I got a lot of feedback that my last post on decision making was vague, which was completely intentional – things were tenuous! I didn’t know how everything was actually going to work out, so I didn’t want to count too many eggs before they hatched. But those little suckers totally hatched into marvelous chickens, so now it’s time to fill in the details. This summer I’m interning at the National Archives and Records Administration field office in Denver. It’s a ten-week gig in archives processing and research, and so far it’s awesome. While I’m only about a month in, I wanted to share with you some of my first impressions and lessons learned.
I mentioned in the last post that I was nervous about quitting my relatively stable, pleasant, wonderful job in order to pursue this opportunity. As it turns out, sometimes all you have to do is ask. My employer assisted me in working out a leave of absence so that I could pursue this internship and come back to my position in the fall. While I know I am incredibly lucky and not all organizations would be so flexible, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If you work at a library, chances are they want to support your growth as a professional in one way or another, so consulting them about your options is wise.
When I got here, the difference in workplace culture was a huge shock – I went from working at a bustling public library with constant activity to the relative silence of the archives world. The work is more solitary, there is less interaction with the public, and everything is just quieter. At first, I was desperately clinging to my earbuds and podcasts to drown out the silence, but as I get more comfortable and involved in my work I find myself less and less attached. In addition, switching from a non-profit to the federal government was a strange experience – the priorities, procedures, and expectations are very different. However, this is something I would absolutely recommend if you’re going to seek out an internship – find a position that is completely different from whatever you’re used to, but still aligns with your interests and goals. Adjusting to such a huge contrast has allowed me to learn about a new career possibility as well to practice being flexible and adaptable.
Though it’s a little early to claim that I’m “making the most” of my internship, I do feel confident in saying that I’m trying. One thing I’ve learned from this experience is to take advantage of as many opportunities as possible. I’m lucky enough to be working for a branch of a national organization, so I have a wealth of avenues for learning – I’ve consulted with archivists throughout the country for career advice, I’ve participated in a Wikipedia Editathon (highly recommended for all information professionals), and taken lots of different kinds of training in addition to my day-to-day duties. This new position has been a great chance to practice saying “yes” – I’ve already done it once by accepting this position, so it’s been easy to keep up the streak.
In addition to saying yes, however, I’ve also had to advocate for my own priorities – I’ve been arranging informational interviews with each of my coworkers so I can get to know them better and learn more about their careers. I know I’ll also have to make it known that I’m interested in practicing certain skills – in my case, archival reference. The people I’m working with are busy and involved in their own work, and I’ve had to make my voice heard about what I’m interested in and what experience I hope to gain. I’m usually not one to be outspoken, but I know my time is limited and I can’t just sit back and wait for what I know I want to come to me. I didn’t not apply to this internship for nothing!
I would love to hear about any internships you’ve had – what were your big takeaways? What are your biggest regrets? I still have some time left, so I would be happy to learn from your experiences. Do you have any questions about internships in general or my internship in particular? Let’s talk it out in the comments!