May 04 2009

Ask forgiveness later: One new librarian’s guide to trying new things

Published by rachel under careers, leadership, profdev

by Veronica Arellano

Two years ago I began working at a large academic library. Like so many new library school graduates lucky enough to secure a full-time position, I was extremely excited. I was also all of the things that turn a new grad into a neurotic librarian mess: grateful that someone had hired me; nervous about looking like an idiot on the job; anxious to start working on projects; scared of failing miserably. Overall, I was inexperienced and professionally unsure of myself. My colleagues were informative and encouraging, offering training and advice, but all of their well-intentioned efforts could only go so far. Ultimately I needed to become a stand-alone librarian. I did, eventually — but not without some serious on-the-job reeducation.

One of the biggest lessons I learned in my first year is that a large public university library is a big, bureaucratic place. This is not a criticism; it’s just the honest truth. There are countless state rules to obey, diverse constituencies to serve, and an amazingly large number of librarians and staff to manage. With so much going on at any given time, there’s no way that librarians can just wait for opportunities and projects to fall into their laps. The best way to spearhead new projects and gain leadership opportunities is simply to do something. One of my colleagues adopted the phrase “ask for forgiveness rather than permission” as her own personal mantra, and I quickly learned that this message was right on target. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to pilot a new idea on your own, or with help from a few enthusiastic, equally subversive colleagues. One of the worst things you can do is send your idea for a new project to…

Committees: Where good ideas go to die

I’m exaggerating (a little), of course, but committees are, by their very nature, not exactly the most action-oriented bodies in academia. They’re great for solidifying policy or making large institutional decisions, but committees are absolute murder on innovative projects. Last summer, I thought it might be a good idea for the library to give a quick 5-10 minute presentation to all new university employees at the mandatory New Hire Orientation that takes place every Monday on campus. It was an opportunity to introduce people new to the university to our library’s services and events, and to build a relationship with university staff, an often under-served group. I brought the idea to our library’s Marketing Committee, but ultimately ended up just doing the orientation.

Luckily, some of my fellow committee members were motivated to jump start the process with me. I sent out a few library-wide emails calling for volunteers, developed some talking points for the presentation, coordinated a time slot with the orientation coordinator, and just like that, we were in the New Hire Orientation business.  Word of the orientation participation eventually spread to my library dean, who was not in the least concerned about it running its course through so-called “proper channels.” She was impressed by the idea and the effort. This innocuous little idea could have died in committee, but instead ended up being a great PR boost for our library.

I’m sure most librarians have a small idea for a project carving a hole in their brains similar to this one. In fact, I’ll one-up that and say most librarians have ideas much better than weaseling into staff orientations. Why not just try your idea out? If it works, it’s often adopted by the library at large and suddenly, you’re…

The “doing stuff” librarian

I have a friend who half-jokingly refers to me as the “doing stuff” librarian. While I won’t be changing my business cards any time soon, I do appreciate the proactive nickname. I consider myself a fairly busy librarian, primarily because I keep myself busy. If I see a need from faculty, students, or even the library at large, I’m eager to try implementing a new service. Although I’m a habitual rule-follower, I don’t ever feel the need to ask for permission to try new things on the job. The mission of our library is to support our university, and as long as what I’m doing furthers this mission, it shouldn’t be a question of “May I?” Luckily, my library’s administration is eager to support entrepreneurial endeavors and treats librarians as professionals. I realize that not every librarian is so lucky, but in those cases it is still important for professionals to do something. More often than not, actually carrying out an idea will give your coworkers and supervisors a better sense of what it involves and what it can accomplish. Showing is always better than telling.

