Real Life Experience for the Online Student

brighidpicReal Life Experience for the Online Student

by Brighid Gonzales

Like many students in SJSU’s SLIS program, library school is my chosen path to a career change. As someone entering graduate school without previous library work experience, I knew that it was imperative that I get as much experience as I could leaving school. The delicate balance of managing full-time employment, part-time graduate school and domestic responsibilities (not to mention the occasional social outing) is one that many SLIS students struggle with; but here are three internships that worked with me and my busy schedule to allow me get the hands-on experience I was looking for.

The Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at Los Angeles City College (LACC)

Since I work full-time during the week, working as a reference intern on Saturdays in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library was a great fit and enabled me to still get practical on-site library experience. My main duties at the library involved staffing one of the two stations at the reference desk (the other was staffed by a full-time librarian who also acted as a trainer and mentor) and assisting students with any questions they might have. These questions ranged from finding the exact location of a certain book and looking up the availability of reserve materials, to in-depth research assistance. I also helped students with any issues they had in the library’s computer lab, including printing, saving, and various sorts of technical troubleshooting. Even though the internship did not require any courses as prerequisites, I took LIBR 210 concurrently and it was especially insightful to be able to put some of the theories we were learning in class into practice. While it could be a challenge trying to help students with things that I was sometimes learning at the same time they were, it was a great experience to be able to work with LACC’s diverse student body. I completed this internship in only my second semester, but getting hands-on experience so early was a great experience, and it did much to validate my decision to attend library school as well as my desire to work in an academic library.

San Mateo County Library

The following year I worked as a creative writing web intern for the Brisbane and Atherton branches of the San Mateo County Library. For this internship, I was able to work virtually, which meant being able to complete the work on my own schedule. With a focus on social media and community outreach, my main tasks were to write weekly blog posts for the SMCL website, and then enter and format my own and others’ posts in Drupal. I also wrote weekly content for Brisbane Library’s Facebook and Twitter pages. In addition to these regular duties, I worked throughout the semester on a research project for the library director, gathering information about social media tools used in fundraising for the Friends of the Brisbane Library group. This project was particularly interesting because the library director would share my ideas with the Friends of the Brisbane Library in their weekly meetings, which would allow me to tailor my work directly according to their regular feedback. Along the way, I learned a great deal about writing to promote items from the collection in a voice that would be compelling to the general public. As a creative writing web intern, I learned much about community outreach using social media, something that is applicable to any library environment where I might work in the future.

University of Houston’s Digital Library (UHDL)

My final internship was as a digital services intern for the University of Houston Digital Library. UHDL has an internship program that gives students the opportunity to work on-site rotating through departments or to intern remotely on a specific project. As a remote intern, I was again able to complete the work in a way that fit my schedule. Paired with another intern, we were tasked with writing up a project plan to integrate the digital library blog with the library’s public website, and then carry out the work we had outlined to complete the project. One of the main challenges of this internship was dealing with unexpected tech issues that arose during the course of project, as they would sometimes require rethinking or even re-drafting the project plan. I also gained experience in working collaboratively and with specific communication tools required to accomplish our goals. The best part was seeing the results of our work appear online as the project progressed to completion. This internship reinforced my interest in digital projects and library-related technology, particularly in an academic environment; and it also gave me insight into some of the other important skills necessary for working in a digital library such as project planning and collaboration.

With only one semester to go in the SLIS program, only time will tell if these experiences will help make me a more attractive candidate in the job market. Regardless, each one has been a positive learning experience and has helped to reaffirm my decision to pursue a career in librarianship. Each one has given me a more practical perspective on the theories learned in class and the chance to be actively involved in the library community, something immeasurably valuable for online students. No matter how many classes you are taking or how busy your life is, I would encourage all students to be flexible, consider possibilities outside of your comfort zone, and make internships a priority. The benefits will more than justify the extra effort involved.




Brighid Mooney Gonzales has a B.S. in Communications from the University of Evansville and plans to finish her MLIS at San Jose State University in May 2014. You can follow her on Twitter here.