A New Sense of Normal: Libraries and Virtual Internships

My plan for this summer was set to go: I was to continue working as a graduate assistant on campus, take two classes, and complete the field study requirement as part of my MLIS degree at the University of Maryland.

But then, COVID-19 happened.

Like many students, I was faced with a tough choice: do I take my chances and hope my original internship plans can go forward, or do I start searching for other opportunities? As a result of (some) stress-induced panic, I decided to pursue the latter choice and apply for some other positions that would meet my degree requirements.

Fortunately, as a result of these efforts, I was offered a position as a Remote Metadata Intern at the Law Library of Congress for the summer! My specific position is working on Creative Projects, such as blogs and story maps, in order to make digital collections more accessible to researchers and the general public. The best part: I have free range of my project’s topic. I can work as much as I need to on these projects, which allows my experience to be unique to my needs, interests, goals, and schedule.

As a result of COVID-19 and libraries adjusting to a new normal, I would not be surprised to see more virtual internships appear for library school students over the next several semesters. Now that I have a few weeks of work under my belt, I’ve given the time to weigh the pros and cons of handling a virtual internship.

Before going forward, I would like to acknowledge that I am completing my internship during the summer session when I am not taking a full load of courses. Depending on degree program and semester schedules, these thoughts may not be applicable to everybody. However, I hope these insights provide some new information for those wondering if a virtual internship is be feasible with their degree.

Pro: The ability to continue building on already-developed technology skills as well as learn some new ones.

As Emily previously mentioned, computer skills are incredibly important to develop for today’s library job market. Now that I am applying my education outside of the classroom, I am realizing how true this is. Most of my work takes place in the Library of Congress’s online collections; what I find in those collections is then put into an Excel spreadsheet. Going into my first week, I knew I had my research skills polished and ready to go. My Excel skills…not so much. Although I gained some very basic Excel skills in my classes this past year, this is the first time I am actually apply those skills in a professional setting. While inputting my metadata, I’m using this time to try out some other Excel tools and to continue broadening my technological knowledge. Who knows, maybe these skills will lead me towards a non-traditional career path once I graduate with my degree.

Con: Less interaction with others.

One of the downsides of this particular internship is that I am working completely on my own. I contact my supervisor weekly with project updates and any questions I have; but otherwise, I have very little contact with other interns. This is a time to get creative when trying to meet other students from various LIS programs. Right now, I am still figuring out the most effective way to find other interns, but I came across a few on LinkedIn thanks to our (newly!) shared positions at the Library of Congress.

Pro (or Con): Flexibility!

As students, we lead pretty busy lives; between juggling two other jobs and two classes this summer, having a little flexibility with my internship was crucial. While I am able to schedule my Library of Congress activities around my work and school schedules, with great flexibility comes great responsibility. As I am doing this internship for academic credit, I need to complete a certain number of hours in order to meet my degree requirements. Creating a regular schedule that fits week-to-week has been vital. For me, I treat my internship schedule the same as I would for class: I have a 4-hour block of time set aside each week to get the bulk of my work done (similar to attending a class lecture) and several 2-hour blocks to fill in the gaps of work as needed (similar to doing class readings, responding to discussion boards, and so forth). While this schedule is intended to be set in stone, the 2-hour blocks provide some flexibility if any sudden changes occur to my week. 

Con: Can I ever stop working? (Hint: the answer is YES)

This one is hard for me to achieve some days. I am incredibly invested in my project this summer. So, I feel as though I need to be constantly working on it. But like any other part of your education or work life, sometimes, too much is not good for your overall well-being. I highly recommend sticking to your pre-planned schedule and stopping when you scheduled yourself to. Trust me, the work is not going anywhere even if you are not actively there.

Pro: Gain a new experience that you may not have been able to otherwise.

Depending on costs and location, it is not always feasible for many to move to a new city for the summer to pursue an internship, especially in the Washington D.C. area. Thanks to the remote setting and the availability to make your own schedule, many more students are able to add an internship with the Law Library of Congress to their resumes without the hassle of moving and finding housing. Although I would love to work in the Library of Congress on a daily basis, I know that this set-up fits my current goals and needs.

Photo by You X Ventures on Unsplash

Sarah just finished her first year of her MLIS at the University of Maryland, College Park. This summer, you can find her working on her project with the Law Library of Congress and binge-reading books.

2 replies

  1. Hey, fellow intern! This is a really great article! It looks like we’re sort of neighbors in the same program as I’m working exclusively on the metadata element for the Statutes at Large. If you want someone to talk to that is also remotely interning for LLOC, you are more than welcome to chat with me! My email is angelica.a.chapman@gmail.com.



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