After looking at the technical and data-driven side of librarianship last week, I decided to mix things up. This week, I had the opportunity to chat with two recent alums about their internship experiences in our focus area of public service.
What is a Public Service Librarian?
Libraries of all shapes and sizes regularly ask themselves: “How can our library effectively serve the information needs of our community?” For public service librarians, the answer to this question lies within the community. They engage with the public to assess where there may be gaps in library services. Sometimes, even what the library is doing right!
This collaboration occurs both inside and outside the library. From daily interactions at the reference desk to partnerships with local organizations. Ultimately, public service librarians hope to create library resources that are accessible, relevant, and responsive to the needs of their community.
The internships detailed below each exemplify ways public service librarians have built innovative solutions to reach community members.
Marissa Bucci had the opportunity to intern at the Ferguson Library in Stamford, Connecticut. In 2015, they launched a monthly civic discussion group for neighbors and non-profit leaders.
Felicia DaVolio spent last summer interning at Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL), a consortium of three libraries north of Syracuse. There, she helped develop outreach services for NOPL’s Pop-Up Library.
While the two internships I highlight were in public libraries, I want to stress that public service librarianship is applicable in every type of library, whether public, school, special, or academic.
Intern for Ferguson Public Library, Stamford, Connecticut
MSLIS Graduate 2016
How did you become interested in the concept of community engagement in libraries?
When I started at the Ferguson, it was on a part-time basis and primarily working on the Community Catalyst Conversations (CCC). My firsthand experience included attending the conversations, taking notes, and observing the planning process, which was hugely immersive. It taught me a lot about community engagement and input, and it also let me get to know some of the service organizations in Stamford.
Alice Knapp (the president of the library) is an advocate for and user of the Harwood Institute methodology for asking questions and seeking community opinions. I got a crash course in it so that I could get into that mode of thinking.
The conversations gave me an attachment to the Stamford community. It helped me realize how important of a role that libraries are capable of playing in the wider conversation. As such, when I started working as a youth services librarian at the Ferguson, I knew I wanted to stay involved in the CCCs, and the internship gave me the perfect opportunity for that!
What did you learn from the conversations with the community during your internship?
The Ferguson is pretty unique in that regard, which is a huge testament to the leadership of Alice Knapp. She truly commits herself to engaging with the community in new and different ways and utilizing the strengths of staff members to create strong partnerships.
I think the biggest thing that I learned from being a part of the CCCs was just how much is going on in Stamford with regards to community support and service. There’s an incredible amount of good people doing good work in Stamford, and a lot of it flies under the radar.
The conversations are good for the public in making them aware of services and organizations that they may never have known about. Which made them important for me in that regard as well! I was new to Stamford, so the conversations helped me meet a lot of the players and engage with the community in a different way.
What did a typical day look like for you?
A typical in-person day usually entailed attending a steering committee meeting or a Community Catalyst Conversation. As well as, attending some public knowledge dialogues and webinars around the subject of community engagement.
My virtual hours were spent primarily compiling resources for the conversations (both past and present), designing and updating the website, and writing a manual detailing the history, mission, and goals of the conversations.
What was your favorite aspect of your internship?
Honestly, I think my favorite aspect of my internship was the respect that I was granted throughout the process. I sat in on steering committee meetings and met one-on-one with the president and the director of public services. I always felt comfortable sharing my thoughts and ideas, and that my presence was valued and appreciated.
It may sound unimportant, but as a young person at the beginning of my professional career, I have often felt way out of my league with regards to experience and credibility. By having such a positive experience in my internship helped me to recognize that though I may be lacking in formal professional experience, there are other things I can bring to the table. That time spent working on the CCCs definitely helped me become more confident in stating my opinions and ideas.
What internship advice would you give to current or prospective library students?
I would say to spend some time really thinking about what aspects of librarianship you’re interested in and may not have a ton of experience in, and also what is important to you as an individual. You don’t need to go across the country to find a worthwhile internship — sometimes the most worthwhile opportunities are right in front of you! Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be flexible and open to the idea that things may change.
Intern for Northern Onondaga Public Library (NOPL)
MSLIS Graduate 2016
How did you hear about the Pop-Up Library Project?
After I submitted my internship application, Kate (McCaffrey, Director of NOPL) called me in for an interview. It wasn’t an interview to see if I would get the position, but more so a discussion about what ideas I had for my internship project.
While I was interested in pursuing a project in public programming, it would have been too hard to do. Libraries develop their plans months in advance. Any programs for the summer, especially summer reading, was already a plan. If I wanted to plan anything for the fall, I would no longer be there as an intern and couldn’t complete the program.
Then, Kate explained that she had a far-off idea of a pop-up library and showed me preliminary plans. The library was hopefully getting approval and funding by the next board meeting. I told her that I would be interested in taking over parts of the project and she was on board.
Between the time I had my interview in April and when I started in June, the pop-up library was already built and about to arrive. Originally, it wasn’t supposed to be up and running until August.
How did that change your internship project?
My initial project for the internship was to work with them to find out what we were putting on the sides of the Pop-Up Library, what books would go into it, etc. but they already had that planned by the time I got there.
During the first two weeks, I ended up researching what other libraries have done with pop-up library outreach, whether that involved taking tables to a park or buying a bookmobile. There was one library in San Francisco that has a bike with a wagon with books in it as their pop-up library. The guy who worked there told me that there are only a few places he could go because it was too much work to ride the bike uphill!
I reached out to a lot of libraries and did a write up of what they said. I asked questions like:
- How did you decide where to park the pop-up library?
- Did community members request a visit from the library or did the library reach out the the
- Is the pop-up library a part-time or full-time service?
- How do you staff the pop-up library?
What did you end up doing?
I created a write-up and gave it to Kate. Then, once the pop-up library arrived, we put books on the truck and went out for the first time in Brewerton. I checked out books and gave out library cards. After that, part of my internship was going out into the community to the pop-up library spots with the truck. I got a feel for doing outreach. I also helped with teen and children’s programming at the three branches and staffed the reference desk once in awhile.
After that, part of my internship was going out into the community to the pop-up library spots with the truck. I got a feel for doing outreach. I also helped with teen and children’s programming at the three branches and staffed the reference desk once in awhile.
You just started a full-time teen librarian job at Newburgh Free Library in Newburgh, New York. Congrats! How did your internship help you professionally?
It helped me realize what type of librarian I wanted to be. I knew I wanted to be in public libraries. While I thought that I wanted to work with children or teens, helping out with the programs at NOPL really made me want to do that more. It also helped me feel more comfortable working in a public library. I had only worked in academic libraries previously. It’s completely different experience to work in a public library than an academic setting.
It also helped me feel more comfortable working in a public library. I had only worked in academic libraries previously. It’s completely different experience to work in a public library than an academic setting.
Do you have advice for current library students looking into internships? Or any advice for potential students?
For current students looking for an internship: be flexible. It doesn’t hurt to contact local libraries or places you would want to do an internship. A lot of libraries may not even think that they have the ability to get an intern. If it’s a place you feel strong about interning, talk to them.
For potential students, Syracuse is lucky in that there are so many different libraries and cultural institutions where you can get experience in during your academic career. The iSchool’s Career Center is very on top of this and is very good at placing you.
*If you are interested in reading more about NOPL’s Pop-Up Library, please read Kayla Del Biondo’s Library Friday blog post.