Further Questions: All About Internships

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question(s) are:

Do you expect that applicants with an MLIS should have completed an internship during their studies? What advantages do internships afford candidates? Does your own organization offer internships, and do your interns have a better chance of finding full time work with your organization? Should internships be included in the work experience section of a resume or CV, or somewhere else? Finally, please feel free to share any other thoughts you might have about internships, including any rants about unpaid work.  

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I think there is a perception that, without an internship, a librarian entering the workforce is at a disadvantage. I also that it depends. If you don’t have any experience working in a library, archives, etc., than an internship can be valuable in a number of ways. The experience can help you decide if this is really the type of work, or working environment, you expected it to and can see yourself in. You can also learn a lot that will help strengthen your resume as you job search. You can also make some professional connections and add a reference contact or two to your list. Of course a lot of this depends on things you may not be able to control. How committed is the internship host to giving you a really robust and meaningful experience that benefits you and the host institution? How much of the work you do goes beyond busywork and allows you really to gain experience and skills? How much mentoring is provided? It might be a good idea to try to connect with someone who had an internship at the same library and to ask for their feedback .

I also think it is important to consider whether (a) you are already working in a library, or (b) you have the time and financial means. If you work part-time and an internship would require you to stop doing that it might not be feasible. No one should feel they have to explain why they don’t have an internship on their cv. If you have had a lot of experience already (I had years of bookstore, public library, and academic library work experience) then it might be less important. That said, almost all applications I have seen in the past few years include internship experience so I think it is important to plan on trying to incorporate one if possible. It doesn’t matter a lot to me where that appears on a cv.

At my current institution we have had a number of interns working in our Archives. We are located not far from two library schools and our Head of Special Collections & Archives is contacted by them and asked to host interns. We put them to work digitizing collections and working, including sometimes participating in conference presentations or helping with primary source literacy classes. My archivist is exceptional when it comes to supporting interns in ways that are mutually beneficial. I know that I don’t have the time or staff to host an intern interested in any other area of academic librarianship, at least not if we really want to do a good job.

I acknowledge that we have really benefitted from the interns we have hosted. I also know that I will never be in a position to be able to provide financial compensation for interns which is, for me, problematic. Our interns have always been enthusiastic and engaged. They are great opportunities for students. And yet the issues around unpaid labor remain. I’m not sure how they will be resolved.

Anonymous Federal Librarian: For federal library positions I think internships could help a lot. To even get through the hiring process, usually there is a need to have done at least something in a library, otherwise the chances of making the list that goes to the hiring manager is slim. While it doesn’t have to be an internship, having experience in a work study situation at a library would help. Even volunteering in a library would set a candidate up to have a better chance at an entry level federal librarian job. There are several agencies that offer paid federal internships, but interns won’t have a better chance of finding full time work with the agency at the end, unless there is an opening.  There are also a couple of government wide programs for internships. The Pathways program allows a work study situation, where current students can’t work more than 20 hours a week while they are also in school. These positions are paid, and the agency is supposed to have a position for the student at the end. It’s always worth applying as library students rarely apply for the program. The other option is not an internship, but it’s an entry level way to get into the government for recent graduates with advanced degrees, and that is through the Presidential Management Fellows program. Once again, there is no guarantee that the candidate will find a placement as there are few library school graduates who apply, so agencies rarely look for candidates, but it’s another program where agencies should have a job available at the end. Any internship experience should absolutely be added to the work experience section of a CV or a resume. Even if it’s unpaid work, it’s still work and relevant to your career goals.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

Do you expect that applicants with an MLIS should have completed an internship during their studies?

Advising for graduate studies should include discussions on what students are bringing to the master’s including – obviously: general interests and specialized interests but also; experience in libraries (type, what level, etc.); professional or other experience in other workplaces – related; professional or other experience in other workplaces – any/not related. These discussions lead to a student’s self awareness as well as provide the master’s advisors/faculty, etc. with the opportunity to discuss programs of study, required and elective courses, if possible – coursework in other graduate programs that transfer/count; review current position postings to see what employers want as well as work together with students to build a personal pathway through the degree.

Am I avoiding answering the question? Not really but kind of as the answer really is “it depends” but it should depend on the student and his or her assessment of where they are and what they want. Also, I should add that many programs already require internships based on not only faculty and student judgement but also based on state or federal guidelines – with an example being some states require school library certification include an internship, etc. In addition, I would argue that although the advising discussion asks a student to self-reflect, the graduate faculty member’s expertise should include commenting on whether or not the experience they have really DOES give them a real look at what a librarian will do in the workplace as well as the need for students to realize the diverse profession we really are – in that “experience is not experience is not experience” and many types of experiences – even in libraries – do NOT transfer with common knowledge or even awareness. And – of course –  most experiences do not have that all-important critical assessment of decisions, etc. that is so important in a professional’s education. 

I am most reminded of this often when I remember that we had an hourly/adjunct librarian who said they wanted to apply for one of our full time librarian jobs as she wanted to take an easier job where she could “just do reference.” My feelings about that lack of professionalism, (possible laziness?,) and that level of ignorance someone has about their surroundings aside – employees in a library literally may often NOT have an understanding about what other staff do as not everyone has to be or should be cross trained. 

What advantages do internships afford candidates? 

I am going to answer this question to include experiences/lessons learned in an internship, then advantages and drawbacks.

