One of my very favorite parts of my job is working with Interns. My library employs three Library Science students as Interns. They work both independently and jointly at the Reference, Readers Advisory, and Youth services desks, and they participate in a variety of projects around the library. For example, they create displays, participate in outreach like school visits, help plan summer reading programs, teach computer classes, lead story times, and a pretty much anything else that interests them.
Interns report to me, the Head of Adult Services, as well as the Head of Youth Services. We manage their schedules and projects and make sure they are offered a variety of opportunities throughout their internship. That said, it is everyone’s job to mentor the Interns. The Librarians work with them at the service desks, share tips, techniques, and advice, and even turn over full projects to Interns. It is beneficial to both the Interns, who get to experience a wide variety of library services and programs as an employee and to the Librarians, who get the fresh perspectives and infectious enthusiasm of new professionals.
When projects are turned over to Interns, we let them make decisions with enough guidance so that they can be successful and also uphold the library’s standards. They often observe computer classes and other events before they lead them, talk about collection philosophy before making weeding and selection decisions, and look at bulletin boards and displays before creating them. We give them all the tools available and then let them run with their ideas. We genuinely want them to be successful, and of course, we want the library to be successful, so we share our experience and knowledge with them without holding back their creativity.
This is often Interns’ very first library job, so we do our best to minimize the fallout of their failures. They will fail in all the ways Mary mentions in her post Everyone Needs a Librarian in Their Corner, so it is up to us to make sure that those failures are not because we didn’t warn them or stop them from making a mistake we saw coming. Part of the lesson is that “you win some, you lose some” and it is ok to fail. Failure, where Interns are concerned, usually comes in the form of no attendance at a program they planned, a patron asking for a book they weeded right after they weeded it, a typo on a bookmark, or an awkwardly-presented storytime or computer class. (In other words, the same things that we all fail at from time to time!)
Being an Intern is as much about learning to do the job of a professional Librarian as it is about learning to be a good employee. We teach them the importance of showing up to work on time, thorough communication, and asking for help when help is needed. They are never treated as “minions” or “lackeys.” They are our future colleagues, and we respect their input and appreciate their drive. We provide them with as many learning opportunities as possible, and we also provide moral support for both their graduate studies in library science and the projects they take on at our library. There is no “us and them” between the professional staff and the Interns – they are “us!”
We provide them with networking opportunities as well. They are encouraged to attend conferences, workshops, webinars, staff in-services, and cooperative level meetings. When they go into the library world for their first professional job after their Internship, they will have already been introduced to our colleagues and shown an interest in an area of specialty. Internally, too – anything they see happening at the library that they want to get involved with is fair game, no matter what department it comes from. Any idea they have for something new will be considered the same way any new service, program, or collection is considered from other staff. We hope that they will form relationships with staff members across departments to become well-rounded professionals when they finish their internship.
It is crucial that we spend time supporting and mentoring the next generation of professionals. Our library is fortunate to be in a position where we can pay for three student Internships at any given time. We are honored to give back to the profession! Interns bring so much to us, keeping us updated in trends in librarianship that are being taught in library schools, inspiring us to do our very best work as good role models, and just generally being helpful.