Be Outstanding in Your Field Work: Help Shape the Future of Librarianship by Supervising Student Interns

Article excerpt

You can help to educate the next generation of librarians and shape the future of our profession without getting a PhD, without becoming a professor, without even leaving your library. How? By being a worksite supervisor for fieldwork students.

Fieldwork, sometimes called practicum or internship, is either required or available in most ALA-accredited masters programs. The course is intended to allow students to see how theory is applied to practice by spending a specified number of hours working in a real-world setting. Fieldwork is done in all types of libraries and can cover any specialization; the student's individual goals are considered in determining the site. In most schools the internship earns academic credit and is graded, often as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory." An integral part of successful fieldwork is the worksite supervisor, a professional practitioner who is responsible for setting and guiding the student's activities.

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What's in it for you? One answer is the satisfaction of knowing that you are building the profession for the future. Students find that a fieldwork course plays a crucial role in their development. Christine Dettlaff, a student at the University of Oklahoma who did her field-work at the Pioneer Library System headquarters in Norman, speaks for many when she states, "The internship was an invaluable experience and part of my library education that I wouldn't have wanted to miss. An internship helps bring theory and practice into alliance."

"Not only did the fieldwork experience give me an inside view into a type of library that was new to me, it also played a huge role in helping me to secure my first post-masters position," reports Lynn Wyche, a recent graduate of Valdosta (Ga.) State University's library school who worked at the North Florida Community College library in Madison. Knowing that you are affecting students permanently and positively offers a distinct satisfaction independent of your job's other benefits. According to Guy Frost, Valdosta State catalog librarian and a frequent worksite supervisor, "There is a set of values that should be innate to all information professionals. If I can convey the importance of these values to my interns, I have accomplished something for myself as an educator." As a worksite supervisor, you directly affect the continuance and growth of our profession.

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The presence of a fieldwork student can have a positive impact on the entire library. Nancy O'Neill, former principal librarian for reference services at Santa Monica (Calif.) Public Library, says "Internships inspire learning in the library as well as in the student. An intern's fresh view may stimulate constructive change." The student may acquaint you with new ideas, better tools, and the outlook of a different generation of library workers and patrons.

Perhaps the most obvious potential benefit is the availability of another pair of hands. Although some fieldwork students are paid, many are not. Supervising field work may allow you to add a temporary staff member for no monetary outlay. However, the non-monetary commitment required to be a wonderful worksite supervisor is substantial.

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How to be outstanding

Understand that the student is there to learn. Guy Frost says, "I'm here to provide students with a rich learning experience. …