The ‘I’ Word: Internships

Image courtesy of DeKalb CSB. dekcsb.org.

Image courtesy of DeKalb CSB. dekcsb.org.

Two weeks ago, I completed a semester-long, advanced TEI internship where I learned XSLT and utilized it to migrate two digital collections (explained more here, and check out the blog here) in the Digital Library Program. During these two weeks, I’ve had time to reflect on the impact that internships, especially tech-based, have on students.

At Indiana University, a student must complete an internship to graduate with a dual degree or specialization. However, this is my number one piece of advice for any student, but especially library students: do as many internships as you possibly can. The hands-on experience obtained during an internship is invaluable moving to a real-life position, and something we can’t always experience in courses. This is especially true for internships introducing and refining tech skills.

I’m going to shock you: learning new technology is difficult. It takes time. It takes patience. It takes a project application. Every new computer program or tech skill I’ve learned has come with a “drowning period,” also known as the learning period. Since technology exists in a different space, it is difficult to conceptualize how it works, and therefore how to learn and understand it.

An internship, usually unpaid or for student-paid credit, is the perfect safe zone for this drowning period. The student has time to fail and make mistakes, but also learn from them in a fairly low-pressure situation. They work with the people actually doing the job in the real world who can serve as a guide for learning the skills, as well as a career mentor.

The supervisors and departments also benefit from free labor, even if it does take time. Internships are also a chance for supervisors to revisit their own knowledge and solidify it by teaching others. They can look at their standards and see if anything needs updated or changed. Supervisors can directly influence the next generation of librarians, teaching them skills and hacks it took them years to figure out.

My two defining internships were: the Walt Whitman Archive at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, introducing me to digital humanities work, and the Digital Library Program, solidifying my future career. What was your defining library internship? What kinds of internships does your institution offer to students and recent graduates? How does your institution support continuing education and learning new tech skills?