Working, Volunteering, or Interning Before Library School

If you’re considering library school, if you’ve been accepted, and especially if you’re already there, I would strongly recommend getting hands-on experience as soon as possible. An internship or even just a bit of volunteering will help you to build a foundation of knowledge and skills as you pursue your degree. Other hackers have written on finding opportunities and making the most of them, but I’d like to address some key benefits of getting pre-library school experience in the first place:

Identifying Interests and Goals

Before starting library school I had never been paid to work in a library. However, I had spent considerable time interning and volunteering in them and had been an enthusiastic patron for as long as I could remember. During college, I spent two summers in a small academic library and one semester in my college archives, building an understanding of various kinds of library work. In addition to providing me with a basic ’how things work’ familiarity with many areas of academic libraries, my internships helped me to identify some of my interests and strengths, and to identify areas of librarianship I wanted to explore further. For example, after spending a lot of time by myself with boxes and files of papers in one internship, I decided that it would be important for me to pursue positions with more collaboration and patron interaction in the future. Figuring out what you don’t enjoy can be just as useful as discovering what you do.

Developing Transferable Skills

You may be lucky enough to land an internship that aligns with your emerging career goals, but even if you do your goals may change. That’s okay! Interning or volunteering will allow you to develop skills and knowledge that you can use in all kinds of positions. I’ve found things like presenting to a room full of people, providing some form of customer service, and adapting to new technology to be very useful skills in many different library-related settings—and I didn’t necessarily learn these skills in a library. Be flexible about the contexts in which you look for job experience; tutoring, marketing, IT assistance, or volunteering as a museum docent could give you an opportunity to develop the skills you’ll need.

Making Connections

Pre-library school experience—whether a paying job, internship, volunteer work, or shadowing–is also an opportunity to start building professional relationships with others in the field. My former internship supervisors were great resources for what to expect and think about during library school, and I look forward to staying connected with them. Take advantage of a supervisor’s experience and ask them about their career path, lessons learned, favorite resources, etc.

Don’t panic if can’t find the perfect position, or if your other commitments preclude you from doing more than a few volunteer hours. But do take the time and effort to get your feet wet in the proverbial professional pool.

How have your pre-library school experiences influenced your work and studies—or how do you hope they will? Please share in the comments!

10 replies

  1. I’ve just started volunteering at the high school library in my neighborhood. I must say that I’m enjoying myself and I’m learning a lot. I found this blog while I was doing some research for my volunteering job. Thanks for this post it was really helpful.


  2. I tried to get library experience before I applied to library school. Unfortunately, the local system wouldn’t even take me as an intern or volunteer. It may have had something to do with the economy collapsing in 2008, so they were overbooked.

    On the other hand, I had…5? internships when I was in library school. They were heavily specialized so it wasn’t until I started my public library job that I first worked inside a library building.

    Transferrable skills I got from other jobs was working in customer service and being a cashier. I have developed loads of patience and am a great multi-tasker. It still throws me when I see circ staff being unable to handle more than one or two people in line at a time when I routinely dealt with 20+ in front of me.


  3. Pingback: Moving On | hls

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