Technology allows for nonstop, free flowing information, all day, every day. It’s the world we live in. But understanding how to gather and harness information requires special skills. That’s where libraries and information specialists become critical. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Libraries are on the cutting-edge when it comes to training students in information services thanks to the Information Specialist Internship Program (ISIP).
For nearly ten years, ISIP has provided second and third year undergraduates at UW-Madison the opportunity to get hands-on, and paid, experience in information and library services through a series of intensive instruction modules. Kelli Hughes, ISIP chair, says the program is designed to provide mentoring, training, and exposure to libraries through a student’s field of study, complimenting their academic and career aspirations. The program also aims to increase diversity in the information specialist fields throughout the country.
“Our interns come in and are amazed at how much libraries can offer,” Hughes says. “A lot of times undergraduates only have a ‘tip of the iceberg’ understanding of what role libraries serve, what librarians do, and how the skills of an information specialist can be applied to so many careers.”
Hughes says ISIP is a unique program gaining attention among other libraries around the country. “Whenever we present at conferences there’s a lot of interest in our program.”
As a two year commitment, students learn what an information specialist is (a librarian, data manager, educator, children’s services specialist – the career choices are endless), and get firsthand experience in the vast field of information science. ISIP puts students through three to four “modules” or areas of study each year including: collection management, information technology (IT), public services, technical services, and special libraries.
During their modules, students work with highly qualified supervisors within the libraries, helping with in-depth, often difficult projects.
“Our supervisors are really committed to the program, so they often make themselves available for at least one module each year,” Hughes says. “One of the things they find is how engaged the interns are and how they want to really get into the complicated work. The students are passionate and really work quickly through projects while producing high quality products at the same time.”
Hughes says it can be a challenge to keep a sustainable pool of supervisors in place who meet the broad academic and career interest of the students, but the libraries work to accommodate the students’ interests as much as possible.
“The passion for what we do in the Libraries is renewed when we work with our ISIP students,” Hughes says. “It makes you feel great about the work you’re doing as a librarian.”
Hughes says up to five interns are selected each academic year–and the deadline for applying to the fall start option is coming up quickly. Friday, September 16 is the last day students can apply for an ISIP position. Interested students and supervisors may contact Hughes or fill out their information online. Hughes says she hopes to continue to grow the base of students completing the program, because they become important advocates for libraries in the future.
“Our ISIP students become lifelong ambassadors for libraries, even if they don’t pursue librarianship specifically as a career,” Hughes says. “They go on to speak highly of the services and opportunities libraries provide.”