I thought it might be a good idea to start up office hours at the social work computer lab to better serve my students. So I walked over to the lab with a laptop in hand to start the “Librarian in the Lab” service. I also thought it might be a good idea to create online research guides for individual classes; so I did, starting up our library’s first set of course pages. These weren’t necessarily revolutionary ideas, but they went a long way with students and faculty.  More importantly, showing how easily these services could be implemented inspired other librarians to do the same. I realize this is librarianship at the micro-level, and some librarians may be more inclined to want to make bigger changes, but I’d urge forward-thinkers to start small. Giving people a sample of a new service usually makes the idea of change more manageable. Sometimes small ideas can go a long way, and yes, occasionally…

You fail — But is it really that bad?

I was part of a small group of librarians that implemented a chat reference service pilot over a year ago. Using Meebo as our chat tool, we tried to get our undergraduate students to “Chat Up A Librarian” for their online research needs.

They didn’t.

Our chat reference statistics were so low that most librarians found their assigned chat reference hours to be a staring contest with their computer screen. What did that mean for the future of chat reference? It meant we needed to rethink our service. Our head of reference assigned the hours to our student research assistants who were already on duty at our reference desk. Should more complicated questions arise, they were instructed to forward them on to librarians. Ideas for improving chat reference continue to pop up. Most librarians have suggested adding a chat widget or chat link directly to the front page of our library’s website. I’ve also tried adding chat widgets to online course research guides professors were embedding in online courses in hopes that personalized delivery would be more popular, which has led to more chat reference questions.

Piloting our chat reference service took no money and only a bit of time from a few librarians. Although it hasn’t been a resounding success, it has helped us better understand our students and ways in which they are motivated (or unmotivated) to ask for help. Our failure was informative and yes, even productive. Central to any proactive effort is the ability to embrace failure as easily as you do success. With that in mind…

Let the subversion begin!

By virtue of their inexperience, new librarians of all ages and backgrounds often bring an outsider’s perspective to the library. I’d recommend that you use it. In my first few months on the job, I often questioned whether or not my ideas held merit. I was self-conscious about my lack of experience in libraries, and as a result, often kept quiet. What I failed to realize at first, and what I eventually learned, was that my ideas were meant to help me carve out my own professional path. No one was going to pave the way to leadership in my library for me. I had to demonstrate my creativity and willingness to tackle new and difficult projects. To every new librarian struggling to finding his or her place in the library: Don’t let your good ideas die. Do something this week. You might be surprised by the results.


Veronica Arellano is the Psychology, Social Work, and Women’s Studies Librarian at the University of Houston M.D. Anderson Library. Sometimes she wishes her “stuff to do” plate wasn’t so full, but new projects are just too exciting to turn down.

One response so far

May 04 2009

Creating my niche: Making a place for myself in my library

Published by rachel under careers, profdev, promotion

by Sara A. Miller

Libraries have always been one of my favorite places, and attending graduate school and earning my MLS was one of the greatest periods of my life. I found my first few years working in a public library fulfilling and interesting, but by the time I entered my fifth year of working a public library reference desk, I found I was searching for something more – something else to occupy my mind besides ordering books and helping patrons with their email. I interviewed for several different positions in my library system, but I quickly realized that if I wanted to find a job that was going to keep things lively and intellectually stimulate me, I might just have to do it on my own.

Bringing my interests to work

Since I was unable to find a position that enabled me to make use of my interests and undergraduate degree, I decided to instead bring these interests to work. Literally. I made a list of what I liked to do outside work — or more precisely, what I sneakily worked on at work when I had a few down minutes. For me, that was history, movies, genealogy, and blogging. I was unable to participate in ordering the 900s at my branch, and genealogy was a separate department in the central library. That left me with movies and blogging.

Identifying how I could fill a need

I focused on  which of my skills and interests could be utilized on the job. In the case of my branch, our movie selection, while strong in new releases, seemed to be lacking popular television shows and older, classic films available on DVD. The library system at the time didn’t use any social software applications on its website, although they were in use at similarly-sized library systems across the country. I was pretty sure I had found two ways to make myself useful to both my branch manager and library system, beyond my normal job description. Now I had to convince them.

Doing my research

One of the most important things I learned in library school was to always have numbers whenever possible. Supporting statistics make your argument easier to support, and harder to ignore.

