Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Sorry about the picture - I couldn't resist.
I love interns, and I am grateful that my library has an active internship program. We have three professional interns at any given time. The benefit to the library is that we get fresh-perspective, enthusiastic, paraprofessional-level help. The benefit to the intern is hands-on, real-world experience in a stable, respectable public library.
One of the requirements is that they be currently enrolled in a library science program. We do take into consideration that not all universities call their program "library science" - we will accept information science or other equivalent, but it has to be a masters-level program in this industry. Once they graduate, the internship is over. They are then invited to become a substitute librarian for our library.
We prefer to hire masters students who have taken a few of the core classes in the program, but who still have a year or so to go in the program. This gives us time to provide a well-rounded experience in various areas of public service. It also gives them time to experience a full calendar year at our library, from summer reading program to winter exam week and everything in between. It is not a requirement that they intern for a full year, but a preference. We avoid hiring someone in September who will graduate in December. Our internship program is more structured than three months will allow. Someone who wants a brief hands-on experience in a library should consider a practicum (although practicums cost money and our internship pays.) The maximum time on an internship is two years.
Interns start out with mostly service desk duties. They provide reference, reader advisory, tech support, and general help to library patrons of all ages. Once they are pretty self-sufficient at all three of our service desks (youth, readers advisory, and reference), they can start to pick up side projects. The great thing about being an intern is that you can try things fairly risk-free. Some ideas pan out and others don't, but they have lots of guidance available from the professional staff.
As they progress through the internship, they are given more freedom to do solo projects like plan and implement a program from scratch, teach a computer class, post book reviews on the staff choices blog, and take collection inventory. If they try something and hate it, they can back off and try something else. If they love it, they can take it to the next level. It's a wonderful opportunity to find their niche and build an expertise.
When I interview and hire interns, I'm looking for philosophical and personality fit more than industry knowledge. I recognize that they are probably just starting library school and have a lot to learn. That's fine - they don't need to know what's in the 100 field of a MARC record or how to access the 1880 census on day one. I can teach that. I can't teach personality. Their philosophies might also change as they move through the masters program, but if they have good instincts and a general openness to people and situations, they will make a great intern. I'm looking for a curiosity and an interest in public libraries, someone with those soft skills I'm always harping about, and someone who has energy and enthusiasm.
Interns also get to decide if they want to focus their attention on youth services, teen services, or adult services. They will be required to interact with all age groups at the various service desks, but they can specialize in a particular area if they like. For example, if they're more interested in doing storytime than teaching an adult computer class, they can choose. Or they can do both. It is completely up to the intern to make their experience what they want it to be. I always have suggestions for projects, but I also want them to come to me with ideas and interests they have.
I wish we had more time, money, and other resources to work with even more interns! I absolutely hate choosing who's in and who's out when we receive resumes for intern openings. I received 24 resumes for 3 open internships for this year, so some hard choices have to be made. Ours are all paid internships, so we have to be choosy. Unpaid interns still take time and space, but maybe you could accept one or two more on a limited basis, like shorter term for specific projects.
If you don't have interns, I highly recommend them! They bring fresh ideas to the library and help us keep up with changes in the industry.
Posted by Holly Hibner