Taking Initiative to Find the Perfect Internship

Sarah Sammisby Sarah Sammis

Opportunities come in all forms and at all times. In my second semester of the MLIS program I knew I wanted to do an internship before I graduated. Making time for one in the fall semester meant taking a full course load the previous spring and one class during summer session. Where I would intern, though, was up in the air.

In the middle of the spring semester I attended an art lecture at Cushing Library on the Holy Names University campus. It’s a small university tucked up against the Oakland hills. After the lecture I had a chance to meet the host of the event, Karen Schneider. I mentioned I was a current MLIS student at San Jose State. She asked about my classes and when I mentioned I was taking both a cataloging course and a materials for children ages 5 to 8 course, she smiled and excitedly began describing an on-going project of cataloging a collection of K-12 books that one of the former nuns had donated. To me, that K-12 collection sounded like a dream internship.

Before applying for an internship, I had to familiarize myself with the SLIS requirements: the core courses must be finished (LIBR 200, 202, 203 and 204) as well as three electives. For me, that meant taking a full load of classes since I’m planning to graduate at the end of my second year. For those electives, I chose to take courses that matched the sort of internships I am interested in: cataloging, material selection for children, and reference services.

When registering for my fall classes in June, I didn’t see Cushing Library listed even though I was sure the K-12 cataloging project would be ideal for an internship. I have to admit that I’m a shy person but I saw a great opportunity. If I didn’t take the initiative, I would miss out on an internship that fit my interests and would help me hone valuable skills.

I decided to send Karen Schneider an email asking if she would be interested in offering an internship. The worst that would happen, I reasoned, would be I’d either receive no response or “no” as an answer. Instead, I received a yes but I would have to walk her through the process of setting up an internship through SLIS and I would have to do a telephone interview. Just because she was willing to set up an internship didn’t automatically mean I would be the one she’d take for it!

It took most of June to gather together everything Karen needed and to walk her through the process. Karen, I learned later, has lots of projects going at once so her schedule is always busy. My job, then, was to make things as easy as possible for her so she could work on setting up the internship with as little fuss as possible in one of the brief moments of free time she had in her schedule.

Helping Karen set up the internship helped me in turn prepare for my part of the internship. By the first day of the internship I already had a very clear idea of how many hours I would have to work, what I expected to learn, and what my end of the semester goals would be. By being this focused and with the knowledge that I had already been successful in creating this internship opportunity, I had the confidence needed to work independently on the cataloging project.

Just in case the Cushing Library internship didn’t work out, I also applied to two other places: another academic library and a local public library. As time is short in the program, I recommend submitting multiple applications. They take time to put together but you want as many opportunities to land an internship as possible. For each application I tailored my cover letters around the needs of the internship, highlighting previous work experience or specific course work I had done in the MLIS program. In these internship applications, be specific but enthusiastic.

I’m almost done with my first month of interning. In that time I’ve gone from an understanding of how cataloging is supposed to work to a healthy appreciation for how much work goes into it. I am no longer intimidated by MARC, Connexion or Cutter numbers. My efficiency is improving and I hope to soon be cataloging one hundred books per week. I wouldn’t have had any of these experiences if I hadn’t been lucky enough to meet Karen and hadn’t been brave enough to send her that query email.

For anyone looking to intern – and frankly, I’d recommend it to every SLIS student who isn’t currently employed in a library or archive – I suggest you take stock of all the different libraries around you. There are universities, colleges, public libraries, historical societies, and, of course, corporations. Churches and non-profits are also good places to look. Whenever you meet someone, explain that you are an MLIS student — this introduction might end up leading to an internship opportunity. If you don’t see an internship listed for your area, do your own research and start sending out letters of introduction to local institutions. Go introduce yourself in person, if you can, and see if they have internship policies. Don’t be afraid to make yourself known. Focus your enthusiasm on making your dream internship a reality.

Sarah Sammis has more than ten years experience as a web designer and web producer. She has worked at Oracle and Applied Materials. She has a film degree from UCSB and a masters in critical studies from UCLA. She is currently in her last year of the MLIS program at SJSU and completed her internship at Cushing Library, Holy Names University, where she cataloged their K-12 collection.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Theresa Putkey

    Hi Sarah,
    I set up my own internship through my professional network. I got exactly the kind of internship I wanted. I did have to walk the people through the process, but it’s an easy one to follow. Your article gives a great outline for how to meet people, see what opportunities are out there, and approach people for work.

  2. Jameson Rohrer

    I really enjoyed this article. I am just now beginning the second year of my program for MLIS through SJSU and I am excited to find an internship this fall. Since I live in a fairly isolated area with not that areas of opportunity, I found it very interesting that I could ask around to local historical societies, historic sites and the like for a physical internship. I am contemplating doing an internship locally if possible by proving my skills to a local group, in addition to also doing a virtual internship the following spring or summer so I can have a multitude of experiences for potential employers to look through. Thoughts or suggestions? I am just looking for the best ways to make sure I am hire-ready after graduation and can have a set of skills that prepares for me a variety of positions. Thank you for the article.

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