Starting with movies, I looked at DVD circulation figures for our branch, and compared these to other branches in the system whose circulation numbers mirrored ours. I also went online and grabbed lists like the Academy Award and Golden Globe winners and the American Film Institutes various Top 100, and found the number of titles from these lists that were owned by our branch. Then I did a quick (and admittedly unscientific) survey of how many duties I was assigned versus the branch manager.

On the web side of the equation, I came to the conclusion that our library system needed to begin utilizing social software. Because this would be a system-wide project, and due to the fact that I was a librarian and not a manager, I approached this project in a more formal way.

At the time, the library system did not utilize social software, nor was anyone responsible for starting related projects. I double checked this by emailing the Group Managers (assistant directors). With that information in hand, I did a survey to see how many library systems in the state of Georgia utilized blogs or other social software. Luckily, the Georgia Public Library Service had a list of all library systems and their websites, which I used to check each system’s site. Only 6 systems in Georgia at the time had blogs. Using the American Library Directory, I identified library systems nationwide that were similar to mine in population served, number of staff member, or  number of branches; I also added a few systems in large cities to my list. I created a summary of libraries that were similar to our system and which social software services they had available to their patrons.

From the libraries that I had identified that used blogs, I kept a list of the software each used. I also used professional literature, in particular the database Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts, to find articles on the use of blogs in public libraries.

Proposing my new role

How to propose the new role you have found for yourself depends somewhat on what you are proposing and who you are proposing it to. Small changes at a local branch or department level may only require a quick conversation, though it is always good to have something on paper you can give to whomever is in charge. For something that might require acceptance at  a higher level or that may affect the entire system, a written proposal is likely required and expected.

Due to the fact that my branch was run rather informally, I presented the movie information to my manager in an email, which was followed up by a short discussion in her office. I discovered she was quite happy to have one less thing to do, and I found myself responsible for the ordering of upkeep of our film collection by the end of the week.

The creation of a system-wide library blog, however, would require acceptance from several levels: my branch manager, as it would affect my daily job duties; the Group Managers, or assistant directors, who at our system were responsible for a set group of branches; and finally the library director, who would make the final decision. This could vary from system to system, so make sure you know your library’s organizational chart.

Using a template provided in Microsoft Word, I created a proposal for a library system blog that included a summary of my research (including calling out libraries with blogs; never be afraid to name drop when it‘s needed), a library policy for the blog, modified from other documents produced by the library, a summary of what topics would be covered, a name and pending web address, and a calendar that included dates for staff training, classes on the topic for the public, and a date for going live. I also included a budget. For this project, the budget was essentially zero, since the blogging software was free and all training and advertising products could be absorbed using branch supply budgets. Happily, this project was approved as well — and now it was time to jump in with both feet.

Making my niche my own

With approval in hand, I needed first to make sure the staff and the public were aware of the project. I created training documents and PowerPoint presentations, and did presentations at mangers meetings and at a few selected branches. We created fliers to hand out to patrons, as well as business card-sized handouts with the web address that could be tucked into library book pockets. I also offered my blog training classes (which also included related technologies, such as the use of RSS and RSS readers) to the public.

I communicated with those in the library whose assistance I would need, such as our IT department and our web developer. I was able to create web content for advertising purposes and to explain the blog. Lastly, I invited library staff to participate in the blog, stressing that this was a library system blog, not my personal blog. A team of 3 volunteers was created to regularly write and update the blog and to solicit content from staff.

I was also able to create an unofficial title for myself, Blog Coordinator, that I use in emails and on business cards.

Keeping my niche

I no longer work at the same branch location, but while there I retained control of the film collection. After relocating  to a new branch, I was able to apply my interest in film to the managing of the 700s collection, which includes books on film and theater.