Internship Experiences/Lessons Learned

  • Internships might solidify someone’s commitment to a type of library or size of organization or staff role or – even more importantly – show someone this is NOT the job for them after all. 
  • Internships might provide a positive role model to emulate but also might illustrate the way someone doesn’t WANT to be in their job.
  • Internships often educate people on constituent groups they will serve – something classroom experience can NOT do and that is an invaluable lesson learned.
  • Internships can teach someone what they don’t know about libraries or the profession as well as give them an opportunity to showcase or build on what they do know.
  • Internships can provide direction not about the type or size or constituent group but can also lend information on when someone might take a position. I have heard people say …I want to do this, but not yet…maybe my second job after the master’s will include this level or type of work.

Internship Advantages/Disadvantages

  • Internships offer visibility in a system where a student may be seeking a position. AND – this might be an advantage or disadvantage, but typically an advantage.
  • Internships provide networking for a type of library or size of library, etc. which is clearly an advantage. So while the internship environment may not have a position, another – through a network – might.
  • Internships may offer the advantage of an in depth look at an area of the profession, but too much focus might then narrow perceptions by not providing the broad look at the chosen area – that is, someone may feel there is only the one way they learned in the internship.
  • Students challenged by location, timing, etc. should not narrow down their opportunities for work as many internships do NOT translate to other types of sizes of libraries or types of constituents.

Does your own organization offer internships?

We used to offer internships (or capstones, practicums or field experience, etc.) but no longer do. Why? It is hard work and should be treated as such as the host institution should put in just as much as the student does to fulfill their roles and responsibilities. We discontinued this when we were in the middle of building three libraries at one time and opening all three within one academic year. Managers – literally – could not do justice to a student and the experience-required student learning outcomes – much less complete their own work which was significantly expanded. 

We considered adding some experiences back in, but then hit a wall with the pandemic. And yes – the pandemic actually increased the need for virtual/digital internships but we just couldn’t make the daily changes we needed to make and monitor them as well as make sure – as much as is possible – the safety and security of our own, much less an outside student. We have added one back recently – primarily because the student came to us with something VERY specific they could do for us – with our direction – and it was too good an idea and offered too good a “product” for us to turn down. 

Do your interns have a better chance of finding full time work with your organization? 

We can – if someone is successful – pretty much guarantee that hourly work (19 hours per week or less) is available upon graduation as we hire a significant number of hourly librarians. And the bonus for us is that we are relatively sure they are looking for other work so they may not be here long BUT they have a significant amount of awareness with us already so less up-front training is a much easier hire for a briefer period of time!

Should internships be included in the work experience section of a resume or CV, or somewhere else? 

The answer here is – as above – it depends, but if someone identifies their work experience on their resume/CV as paid, unpaid (not volunteer) then it can be included. If – as in our case – our online forms do not make allowances for changing labels, then applicants should label the experience with the position, the location and then the status. Example “Reference Librarian – Intern” x Library, Spring 2022. 3 graduate credits and successful completion of 120 hours on site. Project: xxxxxx with a link to the project completed if at all possible. BE SURE; however, to

  • ask your internship host institution if the wording you use is appropriate (NOTE: nothing is worse than a Linked-In profile where someone has presented incorrect information and even worse – their description doesn’t match their resume nor would it match what they were told if the internship coordinator was contacted;)
  • use approved wording in a cover letter to highlight a particularly successful experience or product a prospective employer can view/link to; and,
  • use the internship coordinator/host institution to serve as a reference – especially if the applicant is a student who has no or very little work experience.

Finally, please feel free to share any other thoughts you might have about internships, including any rants about unpaid work.  

Although I laughed when I read this regarding the “rant,” the reality is if the host institution uses you as an “unpaid worker” it isn’t really an internship. That is, internships – by their definition – indicate a temporary time for training and learning – with on-the-job learning within the parameters of the organization. And while internship participants should have gradual introductions to the work…hopefully culminating with the student being able to work unaided….that student should still be observed at their work to be sure that constituents get what they need while the student gets the immediate feedback they need to make the experience meaningful within the abbreviating timing of the learning project/assignment. 

I feel compelled to add suggestions:

If someone is on a program of study which they feel may be too limiting to them by its type or size of institution or likelihood of openings OR because they might be restricted with no relocation OR their relocation is unknown but probable, one thing they might do is opt for a broader or – in some cases second internship (if they don’t have to have one or if the one they must have a specific/more narrowly defined one.) This broad or general one could be for “adult reference” which might translate to any type or size of library, project management or programming. They might also seek an internship that is generic but much desired – such as a grant-writing activity or mastery of a specific software or something desired and on the horizon such as migration of a system….this would allow the student to go beyond a specific area – such as technical services – to make sure they are more marketable. 

Finally, if there is only the option for the specific internship and it is required, students should request that the student learning objectives include a few more general ones such as “adult reference” or software or system migration to allow for exposure. Another option for the single internship being broader is the one where one travels among departments and instead of picking all departments – which is hardly reasonable given time, staff limitations, etc. the student could focus on two or three departments and visit and work in all OR pick a project that required that the student work with identified departments to not only gain experience but create something that spans the variety of things they need to be more available for that broader job search.

All-in-all I think all students should seek some master’s level activity that is going to put them working with practitioners before they complete their degree. It only enriches the knowledge base and the possibilities. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, on Post at post.news/hiringlib, or sung along to some New Orleans jazz. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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