[Series] Experiencing LIS – The Internship Edition

It is said over and over, across blogs, professional organizations and probably in your program: real, practical work experience is what will get you a job after school. For students what that means is that seeking out, securing and excelling in an internship is key to the library school experience. We wanted to take a brief moment to tell you all about some of our experiences in this area, and offer some tips and advice. Please do ask questions in the comments if you’d like to follow up with any of us on details about internships. If this is not already a requirement in your program, it’d be worth approaching someone about making it one.


My undergrad program was at Northeastern University where cooperative education [paid internships] was engrained in the degree.  I chose that program because I love the practically side of things and I’ve always considered myself a “worker bee.”  So it was a bit of a shock to the system to go back to school for my MLIS and find myself, for the first time in years, to not be employed.  I soon realized after just a few weeks of classes that I not only needed to find an internship or something for my sanity but also to help my resume that was lacking in library experience.

The summer before I started my program I was in a bit of a living transition so I was in my hometown for three months with not a lot to do.  So I volunteered my services at the local library.   I talked a little about that experience in the comments on this great HLS blog post on volunteering in LIS.  Now I was ready for a different kind of experience that would also possibly be a paid one.  An internship, when I began my program at Simmons, was not a required part of the general track curriculum.  But I was lucky enough to learn about the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners website and the fact that it had a Jobs page.  It was on this site that I found the internship I started last January at the investment firm where I am now permanently employed.  It was a perfect spot for me because it was one where my previous work experience would bond well with what I was currently learning in my program.  And as I always learned when I was at Northeastern, it is best to think of any kind of volunteer/internship role as one long job interview.  Because you never know.  It could turn into a full-time job like mine did!  And even if it doesn’t, you can use the skills and contacts you gained for when you apply for other jobs in the future.  So that is probably my big advice when it comes to internships, always perform as if you are interviewing for the “real job.”  And second, always be thinking about the skills you may have from other areas of your life and career that you can use to sell why you are the perfect candidate for the internship.


As many of my classmates and co-editors have noted, internships are the best way for students to gain practical experience in the library field. In my program, at Indiana University, an internship is not a degree requirement, and typically students who opt to do one, usually do so later in the program. Timing can be tricky, but I actually think it’s a better idea to do an internship earlier rather than later, potentially do more than one if possible. That way you can get a variety of experiences, which can help inform your class work.

I’m in my second semester and I don’t have any internship experiences to speak of yet; but the importance of trying to find one hasn’t escaped me. Luckily, my school has offered students the opportunity to participate in the 21st Century Leadership Skills Program, which is funded through a grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Laura Bush 21st Century Library Program. When I saw this, I thought it was perfect because it would build an internship into my curriculum. It also turns what would be a most likely unpaid internship, into one that is paid. I will be hopefully interning somewhere this fall and I could even potentially intern out of state! I highly suggest that students take advantage of any internship opportunities presented through their programs. There are local libraries of all types that are willing to accommodate library students looking for internships and sometimes it just takes a phone call to make those arrangements. An internship is a great way to get experience and make connections, which may lead you to a great job in the future.


I had never considered pursuing an internship before I began my MLIS. I understood their purpose in the business world, but it didn’t occur to me that “practice work” would be valuable in the arts/humanities side of things. Once I started to read a little more, and saw that it was an option for credit in my degree program, I figured it was worth a shot. At the time, my wife and I were considering moving to New York, so I started looking at possibilities in the NYC area. I had recently read this article in Library Journal about the Brooklyn Public Library receiving a huge grant to develop an “information commons” and said to myself – that’s where I want to be. So, I emailed a few people in HR out of the blue, expressed my interest and set up an interview… for the day after we moved in, after a 22 hour drive from Florida. Not the best idea I’d ever had, but it worked out. I met with HR, and had a quick interview with two folks from the Web Applications department. I’m still not exactly sure how I ended up in Web Apps, a division of the IT department, as I had little background in IT, but the experience was invaluable. I dove in to a few ongoing projects, developed an acute interest in the digital media resources at the library, and created a project out of that. In the end I created this Digital Media FAQ page, and am continuing to serve on a digital media committee at the library. I also developed some great relationships with my co-workers and supervisors through that internship which developed into me landing the job I have now, as a project coordinator on a digitization project for the photo archives.

