Career Strategies for Librarians
Internships or Practicums – Does It Matter?
by Suzan Lee
Yes, it matters a great deal. Our profession is unusual in that a majority of our professionals have
entered into the information profession as a second career. With life experience plus previous work
experience, one may think that a MLS degree is sufficient to obtain an entry-level position, but this is not
Our previous work and life experiences make our professionals more mature; and therefore, better
equipped than most entry-level employees in handling pressure. But knowledge and skill sets are two
separate and equally important items that every information professional should have. It’s one thing to
be fluent in reference sources; it’s quite another to put into practice what you know with that what the
requestor is asking for. For example, you may have taken an online database class but can you
confidently search any topic, individual or company in Factiva, Lexis-Nexis and Dialog? If someone were
to ask you to obtain the most recent league table released by The Wall Street Journal in the next 15
minutes (by email), would you be able fulfill the request in a timely matter? If the request is unclear to
you, it could be because you were not exposed to industry jargons such as a “league table” or perhaps
you are unsure which of the three databases to use to obtain the league table or even how far back in
time you need to search. An internship would be able to give you the exposure to the terminologies, a
wider range of online and print sources, the pressures of a particular corporate environment as well as
advice on managing requestor’s expectations, etc.
The application of your education can be best learned in an internship/practicum. I cannot emphasize
enough the importance of an internship. To put it bluntly, the value of an internship is the difference
between having a marketable or an employable relevant experience that will get you your first pick of the
entry-level positions versus settling for a less than an ideal employment.
Some MLS students are fortunate in that they are currently employed either full-time or part-time (short-
term or long-term) in a library environment. For these MLS students, completing a library internship may
not be as important, particularly if they are employed in the library field of their choice. If not, an internship
is just as important.
The purpose of an internship is to equip the MLS student with actual work experience that is directly
relevant to their first entry-level position. Relevancy is important as different fields within librarianship
have their own skill set or competency requirements. The internship may reveal that a particular field of
librarianship is definitely not for you. Such a result is not a waste of your time. Eliminating your fields of
interest is one way of determining your ideal field or work environment.
You should not limit yourself to just one internship. Invest time in as many internships as you can. If you
lack the time, I highly recommend that you make arrangements for informational interviews or librarian
shadowings. Not only will this expose you to different types of librarianship available, but you may meet
your mentor. In the least, you have met a future peer who may be able to help you to network.
One way of seeking out potential internship opportunities or librarians to conduct your informational
interviews or shadowing is to contact the local chapter of a library association; whether by geography or
by subject. For example, if you are interested in corporate librarianship in the New York metro area, you
should contact the NY Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (http://www.sla.org/chapter/cny) as
well as their Business & Finance division (http://www.slabf.org/). Each chapter or division of a library
association will have a website that will provide you with a contact list of officers. Don’t be shy. Whether
by email or by phone, contact an officer. I was always pleasantly surprised by associations’ willingness
to help me when I was a student.
About the Author:
Suzan Lee is a Senior Research Librarian at UBS Warburg LLC. Prior to UBS Warburg, she has worked
for JPMorgan and Credit Suisse First Boston. For the past 5 years, she has run MLS student-related
programs including the internship program for the student members of the NY chapter of the Special
Article added May 2003
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.