How My Internship Strategy Paid Off

image of a chalkboard that reads, success. go get it.
Published: Friday, September 29, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding

Remember that alumni survey I referred to last week? You probably won’t be surprised that your colleagues had plenty more to say! One interesting issue that emerged is that pretty much everyone said, “No matter what else you do, be sure to do an internship before you graduate,” and yet only 1/3 actually did one. This seems to be a classic case of “do as I say, not what I do.”

I’ve already argued that you should make time to complete an internship to further (or jumpstart) your career. So instead of repeating myself, today I’m sharing my own strategy.

1, 2, 3, Go!
I enrolled at the iSchool in order to start a second career, and my approach was to treat school like a job. I’m lucky enough that I was able to reduce my paid-work-hours to less than part-time and spend the majority of my time on schoolwork and my own LIS immersion program. I fully intended to complete the program in 2 years (and I will!), so I started as a full-time student and took INFO 200, 202, 203, and 204 my first semester. As I settled into the LIS world, I started keeping an eye out for job opportunities. Although I had work experience, I didn’t have any library work experience, so I knew I needed to get some.

Gaining Experience
This writing gig was my first LIS-related job, and a few months later I was hired as an on-call library assistant at a nearby public library. This felt great! I was getting practical experience, networking, proving myself a good employee, and learning a lot. However, one of the great things about this blog is that it’s opened my eyes up to the wide world of LIS careers; I wanted to explore a non-public library environment. So when a virtual internship opportunity with a LIS vendor came though my inbox, I threw my hat in the ring and applied. The position met my criteria:

  • It was paid.
  • It was not for credit.
  • My strengths fit the job description, and it promised to introduce me to new technology and teach me new skills.
  • It was not at a public library, or actually any kind of library.

The company offered me the internship and I accepted; I stayed there for 9 months, at which point I could have further extended my time there. I decided not to continue my tenure, but my resume is stronger, I have more skills, and my network is broader. My boss and I left open the possibility of future freelance work, so that door is still cracked open.

My second internship was at another local public library; by then I knew I wanted to work in one after I graduated. I also knew I needed more than just the circulation skills I have from my library assistant position. This internship promised “librarian” experience over the summer while the regular librarians were tied up with summer learning and outreach work. I figured branching out to a different library system could only help my local network, and this opportunity was also paid. It was advertised as for credit in the database, but timing didn’t work out to make that happen (which I was actually a-ok with – I’ll talk more about this in a sec). When the summer came to a close, I had a part-time, degree-not-required job offer, which I happily accepted.

My Strategy
I only considered paid internships. Partly because I’m old enough that I refuse to work for free, and partly because paid interns have much better outcomes than unpaid interns. I believe I bring value to organizations and want that to be acknowledged with a paycheck. I understand that’s not always an option – sometimes the experience is valuable enough to outweigh the unpaid-ness.

I purposefully interned without receiving iSchool credit toward my MLIS. Just like I wanted to be paid, I also didn’t want to pay to work/intern. Because in order to get credit, students must sign up for the internship class and then pay for those credit hours. I didn’t care about the credit hours, and, anyway, I wanted to “save” them for classes.

You might not share my point of view (and, full disclosure, Dr. Hirsh does not), and I understand these strategies won’t work for everyone. But they worked for me, and I don’t regret my choices. In a pretty short time, I’ve been able to pack my transcript with lots of classes and my resume with lots of experience.

Have you interned? Was it worthwhile? How did you make your choices?

What recommendations do you have for students who don’t feel like they have the time to work in an internship before they graduate? Time management strategies? Virtual internships? Other tips?

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