As the days start to get shorter and cooler, without fail I look back at the summer. This year, with the strangeness of COVID-19, I’m missing summers past. In 2018 and 2019, I worked at an all-boys summer camp in rural Maine. From days on a lakeshore to nights around a campfire, I loved everything about working at camp. I would have been back this past summer if camp weren’t cancelled because of the pandemic.
It’s not the typical internship experience, but I found that working at a summer camp directly suited my future career in librarianship. Sure, I want to be a youth services librarian, so being able to work directly with young people was a big part of the experience for me; but that’s not the only way a summer camp can help prepare you to be a librarian.
In 2016, the Library Journal released a list of the top skills librarians will need in the next 20 years. While not all of those skills are something that can come from a summer camp (such as technological expertise, as there’s not a lot of technology at an overnight camp like the one I worked at). Here’s how summer camp has helped me develop some of the skills that will be beneficial as an early career librarian and beyond:
While camp is pretty removed from politics, there is always room for advocacy and raising awareness of something wherever you go. When discussing this skill, Library Journal the field of librarianship needs “people who are very comfortable in the public sphere.”
My first summer at my camp, I ran the camp history museum and, in order to get campers more interested in the museum and the activities I wanted to run there, I made frequent announcements at meals. I’ve loved public speaking, but It can be intimidating to stand up in front of over 100 campers and counselors. However, this was exactly what I needed to do to advocate for the history museum as a space for campers to spend some of their free time.
Very little happens at camp that doesn’t rely on collaboration and working with others. In my job as camper accounts manager, I was constantly working with camp administrators and other counselors to disburse funds for trips outside of camp, place orders, and make sure items got shipped out of camp in a timely manner. Even though I didn’t work as your typical counselor staying in a bunk with kids, I also watched the counselors I worked plan overnight trips, work together to direct kids for skit night, and run camp events. So, since many moving parts are involved in anything going on at camp, you always need to have multiple hands in the pot.
This one feels like a no-brainer, but specifically developing people skills in relation to working with young people was one of the high points of camp for me. I worked with boys ages 8 to 17; and I loved being able to relate to them in a professional capacity, but also to get to sit with them and joke around at meals or jump into a quick game of gaga ball in the middle of the afternoon sometimes.
I’ve also been able to develop lasting relationships with the boys at camp. It was so fun to return for my second summer at camp and see my campers growing older or getting a chance to work with the first-year counselors who had been campers the year before. I can’t wait to return to camp in 2021 and see all of the familiar faces I remember and to welcome new campers to the camp community.
Creativity is another skill that thrives at camp. I learned this when working in the history museum. The kids at camp have so many options for free time, and I knew that if I wanted them to come engage with the history museum that I needed to employ some creativity. I led map making activities, created a scavenger hunt, and led history tours of camp and surrounding areas that were relevant to camp. By the end of the summer, I had a regular group of 10 campers that came to the museum every day to engage with history. Without creativity in my programming, I never would have accomplished that.
There’s next to no predicting what’s going to happen on any given day at camp. That kind of crazy environment is great for developing the skills of flexibility and adaptability. I’ve help coordinate efforts to deal with the aftermath of a fire, taken an injured camper to the emergency room, and added new responsibilities to my job in the middle of the summer.
Camp is a 24/7 job that requires you to always be on your toes. Even though there’s a set schedule to everyday, there’s unpredictability and being able to handle whatever’s thrown at you is a must. That’s important in a library, too, as you need to be able to deal with individual patrons ever-evolving needs. Flexibility and adaptability don’t just have to be for work – they can be for stress relief and fun, too. Occasionally, a free swim in the middle of the day is just what you need. Being able to take a step back when stressed and take a deep breath and do something else for a moment is also part of flexibility.
Leadership and Project Management
These are technically two separate skills on the Library Journal list, but I’m going to lump them together because developing project management skills was a good way for to exercise leadership skills.
Library Journal notes that “asking hard questions and being willing to listen to the answers and do something about it” is a big part of leadership. Camp is a place where I found that there was always a place for doing something about a problem that you spotted. I saw the camp library as something that could use some growth and change, so I proposed to the camp director that I do some work in that space. I actually spent a year developing my ideas as my undergrad honors program thesis. Taking this chance to do something about a problem I saw and working to take ownership of that idea is a great way that I’ve been able to work on developing project management and leadership skills that will serve me well as an early career librarian.
Overall, summer camp is a great way to boost your skills for a future career in librarianship while also having the summer of your life. I’m hoping go return to my camp job in 2021 to keep working with kids while I look towards becoming a youth services librarianship. And I get to do that all while looking at the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
(Both photos courtesy of Macy Davis.)
Macy Davis is a second-year student at Simmons University in the MA in Children’s Literature/MS in Library and Information Sciences dual degree program. To hear more about her summer camp experience or just to connect, you can find her on twitter @bookishlybright or through her personal blog.