Our blog has now been an ongoing project for nearly a year and a half. I treat the blog like a regular library department and submit monthly reports. Library administration has changed a bit in that time, as has our website, and I have continued to work with IT to keep our blog online and easily accessible. I continue to offer blogging classes to the public, and make staff presentations so that they are also aware of the information provided on the blog.

In addition to managing and writing the blog, I now find myself on technology-related committees and working on various projects related to social software use at the library. Though it has been a slow climb, we are working on including more of these free, web-based services for patrons. Since the blog was created we have added chat reference, podcasts are in the planning stages, MySpace and Facebook pages are being researched, and we have begun using Microsoft‘s Sharepoint for better staff sharing and communication. I have been able to put myself on the front lines of our technology commitment, and it all started with a little research.


Sara A. Miller is a reference librarian at the Atlanta-Fulton Public Library. She graduated from Rutgers with her MLS in 2001 and has worked in both Florida and Georgia.

No responses yet

May 04 2009

Review — Staff development strategies that work

Published by rachel under book reviews, profdev

Donovan, Georgie L. and Miguel A. Figueroa, eds. Staff development strategies that work! Stories and strategies from new librarians. Neal-Schuman. 2009. 320p. ISBN 9781555706449. $75.00.

The editors intend this volume to present “bold new directions” for staff development and provide inspiration for supervisors and administrators faced with cultivating future library leaders. The book employs a framework of personal narratives written by new librarians reflecting on their experiences participating in development activities as MLS students and new professionals. The concept is intriguing — personal, reflective analyses on what are too often generic, one size fits all prescriptions. Unfortunately, this volume does not live up to its premise. With some exceptions, the quality of the essays is uneven, the personal stories verge into navel gazing, and the strategies/tips themselves are generally standard takes on standard fare. Highlights of the volume include chapters covering guidelines for positive leadership; a break down of coaching (not mentoring) to transfer skills or knowledge in goal- or project-oriented relationships; using research to garner support for innovative projects; connecting with campus/community organizations outside of the library; and the power of networking facilitated by well connected colleagues. It is regrettable that the strengths do not quite outweigh the steep cover price; this title could prove useful to new professionals on the job market as a source of information about library staff development options and things to look for when evaluating potential employers. It’s difficult to justify the expense for anything other than a large professional resources collection.


Lindsay Stratton is herself a new librarian responsible for staff training and development for library workers of all stripes in the Pioneer Library System, a consortium of public libraries in Western NY.

No responses yet

May 04 2009

Review — A Leadership Primer for New Librarians

Published by rachel under book reviews, leadership

Byke, Susanne, and Dawn Lowe-Wincentsen. A Leadership Primer for New Librarians: Tools for Helping Today’s Librarians to Become Tomorrow’s Library Leaders. Chandos. 2009. 167p. ISBN 9781843344193. $69.95.

A Leadership Primer for New Librarians is highly recommended, for several reasons. First, it is very readable; the information presented is accessible and easily adapted to daily use. The book is also well organized, and includes helpful sections such as the list of acronyms at the start and the exercises at the end of each chapter. “Real-life” essays within the chapters are especially useful, as they provide a various perspectives on each subject addressed — and show that not everything is easy. Chapters such as “What You Didn’t Learn in Your LIS Program” and “Why Follower Isn’t a Dirty Word” set the tone for the honest appraisal about how to become a library leader. This book can help new librarians become leaders, and inform current managers on ways to lead others into leadership.


Hollis Helmeci is the director of a medium-sized semi-rural library in El Dorado, KS, and previously worked as a branch manager and youth services librarian.

No responses yet

Mar 02 2009

Editor’s Note - March 2009

Published by rachel under Editor's Notes

March 2, 2009 - vol. 10, no. 2 - ISSN 1532-0839

Welcome back to Info Career Trends! Today’s theme is education, and today’s contributors take the topic in many different directions, from continuing education, to the value of earning an MLIS, to utilizing pre-MLS education and background.

Email note

If you emailed me at the address during the last week of January/first couple weeks of February and haven’t received a reply, please email again. Apparently I was having email issues (as in: some messages weren’t being delivered, so I have no idea what I missed). Sorry for any inconvenience!

