Internship Tips and Insights

If you’re a brand new library school student, you may feel it’s a little early to start thinking about internships/practicums. While I do think you need a few weeks to get settled in and feel less overwhelmed by the new atmosphere (and information overload), it’s a good idea to begin thinking about internships as soon as you’re able. My number 1 tip for new students is to start perusing job ads – subscribe to job lists in Google Reader, and save the ones that interest you. You don’t have to have your “track” figured out yet, but if you know some of the skills you will need to meet job requirements, you will feel a bit more focused when it comes to choosing classes and internships.

LIS programs vary when it comes to internships and practicums; some are required, some are optional. At UA, internships are optional, but students are strongly encouraged to do at least one semester-long, 150-hour internship for pass/fail credit. It doesn’t hurt that SLIS has an amazing internship coordinator who is not afraid to call any library – students talk to her about their interests, she names off some choices, and they go from there.

First things first: if an internship is not required, DO ONE. There are some exceptions to this. If you’re already working in a library part-time or full-time, you may not need an internship. If you can’t physically fit one in your schedule due to life conflicts, it’s understandable. Otherwise — do it. I can’t stress this enough.

Now for the other tips:

  • Seek out paid internships if you can, even if you can’t get class credit for them (UA students can’t). You can find these advertised on job sites like LibGig and ALA JobList, but also check your school’s listserv, and ask your professors for information about opportunities. My second internship was a paid SCEP position. If you know of any other great resources, please leave them in the comments!
  • Whether your school has an internship coordinator or not, do some research on libraries you are interested in interning at. If you’re going to be working somewhere for any length of time, it’s important to know you’ll be happy there.
  • Talk to your friends, classmates, professors, and network — anyone who may have knowledge about these libraries and their departments. This is part of the research, but it’s a lot more crucial than just looking at a library’s homepage. Without personal recommendations from my classmates, I probably wouldn’t have committed to driving out of town two days a week for my unpaid internship – gas money adds up!
  • If you have an interview for your internship, make sure you ask questions about the library, but more importantly, discuss the kind of projects you’d like to work on, and what kind of projects they have available. A reference internship, for example, should be more than just working at the desk – you should collaborate with librarians on projects like LibGuides, marketing/social media, etc. A young adult or children’s internship would be incredibly beneficial during summer reading. You want to make sure that you will get real, professional experience, and that you won’t just make everyone’s copies all semester.
  • With that said, keep in mind that you’re not going to always do the most super awesome projects of all time. You may do a couple of projects that seem tedious, but will actually teach you a lot. During both of my internships, I completed several projects that librarians would’ve done (they were just on the backburner), and while each had tedious aspects, I learned SO much. I didn’t work on a project that I didn’t enjoy and gain knowledge from.
  • If this is possible to gauge from the internship interview (or hearsay from your classmates), try to find a library who will integrate you into their culture as much as possible. Even though I was a volunteer, my unpaid internship provided me with a free parking pass, a .edu email address and school ID that provided me with database access and Microsoft Outlook access, and my own cubicle. I got invited to library meetings on my Outlook calendar (and I was invited to attend any meeting I wish), and I had access to the library’s Sharepoint content management system with all of their internal documents. All this is to say – I felt very ingrained in the work culture of the library, and it was such a positive, empowering experience. I want that for every LIS student!
  • I mentioned this in my Dos and Don’ts of Library School post, but if possible, work on a project that produces something tangible for your portfolio/resume.
  • Keep in mind that an internship is a big time commitment. You won’t have to work on your internship outside of your time at the institution (unless you’re doing something from a distance), but you also won’t have that time to do your own work. At UA, internships are 150 hours, which roughly translates to 10 hours a week. It doesn’t sound like a lot until you completely block out that time from your schedule! My unpaid internship was 12 hours a week, plus 4 hours of travel time for the week total. It was rough on my schedule but very worth it. I physically relocated to another city for my paid internship and worked 40 hours a week my last semester, but I was finished with my coursework by then.
  • Absorb everything. Take copious notes, or keep an internship blog. Talk to as many people who work in the library as possible. Try to integrate *yourself* into the culture.

Finally, if you have a great experience, let your supervisors know how you felt. Give them feedback to use for future interns. Ask your supervisor if you can list her as a reference. And make a point to keep in touch with people from that workplace – they can be invaluable to your network, job search, and professional development.

Every LIS student should have a wonderful, skill-building experience, and I hope that if you are a librarian/information professional who hosts interns or LIS student volunteers at your library, you will keep in mind how much it means to us when you take the time to be a mentor. We will remember it and pay it forward! I can’t wait for the day I can host interns or be a mentor to someone.

If you have any more questions about internships, please do not hesitate to ask. If you’ve already completed an internship, feel free to add your tips in the comments. And if you’re a professional, I’d love to hear about some of the work you’re doing as a mentor. What are you doing to provide future librarians with a great experience?

19 replies

  1. Great post! This is very helpful to me as I’m hoping to find an internship within the next year. Now I have a better idea of what to expect, and how to gain the most benefit from the experience.


  2. I think it’s very important in the first week of your internship to establish clear goals that you want to achieve or skills you want to work on with your supervisor. Like Lauren said, you won’t always get to work on the coolest projects but no matter what you are doing, know that it’s helping out. But by setting up goals, you’re helping yourself get the experience you’re looking for.

