by Lauren Dodd Hall
If you’re a brand new library school student, you may feel it’s a little early to start thinking about internships/practicums. While I do think you need a few weeks to get settled in and feel less overwhelmed by the new atmosphere (and information overload), it’s a good idea to begin thinking about internships as soon as you’re able. My number one tip for new students is to start perusing job ads – subscribe to job lists using an RSS reader, and save the ones that interest you. You don’t have to have your “track” figured out yet, but if you know some of the skills you will need to meet job requirements, you will feel a bit more focused when it comes to choosing classes and internships.
LIS programs vary when it comes to internships and practicums; some are required, some are optional. At UA, internships are optional, but students are strongly encouraged to do at least one semester-long, 150-hour internship for pass/fail credit. It doesn’t hurt that SLIS has an amazing internship coordinator who is not afraid to call any library : Students talk to her about their interests, she names off some choices, and they go from there.
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 (UA students can’t). 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. My second internship was a paid SCEP position. If you know of any other great resources, please leave them in the comments!
- Whether your school has an internship coordinator or not, do some 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 my unpaid 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. During both of my internships, I completed several projects that librarians would’ve done (they were just on the back burner), and while each had tedious aspects, I learned SO much. I didn’t work on a project that I didn’t enjoy and gain 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. Even though I was a volunteer, my unpaid internship 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 cubicle. I got invited to library meetings on my Outlook calendar (and I was invited to attend any meeting I wish), and I had access to the library’s Sharepoint content management system with all of their internal documents. All this is to say – I felt very ingrained in the work culture of the library, and it was 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.
- 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! My unpaid internship was 12 hours a week, plus 4 hours of travel time for the week total. It was rough on my schedule but very worth it. I physically relocated to another city for my paid internship and worked 40 hours a week my last semester, but I was finished with my coursework by then.
- Absorb everything. Take copious notes, or keep an internship blog. Talk to as many people who work in the library as possible. Try to integrate *yourself* into the culture.
Finally, if you have a great experience, let your supervisors know how you felt. Give them feedback to use for future interns. Ask your supervisor if you can list her as a reference. And make a point to keep in touch with people from that workplace – they can be invaluable to your network, job search, and professional development.
Every LIS student should have a wonderful, skill-building 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.