Making Internships Work for Everybody

by Topher Lawton

Even though it’s still just midway through the fall semester, I’m already looking ahead to the transition from student-hood to professional life next summer. I know that my internship experience is one of the most fantastic things I’ve done so far to open the door into the working world, and I hope that most students will also take advantage of an internship during or shortly after a Master’s program.

That said, it’s important for us to make a compelling case to the libraries where we hope to intern–hosting interns takes a sizable chunk of resources away from the day-to-day operations of many libraries, and library students should keep that in mind. Here are some tips for making your internship a win-win experience for everybody.

Be intentional! When you are setting up your internship, know what you want to learn! Plan ahead, even before you look at host sites, to figure out what you hope to gain, and then try to design an experience that will get you those skills. Some internships don’t work out simply because they aren’t the right “fit” for a student, but if you can figure that out before the internship is started, you’ll have a much better time.

Keep an eye out! Along with knowing what you hope to gain, try and find out why your host institution might need an intern–do they have specific projects that they want help with, or do they just want another pair of hands? Can you do things on a meta-level that will help them in the future, establishing practices that will pave the way for others?

Represent! You’re in library school, which means you’re the connection point between the academy and the practice of librarianship. Be respectful, of course, but if you’re asked to give input, don’t be shy! I had a few opportunities in my internship to do some trend-spotting, and help the library where I worked get a sense of what was coming down the pike in terms of necessary library skills and services. Take advantage of opportunities like that to find your voice.

Remember the rest of us! When you do have your internship nailed down, don’t forget that there might be other students in the future who want to be exactly where you are. “Leave things better than you found them” is rather cliched, but it’s good to keep in mind a secondary goal: When you leave, you want your host institution to be excited to hire another library student for a similar position. While “professionalism” may mean different things to different people and changes depending on the environment, try to get a bead on what your host organization expects and live up to those standards.

As for actually getting the internship of your dreams, there are plenty of resources out there, both here and elsewhere, to get you started. Talking to your professors, your classmates, and your network (not to mention the trusty Google search) can point you in the right direction, and from there you can start to narrow down your focus.

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