At the same time, I grew more and more interested in emerging technology and started to follow and read quite a few tech blogs. I became a ravenous fan of the writing over at ReadWriteWeb, and when I happened to see a tweet from lead blogger Marshall Kirkpatrick announcing a “research internship,” I emailed him expressing my interest right away. I was incredibly lucky to be chosen, and for the next few months I hung out in the writer’s room (in Skype), assisted with behind the scenes research collecting, and was consistently amazed at the process and pace of tech blogging. I even caught a scoop on a new service and had a piece published on the site! This, combined with my internship in Web Apps, turned out to be the “dive right in”/kick in the pants that I had so desired to see how technology, writing and web development could all co-exist. Needless to say, I continue to hope that a large part of my professional career will revolve around creating and facilitating better communication and collaboration between Librarians and Information Tech folks/topics, as I wrote on my own blog.

Advice? I made a point to ask one good and/or stupid question everyday I interned, and I made a point to be on time, work hard, and create a project for myself to show my initiative.


At UA, internships are optional, but we are strongly encouraged to do at least one semester-long, 150-hour internship for pass/fail credit. I used up my pass/fail credit on my study abroad trip, I still wanted to do a traditional internship somehow. I heard great things about an academic health sciences library in a neighboring city, and when I visited there to interview reference librarians for an assignment, I asked if they’d be willing to host me as an intern in the fall. The head of reference took a chance on me, and set up a 150 hour internship. It was a volunteer position, but I treated it as though it were a job, and I was treated as a peer by the other librarians. I got to work in both reference and content management, add/weed a gift collection, and work closely with librarians on their specific projects, including a consumer health module for public librarians, and social media/marketing. I was also encouraged to attend as many staff meetings as I wanted, take free professional development seminars, and participate in online conversations with my own staff email. It was a truly wonderful experience, and I am so grateful to my supervisor for taking the time to plan worthwhile projects for me.

There is no such thing as too much library experience, so when I learned about the federal SCEP (Student Career Experience Program) and an open position at an academic Air Force library, I applied and interviewed for it. This internship is paid, and is considered cooperative education, like Nicole mentioned. If you have the chance to interview for a paid co-op position of ANY kind, do it! I’m completely integrated into the work culture with my own cubicle, work email, free training, etc., and I also get to do a rotation in each department. This is a fantastic way to learn more about the roles of different sections, as well as see how the library functions as a whole (it’s a large library with many departments). Best of all, my current position is meant for a professional librarian, so barring a hiring freeze, it will become permanent after graduation!

I have compiled a list of internship tips at my blog, but here’s a big one: give feedback to your internship supervisor before you begin, as well as throughout the internship. Make sure you’re going to be working on at least a few tasks you’d be doing as a professional librarian, and that they’ll be relevant to your areas of interest. Create something tangible for your professional portfolio – a presentation, a LibGuide, blog, etc. Most librarians who are willing to supervise interns want to make sure YOU gain a lot from the experience, so make the most of their generosity!


I just finished a 4 credit Directed Fieldwork (DFW) experience at the King County Library System’s Bellevue Regional Library. Here’s my recent blog post about it. This was essentially a 20 hr/week, for-credit internship. I first heard about the DFW opportunity at the iSchool orientation. I knew that I wanted to get some experience in a library while I was in school, but I didn’t know what to do. When I realized how much I felt pulled to public libraries, I determined it would be good to do a DFW there since I had so much academic library experience at my previous and current jobs.

So, I approached one of my instructors who is also a librarian at the Bellevue Regional Library and asked her if she would be interested in being my supervisor. I’d taken both Marketing and Strategic Planning for Libraries and Advocacy for Public Libraries from her last year. I wanted another opportunity to do outreach and/or user services work. She just happened to have a project for me to work on (the preliminary work for an Adult Programming User Needs Assessment), so we completed the paperwork and BAM! I had my DFW all set up.

Overall, it was a WONDERFUL, let me repeat, WONDERFUL!! experience because I had the opportunity to interact with the library patrons and have intimate, honest conversations with the local and system-wide staff. I cannot speak highly enough about finding the opportunity (for school credit or not) to work IN a library and WITH the people!


The program at UCLA has several options for gaining experience, including a 20-hour service learning project (mandatory), internships, and practicums.  I’ve just completed my second internship; we can take up to three for pass/fail credit.

My first internship was a FILL, or From Interns to Library Leaders Internship.  This is a program designed by the public library cooperative here in Southern California, SCLC, which encourages MLIS students to enter public librarianship through paid internships.  SCLC pays half of the stipend, while the hosting library pays the other.  Since I want to be a public children’s librarian, I took advantage of this opportunity and applied for a children’s services internship over the summer, where I could participate in the summer reading program and begin to get experience with children in the public library.  This internship was solely in the children’s services department, and I did everything related to that: storytimes, programming, collection development and weeding, attended departmental meetings.  My second internship was a general public services internship through Los Angeles Public Library.  This included children’s services, as well as teen and adult.

