Three things I learned about successful internships

Janelle Wilcox


As part of the 2017 summer internship program at OCLC, one of the first things I learned was that many long-term employees really appreciate its culture. They told me they like working somewhere with a service focus, and where work-life balance is really encouraged. But for new student interns, it’s a whole new environment, and one that we have only a short time to experience. And while we came from many backgrounds and schools, our program’s focus on group learning is one of three things I’d recommend to anyone looking to make an internship program successful.

1. Two kinds of teams: functional and relationship

operation feedEach of our 25 interns worked in a different part of the company, and so we brought a diverse blend of talents. We also worked with OCLC staff with very different backgrounds, some new to the company and some who’d been here decades. That made our individual experiences very different. Which made group learning for us even more important. As Sungtaek Jun, an intern in the Legal department, said, “It was great that, as interns, we were in a group together, because OCLC built up a team spirit in us that united us together.”

If your library is hosting interns, consider doing something like that: give your interns a chance to go through the process together, or in a group that’s dedicated to professional development, not just a functional area. In our case, we got together several times during the summer for both fun and learning activities. And group lunches in the OCLC cafeteria were a time for us to share stories and get to know one another better.

2. Make as many introductions as possible

While at OCLC, we were given a tour of the Columbus Metropolitan Library and saw how OCLC directly impacts their daily work. The guide continuously emphasized that online cataloging is essential to the future of libraries. Graphic Design Intern Katria Judkins expressed that, “Seeing all of the information the library has access to was amazing.”  Personally, I was amazed to learn how much library technology has evolved in the past decades. The history of how libraries moved from print-only materials and card catalogs to online systems, digital access, and interactive media was fascinating.

ice creamWe also had “Lunch and Learns” with OCLC leadership. The meetings were led by Skip Prichard (President and CEO), Tammi Spayde (VP of HR, Marketing and Facilities), and Andrew Pace (Executive Director, Technical Research). These were very open, conversational experiences. Global Website Management Intern Nora Nguyen said that it was her favorite part of her experience and that she was thankful that we were being taught about libraries by leaders within the industry.

That’s my second recommendation: expose interns to as many situations as possible. You never know what might spark their interest.

3. Share your passion

Our managers at OCLC gave us meaningful work and shared why they’re passionate about working with libraries, no matter what department we were in. If you’ve got interns in your library, I’d suggest exposing them not just to the work, but to people in different areas and who are in different stages of their careers.

For example, in working with WebJunction, I found out about the collaboration between Wikipedia and libraries. I’ve heard from some teachers in the past that Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source—I think it’s great that OCLC is working with librarians to improve the credibility of Wikipedia entries. That’s personally very interesting to me, and something I wouldn’t have learned if I’d done work only in the marketing department.

Focus on team building and group learning to make an internship program successful. Click To Tweet

A personal work milestone

To the OCLC staff who encouraged us throughout this summer—thank you!!! This was my first internship experience, and my first time in a professional work environment. It has given me more confidence for when I’ll enter the workplace next year (hopefully!).

To librarians hosting interns, I’ll close with one more thought: you may be the first real mentor your interns ever have. If it’s a great experience, they’ll feel the same sense of lasting gratitude toward you, your library, and the profession that many of us in the “Summer Class of 2017” feel toward OCLC and the whole library community. You made us feel welcome and appreciated. That will stick with me for the rest of my career.