by Julia Feerrar
If you’re considering library school, if you’ve been accepted, and especially if you’re already there, I would strongly recommend getting hands-on experience as soon as possible. An internship or even just a bit of volunteering will help you to build a foundation of knowledge and skills as you pursue your degree. Other hackers have written on finding opportunities and making the most of them, but I’d like to address some key benefits of getting pre-library school experience in the first place:
Identifying interests and goals
Before starting library school I had never been paid to work in a library. However, I had spent considerable time interning and volunteering in them and had been an enthusiastic patron for as long as I could remember. During college, I spent two summers in a small academic library and one semester in my college archives, building an understanding of various kinds of library work. In addition to providing me with a basic ‘how things work’ familiarity with many areas of academic libraries, my internships helped me to identify some of my interests and strengths, and to identify areas of librarianship I wanted to explore further. For example, after spending a lot of time by myself with boxes and files of papers in one internship, I decided that it would be important for me to pursue positions with more collaboration and patron interaction in the future. Figuring out what you don’t enjoy can be just as useful as discovering what you do.
Developing transferable skills
You may be lucky enough to land an internship that aligns with your emerging career goals, but even if you do your goals may change. That’s okay! Interning or volunteering will allow you to develop skills and knowledge that you can use in all kinds of positions. I’ve found things like presenting to a room full of people, providing some form of customer service, and adapting to new technology to be very useful skills in many different library-related settings–and I didn’t necessarily learn these skills in a library. Be flexible about the contexts in which you look for job experience; tutoring, marketing, IT assistance, or volunteering as a museum docent could give you an opportunity to develop the skills you’ll need.
Pre-library school experience–whether a paying job, internship, volunteer work, or shadowing–is also an opportunity to start building professional relationships with others in the field. My former internship supervisors were great resources for what to expect and think about during library school, and I look forward to staying connected with them. Take advantage of a supervisor’s experience and ask them about their career path, lessons learned, favorite resources, etc.
Don’t panic if can’t find the perfect position, or if your other commitments preclude you from doing more than a few volunteer hours. But do take the time and effort to get your feet wet in the proverbial professional pool.