I’m going to be starting my third internship, also with LAPL, in a few weeks, and I’ve been thinking of my internships like this: the first was to get experience with children; the second was to build my confidence in other areas of public librarianship and expand my skill base; this third internship is to have specific experience with the area of public children’s librarianship that I most want to enter, which is management and policy.  I think when planning multiple internship experiences, having a sort of overarching plan is important.  Before entering an internship, think about what you want from this experience, and how it will prepare you for your next step.  Keep that objective in mind when talking to your internship supervisor, and to those professionals you are working with.  By voicing what it is you want, even casually in conversations on your break, you’ll be surprised at how willing they’ll be to help you get it!

10 replies

  1. Some of the students in our program do internships for class credit, but it’s usually in the last semester (and mine’s already a little overbooked!) What I did was opt for a work-study job, which allowed me to expand my options beyond the places our department has internship arrangements with. As a result, I got to work in a really cool library (State Historical Society of Iowa) and get to do some really fun and in depth work with their special collections. Internships probably look a little better on the resume, but for people who don’t have that opportunity or who can’t find a good fit, an entry-level or work-study position at an institution you love is a great alternative!


  2. I think internships are important even if you have work experience. I’ve been working in libraries for over 5 years but have never really had the chance to do any teaching. Since I want to move into Reference & Instruction in a university library, I undertook an internship (on top of my full-time gig in Acquisitions) to gain some experience in that area. If you’re lacking in one area, internships can give you that experience you need to secure a job that’s a little outside of your comfort area.

    One of the added benefits of an internship is being able to meet and ask questions of other librarians. This is especially important for those of us in online programs. I’ve really enjoyed talking with my internship coordinator and the other librarians over the course of my internship. Their wisdom has been an added bonus!


    • Nicole, how did you fit in an internship on top of a full-time job?

      Currently, I work full-time in a public library, but my ultimate goal is to work in a medical library. I know some practical experience in a medical library would help me. But I really don’t see how I could make time. It seems like most practicums or internships require a minimum of 20 hr/week commitment.

      Any tips/suggestions appreciated.


      • One tip I have is — don’t assume anything. If you don’t have time for a ‘typical’ 20 hr/week internship, explain your situation and suggest a schedule that works for you! Some places might not be flexible for you, but it is always worth asking.


  3. I think internships are a great idea but they haven’t been something that have worked for me (so don’t despair if you don’t have one). I would have to pay for the course credits, and with out of state tuition that is going to add up very quickly. I was lucky enough to get a few positions in different departments of our library that are paid where I can take on extra responsibilities and volunteer on additional projects. I feel like I’m getting what I would out of an internship without paying several thousand dollars to do so. So I work in instruction and reference but I definitely work hard to expand beyond my hourly position.

    That being said depending on your field internships could be key. In our program digital libraries and archives have to do one and most highly recommend the opportunity.


  4. I started interning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Libraries my first semester of library school, and it was hands down the best decision I’ve ever made. Over the course of a year I worked in three different libraries there, the Watson, the Nolen, and the Costume Institute. Not only are these three libraries vastly different from one another, I also did different tasks in each one. The work ranged from technical services to writing bibliographies to archival preservation work. A year later I was able to set up a paid position here in conjunction with my school. My experience also led to a part-time library assistant position at local Jewish library and between the two jobs I now work full-time doing library work.


  5. For the past year, I’ve been on the library supervisor end of several internships in Cataloging, and it’s been a very rewarding experience working with local library students! Initially, I had to seek out my first two interns, but since then, we’ve started getting cold calls and emails from local library students looking for internships or volunteer experience! (It just so happens that there are TWO ALA-accredited library science schools in my area.)

    I just found out last week that I’ve been accepted into library school for the Fall ’11 semester, so I enjoyed this post on more than one level! I’ll be taking classes at night after work and on Saturdays, but I still want to be able to do at least one internship. (In fact, one will be required for the Digital Librarian track.)


  6. Did an archives internship and volunteered at a public library. Since starting the program, I’ve had four internships and now have two part-time library jobs. All springboarded into new opportunities. Unless you’re someone pursuing the MLIS just to get promoted (like you’ve already been working for a number of years) you kind of shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t get an internship. Everyone who works in this field is going to have the degree. And everyone who works in this field is going to say they looooove books. How else can you distinguish yourself except to have good experience and marketable skill sets?


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