Government Internships: My Experience with the Virtual Student Federal Service Program

I have been completing an internship with the National Park Service (NPS) since the beginning of September. My internship is through the Virtual Student Federal Service (VSFS) program which connects current students with government projects. The internships are, unfortunately, unpaid, but I was able to gain a few credits towards my MLIS while completing my internship. The VSFS internship program is unique so I want to highlight my experiences and explain some of the opportunities available. Additionally, my NPS internship is not library-specific. I create and edit content for the NPS website.

What is VSFS?

VSFS connects government agencies with student interns to complete a variety of projects, which are viewable on their website. Internships are entirely virtual, so you can work from anywhere to complete the internship. Project managers and supervisors submit project proposals in May and June. Students can view names, descriptions, and skill requirements for each project. When I applied last year, I was surprised to find that there were several projects that either required an MLIS or used related skills. For instance some projects are with the National Archives, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, the National Library of Medicine, or the National Institute of Corrections which supports prison librarianship. Other internships may not be with library-specific organizations, but those agencies may be looking for information skills. The website allows students to filter by agency, country, skills, or by keywords, so it’s easy to filter through and find interesting projects.

Students apply for internships throughout the month of July. You are only able to apply to three projects, so when I applied, I really had to narrow down my interests. There’s only one application to apply to all three projects. The application is completed through USAJobs, and I was required to submit a resume, statement of interest, and transcripts to apply. The statement of interest was the most difficult because it needed to apply to all three positions I was interested in.

Around August is when supervisors call potential interns to conduct interviews. While I applied to three projects, I received an interview for only one of them. My interview was over the phone with the project supervisor, and the questions I was asked were related to the position and why I was interested in it. I was chosen to work on the project and started in September.

NPS Internship Details

My internship is with the National Park Service’s Office of Communication. I create subject sites such as this one on winter sports, which involves writing the intro paragraph, selecting related tags, and finding a good cover photo. I have also done content inventory to find sites related to a certain subject, written profiles on individuals who are significant to NPS, and created information related to NPS themes for the month.

I started this project in September, and report to my supervisor who is in charge of the internship program. She is the Web Content Manager, and I check in with her via Google Hangouts once a week. In the beginning, I completed trainings and had meetings to outline the goals of the internship. My internship is incredibly flexible. I am able to choose how many hours I want to work on the project each week, and if I need personal time or time to complete schoolwork, my supervisor is understanding. I can’t speak to other departments or projects, but my supervisor knows that we are students first, and she is thankful that we are able to assist with the project.

I do get to use LIS skills in this internship. I have to consider the audience who will read the content and make the information as accessible as possible. I’ve had conversations about controlled vocabulary versus user tagging on the website. I research topics I write about and find relevant information on NPS sites. For anyone looking to hone their skill set for an alternative career or who is interested in government work, I would consider this internship a great opportunity.

Since these internships are with the federal government, there are a few quirks you won’t find in other internships. I did not have to go through a background check to complete my project, but some projects may require one. I was not allowed to work on my project any time the government shut down. I do not receive credit lines for my work because it is owned by the government.

I’ve learned a lot through this internship, and have had a lot of fun while completing it. For anyone interested in learning about what government work is like, has the time, or has the ability, the VSFS internship program is a good option.

Cover photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of State

Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter

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