By: Regina Carter, Teaching & Learning Librarian, UVA Library High School Summer Internship Coordinator and Phylissa Mitchell, Director of Inclusion, Equity, Diversity, & Accessibility and UVA Library High School Summer Internship Program Director
When I grow up, I want to be a teacher, doctor, lawyer, superstar…Seldom do we hear that one would like to become a librarian let alone an LIS professional.
Perhaps it is because we are not great at marketing and tooting our own horns. Perhaps it is due to overall ignorance about our profession and what it takes to become a library and information science (LIS) professional. Perhaps it is due to the limited exposure young people have to LIS professionals and the wide array of careers that are available. Perhaps…perhaps…perhaps…
In 2017, the University of Virginia (UVA) Library launched its inaugural high school internship program. Three years later, the program is still going strong. It is also growing exponentially in popularity.
Offering an academic library internship to local high school youth—especially those from underrepresented backgrounds—began as a seedling of an idea. Over time, that idea blossomed into a beautiful reality.
University Librarian John Unsworth and Phylissa Mitchell, Library Director of Inclusion, Diversity, Equity & Accessibility (IDEA), conceived the idea. They saw that while there are myriad internship and practicum programs available for currently enrolled LIS students, there existed a gaping chasm between graduate school and kids in middle and high school who loved books and felt at home in libraries. The UVA Library’s High School Internship Program is designed to fill that chasm.
The purpose of the program is to generate excitement in high school students about the viable, attractive careers within LIS that would enable them to utilize their natural gifts and abilities, areas of expertise and passions within one unique profession.
Plus, having an internship at a nearby public institution would heighten their awareness of the vast array of resources available to them within the library as community members. It works because students get paid. They have a financial incentive and they learn about the numerous opportunities in our field.
In the first iteration of the program, we stayed very local. We attracted five students from the city and surrounding county high schools. The students were from backgrounds as diverse as a Nepalese national to another on the autism spectrum. They worked one day each week for six weeks in Preservation, Special Collections, User Experience, Information Technology, and in Cataloguing as well as the Stacks.
Interns worked within their respective placement sites during the morning. Afternoon sessions consisted of lunch-and-learns with library staff members who shared insights about their pathway(s) into the profession and current work responsibilities.
Afterward, interns met with their library staff mentors, toured nearby libraries, and engaged in a period of reflection via blog posts.
Interns tour The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library with Instruction Librarian Krystal Appiah
Additionally, interns completed a final project where they showcased the knowledge and skills they acquired as a result of their participation in the program with library administration, staff, faculty, and loved ones.
Program Hiccups and Homeruns
- Timing. During the first year of the program, interns came to campus one day per week for six weeks. Sound awful? It was! We discovered that offering the program for seven consecutive days (instead of spreading it across multiple weeks) enabled interns to engage more deeply within their placement sites and develop a better understanding of what it is like to work within as well as utilize as an academic library. Furthermore, it enabled them to engage in additional summer enrichment activities and work at other locations, which is a developmental plus!
- Emergency Information. We were so eager to launch the project we neglected a real Doh! Who to contact when a student (a minor) was not where they said they would be? Save yourself a metaphorical heart attack. Make sure you have guardian/parental contact information.
- Over the years, parents, guardians, and librarians within the surrounding areas have become deeply interested in having their child/student participate in the program. This is evidenced by the heightened amount of applications that were received in our second and third years.
- Former interns have drawn upon their time within the UVA Library High School Internship Program by applying for and successfully receiving student assistant positions in academic libraries at the colleges and universities they attend post high school.
- An intern from our first year is returning this year as a “super intern,” employed full-time this summer and working across three library units.
- We have additional buy-in from internal and external parties. New partnerships have been developed across UVA, which has provided invaluable experiences for both students as well as staff. For example, students from the UVA High School Internship have met and networked with students from other summer programs such as the Leadership Alliance Mellon Initiative (LAMI) and Upward Bound.
- UVA Library staff members are exposed to different cultural experiences.
- The UVA Library has become more inclusive.
- The program has taught us that there is something truly egalitarian about helping young people develop more self-awareness. As a result of teaching, mentoring and coaching youth, we are simultaneously becoming more self-aware.
- We are exposing new minds to the profession and are being transformed by this process.
Left to right (front): Kara McClurken, Melinda Baumann, Regina Carter
Left to right (back): Jean Cooper, Phylissa Mitchell, Ashley Hosbach, Trayc Freeman, Bill Corey
Not pictured: Lorenza Amico, Tony Hiserman, Suzanne Bombard, Brandon Walsh, Christine Slaughter
It is our sincere hope that teens who matriculate through the UVA Library’s High School Internship Program will leave with lasting impressions of the great, necessary work that continues to occur within our field and to understand that they too can have a place at the table if they so choose.
Moreover, we hope that their understanding of libraries as well as the varying roles of LIS professionals is deeply enriched and forever changed so they too can begin to envision themselves in a field brimming with possibility.
When I grow up, I want to be a librarian/LIS professional… Hopefully we’ll hear those words in the not so distant future.