What’s new on the forums?

So what are people talking about lately on the online community over at

I am willing to bet that everyone reading this has an opinion or story about one of the above topics — so, why not come over and share?

Write for Info Career Trends

I’m currently seeking contributors to the following two issues:

July 2009: Keeping up in a down economy
How do you take advantage of professional development opportunities in an environment where your institution may not be able to fund your attendance? How do you ensure your relevance to your organization in an era of downsizing? How do you supplement your income with additional activities or part-time work? This issue addresses the various ways in which we can address or minimize the economy’s effects on us personally.

September 2009: Anniversary potpourri!
Info Career Trends launched in September 2000, so this issue marks our 9th anniversary. Celebrate by proposing an article on a career development topic that just hasn’t fit into one of the other themes!

Check the contributor guidelines, then email your query to outlining what you intend to write about and why you’re a good person to do so.

- Rachel

No responses yet

Mar 02 2009

Rethinking Information Careers: February 2009

Published by rachel under careers, getting started

by Kim Dority

Rethinking Information Careers covers career alternatives and strategies for information professionals. Find ideas for your own career path and learn to think more broadly about what information work entails. Recent columns address:

About the Author
Founder and president of G. K. Dority & Associates, Inc., Kim Dority is an information specialist with expertise in information strategy, information process design, research, writing, editing, and publishing. Kim has worked with all types of organizations to design, build, and execute effective information strategies. Her work has encompassed the entire spectrum of information strategy, solutions, and implementation for both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

No responses yet

Mar 02 2009

Career Q&A with the Library Career People: January/February 2009

Published by rachel under careerqa, careers

by The Library Career People

Read recent posts on their Career Q&A blog:

Email your library career-related questions to, or comment over on the blog. You could see your question answered in an upcoming installment!

About the Authors

Tiffany Allen is currently serving as the Assistant Personnel Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to her work in academic librarianship, Tiffany worked in a variety of libraries, including a small non-profit library and a large corporate research library.

Susanne Markgren is the Systems/Electronic Resources Librarian at Purchase College, SUNY. Her career experience encompasses a variety of positions in different types of libraries, including public, special, and academic.

No responses yet

Mar 02 2009

To MLIS or not to MLIS?

Published by rachel under careers, education

by Genevieve Williams

What’s an MLIS worth? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about $24,000 — when you compare the salaries of a master’s degreed librarian and a paraprofessional. (Assuming that you’re interested in being a librarian, since that’s still what the MLIS is primarily intended for. The most recent Library Journal salary survey finds only a small number of MLIS holders working outside the field, and the para/pro distinction is largely meaningless to other information workers.)

When considering whether to earn an MLIS, pay is just one variable. You also need to consider the transferability of the skillset, the value of professional training versus learning on the job, what librarians and other info pros are asked to do that the MLIS doesn’t cover, other options for professional training beyond the MLIS, and the value of the MLIS as a professional credential. Ultimately, how can career information workers ensure that we get the education and training we need to be successful?

The master’s makes the master

Librarianship is an ancient profession, but professional, master’s-level training for librarians is a recent phenomenon that goes back only a little over a century. Perhaps not coincidentally, the advent of library science programs coincided with both the professionalization of other fields and the initial rumblings of the information society, including the rapid rise in information volume, document types, information communication technologies, and information management tools. Professional training confers a couple of advantages: it both generalizes and steepens the learning curve more than does on-the-job training, and it provides a baseline skillset that all professionals in that field can be expected to have.

This does not prevent discussion and debate over the question of whether the professional degree is really required to make the professional. Some argue that, in traditional library settings, a paraprofessional of many years’ standing may have all of the knowledge and understanding necessary to do professional work, making the degree as a condition of promotion redundant. That said, it’s unlikely that the MLIS as a required credential for most librarian positions is going to go away anytime soon.

