Further thoughts on Internships, MLIS grads, library jobs…

In my previous post I looked at the issue of Internships in the Irish Library and Information Science world and posted some questions their use raises. I finished by saying I would attempt to offer some replies to the questions I raised in the post.

But first, before that, I would just like to mention the positive feedback I received on the post. Particularly the comments posted on the blog by some people who have been directly effected by the JobBridge programme initiative. I would recommend reading these comments as they showed me some of the very real life problems and issues caused by the current use of the JobBridge program by the library profession in Ireland. How this relates across other sectors I have no idea but I would hazard that it might be pretty similar. I would also like to thank those over active Twitter users who commented on, and subsequently retweeted the post and friends who happily talked to me about their thoughts on the post.

Finally, before I proceed to answer the questions I just have to put a very big IMHO proviso before the answers – all of these answers are very much my own opinion and whilst I value my opinion quite highly I’m alas aware that not every body else might value it quite as highly.

1 – The first question I asked was should recent MLIS grads take a Library Internship position if the opportunity arises?

I answer this as if I was in the unenviable position of having to make that decision – I would say yes, a very big YES – take the position, even if it is an 18 month internship. Reasoning? Taking one is the only way, realistically, that you are going to gain any real library experience in the library climate of today. And without this real practical experience the chances of actually getting a ‘real job’ are going to be terribly slim. The situation now is that Ireland is producing more MLIS graduates than it ever has – at a time when there is an utter dearth of positions available to meet the employments needs and wishes of those graduates. It’s basic economics – your supply is far outstripping their demand. With this imbalance those who therefore are lucky enough to get those limited ‘real jobs’ are, I would think and hope, going to be qualified and have practical experience. The relatively recent days of obtaining an entry level library assistant job with no experience and just a Leaving Certificate are long gone. Entry level posts now will, because there are so many graduates, require a primary degree, a post graduate degree and some level of practical experience. Internships realistically are the only practical experience provider in the library game at the moment in Ireland.

2 – If there are no library jobs out there, and seemingly not much prospect in the near future, is it worth somebody’s while undertaking library school and getting a library qualification?

I would answer this by saying if you really want to work in the Library / Information field then yes it is most definitely worth doing a course. In the coming years, good luck to anyone without a MLIS qualification trying to get an information science related post. I would also say if you are hoping to get real work any time soon on the back of it look at being pragmatic and maybe do a course that will prepare you for the only sectors that seem to be hiring – Archives and Repositories and in the small number of private libraries, such as legal libraries, out there.

3 – If there are no jobs is it ‘moral’ for university departments to keep taking in graduates and taking their money when there doesn’t seem to be any realistic chance of a job afterwards?

I will nail my dark colours to the mast here – I personally feel it is not moral for a University to offer fee based courses when they are aware there are no jobs in that field. But equally I can not condemn any institution for doing so. I live in the real world – we live in a capitalist society – the market decides. People are part of the market. As long as we are willing to pay for a service, businesses and institutions, also part of the market, will offer these services. This is bright as day common sense and makes the world as we know it turn.

4 – Should libraries be hiring interns for nine months (or soon to be 18 months)?

I can see why libraries are hiring interns – in the public sector there is more or less a freeze on hiring and an increasing number of retirements are leading to big gaps in services. There is a belief that these gaps have to be plugged and, unfairly for the MLIS graduates, the JobBridge programme is an easy way for libraries to find and hire cheap and qualified labour. So from the perspective of the library and library managers, yes they should be hiring MLIS interns. But it would also be nice to think that the contract was two way and the Intern would get something tangible from the experience. It would be nice to think that the hiring library was also looking out for the best interest of the Intern – not just using them to plug up a gap for the duration and cast them aside when it finishes. Interns can be good for libraries – they bring in fresh blood, new ways of looking at old things, they still seem to be passionate about the profession , they have the enthusiasm of youth, they believe in libraries. They are as many now jaded librarians once were. But libraries need to be good for interns – they need to involve them in projects, make them a part of a team, teach them everyday, train them, mentor them – make them better prepared for that next post that comes up. They need to make them competition for people already working in the field for the limited positions that come available in the future.

5 – If interns keep plugging the gaps in the libraries will ‘real’ sustainable jobs ever be offered again?

