Make Time for an Internship – Your Career Will Thank You!
Published: August 29, 2017 by Kate M. Spaulding
Internships are a valuable opportunity to learn new skills, gain hand-on experience, build a professional network, and even get your foot in the door of a possible future employer.
In June, I attended my very first ALA Annual Conference in Chicago, IL. My overall impression was just that it was huge, but I had pockets of personal interactions that were really rewarding. On my first day, I popped into the Emerging Leaders Poster Session and Reception; it was a room filled with some of ALA’s best and brightest, and each small group’s table had a poster detailing their project. The Emerging Leaders were happy to talk about their work, and this is how I met Derek Stalcup and his partner in crime, Antonio Apodaca.
Derek was so enthusiastic about his library, librarianship, and supporting students that I asked him to answer some questions about the internship program he’s developed. He’s a big proponent of internships and makes sure that his offer real value to students.
If you haven’t considered squeezing one into your time here at the iSchool, I encourage you to do so. I’ve had two wonderful experiences, and they’ve been a great way to learn new skills, network, and even get my foot in the door in a great library system.
Can you tell me a little bit about yourself, where you work, and what you do?
My name is Derek Stalcup, and I’m a Librarian Specialist at the Ventura County Library System (VCLS). Currently, I’m working in technical services and collection development. It’s a pretty fun path because there is so much work to do within the organization.
Before landing at VCLS, I worked in a few academic libraries and another suburban public library. My entire library career has been working through periods of massive change; either exiting-County systems, full agency reorganization, or opening new libraries. There’s never a dull moment!
I am a Steward for SEIU 721 (Tri-Counties) and the club President for the Saticoy Lions. I live with my family in the coastal farming city of Oxnard, CA. In my increasingly limited spare time, my hobbies include collecting heavy metal records, playing Magic the Gathering, and wrenching on dilapidated cars.
You told me at ALA that you spearheaded the library’s internship program. What made you decide to do so? Why are interns valuable to you and your organization?
A partner in crime and I really worked together to start our internship program. Initially, I tried and failed with various managers who could not understand why it was important. After starting my most recent position, we were working on a few projects dealing with library branding, and I thought that it would be a great opportunity for a student to work on as an internship project. I brought up the idea to a new manager who greenlighted it on the spot.
Now let me be clear: all internships are not created equal. I did internships during my undergrad years that were essentially me cleaning up a non-profit’s dusty office. I also had excellent internships at great places like SBCC and OC while in library school, so I knew that a good internship is mutually beneficial to the agency and the individual.
- The student must gain real practical experience and work on wildly important projects.
- The agency must have a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish and view this as a genuine investment in the profession with a tangible result that adds value to the agency.
Interns are valuable to me because they represent the future of our profession, they have the most current education in the field, and I genuinely enjoy the heart they bring to the job. The technical details and logistics of how things work can all be taught – it’s the inherent passion and work ethic I see as most valuable.
At the organization where I work, internships are valuable because they provide students with an opportunity to work on worthwhile projects while at the same time opening up a professional development opportunity for current library staff as they engage in project management and mentorship.
What kinds of stuff do your interns do?
So far at VCLS, we have had one in-person and two virtual interns. One is directly working in our Makerspace and creating user guides that we hope to turn into a “level up” academy so the library can offer certificates of competency in Maker tech. This adds value to the agency and public as we will have consistent training and best practices for our Makerspace, while the intern can show how they played a key role in library programming online and in-person, developing a training academy, and in project management.
Another recent internship focused on branding and styling. We wanted to use the project to encourage the intern to expand their network by presenting to several library directors we know through PLA (Public Library Association). The intern reviewed several other brands’ style guides, and then we worked together to create one for our agency. The internship culminated in a tangible style guide and a presentation to our executive team. The intern finished the semester with evidence of clear project management skills, successful presentations to multiple directors on both coasts, and a style guide they could show off when they started their job hunt.
When students are setting up internships, do you have any recommendations for them in terms of negotiating duties/tasks/projects? What kinds of experiences do you think interns should be sure to incorporate into their internship?
- When setting up internships, we generate a clear timeframe with tasks and due dates. We generally build in time for the unexpected. As far as negotiating duties and tasks, we try to make things very clear and concise; we respect our interns and do not want to waste the time they have chosen to spend with us.
- If you get a sense that your community partner is scattered or unsure of what you’re doing (and by the time you do, it is usually too late to move on), figure out a way to pin down tangible deliverables on a timeline. Working with people who do not have strong project management skills is a great real-world challenge – sometimes the intern must step in and ask for clarification. You are likely to run into this somewhere in your career, so this can be great practice.
- As emerging library leaders, interns should look to incorporate project management, professional networking, and practical skills into their internships. If your internship looks like it’s not going well, figure out how to salvage it.
- Be organized even if your community partner is not. Map out the semester week by week, and look at what you have to complete and when. If your internship requires a lot of collaboration, spell out next steps and be as clear as possible at every opportunity.
In one sentence or less, why should students make the time – because I think it is usually a time issue – to complete an internship?
Students should make the time to intern because the experience will be invaluable as they start their careers.
Anything else you want to add?
Ventura County has several internships posted through the iSchool’s internship database! Please look them over and consider working with our team. This is not simply a bunch of busywork; we are looking to grow emerging library leaders and contribute value to the public.
I have to mention Patty Wong. Without Patty, I would not be half the librarian I am today. Patty held my hand through library school and literally walked me around my first library conference. I know there is a whole generation of librarians in California (and beyond) that she helped mold into future leaders. Her contributions to the field and the public will echo for generations.