For non-library professional positions, the situation is murkier, largely because some kinds of information work are so new that professional training for those fields is still in its developmental stages. User experience design is one example, at least as it pertains to digital environments (one can argue, after all, that interior design is a pre-digital-era form of the same thing). We can liken this to training for IT professionals; as recently as a decade ago all you needed was some college technical support experience or a few courses in computer science. Perhaps for this reason, we seea lot of certification programs for things like content management and information architecture; these are typically easier to institute, more adaptable, and cheaper than full-scale academic programs. They also make useful supplements to academic programs, a point we’ll return to later.

When a librarian is a knowledge manager

I’ve often joked that if my title were “knowledge manager,” instead of “librarian,” I’d be making half again as much. Though relatively few MLIS holders pursue careers outside the library profession, the principles involved in other kinds of information work are, at core, the same: the acquisition of information expressed in some form less ephemeral than speech, its organization into some useful arrangement, and its distribution and promotion to users (perhaps with some teaching involved).

Beyond that, however, how exactly one does this varies enormously. This is where the question of whether the MLIS adequately serves the broader landscape of the information professions really becomes pertinent. At about the time that librarianship was becoming professionalized, other people were doing other kinds of information work that have developed largely separately from the library profession. Information architecture, user experience design, and knowledge management arguably developed apart from librarianship; the current environment is more an attempt at rapprochement than a broadening of library science.

This means that, library science programs seem to be largely interchangeable for those who want to be librarians. However,  if you’re interested in being some other kind of information professional, it’s worth examining these programs closely to see if they offer what you’ll need to pursue the kind of career you want.

“Lifelong learning:” More than just a catchphrase

Professional degree programs are necessarily slow to adapt and limited in their customizability. Developments in communications and computing fields are radically changing how librarians and other information professionals do our jobs. Already, we see an emphasis in some librarian positions on building tools and information resources, not just acquiring or providing access to them; this has been the stock in trade of other kinds of information work for years, even decades. Since a master’s program of any kind, no matter how comprehensive, is still basically a starter program for a profession — one will not come out of an MLIS program with the expertise of a 20-year veteran, no matter how much work and internship experience you rack up — you can expect to engage in some continuing education on a regular basis.

This can be where some of these certification programs and other forms of training come in. Courses abound for all kinds of things, ranging from master’s-level classes you may not have found time for in graduate school to courses on basics like HTML (or XHTML). With information work of all kinds changing as rapidly as it is, even an MLIS from an up-to-date, state-of-the-art program will be outdated in its particulars within a few years.

Making your decision

Ultimately, the decision of whether to MLIS or not to MLIS depends on your career plans and goals. It’s the definitive degree for a librarian, and can be excellent training for other information professions as well; some of those IA and UX positions prefer or require an MLIS. When it comes to professional training, however, the question must be whether the training you’re contemplating suits the requirements of the work. Whether you choose to pursue a master’s degree, build your own training program or course of study, or some combination of the two, it’s worth considering how the MLIS program’s training in reference, collection development, knowledge organization, and more can help you further your career.


Genevieve Williams is Undergraduate Research Librarian at Pacific Lutheran University. She has also been a content editor for, a freelance writer, and a public relations coordinator.

8 responses so far

Mar 02 2009

Learn by Doing: Hands-on education through internships

Published by rachel under Job Hunting, education

by Eamon Tewell

Education doesn’t take place just in the classroom, and you can take advantage of opportunities for hands-on experience both during and after your LIS education. Without a doubt, internships provide a valuable educational experience. Besides the fact that they are often done for credit in conjunction with LIS coursework, internships are educational in the sense that you learn about librarianship while on the job. What better way to learn than by doing?

