To Boldly Go Where They Have Not Gone Before

If you are lucky, you will have the opportunity to host a library school student; someone who thinks working with youth, caregivers, and families is absolutely the best.  Given that, I must be extremely lucky.  At last count, I have been able to do so fifty-two times.    

Sometimes they are paid, sometimes not.  They can be called interns, or practicum students, or a number of other titles.  Whether they are just entering the professional workforce straight from college and graduate school, or have any number of years’ experience within or beyond the library world, an opportunity awaits for everyone involved.  In just one or two semesters, your investment of time, and sharing of knowledge, can turn out to be the pivotal learning experience for an aspiring children’s librarian.

It all begins with a promise.  You promise to train them in all manner of library things.  They promise to apply themselves to making your enterprise that much better.  It’s an apprenticeship where they can take a few risks, maybe fail a bit, with the certainty you’ll set them right to carry on.

You’ll need a structured approach with a gradual taking on of responsibilities by the student.  Think of it as four overlapping phases of orientation, observation, experience, and assistance with finding that first children’s librarian job.  None entirely disappears, but as your charge progresses their focus will shift from one phase to the next.  The details of what goes into those phases depends on how your library functions.  My children’s department, for example, has a whole manual devoted to practicums.

As you have that initial conversation with an incoming student, spend the time needed to find out what they really want to get out of the experience.  Emphasize to them that their success and satisfaction with their time at your library depends on how much they want to get out of it, how far they want to push themselves, how much they want to grow.

Assure them that you and your colleagues will support them to the level to which they strive.  Let them know that now is the time to gain maximum exposure to programming, reference, reader’s advisory, kids, and families.  Ensure they have plenty of chances to put it all into practice and build a repertoire, especially in those areas in which they are not entirely comfortable.  Kick them out of the nest and see how well they fly; you’re still there to catch them. 

You will also benefit.  By helping those students along, you will revalidate your own skills and abilities.  It will give you a chance to make your library a change agent; positively affecting all the workplaces in which those students find themselves down the road.  The heavy investment of your time up front, will be rewarded by what those students will be capable of accomplishing in just a few weeks after learning from, and working with your staff.

At my library, we let the departing students know that they are now part of our family.  We will always be there to assist as leaders, mentors, coaches, professional references, or just all around fans of their future accomplishments.  They haven’t disappointed us.

Mike Rogalla is the children’s services manager at the Champaign Public Library in Champaign, Illinois. He wrote this piece as a member of the ALSC Managing Children’s Services Committee. He can be reached at mrogalla@champaign.org.

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