Reaching Undergrads: Recruitment via Internship
As interns, undergraduate students can cultivate a career in library and information science and technology
Posted Tue, 08/10/2010 - 10:50
An undergraduate library user is a prime target for an internship.
When Noelle Rader, a junior at Brigham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, applied for a student job in the library’s music and dance department, she was mostly looking to earn some money to pay rent and tuition. And as a music major and violist, she was also interested in working with the library’s viola collection. But as she worked, her interest extended from music to library science itself and she began to think about pursuing an MLS.
“I realized that I liked library work a lot, and I wanted to look more into it,” Rader said. “I thought my work would just be a job, but it has become a career choice.”
Rader asked her supervisors about the possibility of getting a minor in library science, but no such program exists at BYU. As she looked for other ways to learn more about library careers, she discovered and applied to the library’s undergraduate internship program. Now, as an intern, she completes directed readings and studies in library science along with her duties at the music and dance reference desk.
BYU’s Harold B. Lee Library (HBLL) is giving its undergraduate students an opportunity to get a taste of working in an academic library through semester-long paid internships. And at the same time, HBLL is attracting students to the profession and building its own pool of potential recruits.
As the library profession “grays,” many academic libraries anticipate staff shortages as older employees retire within the next 10 years. BYU discontinued its master’s of library science program in 1993 and, like other universities with no library graduate program, cannot directly recruit from its own students. But BYU is using its library internship program as one way to cultivate a future pool of qualified employees who are dedicated to the university. This program is a good model for other university libraries as they consider reaching out to and recruiting among their own undergraduates.
Although BYU no longer offers a library graduate program, many undergraduates like Rader are still interested in pursuing careers in library science. For several years, students with questions about the library profession were sent to HBLL Human Resource Manager Quinn Galbraith.
“Students were being funneled to me for employment and career questions related to the MLS graduate degree,” said Galbraith. “Many students were interested in getting library experience.”
Galbraith would discuss library careers and graduate programs with these students but was at a loss when they asked about getting experience. Student jobs in the library were hard to come by; Rader had been lucky to get her position, because the jobs were very popular and usually attracted many qualified applicants, and most supervisors preferred to hire younger students who could work for several semesters. This left many potential MLS students, especially juniors and seniors, without an opportunity for hands-on library experience.
So five years ago, Galbraith applied for and secured a campus grant to fund five 120-hour paid library internships for students interested in careers in library science. When the internships ended, the library administration decided to allocate donation money to helping more potential MLS students.
“The library administration realized the value of building the pool of MLS graduate candidates,” said Galbraith. “They felt that the internship was important because, since BYU no longer has a graduate school, they were concerned about whom they would hire down the road to take the place of retiring baby boomers. Who better than BYU students, who are already invested in the university? We’d love to recruit BYU students back.”
Since then, more than 50 students have received internships in various departments throughout the library. The program has only two requirements: Interns must be BYU students, and they must be interested in pursuing an MLS degree. Galbraith arranges the internships by meeting with interested students and then connecting them with library employees.
“I ask students what they would love to do and what their interests are,” said Galbraith. “I then contact faculty and facilitate a marriage of interests. And not all of the internships have been with faculty—some are with staff members in technical areas or circulation.”
Feedback from staff and faculty about the program has been positive. Many have been willing to mentor and work with student interns and have enjoyed the experience. “It is invigorating and exciting for them to have an intern, an employee who looks to them as a mentor and model,” said Galbraith.
Myrna Layton, a music and dance librarian, has been mentoring interns for several years, among them Rader. “I enjoy working with students,” Layton said. “The interns are different from other student employees because they are interested in library science as a career. They approach their work differently than a student who views it as just a job.”
Because most students usually don’t know much about library science before their internships, working in the library helps them catch a glimpse of what librarianship is all about—and it helps them decide whether pursuing an MLS or library career is the path they want to take. “It gives people who really want to work in the library an opportunity to see if they would like it,” said Layton.
Layton tries to give her interns experience in different areas, including cataloging, reference, and acquisitions. The internship itself has no specific requirements—all duties, responsibilities, and projects are arranged between the mentor and the student. Layton said that some students come with a specific idea of what they would like to learn.
Rader is one such student. She already had some library experience as a student employee, but she wanted to learn more about the theory of library science, and in particular, about cataloging. So, as part of her internship, Rader completed readings about the theory and practice of cataloging. She said that her readings have helped her better address research questions and understand what resources are available to her as a musician.
“Being a library worker, you pick up on what goes on in the library, but you are mostly trained to do a specific job and don’t do much beyond that,” Rader said. “My internship has allowed me to take a step forward in learning about libraries because now I want it to be my profession.”
Laurien Clay is an intern in the humanities department and juvenile literature collection and plans to pursue an MLS after she graduates next year. In her internship, she works at the humanities and juvenile literature reference desks and assists with several projects in both departments. Because she is studying Italian, she helps organize and shelve Italian-language books. For the juvenile literature department, she has been writing and editing book reviews. She also helps patrons with research questions at the reference desk, which has helped her develop confidence.
“I am usually not too social or comfortable talking with people,” said Clay. “The internship forced me to get out of my comfort zone and talk to people.”
She has also enjoyed working with the other student employees. “I have been able to interact with my co-workers and make friends with them and learn how to work with other people,” said Clay. “I’ve learned that I can work well with people and independently.”
These important work skills and habits will make her more valuable to future employers. In fact, her experience recently opened up a job opportunity—she was hired as a student employee in the juvenile literature department and will start working when she completes her internship.
Layton said that many of her students are hired back as student employees once they complete their internships. One of Layton’s students even went on to complete an internship at the Library of Congress, and several have enrolled in various MLS programs.
BYU’s library internship program has been successful and provides a model that other colleges and universities can consider in reaching out to their own undergraduates. Academic libraries can develop a pool of potential employees by using similar programs to draw undergraduate students into the profession by offering volunteer or paid internships, job shadowing, and MLS information meetings or counseling.
“One of the most satisfying parts of my job is helping students find out more about the library profession and answering the questions that will help them decide if an MLS is right for them,” said Galbraith. “When you mentor a potential MLS student, you help the profession.”
SARA D. SMITH is an assistant in the human resources office at Brigham Young University’s Harold B. Lee Library.