How to Get the Most Out of Library School Courses and Internships

Michelle Chiles is the Archivist for the Handel and Haydn Society and the Collections Assistant for the Noam Chomsky project at MIT. She is a co-chair of REPS and an active member of the NEA Education Committee. In her free time Michelle loves being outdoors, kayaking, reading, drinking lots of tea, and being crafty.

By now, most of you have made it through a month of fall classes! Scarily enough, registration is probably coming up soon for next semester so I thought I would take a few moments to highlight some pointers for getting the most out of planning your coursework. Whether you are pursuing an MLIS or an MA in history with an archives concentration (or both), chances are you feel somewhat limited by the apparent lack of flexibility in course requirements.

One way to customize your classroom experience is to really do your homework… on the professors! Investigate the instructors for a particular course, find out his/her research interests, professional background, and read anything they publish. This will give you some insight into what experience they will draw upon to shape the class, and this can greatly influence what you will get out of it.

When you do have the opportunity make choices in your courses, take time to think about the skills you need for the job you want. I am sure you have heard this piece of advice a hundred times, but it never hurts to hear it again! Look at job advertisements, both entry level and your “dream job” (yes, these are likely two different things). What skill sets do they emphasize? Is there a particular type of collection you want to work with? Take the elective(s) that help you fill in these gaps or try to focus your coursework and projects around themes and collections that interest you.

For most of you, internships are a required component of your archives program. Some of you have just started an internship, while others will be preparing for one in the coming semesters; either way there are a few key strategies to keep in mind to get the most out of these practical experiences. Always keep in mind that your internship supervisor is most likely to be your first professional connection! Ideally, he or she will not only supervise your work in the repository/institution, but will also provide advice on your resume, coursework, and other professional goals. So, act like it is a job: be professional, be proactive, ask questions, and make a good impression.

One piece of advice that I know your professors have already bestowed upon you and that I think rings true is: if you have a car, use it! The so-called “out of the way” internships are often the most rewarding and ultimately worth the little extra time it takes to get there. In these situations you might get more of your supervisor’s undivided attention because they don’t always get an opportunity to host interns. This in turn gives you the chance to learn even more.

Maybe you don’t get your first, second, or even third choice for your internship project, but don’t let this ruin what could be a great experience. Be proactive in seeking out additional opportunities to network with people at your “dream repository” by setting up an informational interview, attending events hosted at the site, etc. Finally, if you are in a program that requires more than one internship, be sure to discuss your goals with your professor or advisor early and often. The only way to get what you want out of this experience is to make it happen for yourself!

Further Reading:

Topher Lawton, “Tips for making internships work for everybody!” Hack Library School, November 5, 2012.

Chealsye Bowley, “How to Survive and Prevent a Bad Internship,” Hack Library School, March 29, 2013.


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