Today’s guest post is from Tanya, one of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh’s Minority Interns for 2009. The CLP Minority Summer Intern program is a grant-funded internship program–courtesy of the Heinz Endowments designed to encourage minority participation in the field of library/information science. The internship offers students of varying backgrounds the opportunity to learn about and experience the internal workings of a dynamic library. The internship was directed toward students who are enrolled either in a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree program.
So what’s a job at the library like? Maybe you know the library from the few simple clicks it takes you to request the books and DVDs online that neatly end up on a shelf with your name on them that day. Or perhaps you know the library from the attractive and abundant displays of bestsellers and online booklists created by a team of professional librarians. Behind the scenes, myriad decisions are made daily just to keep the library humming at a pace that includes hundreds of new library card sign-ups and thousands of items moved around the system every month.
I have never been witness to more individuals caring about the progress and development of the whole “library family” than during my internship. Puzzled over a question about electronic resources? A colleague will be by your side in no time. Unsure about where to find railroad statistics from 1876? A reference librarian who has worked with older periodicals will know. This patient and caring attitude extends beyond customer service into the dealings between colleagues behind the scenes.
While at the Carrick branch, I faced questions like “How do I set up my DTV converter?” and “Can you help me find tax forms?” I managed to answer both of these to the patrons’ liking. While in Oakland I made my first booklist and book displays, and selected new titles for the upcoming year from small press catalogs. My greatest joy, however, was teaching a patron how to request his own materials online. This made my job worthwhile—the act of teaching people to help themselves is incredibly rewarding.
I met many people during my stay at the library and had many bits of essential information passed on to me. The statement that stuck with me the most was that of a long-time manager telling me, “The library is the last great social contract. You come in, you give us your address and phone number, and we let you leave with hundreds of dollars of materials, no questions asked.” But the truth of the matter is that a lot of time and diligence goes into replacing, repairing and paying for lost, stolen, or damaged items. What does it say about us—the citizenry—when we accept educational budget cuts in the name of something more important? Or about the individual who returns an item tattered and dog-eared?
If you are curious as to where the future of our country lies, morally and as a republic, I suggest taking a look at your local library and its future. How important is your library to you, and what will you gain or lose should it no longer be “free to the people”?
I can’t be grateful enough to everyone and everything that made my internship possible, from the Heinz grant to my bosses, who trusted me enough to give me real responsibilities. In the future, the library will be in the forefront of my mind. I hope that the library will continue to function in the capacity it does today, including the support of internships like mine.