How to Intern

Click here to download PowerPoint slides from the pre-Fair workshop as a PDF

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While the title of this post is reassuringly authoritative, I can’t really claim that I’m any kind of expert on this topic. I am organizing our annual Internship & Career Fair for the very first time this year, having assumed responsibility for teaching our Internship class and managing relationships with the 200+ libraries, museums, archives, companies, and individuals that host MLIS interns from our program after our longtime Internship Program Manager retired last June. (We miss you, Keri!)

Those were big shoes to fill, and in many ways, it’s felt a bit like I’m doing an internship myself this year. I’m learning more than I ever expected to know about the ins and outs of state and federal labor law, especially the parts related to unpaid internships and the Fair Labor Standards Act. I’ve been reading some great writing, discussions among colleagues, and research that touch on how important internships and experiential learning are within LIS education…as well as how the expectation that people will “pay their dues” by working without pay contributes to vocational awe and constitutes a significant barrier to entry for many people who would make absolutely wonderful librarians and archivists. It’s been tiring, often, absorbing all this new information; it’s also been challenging at times to deal with each new thing that’s come up. At times, I’m not only helping students learn what will be expected of them as working professionals, I’m helping our partner institutions learn how they might need to change with the times as well. The work of planning an open house for internship sites to come and recruit from among our rising second-years seems almost easy by comparison! Set the dates, send out invitations, order some food, line up some volunteers, and Bob’s your uncle. But the stakes are high for our students, and I want very much for this to be a success for their sake, so I’m feeling some pressure to live up to the expectations set in previous years.

In the first meeting of our Internship class this week, one student recounted how moving from the adult reference desk to the young readers’ area of the public library where she’s interning reminded her of how much she didn’t know at that age — like, what’s the difference between biography and autobiography? (I remember not knowing that either. If we’re being honest, I am still not quite sure what makes something a memoir instead of an autobiography, either.) Similarly, the questions that came up during the pre-Fair workshop I led this week reminded me how non-obvious much of this professional courtship process — and, indeed, the larger process of defining your own career path and pursuing employment to advance you on that path — really is. For students who are already anxious about what their second year in the MLIS program will look like (and, on top of that, are already starting to worry about how they’re going to get a good job after they graduate), the Internship Fair is a swirling vortex of concern. How does one do this “internship fair” thing? Do you just walk up to people and give them your resume? What if you do it wrong? AND WHAT EVEN IS “BUSINESS CASUAL,” ANYWAY??

I provided my best answers during that pre-Fair workshop, the slides from which can be downloaded in PDF form via the link at the top. Some of those answers were probably better than others (largely because I don’t really know what “business casual” means either — I guess…no flip-flops? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )  We also did an interactive handshaking exercise, because a good handshake is really helpful in making a good first impression when you’re meeting folks in the speed-dating-style environment of a job fair. And I emphasized that the most helpful prep work for anyone to do is reflective work: Thinking about where you want to go in life, looking for and at the kinds of jobs you might want to do along the way, and figuring out which classes and work experiences will help make you an excellent candidate for those jobs when they are posted. I may not have planned to take on this role, but letting myself approach it with the beginner’s mind — thinking of it as getting to be an apprentice, not having to be a master — has helped me do some reflective work for myself, and appreciate anew how much difference it makes in the work I do every day.

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