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Career Strategies for Librarians
The Internship Bridge
by Stacy Shotsberger

Last month I said farewell to my decade of work in counseling and began a career in academic
librarianship.  My professional and educational backgrounds are something of a curious mix, which is
often the case for those of us with academic training in the humanities.  In addition to my MLIS, I have a
BA and MA in English.  I worked in the counseling field continuously since receiving my undergraduate
degree, as both an academic counselor and a vocational rehabilitation counselor.  I entered this field out
of financial necessity and then remained for various reasons.  Although I had often enjoyed my work, I
always knew it was not my calling.   

After becoming embedded in a profession, trying to figure out how to leave that field for another can be
scary and difficult.  I also found myself in a situation where I was earning a good salary and could not
afford to take a significant pay cut to spend a year or more in a paraprofessional library position to gain
some experience.  

Before beginning library school, I had heard on a somewhat anecdotal basis that librarianship is a
second career for many.  While attending library school at San Jose State, however, I learned this is not
always the case.  During the first meeting of almost every class, I heard the professional backgrounds of
my classmates as we went around the room introducing ourselves.  There were others like me who
were embarking on a career change, but a large percentage of the MLIS students I met were already
working in libraries.    

How would I land a librarian job, I wondered, with just my MLIS and no significant library experience?  I
had volunteered at libraries and had done some work with a special library at my workplace, but my job
title was counselor, not librarian.  To better prepare myself for a career transition, I applied for an
internship as I was nearing the end of library school.  I was very fortunate to receive an internship in the
reference department at California State University, Fullerton.  In this article I will outline some
discoveries I made that confirm the benefits of an internship as a bridge between careers.

Identification of Transferable Skills
An internship can help MLIS students from another background realize what skills they could easily
transfer into the library world.  This may be the most important discovery I made.  I was surprised to find
how much my prior experience as a counselor prepared me for some of the responsibilities of academic
librarians.  For example, meeting one-on-one with clients, serving a diverse population, and speaking to
classrooms were all requirements of my counseling career that would translate well to conducting
reference interviews, meeting with students for research consultations, and teaching bibliographic
instruction.  Knowledge of transferable skills is essential when competing with others who have more
experience working in libraries.  Having this knowledge enables you to make comparisons between your
current career and the field of librarianship.  

Visualization and Confidence

Interning in a library can help any MLIS candidate better visualize his or her future role as a librarian, but
it is particularly helpful to someone who has never stood at a reference desk or observed an instruction
session.  Visualizing yourself as a librarian leads to more confidence.  

Organizational Awareness

Not all libraries are organized the same way, but many share similar job descriptions and departmental
structures.  Much of this inside knowledge remains hidden to someone coming from another industry.  
An internship may provide a better understanding of the structure of libraries, which could make career
planning and job searching easier.

Professional Terminology

Learning the terminology of another field is not too different from learning a foreign language.  One may
easily learn to read the language in books, but having the ability to speak it effortlessly requires a fluency
only practice and immersion in the environment can bring.   

Networking

There is probably no better way to meet and spend considerable time with librarians than by working
with them.  Being an intern at a large library provided me the opportunity to meet and talk with many
individuals about the profession.  My internship even allowed me to work with librarians from other
institutions, since pool librarians covered the reference desk during some of my shifts as an intern.   

Career Direction

Interning can also help MLIS students hone their career direction.  You may be focused only on finding a
position as a cataloging librarian, but an internship may open up other possibilities you had not thought
of.  You may think you want to be a public librarian, but if you have never worked in a public library, you
could change your mind after interning in one.  Alternatively, you could be like me and have your career
aspirations confirmed through an internship.  I remember thinking, “Yes, this is definitely want I want to
do.”  What could be better motivation for embarking on a job search than feeling confident that you are
heading in the right direction?

If these points do not convince library school students from other professional backgrounds to intern,
perhaps the fact that I was eventually hired by the institution at which I was an intern will convince you of
the merits of such a position.  I hope my points will also encourage librarians to provide internship
opportunities to MLIS students who are changing careers.  During the interview for my internship, I was
concerned that having no library experience would limit my chances of being selected.  Fortunately, this
was not the case.  The support and advice I received during my internship made me feel welcome and
more excited to join the profession.  I was no longer standing on the other side looking across, but was
on the bridge and walking over.

About the Author:

Stacy Shotsberger is Assistant Librarian at California State University, Fullerton.  She holds a BA in
English from the University of California at Berkeley and an MA in English from Chapman University in
Orange, California.  She is a recent MLIS graduate (December 2004) from the San Jose State University
School of Library and Information Science.

Article published April 2005

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