The classroom provides an important channel for theoretical learning and information-sharing (whether in a classroom on the quest for your MLIS, or in an online continuing education seminar), but there is simply no replacement for practical on-the-job education. Interns are given the opportunity to work in a learning capacity, rather than being confined by a job description that can limit the ability to work in other areas. Further, interns are often encouraged to rotate among multiple departments or help develop new library projects and initiatives, all of which works to your educational advantage. During an internship at the Veterinary Library of a large university library system, for instance, I had the opportunity to do everything from ILL to instruction (not to mention all that I incidentally learned about animals and veterinary medicine!)

Me? An intern?

Because of the hands-on experience they offer, internships are a top-notch educational opportunity. I recommend that every LIS student do an internship during their MLS, if only to learn more about the wide range of opportunities in libraryland. Your resume and future job search will thank you for it!

Internships, while very important for LIS students, can also be highly beneficial for information professionals at virtually any point in your career. Why go to the trouble of doing an internship if you already have a job, though? If you wish to:

  • Branch out into a new area of librarianship
  • Make strong connections with local librarians and gain professional contacts
  • Pursue an area of interest you don’t have the opportunity to do in your current position
  • Learn about new job opportunities

…then internships are unbeatable! If you have always been curious about programming for teens, wondered whether you would enjoy systems librarianship, or considered working in special collections, internships are an excellent opportunity to satiate your professional curiosity while acquiring new skills at the same time.

Seeking and finding internships

Granted, finding internship sites is no simple task, particularly during troubled economic times. There are, however, many resources that will assist you in the search. Library school job listings are a great place to find employers seeking librarians new to the profession or to a different area of the field. Major job aggregator websites are another option, and are well worth the time it takes to sift through non-library results. Most importantly, talk to colleagues, LIS professors, other students, and anyone else in your network to tell them you’re looking for an internship. These are the people that will pass on to you opportunities they hear about, and knowing is half the battle! To get you started on the hunt for the hands-on version of library education, find selected online resources at the end.

If you have the ability to work without pay, directly contact the library where you would like to intern and pitch the idea of an internship to them. Be prepared with specifics about what you want to accomplish. Would you like to gain experience in technical services, public services, special collections, or another department? What would you like to learn about in that department? Do you want to work on a special project you learned about from the library’s website? Do you want to spend one month, six months, or a year at the internship site? Contacting a library about the possibility of an unpaid internship is especially exciting because the opportunities for where you’d like to gain your practical education are limitless. You never know what opportunity is just waiting to be uncovered!

Make the most out of it

After researching possibilities for internships, crafting cover letters, and some good old-fashioned perseverance, you found an internship. Since you put significant work into securing your internship, it’d be a shame to not utilize this educational opportunity to its fullest potential. Based on my internship experiences, here are some suggestions for making the most of your time and energy.

The best part about internships is that you’re working in a learning capacity. Take advantage of this fact! Ask questions of your supervisor, other librarians, staff, and anyone who can give you insight into working in the library setting that you’re passionate about. I’ve found it helpful as a young librarian to ask other librarians about their career paths — how did they start out in librarianship, and how have they ended up in the position they have today? This helps me to think about my own career and remind myself that we all started out somewhere!

Be professional in your work and interactions with patrons and coworkers. Treat it like a real job.If a position opens up at the library where you are interning, the degree of your professionalism and the quality of your work will directly impact whether you are considered.

If the internship allows, don’t hesitate to suggest ideas for projects that would interest you. Intrigued by instruction? Captivated by cataloging? See if there’s a way for you to be involved. It may not be possible, but it’s worth asking. If you can make your internship projects dovetail with LIS assignments, all the better!

During one internship I was interested in helping staff the library’s chat reference service. All it took was asking my supervisor if there was a way to get involved, and it turned out there were open shifts on the chat service schedule needing to be filled. Not only did I gain experience in an emerging area of reference service, but I was well-prepared for the topics discussed in my Digital Reference class. Along the same lines, volunteer for additional tasks that come your way. This shows your initiative, and there’s no better time than now to expand your skill set!

