Virtual Interning: Is It for You?

Just a few days ago, I finished up a semester-long virtual internship with Digital Learn, a PLA initiative grant-funded by IMLS designed to”create an online hub for digital literacy support and training.” Over the last four months, I learned a lot about this fabulous organization, and I also learned a great deal about myself, my learning style, my work habits, and of course, virtual interning. At first glance, virtual interning seems ideal for a busy, working student. There’s no relocation, you can work at your own pace, and it’s especially great for distance students who may not have ready access to diverse library experiences. But there are some essential questions you must ask yourself before signing on as a virtual intern. So if you’re considering taking on a virtual internship this summer or any other time, consider these questions:

  1. Can I complete assignments without direct supervision?

There’s something to be said for having a boss physically there to keep you on track, not in a micromanaging way, but sort of as a reminder that you really do have a job to do. But in a virtual internship, you are in many ways your own boss, even though there is a project manager there to guide you. For instance, you might not have deadlines, so you’ll have to set them for yourself and honor them. And you may not have specific, step-by-step guidelines for completing assignments, so you’ll have to create your own methods. In short, you have to be self-motivated and proactive. You have to ask questions, research, and get things done, all without a lot of external prompting, which can be difficult. Be sure that you’re up for the challenge before signing on.

  1. How much in-person human interaction do I need?

Some people do their best work while sitting quietly in a room alone for 8 hours per day. Others prefer being out and about, mingling with lots of different people and working collaboratively. A lot of us, though, prefer something in the middle. But in an online environment—whether it be a virtual internship or an online class—there is often an element of aloneness. In a virtual internship, you may never meet your supervisor or fellow interns in person. You may communicate solely through email or video chats. You may at times feel that you’re missing out on opportunities to network and make friends. But if you’re interested in building relationships, you can. Collaborate with fellow interns instead of working through assignments on your own. Discuss your internship on your favorite social networks and see if anyone bites. Becoming connected is much more difficult online than it is in person, but it is possible. But first, you have to decided how connected you want (and need) to be.

  1. Are my devices up to par?

Considering that virtual internships are, well, virtual,it’s important to be sure that your web devices work properly. Since you’ll be communicating mainly online, make sure that your Internet connection is strong (or that you have ready access to the Internet), and make sure that your computer or mobile device is properly equipped for the software you’ll be using and for the communication tools you’ll have to employ. Don’t be like me, y’all, with an iffy microphone and a wayward Internet connection and a laptop that’s ready to retire to Florida and collect Social Security. Do the right thing and make your upgrades before interning.

  1. Do I really have the time to devote to this?

Think about it—will your schedule allow you to devote adequate time and effort to the internship, while also managing school, work, personal relationships, and generally having a life? A virtual internship is just as time-consuming (and wonderful!) as an in-person internship, so it’s important to consider whether or not you’ll have an extra 5-15 hours every week to devote to completing internship assignments. Wanting to learn new skills and build your résumé is always great, but sometimes, a lot of us LIS students take on more than we can chew. When deciding to do a virtual internship, timing is just as important as opportunity.

So there you have it, friends, my four essential questions to ponder when considering a virtual internship. What do you think? Have any of you had interesting virtual internship experiences you’d like to share or additional questions to consider? If so, leave a comment in the box, or tweet me @iamandahope.

3 replies

  1. This is such a great topic and set of tips, Amanda! I didn’t even really know virtual interning was a possibility until last year when I found out about the State Department’s Virtual Student Foreign Service program ( They often have library and and information science related projects that sound fascinating and would be a great match for MLIS students interested in government and/or international librarianship.

    While I elected not to apply for the 2013-2014 program because, at the time, I didn’t think any of the projects would be a good match for my interests, I somewhat regret that decision, as my interests have broadened significantly since starting library school.

    I’m so glad that you brought up the issue of time management and commitment. This has been an issue for me with online classes – it’s much easier for me to show up for brick-and-mortar classes than for me to mentally make time for asynchronous online lectures and tests, and it’s easier to devote more time to my side projects because the coursework just doesn’t seem like as pressing a priority. It’s important to make sure you are up for that challenge in order to do your best for a virtual internship! Otherwise, neither you nor the organization will be happy.


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