Internships: For the Student and For the Library
There are a number of Library Science programs that require their students to work an internship or something similar. Internships can be important for giving students a solid piece of real-world library experience, and with libraries so often short-funded and short-handed, it seems that having a developed internship program at your library could be an advantageous and practical idea – both for the library and for the student.
I was a Young Adult Librarian when the call came out over our network listserv that there was a library student looking to intern with a Young Adult Librarian in the region. After a quick email to my supervisor and a response to the query, I suddenly had the opportunity to hire the first intern at my library. It happened quickly and with no solid planning, and though it was a good experience for me, my library and patrons, and for the intern, I believe that with more preparation and planning, it could have been more beneficial for all involved.
This internship was a learning experience for me, and I have had many thoughts and ideas on the subject since it ended. Following are some points to consider when thinking about internships at your library:
- Determine available positions for intern
Before hiring interns, be sure that there are places in your library where you can actually use them. Discuss the possibilities with your colleagues or supervisor, and once opportunities are determined, be sure that there is enough work for the intern to do in the selected department/s.
- Develop a plan, but be flexible
It is important to plan for your intern. Some internships will require not only regular departmental tasks, but also a major project that the intern is responsible for managing and completing. Have projects and tasks in mind, as well as selected hours per week the intern would work, but be willing to be flexible.
- Be prepared to supervise
Because an internship is for credit, the intern will need to be evaluated and will probably have assessment paperwork for the supervisor to fill out at the end of the internship and possibly in the middle. It may be worthwhile for the student and supervisor to look over the paperwork together at the beginning of the internship so that both know what is expected.
Be sure the supervising librarian takes time to meet regularly with the intern. Regular meetings will provide both the supervisor and the intern the opportunity to give feedback and to further adapt the internship to the benefit the library and the student.
The supervisor should also consider mentoring the student.
- Consider a stipend
Interns are paying for the credits they earn while working as an intern at the library. During this time they may have to cut hours at their regular job, they may be commuting, or they may be hiring babysitters for their children. If your library has the means to pay a small stipend to assist in these or other similar costs, it would be appreciated.
- Work towards getting interns
If you have developed a plan and determined opportunities for internships within your library, but do not yet have interns, here are some ideas for recruitment.
If there is a Library Science program in your area, it may be worth your while to have a discussion with the head of the internship program to develop a matching program or something similar where students looking for internships are referred to your library. If there is no internship program, you may want to talk to the head of the Library Science program and suggest that students who opt to work an internship or who are creating a stand-alone class through Independent Study coordinate with your library.
Advertise your internship program with schools of Library Science, even if you are not coordinating your program with them directly. If your library is a distance from the school, there may be students in your area taking Library Science classes remotely and who are looking for practical experience, or there may be students willing to commute a couple of times a week to work at your library
Do outreach in your library network or region. There may be staff or volunteers at other libraries who are interested in interning outside of their employing library, or other libraries may have turned down an internship student and might refer them to you.
If you have an established program and know where and how you would like to use interns, consider advertising on job boards.
- Evaluate the Internship for the Library
At the end of the internship, evaluate the usefulness of the internship for the library. Assess strengths and weaknesses, successes and letdowns, and determine if the library could continue using interns in a constructive manner.
In an ideal situation, the relationship between library and internship should be symbiotic – both the library and the intern should benefit from the experience. An intern would be selected whose educational path can be reflected in their responsibilities during the internship, which in turn would improve and enhance the library’s services.
Interns cannot replace library staff, but there are a number of ways they can be utilized – as reference substitutes, summer reading program coordinators, circulation assistants, book group moderators, children’s room assistants, temporary librarians for short-term vacancies, and other general library assistants – depending on the size, type, and governance of your library. Interns can also allow staff members in smaller libraries or small library departments to gain important supervisory experience, and can also make it possible to implement special projects.
If you can create a plan and develop an internship program for your library, you could see a stream of new enthusiastic librarians move through your library, bringing new life and new ideas to your organization, your staff, and your patrons.
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