Thing 22: Volunteering to gain experience

I must admit – I have never done this. Unpaid library internships are becoming more and more common, and several of my classmates in school took advantage of these opportunities to earn college credit while gaining experience in a particular field of library work.

I have recruited and supervised several interns who took advantage of this opportunity to gain experience in the adult and teen departments at my last library. I even spent some time researching the pros and cons of offering unpaid internships to recent college grads who were still looking for full time employment. I’ve had some excellent experiences with volunteer interns and had some experiences with a few bumps along the way. It seems to work best when the library has very specific projects that need to get done. These projects need to be the kind that are independent and do not require a lot of supervision, or the experience quickly becomes a time drain for the supervisor and frustrating for the volunteer. Being able to recognize when an individual may not be able to deliver in the interview process is also extremely important. It is true that this person is agreeing to work for no pay, but that doesn’t mean it is “free” labor. It costs time and energy to train and supervise, evaluate and provide constructive criticism to library volunteers who are at your location to learn skills to put on their resume. The expectation at the end of the experience is that the volunteer will know how to do certain things or handle themselves better in certain situations and that you as the employer will then vouch for them. It has to be a win/win for all sides involved. If there are warning signs early on that there might be difficulty in coming to that end point – it really is best for all parties to be honest and up front with each other.

Developing an internship program is in my library’s strategic plan for the next five years. I have no idea if I will be involved in any way. If I am, I have very certain views (obviously) on what makes a terrific experience and what doesn’t. From a supervisor’s standpoint I must say that it can be extremely rewarding to get to know a student while they are working through their classes and have all these great fresh ideas spinning through their head and then you get them and make a few of them a reality in a real-world situation. Seeing that person progress through their career is pretty cool too. It is worth the effort as long as you have the time and processes in place to make it a success and you recruit individuals who share your library’s vision.

This post is part of the 23 Things for Professional Development program. This online professional development program provides the opportunity for librarians to explore new technology and outreach ideas and apply them by completing activities each week and then blogging about their experience.

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