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'Mutually Beneficial': Reflections on the Library’s Summer Internship Program

This summer, the Library hosted five teenage interns at five different locations. Throughout their month-long placement, the students learned how libraries work, what is needed to thrive in a professional setting, and how they can have an impact in their communities – all while getting paid. In return, the Library benefitted from having their feedback on how NOPL can better support, attract, and engage with youth.

Amy Wander is the head of youth programming at the Library and helped to coordinate the internship program, which was run by YouthForce NOLA – an education, business, and civic collaborative that aims to prepare public school students to succeed in high-wage, high-demand careers.

“We’re so grateful to have been part of this exceptional program. YouthForce NOLA works hard to help teens get real world experience and critical skills building for their future, and it was our pleasure to participate in that effort.” Wander said. “A public library’s main goal is to connect people with free information and resources, and this internship was a unique and mutually beneficial opportunity to do just that.”

While working at their Library location – Kylie at Algiers Regional, Jairen at East New Orleans Regional, Kristen at Main, and Cameron at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Dominique at Milton H. Latter Memorial – the students learned technical skills as well as valuable soft skills that they can carry with them throughout their careers, whether or not they choose a career in libraries.

Their tasks included creating youth-led book displays, assisting with programs, organizing and shelving materials, and helping the public.

Towards the end of their internships, the students completed final projects to show off their skills and gave a presentation about what they learned.

“Overall, my experience at the New Orleans Public Library was great,” Kylie –– Algiers Regional Library’s intern –– said. “The part that I liked the most about this internship was that I got to do hands-on projects and not have to sit in front of a computer all the time. I am very thankful for this opportunity and thankful for the people that supported me along the way.” 

Best Buy Teen Tech Center coordinator Maria Vatranis was one of two of Kristen’s supervisors at Main Library. Vitranis said Kristen “demonstrated excellent leadership skills,” and that watching her work was a rewarding experience.

“We loved seeing Kristen take the initiative to start projects and assist others, and it was great hearing her recommendations to encourage more of her peers to visit the Library,” Vatranis said.

Kristen said her favorite tasks were giving book recommendations, assisting others in locating what they need, and studying the Dewey Decimal System.

“Of course, getting paid was a major benefit for her as well,” Vatranis said.

Youth services librarian Morgan Sherlock supervised Jairen during his internship at East New Orleans Regional Library and said she enjoyed seeing him learn and engage with the Library in ways he otherwise might not have.

“We are very proud to be a part of such a rewarding program like YouthForce,” Sherlock said. “Not only did this initiative provide hands-on training and workplace skills for Jairen and his peers, but also the opportunity for the Library to grow as a space that can best meet our teen population needs and wants.”

Wander said that opportunity influenced how the program was structured, leading to a daylong focus group that prompted the students to review and critique the Library’s teen programming, services, and materials.

“Bringing the teen voice into the Library is something that is critical to us and our strategic plan,” Wander said. “Participating in the YouthForce internship this summer allowed us to connect with teens in our libraries, in a way that showed them their time and voices are valued.”

Not only are they valued – Wander said youth voices are “needed in all we do.”

YouthForce NOLA starts accepting applications for summer internships in January, and Wander said she hopes to host another class of interns next year.

“In addition to exposing them to new skills and knowledge, it was especially rewarding to open their eyes to the world of libraries,” Wander said. “During a tour, they were fascinated to learn about the different types of librarians there are and the varied and interesting things library workers do. Hopefully, working with us this summer inspired them to consider libraries when they start to plan their futures.”

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