Monday, January 18, 2010

Making the Most of Your Internship

by Audrey Pearson

By now you’ve all heard about how important it is to do an internship while in the SJSU-SLIS program. Traditional advice tells us that internships are a way to gain practical experience, find people who are willing to give references, and possibly get hired down the road. While all of this is true, there are a few other ways to maximize an internship experience, as I found out at my own internship in summer 2008.

After working as a library assistant in special collections departments, I thought I might be interested in becoming a rare book cataloger. However, I did not want to make a commitment to this career path without having some experience to determine whether or not I wanted to devote myself to it. Fortunately, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University advertised several paid summer internships in four areas of special collections technical services: archives, preservation, digital collections, and, to my delight, rare book cataloging and acquisitions. After submitting my application letter, resume, and letters of recommendation, I was invited to interview by telephone, and was later offered the rare book cataloging and acquisitions internship.

At my internship I gained hands-on, practical experience in cataloging and acquisitions. However, my overall internship experience extended much further than strictly learning a set of technical skills. Here are some of the ways that I was able to maximize my summer at Yale, which I recommend for anybody completing an internship.

1) Go to lunch, often.

This sounds like a no-brainer, but it really made a difference. I typically always bring my lunch to work, but would have missed making many of the connections I did had I not gone out to lunch with members of the Yale library community at least once a week, and often more frequently. Of course, I went to lunch with the other interns as well as my internship supervisors. However, I also went to lunch with librarians and staff I did not work with directly, as well as with librarians from other departments and other campus libraries. Our internship coordinator even arranged for us to go to lunch with University Librarian Alice Prochaska and Associate University Librarian for Human Resources Diane Young Turner. Can’t do lunch? We also frequently went out for an after-work beer at Rudy’s, a bar a few blocks away from the Beinecke. Food and drink makes for great bonding experiences, and really helped to build human relationships outside of the office.

2) Volunteer to participate in an activity outside of your internship.

Every month, or so, Yale archivists from across the library system meet for an informal discussion on a topic of interest to the archival community, usually centering around an article or two. The Intern Brigade (as we came to be known) was invited to participate in one session of the Yale Archival Reading Group (YARG). Following this initial meeting, we were asked if we would like to host a future meeting by selecting an article and leading the discussion. Of course we jumped at the opportunity. Our selected topic was “Diversity in the Archival Profession.” By leading this discussion, we were able to present our own ideas to a large group of respected archivists, and to represent the next generation of leadership in the profession. Focusing on problems of diversity allowed us to explore a current topic that is often uncomfortable, but is hugely relevant to the state of the profession.

3) Stand up and share.

Because it was the first year the Beinecke had this internship program, we were asked to each give a short presentation regarding our individual internship experiences. We were asked to speak about our specific projects, as well as our overall experiences and observations. The presentation was open to anybody in the Yale library community who was interested, and there was a very large turnout. Speaking in front of a group can be intimidating, but this opportunity gave us great practice for future presentations, such as giving papers at conferences or speaking to large audiences at job interviews. The best way to become comfortable speaking in public is to practice, and the room full of librarians is nothing but encouraging. Best of all, we were able to convey our appreciation for the opportunities and guidance we received to the community that made it possible.

By putting myself out there and pushing to stretch my internship for all it was worth, I was able to network and increase my marketability as a librarian candidate. I’ve already been recommended for a position by one of the Beinecke librarians I met during my internship, without my prior knowledge of the recommendation. Librarians are eager to welcome new colleagues and fresh perspectives to the field. Make sure that you’re remembered as more than a student who showed up, did some work, and left. Work to be seen as a future colleague.

Audrey Pearson received her MLIS in May 2009 and has recently been appointed Vail Cataloger at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

1 comment:

  1. Number 2 sounds like great advice. I wish I would have thought of that during my internship.