnold. 2021. “The Challenges and Rewards of a Virtual Preservation Science Internship.” In Guardians of Memory, a blog entry by Amelia Parks, July 30. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

Bush, Alicia. 2018. “A Day in My Life as a Preservation and Conservation Intern.” Ransom Center Magazine, November 14. Texas: Harry Ransom Center at The University of Texas at Austin.

Doyle, Beth. 2019. “Intern Update: Getting It Done.” Preservation Underground, July 19. North Carolina: Duke University Libraries.

Doyle, Beth. 2021. “Welcome to Our New Intern Justus Jenkins.” Preservation Underground, June 25. North Carolina: Duke University Libraries.

Hebert, Henry. 2018. “Welcome to Our New Intern: Phebe Pankey.” Preservation Underground, June 15. North Carolina: Duke University Libraries.

Hollie, Darshai. 2021. “Learning about Preservation: My experience as an intern with the Library of Congress.” In Guardians of Memory, a blog entry by Amelia Parks, July 29. Washington, DC: Library of Congress.

University Library. 2022. “Preserving Family Collections: Extending the Lives of the Objects You Love.” In Library News, February 19. Louisiana: University Library, Xavier University of Louisiana.

About the Authors

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Lescia Valmond recently graduated from Grambling State University with honors in Biology and History. In 2020, she interned virtually with the Kenneth Spencer Research Library and the University of Kansas. Her project focused on oral history in indigenous communities. As a native Kalinago from the Commonwealth of Dominica, she is currently working to improve an archival station which was started as a result of the HBCU Library Alliance guidance.

Headshot of a chocolate skinned woman with long straight black hair pulled back, large rectangular eyeglasses, a black leather jacket, and a black and white blouse, standing in front of a large square window, with a relaxed smile.

Tempe Stewart graduated from Spelman College with a B.A in Art History in the Atlanta University Center Art History + Curatorial Studies Collective. Tempe currently serves as a Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Post-Baccalaureate Fellow in Government and Foundations at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Georgia, with her next appointment being at Spelman College’s Museum in Collections Management. Tempe is passionate about community archiving and collective memory-making, and she currently serves as the Assistant Education Committee Chair for the Society of Georgia Archivists. Her interests lie at the intersection between conservation, archives, and community engagement, and her journey through this field has been a healing experience for her and her family.

Headshot of a chocolate skinned man with close cut black hair, half-rimmed eyeglasses, a Fisk University sweatshirt, leaning against a brick wall with arms folded, and a neutral facial expression

Paul Springer, Jr. graduated from Fisk University with a B.A. (Honors) in History and is currently a M.A. student in Public History at Middle Tennessee State University. He also works as a Library Assistant for Technical Services at the John Hope & Aurelia E. Franklin Library in Nashville, Tennessee. Paul was an intern at the University of Kansas in the HBCU Library Alliance 2021 Virtual Cohort.

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Kayla Rolle is a recent graduate of Benedict College in Columbia, South Carolina. She recently received her Bachelor of Arts degree in English Language and Literature Studies. She was a part of the 2022 HBCU Library Alliance cohort where she interned with Yale University Libraries. Kayla hails from the beautiful island of Grand Bahama, in The Bahamas, and is the first female in her immediate family to attend and graduate college abroad. Her career aspirations include becoming a business writer, conducting cultural and linguistic research, and being a part of a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee. In her free time, Kayla enjoys writing short stories, reading Black fiction and Christian nonfiction books, researching interesting topics, learning about different cultures and languages, and watching suspense movies. Portfolio Link:

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Jasmine Malone (she/her) interned with Harvard Libraries Preservation Services for the HBCU Library Alliance 2020 virtual cohort. She has since graduated from Xavier University of Louisiana with a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish and minor in Political Science. She is pursuing a Master of Library and Information Science from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa and is a Graduate Research Assistant with the Department of Psychology for an NIH-funded diverse hiring initiative. Final Project:

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Darshai Hollie graduated from Spelman College with a B.A in History and minor in Curatorial Studies. Currently, she works with LAC Federal as a Library Technician at the Library of Congress and is in the process of applying to library school. Darshai was an intern at the Library of Congress in the HBCU Library Alliance 2021 Virtual Cohort.

Headshot of an ivory-skinned person with chin-length light brown hair, wearing a cream-colored sweater over a bright pink shirt, and a wide friendly smile

Article coordinator Priscilla Anderson (she/they) is a preservation librarian at Harvard University and an internship site host. Priscilla comes from a family of quiltmakers, and greatly enjoyed metaphorically piecing together this article from beautiful fabrics of ideas created by our thoughtful and wise former interns.