When you hear the word “intern,” what comes to mind? If a mental image of someone wearing a lab coat and a stethoscope pops into your head, this post is for you. As the job market has tightened, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of students interested in unpaid library internships. What’s the bottom line? It’s been a win-win situation for students or recent grads and for our department. In addition, the newest librarian on our staff did an extensive internship in grad school, which was key to our hiring her. Based on our experiences, internships add value all the way around.
If you’ve never worked with an intern, you may wonder what an internship looks like. If it’s for credit, there will be requirements from the student’s college or university. Typically, this would include the total number of hours to be worked, the types of duties that can or can’t be included, and whether or not your library needs to provide a job description. While fewer restrictions will likely increase the benefit to the library, take time to assess the initial list of requirements even if it seems lengthy. Chances are some of the “requirements” are procedures you would have followed anyway. If it is an informal, not-for-credit internship, find out what the candidate needs or wants to gain from the experience, what skills or talents he or she has, and how that matches with the list of projects in your department’s wish-we-could-get-to pile.
Our current intern, Jennifer, (pictured below) is a recent library school grad who has been working 12 hours per week for us. So far she has waded through a big chunk of a collection management project, wrangled kids and families in the Summer Reading booth, served as a program assistant and guest program presenter, and begun a project that will connect parents with story time and reading-readiness concepts. What has that done for Jennifer? Her resumé now states that she has used an ILS, is familiar with a vendor database, and has had hands-on experience with kids, both individually and in groups of 50. She also has an enthusiastic LinkedIn endorsement from me, fodder for her online portfolio, and staff to use as references. That’s no small thing for someone transitioning to a new career.
If you’re sold on the idea, use networking to start looking for your first (or next) intern. A children’s literature professor at a nearby college or university is a great first contact. If there’s no nearby school, don’t give up hope: online students do internships, too. Try placing an ad on the “employment” section of your library’s website or wherever you post job openings. Make sure your director and HR department know you’re looking, because often they will receive letters from job-seeking candidates who might consider interning, instead. The downside is small and the potential benefits are terrific, so take a first step toward mentoring an intern today.
Faith Brautigam is the Director of Youth Services at Gail Borden Public Library, Elgin, IL. She still remembers the kind colleagues who welcomed her as an intern at the Durham County Library in Durham, North Carolina–despite her Yankee accent–back when she was a grad student. Faith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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