Creating an Undergraduate Student Library Practicum

This will sound blunt, but it’s reality: A library school student who “only” takes the classes but doesn’t complete a practicum, internship, or some form of library work (during or before the program)–such as a grad assistant, library student worker, paraprofessional… will fall to the bottom of the pack when applying for jobs. You will be up against peers who have these experiences and they will rise to the top. Competition is cutthroat in many locales and I won’t sugarcoat it.

We had a unique opportunity at my library. We were approached by an undergraduate education student who was thinking about eventually becoming a librarian. The student had enrolled in an education practicum class and wanted to know if the library could serve as a potential practicum site.

Without hesitation, I said “Yes!” By the way, *always* try to find a way to say yes if it’s an opportunity for your students!

I met with the student, learned about the practicum requirements, and agreed to the be the supervisor. I worked with the other librarians to create a list of objectives and tasks. The student had to complete 60 hours over March and April at the practicum site. Unlike many of the student’s classmates that had “passive” practicums (a lot of them were primarily workplace observations), I wanted the library practicum to be active.

Practicum Goals

I developed a list of “somethings” that we wanted to accomplish:

  1. Something the student could put on a resume.
  2. Something the student could point to and say: “Hey, I did/created this!”
  3. Something that offered the student variety at my small-ish academic library.
  4. Something that would allow the student to decide if librarianship would be a good career fit.
  5. Something that went beyond a traditional undergraduate student library worker job at my institution.

We decided to focus on five areas based on the library’s needs and the student’s interests: technology, information literacy, collection development, marketing/social media, and displays/outreach.

To streamline the practicum experience, I:

  1. Worked with the student to plan out a schedule of hours.
  2. Created a list of projects or tasks assigned for each day.
  3. Assigned each project or task to the appropriate librarian so that s/he could liaise with the student.

Practicum Activities

  • Meet with each of the librarians individually to discuss job duties and responsibilities, their paths to becoming a librarian, biggest challenges and opportunities, etc. (Areas covered: access services, administration, archives, electronic resources, information literacy/reference, technical services.)
  • Technology: LibGuides
    • Trained on editing and clean-up.
    • Give feedback from a student perspective on design.
    • Create “galleries” of new books for subject LibGuides.
  • Information Literacy
    • Observe information literacy sessions (e.g., English Comp, Theatre, Health Sciences).
    • Join librarians in a teaching roundtable: Assisting health science students in finding research with evidence-based practices.
  • Collection Development
    • Research young adult fiction relating to mental health to fill a gap in the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 20 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
    • Research diverse children’s literature (via sources such as We Need Diverse Books and CCBC) to help broaden and expand the Curriculum Materials Collection. Generate a list of 50 books to recommend to the librarian with brief synopses.
  • Marketing/Social Media
    • Assist with library’s “March Madness” bracket activity.
    • Assist with library booth for the university’s Health & Wellness Fair.
    • Social media: Brainstorm and create 10 Facebook and Twitter posts.
  • Displays/Outreach
    • Remove the “Women’s History Month” display at end of March. Create a spreadsheet of books that were used in the display for future planning purposes.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 50 books relating to the environment and sustainability. Create an “Earth Day” display.
    • Search library catalog and create a list of 20 young adult books for a display that collaborates with the Education Club and their promotion of young adult lit for a movie showing of Divergent.

The practicum went smoothly. The student was engaged with the work and asked great questions–and had projects to show for it. I had to sign off on the hours for each week and the student had to submit a journal of activities to the professor. In fact, the professor said the library practicum sounded the “most interesting” of all of the practicums …so hey, I think we did something right!

Our undergrad practicum can serve as a building block to create an enhanced internship or practicum that would be appropriate for grad level students in library school. Most importantly, it gave our student valuable experience to decide if library school should be the next step–and if it is, then that’s one opportunity the student has under the belt!

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9 thoughts on “Creating an Undergraduate Student Library Practicum

  1. This is great. When I was an undergraduate student thinking about library school, I approached the campus library and asked if they would be interested in having an intern. I was able to set up a semester-long internship (for credit!) where I worked in various departments and got to ask lots of different kinds of questions. It was definitely helpful to have even that small amount of experience moving forward.

  2. I’m glad my graduate school program requires us to do field experience AND a practicum! It’s great actually interacting with students and their teachers.

  3. Hear, hear! I think librarianship is something that must be prepared for with a combination of theory and practice. In my years as a hiring officer I would never have considered hiring anyone who did not have some type of related experience, or who could not make a convincing argument for how their experience was related to the job we were hiring for.

    And no surprise that the prof thought the library practicum was the most interesting. It sounds like great exposure for the student and no doubt met his or her goal of helping to decide about a library career. One of our best professional recruiting tools is helping our students, both student workers and library users, to have positive experiences in the library. Thank you–reading this post was a really energizing way to start my day!

  4. I am a first year school Media coordinator and before this year was a 4/5 grade teacher. I jumped right into the position with no experience, no schooling, but lots of enthusiasm. I had been to the school media center many times, but had not quite known all of what went into their job. I loved your five areas of need and the practicum activities that your created for them to follow. The activities got them to see all of the different aspects of the job, even the data and collection development that is not always seen by outsiders. This will give the student a much better understanding of their need in the position as well as a better understanding of what all they will need to complete while in the position. I wish before jumping into this position that I had some training or even a brief internship to learn the tricks of the trade and especially some of the things that our school district focuses on that I need to be aware of. Thank you for sharing your activities, it gave me some ideas of things to do with my library assistants that are in my class for high school.

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