This is a very real worry. If libraries and library managers can plug the gaps on the cheap it makes sense to do so – there is little money to go round and anyway that can save money, without reducing or undermining the service, needs to be looked at. If the interns are being hired to supplement the existing staff then the current existing gaps will be plugged and services will continue to be offered – to the end user it will be business as usual which is good news for library managers and those who fund them. But in the long term is this sustainable? I don’t really think it is. How long and how far can this actually go? A point will surely come when morale amongst this transient, for that is what they will be, population of MLIS grads will reduce – there needs to be the ultimate hope of a sustainable library / information science profession to keep people in the profession.

6 – Are there enough unemployed MLIS graduates looking for employment to enable gap plugging for many years?

Probably! Yes even!

7 – Do the people doing the hiring believe that libraries can be staffed solely with interns as some job bridge adverts are advertising?

What can I say? I would certainly hope not! I would hope that the people doing the hiring are more than mere bean counters. I like to think they look beyond the bottom cent. I would hope they have an idea of what is involved in the day to day running of a library. I would hope they can move from the strategic sphere into the operational sphere and see what is required for the day to day running and operation of a library. Much of what we do on a day to day basis needs practical experience, which is not taught, in library school. It’s all very well having the theory but it needs to be backed up with something substantive.

8 – Can a para or non professional qualified person run a library service to the same standard as a qualified experienced professional librarian?

Of course they can. But if you are library manager doing the hiring you would have to be lucky, very lucky, to get the sort of person who can come into a library with no experience and actually start to run it to any sort of decent standard from day one. Experience does count. How much experience obviously will depend on the position but I personally, if I were in the enviable position of hiring staff, would not hire a candidate who does not have experience.

8 – If non qualified staff can run libraries then why bother getting a qualification at all? Why waste your money or time getting the qualification when it is not needed?

If it is the case that in the future libraries are going to be run by non academically qualified staff then obviously there would be no need to get such a qualification. But I think with the amount of graduates being churned out finding a person with an LIS qualification is not going to be the problem. With the current downturn in library positions it will be finding a person with experience.

9 – What do all these questions say about where we, as a profession are, in 2013? And where do we go?

I would think we are in a particularly scary place. With no jobs being created, at least in the public sector where most Irish library and information science related staff work, it creates uncertainty for those qualifying and who have recently qualified. If there are no positions now what happens in ten, fifteen, twenty years when people who would have been gaining experience at the lower ranks have not gained experience and the only positions becoming available are higher rank positions… I shudder to think. MLIS graduates need to be gaining lower tier experience now to ready them for the higher tier positions in the future. As things stand now this is not happening.

And where do we go? Unfortunately, in Ireland, for new LIS professionals, I think the only way is the Interns / JobBridge route. This is the only experience to be gained. But this creates problems as set out in points five and six. The other alternative is cutting off the nose to spite the face – for people not to take internship positions but this, I feel, will not benefit people who are really seeking LIS work. It’s a case of taking the medicine for the duration, getting better [at your job] and hopefully getting your reward, a real job, somewhere down the, hopefully not too long, road. Because, to be honest, if you can get that full time position, there is no more rewarding enjoyable fulfilling job out there. IMHO.

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2 comments

  1. Recently I have been thinking back to the discussion we had about this and wondering what more can be done to strengthen the position/ rights of interns.
    I came across these two documents, which date from Feb 2012, when I was actually doing a Job Bridge internship, but sadly I didn’t know about them:

    https://libraryassociation.ie/career/internshipsvolunteering

    I’m not sure how well known they are as a guide for employers or employees? They are a good start, but think there is more that could be discussed, especially in relation to the integrity of internships. Maybe there should be a whole annex to LAI’s Code of Professional Practice!?

    It would also be great to see a more detailed framework for linking LIS competencies to internship tasks and projects. This would maybe be useful for those doing an internship as pre-MLIS work experience and haven’t gone in-depth into theory.

    1. Hi Shona. Thanks for the link. I will take a look at these when I get a chance. I really think the intern issue is something that librarianship needs to have a serious think about – it raises so many questions about what we do and how we do it. There does need to be some code of practice so that interns gain from the practice and that libraries will be enhanced by the use of interns. I really don’t think we have seriously thought through all the nuances of the intern question in this profession. This is actually an issue I will be looking at again in a future post

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