Library School Job Postings
Indiana University
Rutgers SCILS
Simmons New England Jobline
Texas iSchool Job Web

Library-Specific Jobs
Combined Library Job Postings
Library Job Postings

Major Job Sites


Eamon Tewell is currently Library Intern at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania. He obtained his MLS from Drexel University in 2008. Eamon has completed internships at three other academic and research libraries in the past two years, and by this point considers himself to be some sort of internship expert! He can be reached at

One response so far

Mar 02 2009

Four Skills I Wish I Learned in Library School

Published by rachel under education

Kristen Mastel

During my studies to become a librarian I took courses to learn how to evaluate a good reference source, how to deliver a bibliographic instruction session, and on various collection development techniques and philosophies. There are many other skills that I wish I would have learned in library school but did not, because the supervisory class was offered during the same time as one of my other core courses, or because no course was offered in space planning or project management.

When you are unable to learn such skills through formal coursework, how do you go about picking up related competencies? Below, find ways to learn several library-related skills.

Event planning
Chances are good you won’t be planning an Oscars after party or an inaugural ball, but libraries host events ranging from Friends book sales to donor and special events, and host programs for a wide range of audiences. No matter the size of the event, all festivities and programs have basics such as a timeline, budget, location and technology needs, and sponsors.

Improve your skills here by conducting an informational interview with a local event planner in your area and taking ideas from planning your own personal events, from anniversary celebrations to weddings — they all take significant planning and budgeting. You can also find a wealth of texts on this topic, including The Successful Guide to Event Planning by Shannon Kilkenny and Event Planning Made Easy by Paulette and Jodi Wolf.

Exhibit space design
From simple book displays to larger educational exhibits and artwork, many library staff are confronted with designing an interactive exhibit or display. Look around you. From grocery stores to department stores, displays are a part of everyday life. Take note of what catches your eye; keep a notebook and write down what works or does not about the display systems you see. Simply by being aware, you will be amazed at some of the ideas that come forth.

You can, again, find many texts on exhibit design, and some museums offer courses on display design. (On a related note, many librarians have worked with retail stores to obtain their large hanging signage after a season to re-use in their library.)

Marketing programs
Getting libraries and their programs and services noticed is an ongoing struggle. Almost every library conference has a session on this topic or highlighting a success story. I learned one of the simplest ways to organize your message and communication strategies  last year at the free webinar “What’s the Buzz? Word-of-Mouth Marketing for Libraries,” presented by SLJ/LJ. Katie Klossner from Douglas County Libraries created a one-page list of communication methods involving branches, virtual services, or community relations. For each program, she identified the most appropriate methods on a strategies planning sheet.

Free webinars offered through library organizations and vendors are an excellent way to learn, not only about innovative ideas for outreach, but also about marketing campaigns for these types of programs.

Project Management
Every library has strategic goals, which involve all library staff at one point or another. To reach these goals, managers must often use project management techniques to stay on-time and on-track. There are many tools to assist in scheduling tasks and resources. Software options such as Basecamp assist in scheduling and allocating resources, as do open source options such as Open Workbench, and free web-based programs like Zoho Projects (free for one project). Whether you are managing a web redesign project or developing a new program, software alone does not teach or ensure good project management.

Another option is to take courses and get certified through the Project Management Institute, yet these are rather costly. A better alternative for many libraries is to take a short continuing education courses on project management at a local college or university, or enroll in one of the sessions offered through WebJunction.

Tap the skills of your coworkers. Previous positions and outside hobbies often develop skills not taught in library school. For example, my branch has no graphic designer to make posters. However, we have a library assistant who is very adept at Photoshop and enjoys creative challenges. We have used her skills and enthusiasm to create posters and other marketing devices for events and collections.

One of the joys of librarianship is that the information world is evolving, much like the skills and competencies demanded of us. Take on new opportunities and projects as a way to develop marketable skills that can be applied in a range of situations, both personal and professional.


Kristen Mastel is an Instruction and Outreach Librarian for the University of Minnesota St. Paul campus.  She is pursuing a multimedia design certificate.

No responses yet

« Prev - Next »