Managing a library internship program

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A display updated every month by one of our library’s interns.

Looking for a way to get students more involved at the library? Need extra support for busy times in the library? Hoping for fresh inspiration for displays, services or programs? A library internship or student worker program can help! By recruiting teens to help in the library on a regular schedule, you will not only meet your library’s practical needs, but ensure your library program will have more “by-teens-for-teens” programming, displays, and services.

Why start a library internship program?

Admittedly, I can’t imagine doing my job without our interns. As a solo school librarian, I need their help to be sure that there aren’t mounds of unshelved books. Having at least one intern every period helps me feel more like I can focus on teaching in the library but still be sure that most of the admin and customer service needs of our students are being met. More importantly, what delights me the most is seeing their responsibility, enthusiasm and protectiveness of the library. They really care about our library and want to take care of it and help their peers do that too. It’s a very refreshing energy feed off of. Some of the strongest relationships I have with students in my school are because of the internship program.

How do you recruit students? How many students do you need?

Many library student worker programs help programs staff the busiest times of day like after school or at lunch because they are also when students have free time, but in our school we have a pretty steady traffic flow all day. We recruit students who would otherwise be assigned to a study hall in a given period.  I work closely with our tech director, so some of our interns work only in the technology office, some work only in the library, and split their time between the library and the tech office. All are trained to do work in both offices.

This year, we have 15 interns divided up across 7 periods, with no more than four interns per period shared between the two offices.

We introduced a formal application process this year, but in a school the size of ours (about 350 high school students) we know students fairly well and can get supplemental information about students from teachers, so a more informal application process works for us too. We find that we don’t need to do much active recruiting — our current interns talk up the program to other students or students volunteer themselves.

What do students do?

While there are a few things that every intern does in our library, including managing the circulation desk and shelving, I try to make sure that I help students customize their experience by letting them pick projects or roles by interest or by skill.

  • Managing the circulation desk
  • Shelving
  • Creating displays
  • Adding genre labels to help with our genrifying project
  • Cleaning up the library
  • Training subs and other students
  • Labeling books for processing
  • Entering books into Destiny
  • Troubleshooting tech and helping with printing and copying
  • Updating computer software with the support of our tech director
  • Deliver laptop carts to classrooms
  • Decorating library doors and windows
  • Special library improvement projects including creating original art pieces to decorate the library, writing book reviews, or learning how to give mini classes on library topics like using databases or NoodleTools — kind of like the 20% time at Google

I also maintain a list of tasks posted behind the circulation desk that all interns should check during slow periods.

What are some of the challenges in a library internship program?

No program is perfect, and as you recruit interns you’ll find that you face challenges. Here are a few things we’re still working on in our internship program.

  • Getting students to take independent initiative rather than waiting for assignments from me or our tech director is still difficult. Tools like the task list have helped, but we’re also thinking about implementing some kind of initial sheet for work tasks completed to remind students they should use all the time they have to do work for the library, unless they’ve asked for special permission to do homework because a big project or test is coming up.
  • Attention to detail in tasks like shelving is hard for some of our interns, so I’ve started a few regular “shelving pop quizzes” — supervised shelving of about 10 books.
  • Recruiting student volunteers for lunch, break, and our 45-minute tutorial period after school has been difficult. I find that our students who are not getting credit are less likely to consistently show up so our volunteers don’t work out as well as our interns.

Despite the challenges, managing a library internship program has been one of the most rewarding elements of my job since the program’s implementation, and I’d encourage it in any library. Certainly, the rewards and help I’ve received have far outweighed the management needs of the program.

 

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