Inclusive Internship Initiative

PLA Inclusive Internship Initiative (III) logo

Background of III

Group photo of some previous Inclusive Internship Initiative participants

The goal of the Inclusive Internship Initiative (III) is for libraries to offer paid, mentored internships to high school-aged students from diverse backgrounds, allowing them to experience the work of librarianship firsthand and explore how to use their talents and perspectives to impact their communities. PLA sponsored four national cohorts from 2017–2021 with funding from a preprofessional Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. One hundred and ninety-eight high school students from 119 libraries across forty-four states participated in III over the program’s five-year period.

Read more about the internship experience from the perspective of past mentors in this Programming Librarian blog article.

Core Components

From Southern California to Upstate New York, libraries are now using core components of the III model to replicate the program to establish pathways for diversity in their communities. The components below provide a framework for how you can create a version of III that works for your library.

1) Pay your interns. The first core component of III is that the interns are paid. PLA encourages libraries to set an hourly wage that is equitable and sustainable based on the library and surrounding community. In addition to being paid, host libraries are encouraged to treat their interns just as they would any other staff member. This includes providing onboarding and training, inviting them to staff meetings, and giving them a safe and comfortable place to work.

2) Mentorship. The second core component of III is that host libraries must designate a dedicated mentor, or pair of mentors, to guide and supervise the intern. The mentor can be from any department—from youth services or adult services, or from outreach or technical services.

3) Connected learning project. The third core component of III is that interns will develop a connected learning project. This is a chance for interns to create a community-facing project that is rooted in their interests while meeting needs of the library and community. See the “Connect Learning Projects” section for more details and examples of past intern projects.

4) Create a network. The fourth core component of III is to create a network or sense of community for the intern(s). For PLA’s version of III, the network looked like a national cohort. Interns are exposed to other participants who have backgrounds and experiences that are alike and different from their own. For libraries who are implementing a version of III that may not have the means to support a cohort of interns, creating a network might mean bringing the intern to visit other branches or partner organizations. No matter the scale, mentors can introduce their interns to others to help them expand both their worldview and their idea of librarianship. Mentors can bring their interns to outreach events, invite them to present about their connected learning project to the board, or put them in touch with people who are doing work they’re interested in.

Getting Started at Your Library

Photo of two previous Inclusive Internship Initiative participantsIt is important that libraries reflect the communities they serve. The long-term goal of III is to work toward a more inclusive profession where patrons see themselves reflected in library staff. III supported this effort by introducing students from diverse backgrounds to careers in librarianship. We have created a wealth of resources to help you work toward this goal in your library. Libraries are encouraged to use and adapt these materials to meet their needs.

Selecting a Mentor

III mentors came from across the library, from directors, to teen services to outreach specialist. The most important qualification for mentoring is a desire to do the work. Mentoring involves elements of managing, teaching, and coaching. Working closely with the intern, listening to them, and seriously considering their ideas and input are all critical aspects of mentoring. III mentors spent an average of 11 hours a week in direct contact with interns. The goal is to guide the intern in exploring librarianship through hands-on work. Mentors are encouraged to co-develop workplans with interns and limit administrative support tasks (during III, only 25% of time could be spend on office tasks like filing and copying).

Mentoring is also an opportunity for professional development. Being a mentor develops skills in leadership, staff supervision, and program development and implementation. Mentors also practice project management, communication, and training skills. Through a well-structured program, both interns and mentors can benefit from the relationship.

Hiring for Inclusion

Creating an inclusive environment for your intern begins before they even step through your library’s doors. It’s important to ensure that your library’s hiring practices are equitable and transparent. Past libraries have had success in sourcing candidates by reaching out to the following groups:

  • School counselors
  • Teachers at local schools or schools in priority areas
  • Teen library volunteers or TAB members
  • After school programs
  • Community partners

These resources will help you get started on establishing an internship program.

  1. III Mentor Webinar: Seven Tips for Diverse Hiring
  2. Internship overview: a sample job description to advertise the internship opportunity
  3. Intern interview template: a sample set of interview questions
  4. Intern interview evaluation template: a rubric to evaluate intern interviews
  5. Intern notification templates: sample notification for both accepted and rejected candidates


PLA strongly recommends paying interns. This allows a wider range of students to participate. It also indicates that this is a job to be taken seriously.

If your library does not have funding in its budget to support an intern, other local funding sources may include:

  • Library Friends and Foundations
  • Local Community Foundations
  • Local private funders
  • Youth workforce development programs
  • State libraries and state library associations

Feel free to use data and stories from the PLA III retrospective evaluation in funding asks to demonstrate the value of hosting an intern.

If paying an intern is not at all possible, consider working with local schools to offer course credit.

Connected Learning Projects

Group photo of some previous Inclusive Internship Initiative participants doing a group activityAbout Connected Learning Projects

Project-based learning is at the heart of the III experience. Mentor-intern pairs are encouraged to brainstorm ideas that build on intern interest and meet the strategic goals of the library. By co-developing the projects, interns will feel ownership of the work and be committed to its success. Mentors and host libraries may uncover new programming ideas that reach target audiences. Learn more about Connected Learning at the Connected Learning Alliance website.

Project Planning

Mentors and interns should review the library’s strategic plan and priorities together.

These resources will help you generate ideas and decide on a project topic:

  1. Identity matrix
  2. Ideate worksheet
  3. SMART Goals

Project Implementation

Once you decide on a project, these resources can help manage its implementation:

  1. Timeline template
  2. Marketing template
  3. Budget template
  4. Evaluation template
  5. Final product checklist

Past Project Examples

Interns tackled a range of projects, from programs to resources to new services. Projects had to have a community-facing element and relate to overall library goals. Many interns chose to embrace elements of equity, diversity, inclusion, and social justice (EDISJ) in choosing their projects. Sample projects included:

  • Hosting a community job and education fair
  • Hosting community conversations about race
  • Hosting a menstrual products drive
  • Creating diverse books reading lists for 4th graders
  • Creating space exploration VR program
  • Organizing a Teen Open Mic night
  • Organizing healthy eating resources for teens
  • Translating library signage and common materials into multiple languages

Wrapping it all up

Internships are designed to build skills through hands-on work experience. At the end of the internship period, encourage your intern to reflect on the impact participating had on them, on the library, and on the community. Also encourage them to consider how their internship experience might be expressed on a resume or job or college application. The resources below provide a framework for this:

  1. Writing accomplishment statements


Photo of a previous Inclusive Internship Initiative participant giving their final presentationTo learn more about III’s impact, PLA conducted a retrospective survey in early 2022. The data demonstrates that III successfully met its intended outcomes and created lasting change in participants.

Many intern alumni continue to explore their interest in libraries. 75% of intern alumni that participated in the survey reported that they either had post-III work experiences related to libraries, archives, museums, or related organizations, or are still interested in pursuing these experiences. In addition, 35% of intern alumni that participated in the survey are interested in pursuing a Master’s in Library Science.

Mentors also saw change from participating, including opportunities to supervise for the first time and grow networks. Mentors also valued learning about race, equity, diversity, and social justice.

Hosting an intern through III also brought change to libraries. III interns created programs that brought new patrons to the library, including many examples of sustained change where libraries have continued programs created by their III interns. Some libraires changed hiring practices to increase diversity in hiring for all library staff, not just interns and young adults.

Investing in a teen internship requires careful thought, time, and dedication of resources. But the effort yields results. We hope these resources provide guidance for launching your own internship program. If you have any questions, please contact Mary Hirsh at