    I just started an internship this fall and I was able to get it through non-traditional means. It wasn’t set up through my school exactly. I had participated in a mentorship program last semester, in which some students were paired up with a librarian in an area of their interest. I had chosen instruction. Through my relationship with my mentor, she said she would be willing to have me as an intern this fall. Really, this is something that fell into my lap, just through having connections. You never know what might happen when you meet people and build your network. It’s pretty cool!


  3. I think Laura makes a great point about tedious tasks, in fact I hope every internship includes a few tedious tasks because I can’t think of a single job where you don’t have a few things to do that you find tedious even when you love your job. Sometimes people feel like something that is tedious to do is beneath their pay grade or education level but to me that is crazy talk, there should be no task which is beneath you, although it is perfectly okay not to like a particular task, that shouldn’t stop you from doing what needs to be done. Remember most libraries are underfunded and understaffed, if we don’t all pitch in things won’t get done.


  4. Start looking for internships early–it can take time to get the details ironed out. For example, earlier in the year I was trying to intern at a union library and the approval process to quite a while because of labor restrictions. If I was expecting/needing a quick turn around I would have been in trouble.


  5. I recommend starting to look even before you get to school if you can. At some LIS schools there is heavy competition for internships. Due to personal scheduling issues, I could not participate in an internship for the first term of my studies. Luckily, I was able to obtain one in my second term.

    Treat your internship application just like a job application and customize your cover letter appropriately. I sent a ‘weak’ cover letter and did not get an internship I was interested in. I learned by lesson and sent a much stronger cover letter for a second internship. I got the interview, and got that internship.


    • I totally agree. I’ve been rejected so many times for different jobs and opportunities, mostly because my resume and cover letter writing skills were poor. This is something I’ve been working on. I think it really does pay off the pay close attention to the job listing and address every point they ask for.


      • If you want to improve your resume/cover letter writing chops, I’d recommend getting your hands on a book about federal resume writing. You may not be interested in federal jobs, but the process of writing a fed resume is exhaustive. It forces you to think about everything you’ve ever done and spin it in a useful way because those types of resumes are so detailed. I spent a few days getting mine together for the PMF. They also put a lot of emphasis on tailoring resumes/cover letters to specific jobs.


  6. I just got a internship and am so happy to start. Its unpaid and at a for profit school but the Librarian seems nice. He is also will to let me do all the things that Laura mentioned in her post. I am going to do a demographic study and then help implement information literacy programs based on that study and a few others. Super excited


  7. I am in the final few days of my first library internship – as an undergrad sophomore. If you know what you want to do, go for it! Working in a public library has greatly changed my impression of the career, but not in a negative way. It has simply shown me things that I couldn’t possibly know without having worked in a library. As a result, I feel more confident pursuing my MLIS, knowing that this is the career I want.


  8. Internships are awesome. They’re also a great way to fill in some of the blanks that Library School leaves. I’m picking up a lot of stuff that I would have never learned in class given my course choices. Often times time constraints force you to specialize with your class selection but internships can supplement that focus or show you what you really should be doing. Whether your program requires one or not, and whether you work in library or not, an internship is worth the time.


  9. I’m not doing an internship, but here’s why. Before I started library school, I decided to volunteer in a couple of different libraries to sort of ease myself into the environment and decide if it was something I really wanted to do without any real financial commitment. If you have the ability to do this, I would recommend it highly. It gets you ahead of the game right off the bat and is just as valid on a resume as an internship. I got to work on digital projects for the Indiana State Library and do basic low-level circulation work for the Indianapolis Public Library.

    Even better, both of these experiences led to jobs. Low paying jobs, mind you, but jobs nonetheless. I worked as a substitute circulation assistant at the public library for a while and later got moved into reference work for the huge downtown location. The State Library then hired me to do ILL work full-time, so I only do the public library job on alternate Sundays now (one of the advantages of substitute positions).

    So basically, nearly an academic year away from graduation, I already have 2+ years of library experience to work with. This may not necessarily lead to my dream job straight out of school, and there may have been a small amount of luck involved in my case. But I believe you make your own luck for the most part. The moral of this story is grab every opportunity you can, because it probably won’t just show up at you door.


  10. Great tips! Also, remember that not all internships are advertised, and some libraries do not even realize that they could benefit from having interns. Approach some public, academic, or special libraries (depending on your interests) and ask if they would be willing to help you set up an internship there. Even if they don’t think there would be at first, if you ask if they have any special programs going on or coming up, that might remind them of things that they could actually use some help with. If they say no to the internship, then ask about volunteering a few hours a week. Keep looking until someone says yes. It may be a little rough at first if they’ve never had an intern, but it will be a great learning experience for all involved.


  11. I am totally agree with this article, with any proper knowledge you can not succeed in any kind of jobs. One day I have to give speech about a topic I was familiar that field but not having depth knowledge. So I start learning again. Now its easy to teach and express you anyone regarding my subject.


  12. Since interviews are an essential part of life, interview tips are especially significant for students. These are the steps that helped me achieve a successful internship interview.These tips that every student should remember in order to confidently nail their next internship interview!


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