Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Designing a Meaningful Reference and Instruction Internship: The MLIS Student Perspective

Academic journal article Reference & User Services Quarterly

Designing a Meaningful Reference and Instruction Internship: The MLIS Student Perspective

Article excerpt

Many libraries offer graduate-student internships, and many librarians have written about them as the worthwhile opportunities they are. Less frequently do we hear about these valuable experiences from the perspective of interns themselves. In this column, interns Tanner Lewey and Hannah Moody-Goo share their insights about what makes for a solid reference and instruction internship. They recommend the inclusion of four straightforward components to make an internship experience meaningful, not only for the graduate student, but for all parties involved. Lewey and Moody-Goo also suggest that taking this approach can make for a lasting contribution to the LIS profession as a whole.--Editor

Students working toward a Masters in Library and Information Science (MLIS) degree are urged from the moment they begin their program to "get experience" in a library. MLIS students often get this experience through internships that come in a variety of shapes and sizes. In college and university libraries, internships serve as important introductions to the real world of academic librarianship and give students an opportunity to ground the theory of their reference and instruction education in a professional setting. If not mindfully designed and focused on the MLIS student, library internships can morph into something more closely resembling technical positions, with interns completing mounds of busy work while doing nothing to better themselves as future librarians. In this exploration, two current interns and MLIS students draw on their library internship experiences, against the backdrop of related literature, to suggest how academic libraries designing reference and instruction internships can best avoid this pitfall. For these authors, the ideal internship should be transformative and empowering for the MLIS student and, in turn, benefit all parties involved--intern, institution, library, librarians, and the LIS field as a whole. A meaningful instruction and outreach internship should have four key features: supportive mentorship, purposeful planning and training, simulation of an authentic professional position, and reflection and assessment.

BENEFITS FOR ALL

Internships will vary depending on a number of factors, but all library internships should strive to provide interns with a meaningful, transformative, and beneficial experience. Since internships provide on-the-job experience, students reap the most obvious benefits when the internships are designed well. They can apply concepts and theories learned in MLIS coursework to day-to-day situations working in a library, developing a more in-depth and well-rounded understanding of the profession's expectations and conventions. Such exposure helps students plan their careers, network with library professionals, decide what types and areas of libraries best suit them, and define their professional goals. Interns also can showcase their strengths and work on their weaknesses, while analyzing problems and creating workable solutions in the type of supportive, non-threatening environment that Quarton deems the "heart" of the internship experience. (1)

If well-designed, an internship benefits more parties than just the students. Interns help complete library tasks and projects, including ones that otherwise may have remained on the back burner. (2) Interns can lessen the workload of librarians and other staff, allowing them to focus on more critical work. While this benefit is significant in the short-term, libraries must be careful not to let it become the centerpiece of the internship because such tasks do not allow interns to demonstrate their full potential or contribute their fresh, unique perspectives. The presence of interns also allows librarians to see their own jobs from the vantage point of a relative outsider familiar with the LIS field, and to stay updated on current LIS research and theory. Ultimately, investment in designing meaningful and transformative internship experiences with these four key features contributes to the improvement and sustainability of the profession. …

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