Hello, blogosphere. It seems I have neglected you again. I’ve really packed my schedule full this semester – two student jobs, an internship in another city, two classes, my Student SLA duties, extracurricular writing and presenting – it’s been quite exhausting. I like being busy, and this semester I am particularly happy with my choices. I’d like to talk about one great choice in particular: my internship.
LIS programs vary when it comes to internships and practicums; some are required, some are optional. At UA, internships are optional, but we are strongly encouraged to do at least one semester-long, 150-hour internship for pass/fail credit. It doesn’t hurt that we have an amazing internship coordinator who is not afraid to call any library on our behalf – we talk to her about her interests, she names off some choices, and we go from there. The process for my current internship was a little bit different. I used up all 9 hours of my pass/fail credit with my British Studies LIS classes and my directed research course. However, I still wanted to do a traditional internship (preferably without paying for it as a course) – so essentially, I wanted to intern somewhere that would allow me to do a traditional internship as a volunteer.
I had heard great things about an academic health sciences library in a neighboring city (approximately an hour drive away) – a couple of my classmates enjoyed their internships there, and when I visited there to interview reference librarians for an assignment, I asked them if they’d be willing to host me as an intern in the fall. They said yes, of course, and the rest is history. I have loved my time at this library; yet, I know others who have not gotten as much out of their internships at other places. I thought I would use my excellent experience (and some experiences of classmates) to provide some tips for LIS students seeking a library (or museum, or other institution – for the sake of convenience, I will say library) for their internship or practicum.
First things first: if an internship is not required, DO ONE. There are some exceptions to this. If you’re already working in a library part-time or full-time, you may not need an internship. If you can’t physically fit one in your schedule due to life conflicts, it’s understandable. Otherwise — do it. I can’t stress this enough.
Now for the other tips:
- Seek out paid internships if you can, even if you can’t get class credit for them (we can’t). There are a few paid internships/fellowships I wish I had applied for, even if they were a long shot. You can find these advertised on job sites like LibGig and ALA JobList, but also check your school’s listserv, and ask your professors for information about opportunities. If you know of any other great resources, please leave them in the comments!
- Whether your school has an internship coordinator or not, do a lot of research on libraries you are interested in interning at. If you’re going to be working somewhere for any length of time, it’s important to know you’ll be happy there.
- Talk to your friends, classmates, professors, and network — anyone who may have knowledge about these libraries and their departments. This is part of the research, but it’s a lot more crucial than just looking at a library’s homepage. Without personal recommendations from my classmates, I probably wouldn’t have committed to driving out of town two days a week for an internship – gas money adds up!
- If you have an interview for your internship, make sure you ask questions about the library, but more importantly, discuss the kind of projects you’d like to work on, and what kind of projects they have available. A reference internship, for example, should be more than just working at the desk – you should collaborate with librarians on projects like LibGuides, marketing/social media, etc. A young adult or children’s internship would be incredibly beneficial during summer reading. You want to make sure that you will get real, professional experience, and that you won’t just make everyone’s copies all semester.
- With that said, keep in mind that you’re not going to always do the most super awesome projects of all time. You may do a couple of projects that seem tedious, but will actually teach you a lot. At my internship, I’ve done at least two projects that librarians would’ve done (they were just on the backburner), and while each had tedious aspects, I’ve learned so much about the library’s catalog and ILS, Excel, medical databases, journals and texts, and so much more. I haven’t worked on a project that I haven’t enjoyed and gained knowledge from.
- If this is possible to gauge from the internship interview (or hearsay from your classmates), try to find a library who will integrate you into their culture as much as possible. My library provided me with a free parking pass, a .edu email address and school ID that provided me with database access and Microsoft Outlook access, and my own cubicles (I have two – one for each floor I work on). I get invited to library meetings on my Outlook calendar (and I am invited to attend any meeting I wish), I’ve been the official note-taker at meetings, and I have access to the library’s Sharepoint content management system with all of their internal documents (nothing is a secret there). All this is to say – I feel very ingrained in the work culture of the library, and it has been such a positive, empowering experience. I want that for every LIS student!
- I mentioned this in my Dos and Don’ts of Library School post, but if possible, work on a project that produces something tangible for your portfolio/resume.
- Finally, keep in mind that an internship is a big time commitment. You won’t have to work on your internship outside of your time at the institution (unless you’re doing something from a distance), but you also won’t have that time to do your own work. At UA, internships are 150 hours, which roughly translates to 10 hours a week. It doesn’t sound like a lot until you completely block out that time from your schedule! I’ve been doing 12 hours a week, plus 4 hours of travel time for the week total. It has been rough on my schedule, but very worth it.
This internship has been wonderful, and I will definitely let my supervisors know how I felt. They assigned me projects that would build my skillset, they integrated me into their culture, and they have at every turn have checked in to make sure I’m having a positive experience. I feel that every LIS student should have this kind of experience, and I hope that if you are a librarian/information professional who hosts interns or LIS student volunteers at your library, you will keep in mind how much it means to us when you take the time to be a mentor. We will remember it and pay it forward! I can’t wait for the day I can host interns or be a mentor to someone.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask! I know I’ve left a lot out. And if you’re a professional, I’d love to hear about some of the work you’re doing as a mentor. What are you doing to provide future librarians with a great experience?