November 21, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

A Model Internship Program

La Vista Public Library interns practice  their public service skills by conducting  mock reference interviews. Photo courtesy of La Vista Public Library.

La Vista (NE) Public Library interns practice their public service skills by conducting
mock reference interviews. Photo courtesy of La Vista Public Library.

Do you have active teen volunteers? Maybe Teen Advisory Board (TAB) members interested in being a librarian? Since the inception of our TAB at the La Vista Public Library in Nebraska, the members have been heavily involved in planning and delivering teen programs. The TAB members get a variety of extra perks, including the special opportunity to participate in a Teen Internship Program.

The internship was inspired by the YALSA/Dollar General Summer Internship grant. A number of my teens were interested in working at a library, so I asked if they would like to participate in an experience in which they could learn about being a librarian. My vision turned into a 10-week, all-encompassing, college-level, true-to-life internship. We did not receive the grant, but we launched the program anyway in 2013. Since then, eight teens and young adults, aged 13 to 23, have completed the program.

Preparing the curriculum

I love teaching, so for me, creating a full-fledged curriculum was fun. I built the internship around eight core units—introduction to librarianship, programming, collection development, reference, circulation, teen services, miscellaneous topics, and future opportunities in the library field. TAB members applied and were interviewed. The application explains the expectations of the internship and asks them a few questions, such as why they want to participate, have they ever thought of being a librarian, and what they are most interested in learning. During the interviews, I make sure they can commit both the time and the attention to the position and ask a few more questions to gauge their seriousness.

Learning on the job

During the summer, we do programs every Tuesday and Thursday. My library shares a building with Metro Community College, which has been generous enough to let us use a classroom for our class time, from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The classroom is equipped with a projector and a whiteboard, which helps create a more hands-on learning environment as they listen to lectures and participate in lively discussions. At the beginning of the internship, the teens receive an internship “workbook,” including a detailed unit-by-unit calendar of the lectures, readings, and assignments they are expected to complete. While the readings are conducted at home, most of the assignments are completed during class time. The readings are usually relevant articles, such as the ALA State of America’s Libraries Report, and assignments can include creating a book display and conducting reference interviews.

After class time, they break for lunch. Then we prepare for and run our afternoon program, which often includes craft activities, such as comic book collages, comic scene dioramas, and string dolls. After a break for dinner, we prepare and run the evening program. One major assignment is brainstorming for, budgeting, shopping, and running a program for Guilty Pleasure Night, in which they are the “librarian” in charge! Other fun things include shopping for supplies (their parents sign a permission slip allowing me to drive them) and visiting other local libraries to see how they are similar or different from our own. Overall, the interns work about 24 hours a week and graduate with around 250 volunteer hours.

What the interns say

The program appeals to both genders and all ages, and I host two to three interns at one time. The teens say they appreciate that the experience allows them to earn volunteer hours and also that it is a bona fide internship they can list on their resumes or National Honor Society applications.

“The internship was a fascinating experience,” says Becca Russell, 16. “The most interesting thing was seeing how much work it takes to make your library an inviting environment—everything from how important signage is to the positioning of books and the task of creating book displays.”

Unlike traditional library volunteer opportunities in which teens are just given “busy” work, they get to learn about all aspects of the library and participate in tasks that regular volunteers do not. Finally, the interns say they now love participating in the teen program on a much deeper level.

“Being an intern has shown me all the inner workings of a library and only confirmed that library science will be in my future,” says Sarah Kreber, 17.

Final thoughts

My teens and I tend to “go big or go home” with our programs, so our model might be too in-depth for some librarians. But the feedback shows that such a program has many benefits. I also believe librarians could easily provide teens a similar experience on a smaller scale. The classroom time, lectures, readings, and assignments could be shortened and combined with activities. One could just provide teens with a short information sheet, a single reading, and an assignment for them to complete at the library (For example: “Today, we will learn about weeding and you’ll get to actually weed a few books.”) It is also easy to involve teens in planning a program for their peers. However it is implemented, an internship is a great way to give teens more ownership over their library experience and recruit future librarians.

Tomsu-Lindsey_Contrib_WebLindsey Tomsu is the teen librarian at the La Vista (NE) Public Library.

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