Rachel Friedman attended Pepperdine Law School before deciding she would prefer a career in library science. She is currently enrolled in the University of Southern California’s MMLIS program, and volunteers at the Studio City Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. This is her final semester.
A basic fact of getting your first job is that it helps to already have had some experience with performing some of the basic requirements. Employers are a lot more impressed if you can look them in the eye and say: “Cataloging? I did that while working at the _____ Library. I got to be pretty good at it.” (While showing them a resume which confirms that fact, of course.)
USC’s MMLIS program strongly encourages internships to the point where you can take an alternative class during the last semester which is based on an internship of your choice. I decided to take this class for my last semester. While you need to find your own internship before the semester begins (current workplaces do not apply), I was fortunate enough to find a suitable internship well in advance.
So how do you find an internship or, at the very least, a volunteer position? Speaking from my own personal experience, finding an internship involves timing and who you know or who knows you.
Take for example my volunteer position at the Studio City Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library. It was not uncommon for me to visit that branch every two weeks, so when I decided to ask a librarian there if the library branch would be willing to hire me as a volunteer, I had the advantage that they already knew me pretty well. They knew that I was quiet and respectful and that, after all of that time browsing their shelves, I had at least some idea of where everything was shelved. They hired me at least in part because they already knew me and knew that I would be good at working there. The fact that I did very well on their assessment test (which was mostly logic) didn’t hurt either.
Another thing which helped me get a volunteer position was my timing. Public libraries are often busier in the summer than in the rest of the year, which means that more volunteer positions are available. They appreciate having additional volunteers to do things such as run the summer reading programs. I applied during the summer and afterwards they found that they still had enough work for a volunteer, so that they thought that they might as well keep me on.
Just for the record, the Studio City Branch of the Los Angeles Public Library is a fabulous place to work. Everyone is really nice and I’ve learned many new skills since I began volunteering there, such as collecting books to be sent off as holds.
I got my internship position at the library of Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County in much the same manner. Two of my friends in my program got positions at this museum library, and they both liked it. They both talked about how nice it was and how their supervisor/boss really needed more help, if any of us were interested. The library is in the process of reorganizing itself, preserving its older materials and incorporating new journal editions. So I emailed their supervisor, we set up an interview, and I got an internship position there. I’ve learned a lot about book displays, cataloging and weeding from working there, and it’s nice that the job comes with additional perks such as free parking and admittance to the museum.
Getting an internship is often just a matter of looking into places you would like to work and then finding out which ones would appreciate having some free labor. You get the experience and probably some good references, and the library employing you has more time for other projects they’d like to work on: It’s a good deal for everybody.