Mellon Librarian Recruitment Program

By Evelyn Khoo, Library Associate 2005-2006, Swarthmore College

Springtime is the season of new beginnings; trees burst into bloom, choirs of birdsong erupt from every bush, and seniors everywhere begin to produce mountains of resumes and cover letters, sending them spinning out into the world to see what sort of a new life they can net after college.

The Mellon Librarian Recruitment Program positions itself to snare some of these job-seeking seniors. One of its main objectives is to introduce undergraduate students to the library profession. This is accomplished by providing paid spring internships that teach them more about the profession and by organizing library projects to let them gain some first-hand experience with working in a library. For interns who decide to further their interest in librarianship, five competitive full-time, year-long, post-baccalaureate positions with participating libraries and four scholarships for graduate study in library science are also offered.

But then, some may ask, why should we care? According to the program’s annual report, the proposal grew in response to a projected shortage of librarians nationwide. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided $500,000 for each of the first two years of a program that was designed specifically to attract undergraduates and minorities. According to the proposal, although enhancing diversity has been a main goal of other recruitment efforts, they have predominantly focused on graduate or postgraduate populations. The participating institutions, Oberlin, Swarthmore, Occidental, Wellesley, Mount Holyoke and the Robert W. Woodruff Library in the Atlanta University Center, all have primarily diverse undergraduate populations which can provide a rich pool of possible candidates. With the focus on undergraduates, the program hopes to attract college students right while they are on the cusp of considering their future career choices. As Program Coordinator, Megan Kinney notes: “the program might attract people who were already on the scent, such as those who are interested in publishing, etc. They could be interested in a career in librarianship

How successful has the program been? Six of the ten seniors who participated in the internship program for the past two years have indicated that they will attend library school by Fall 2007, while more than half of the interns note that they are likely to pursue librarianship after graduation. Yet, as Kinney explains, even those who don’t go to library school are still assets to the profession: “Even if they don’t end up going to library school and become for example, a professor of comparative literature, they’ll still be big supporters of libraries. We need advocates for the profession.”

In addition, according to Meg Spencer, Science Librarian of Swarthmore College, who is one of the coordinators of the program at Swarthmore, this statistic might be more comforting than not: “The program tries to provide a realistic picture to prospective librarians and the student who isn’t necessarily interested in libraries will be discouraged, while the people who already knew they wanted to be librarians can figure out what sort of library work they like to do.” Kinney echoes this point, saying that “some librarians get disgruntled about their prospects, perhaps they had too narrow a viewpoint initially.” Intern responses indicate that there is a wide range of reasons for their entrance into the program. Some, such as Sarah Lehmann of Occidental College, knew they were already interested in librarianship but saw the internship as an opportunity to learn more: “Before I got the internship, I had been working at Occidental College library as a student reference desk assistant…so I knew that I liked libraries and that I liked working in libraries….although I was fairly certain that I would be going to library school eventually, I saw it as a great opportunity to find out if my interests in libraries and librarianship was strong enough to sustain a full-time career in the field.” Others, such as Leilani Simmons of the Atlanta University Center, stumbled fortuitously upon librarianship: “Before my internship all I really knew about libraries was that I researched there. I never really thought about what went on behind the scenes, I never thought about how the books got on the shelves. It was not until I took a class on oral history and we went on a tour of archives and special collection that I became interested in the library.”

The program has been decidedly successful in terms of introducing the nuances of the profession to college students in general, but its focus on diversity has produced a more ambivalent response. Kinney is adamant that the emphasis on recruiting diverse candidates is the “most crucial part, perhaps even more so than bringing in the numbers. We (librarians in the profession) need to hear something different, our patrons need to hear different perspectives or have librarians whose perspectives reflect their own.” Some others in the program disagree. Spencer notes: “if we had just focused on diversity there would have been many great students that would not have been included in the program. Recruiting people from selective schools who would not normally have thought of librarianship as career is also a form of diversity.”

Coordinators and interns alike have several suggestions for future improvements to the program. Another aspect of the grant has been to organize broad-based programming; talks and discussion sessions organized to bring issues in the field to the attention of the wider campus. Talks on Open Access, the PATRIOT Act and Google have all been conducted with varying degrees of success. According to Kinney, these were organized to reach larger numbers of people for “sheer exposure” to the library field. However, this has not been as successful or as well-attended as the internship program. Says Kinney: “We need to find a way to improve this so it’s not as resource-intensive; maybe through ways of collaborating with Career Services, etc.” Some interns are also possibly feeling the effects of such a large and all-encompassing collaborative program. Says Simmons: “I would make sure all of the library staff knew about the Mellon project and understood what the intern was supposed to get out of the experience.
Some people at the library don’t know the point in the project, so they don’t know why I am even here. I also wish I had someone closer to Mellon at my library. I don’t always feel like my coordinator knows what is going on, so I usually don’t know what is going on. I just feel disconnected sometimes!” These concrete suggestions might be useful for future recruitment programs which are considering doing intensive collaborative work at an inter-institutional as well as intra-institutional level. Despite these slight constraints, the benefit of a collaborative network of participating libraries is invaluable for the shared pool of very different experiences it produces, as Kinney notes: “this program is one of the best examples of collaboration I’ve seen. There’s centralization of resources but a very broad spectrum of how these resources are disseminated in others schools.”

Running on the momentum fueled by the success of the past two years, the Mellon Librarian Recruitment Program is now in its third and final year. The participating schools are currently selecting applicants for their next batch of spring interns and its current crop of Library Associates, this writer included, is excited about seeing what they will bring to the discussion!