Two Questions on Getting Experience Through Internships and Volunteering

Q1: I am currently working as an assistant professor and have a doctorate in design that I earned approximately six years ago. I have been teaching and publishing research since then, but I am considering a career change to academic librarianship with future work in an MLIS program. This is partially due to the geographic locations of positions in my current field and a desire for more engagement with peers on a day to day basis.

My question is related to job seeking.  I am wondering if internships in the summer months would suffice as experience, or if I am setting myself up for a difficult job hunting situation without any experience in a library proper. Any advice on my particular situation would be much appreciated.

SM: Internships do count as experience. If you can find one, or create one, do it.

An internship is a great way to start off your career change, without a major commitment or stress from job hunting and interviewing. It is also an excellent way to network with people in the profession, discover the ins and outs of working in libraries, find mentors, and possibly even secure a job down the road.

Internships can be very valuable and rewarding, and may even provide you with more relevant experience than a library job would provide. It will help if you know what kind of experience you need – this could be very specific or quite broad (especially if you’ve never worked in libraries).

You may find that you need to structure your own internship and approach librarians and library directors with your plan.  And by plan, I mean write up something specific that  includes the number of hours you can work, the days of the week you are available, and include some flexibility. If you have an ideal library in mind, or know of someone who holds your dream job, see if that library or person would consider offering you an internship. Many libraries will offer them on a case by case basis, even though they might not advertise them. From my experience, libraries that offer internships are looking for motivated people who can work on specific projects. Internships work best when the tasks are focused (on one or two things) and the intern has (at least some) control over his or her role and pace of learning.

Talk to someone in career services for your local MLS program. They should be able to help you locate existing internships and provide you with guidance in structuring internships in order to get the most out of them. Since you work in academia, and you’ve no doubt spent a lot of time in academic libraries, you probably have an idea of what you would like to do and what kind of librarian role you would like to pursue. Use your subject expertise, your knowledge of academic institutions, and your contacts in academia to explore your options and learn more about your local library and see if they can help you gain the experience you need.

Another option to consider, if you are unable to do (or find) an internship, is to volunteer. The same advice applies to volunteering as to interning. Some places will offer internships only to current students, so find out about volunteer opportunities as well.

Take charge of your own career path and go out there and get the skills and experience you need.  There is no right way to do so, and each person’s path is different. Good luck!


Further Reading:

“Internships are the Appetizers of the Library World So Nibble, Nibble, Nibble…”
by Melissa Aho, Marcia Franklin, Susan Wakefield, and Sara Wakefield
Library Journal, 6/6/2006


Q2: I have my MLS and have worked in the library field for many years. First in special libraries and later in school libraries. When my son finished high school I started work at a local real estate company. A part time position soon turned into full time employment and while I was not entirely happy with the job it did offer some stability. I stuck with it for nearly five years, but when I was laid off in January I began to search for library positions. In this economy there just isn’t much out there at all and I really feel that I need to update my skills.

Recently I have given thought to asking a public librarian for an internship (I have a professional relationship with this woman. I am a chair on a small library friends group). I don’t necessarily want to work in a public library, but exposure to new ideas and roles can’t hurt. What do you suggest? How would you evaluate skills? I do know that I don’t want to be a cataloger — I can’t bear the thought of sitting behind a computer screen all day… any ideas?

TA: There are three suggestions that quickly come to mind:

  1. Prepare a resume and keep it current.
    Include all of your experience, library and real estate. Be sure to draw direct parallels between all of your work experience and the work of your local public library. Real estate work can translate into customer service, familiarity with the local community, etc. Also, be sure to include your service as chair of the friends group — this shows a continued interest in the field, leadership and commitment. Talk about goals as well as achievements.
  2. Approach your public librarian contact and ask to volunteer.
    Be sure to give her your resume, explain that you want to get back into libraries and are looking to update your skills. Explain that you have years of experience to offer, as well as recent research and customer service skills from your experience working in real estate, and leadership experience and ties to this library from your volunteer experience in the friends group.
  3. Don’t limit yourself.
    Statements like “I don’t want to be a cataloger and I can’t bear the thought of sitting behind a computer screen all day” can come across as a little dramatic and demanding when you’re in the asking position. It’s good to know, long term, what you want to do and what you don’t want to do, but when you’re getting started (or re-started), experience is experience. Just because you spend some time cataloging, doesn’t mean it’s a wasted experience. As a matter of fact, a broad-based volunteer experience will help you update your skills across the board, as well as develop a broad support network of librarians.

You may also want to check out our other posts on cover letters, resumes, and transferrable skills:

Q: How do I get back into the workforce after an illness, and being a stay-at-home parent?

Q: I’d like to learn as much as possible about the whole archival process and hopefully move into the archival profession. Is it possible for me to have a career as an archivist despite not having setting out to become one?

Q: Am I overqualified for library positions?

Q: How can I switch from public to corporate librarianship?

Q: How can I find information about making the move from a community college to a four-year college or university?

Q: How do I make my resume work for me?<!–

One thought on “Two Questions on Getting Experience Through Internships and Volunteering

  1. Pingback: Career Q&A with the Library Career People » Q: How would someone who is totally new to librarianship get into it?

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