Does the “I” in M.L.I.S. Stand for Internship?

For those just entering library school I thought I would share something I wasn’t expecting: the assumption that you secure an internship, graduate assistantship, volunteer position, and/or apprenticeship sooner than later as part of your educational experience. A few times now I’ve been asked by those within the profession what library experiences I have secured. When I start listing off (head down because, well, I’m embarrassed) the different internships and the like, they inevitably give me a knowing look and say something to the effect that they did the same thing while pursuing their library science degree. 

So, if you’re about to start your program I would suggest you keep your eyes out for chances at gaining some hands-on experience. And why? Many reasons, including that you might just discover some aspects of librarianship you did not know existed or that are, unexpectedly, tied to your personal interests. 

My own knowledge of libraries coming into my library program was super limited, and so I was surprised to learn about a local internship combining multiple areas: government documents, archives, conservation, cataloging, and collaboration. This internship, which I was lucky enough to procure, is focused on U.S. Congressional Set Maps from the 1840’s. These maps were created using surveys conducted in the 18th and 19th century and were instrumental in the conception of the transcontinental railroad system. These maps are also critically important as records of indigenous nations and their locale in relationship to the creation of the railroad. For additional context I suggest https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/TRR. These maps are an important part of understanding the United States and colonialism.

I’m not a historian, but for many years I taught a literature course titled “The American Road.” When assigned this course I initially taught it like you might expect, highlighting the work of Kerouac. But the longer I taught it the more I became interested in the politics of mobility (Tim Cresswell on this topic: https://vimeo.com/76535371), primarily who gets to move and why? I realized how much the American Road trope was very much indebted to the narrative of western expansion and ignored the impacts of that movement on indigenous peoples. Hence, for me, the maps are part of an existing interest.

For the past 3-months I’ve worked to conserve and prepare these maps for the classroom and researchers. The work has been hard, much harder than I expected. More times than not I’ve had to take deep breaths as I handle a crumbling map. Yet there have been many unexpected benefits, like working alongside another incredible apprentice, and learning from some seriously brilliant and patient library faculty and staff. The work has been worth it because I maintain a hope that the maps will help instigate conversations that interrogate dominant narratives. 

So, to all of you about to begin your education, start looking for ways to acquire hands-on experience —you might be surprised by what’s out there. Alas, if you don’t land an internship immediately, then I urge you to not despair but keep looking; try your hand at networking. What is a must is that you get on your school’s listserv, pronto! 

And to those of you who have been in this a while…have you held a ridiculous number of internships in your library career? Or do you have a specific hands-on learning experience you found shocking, profound, or instrumental? Got other suggestions for finding internships? Please share in the comments below!

For more on my U.S. Congressional Set Map internship: https://www.colorado.edu/libraries/2019/06/13/re-mapping-future-through-preserving-history-maps-project

Interested in maps? Have you seen the David Rumsey Map Collection? https://www.davidrumsey.com

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