I began my first internship in 2001, right after 9-11, when I worked at a well-known film production company in LA. Like most, if not all, internships in the film industry, this one was unpaid and it involved navigating the choppy waters of a tense environment full of people who had major insecurities about their image and holding onto their jobs. I made lots of copies of scripts, answered phones, greeted people at the front desk, and on rare occasions had conversations that shed some light on how the industry worked. It wasn’t the best experience, but looking back on it, I think I did learn something.
A few years later, when I was enrolled at Michigan’s School of Information, I was fortunate enough to have a much more rewarding internship at the local public library. This position allowed me to rack up lots of hours working at a public service desk, providing reference services, and it also gave me a chance to work on some programming and collection development. Most importantly, though, I had many opportunities to talk shop with some talented, knowledgable librarians who welcomed me as a professional colleague. I often find myself telling people how much that experience helped me in the first few years of my career and I try to encourage current students to seek similar opportunities. I like to think that I hit the ground running in my first full-time job because of what I learned in my part-time jobs during grad school. I wasn’t the only one who benefited from this either, as they had many more students in these paid internships before, during, and after the time I was there. We were all very lucky.
I’m now fortunate enough to be in a position at my library in which I can help create this type of learning opportunity for current students. My colleagues and I have formed a new internship in the Information Services department. This “Reference and Teen Services” intern will have the chance to work at the “Answer Center” (i.e., our reference service point), teach tech classes, plan programs, develop collections, and contribute to some larger upcoming projects. Plus, we were able to find a way to make this a paid internship and I’m hoping this will continue in the years to follow.
Still, as much as we want this to be a positive thing for a current student, there is also the expectation that this will benefit the library by adding a new voice and a fresh perspective. There’s something to be said about adding that extra ingredient to the mix and seeing what comes out of it. Every department in every library can benefit from new ideas and a new set of eyes on what we’re already doing, and I’m counting on this intern to provide this. At the end of the day, this is an investment in a future librarian, in our library, and in libraries in general.
So, what can you do to provide an similar learning experience at your library? Even if you’re not able to make it a paid internship, is there a way you can carve out an opportunity (maybe for course credit) for a local student interested in finding a career in libraries? Which departments and roles would work best for your own internship program? Or, are you already offering an internship at your library? What’s making it a successful program?