Teen Summer Intern @ Algona Public Library

When I started thinking about posting about out summer intern experience, I began thinking about why we hire a summer intern.  The obvious reason is that an intern fills the gaps for summer staff during our busiest time of the year.  But, the summer intern experience is not really for us, the staff.  We certainly benefit from having a teen here for the summer, but the summer intern experience is really meant for the teen.

So, how do we avoid just putting our teen to work, and instead give them an experience that could influence and direct their future?  That’s not a question that I have a clear-cut answer for.  While I’m sure that our summer intern spent lots of time just being put to work, I also know that our intern had a summer that shaped some of the choices that she will make for her future.

The range of activities that our summer intern participated in varied from checking books in and out, shelving, recording summer reading stats, helping with summer reading programs, creating summer reading craft projects, and developing promotional materials.  All of those activities met our needs as a library during the busy summer reading program, and they helped shape the overall experience of our summer intern.

Our intern gained skills in customer service.  She worked daily with both adults and children; she also gained skills related to office support.  Initially, our intern, who was 15 years old at the time she was hired, lacked confidence answering the phone.  This is not unusual when you consider that young people spend so much time with their phones, but very little time learning phone etiquette.  She finished her internship knowing how to answer and make phone calls professionally.

Our intern gained skills in helping with programs.  In our weekly Construction Day, participants created forts out of boxes, boats from bottle corks, and other interactive games using recycled materials.  Our intern got to actively participate in engaging young people while being pulled in multiple directions by enthusiastic children.  She also helped record the event by playing event photographer.

So, how do I know that our intern’s experience had a positive impact?  Well, one of the benefits of our intern’s time here has been our chance to visit about her experience.  I had the chance to see her develop confidence that was not there when the summer started.  I recently asked her to answer some exit interview questions, and the first question was, “What have you learned from this experience?”  In her own words, this was her answer, “I have learned many things through my experience interning at the library this summer, from new skills such as taking photos at events, checking out books to kids, helping with programs, weeding books, recording information, and making copies.  I have also learned how a lot of things work at the library, and saw some of the behind the scenes of programs and the work that goes into everything libraries provide for the public.”  Our intern’s experience wasn’t exactly what she imagined it was going to be, but that was okay.  She shared, “As an intern at the library this summer I originally thought I would be coming in a few days a week to help with programs, and what this job has turned out to be is completely different from that.  I’ve come in pretty much every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday these past few months and even a couple of Saturdays, and I didn’t help with as many programs as I thought I would.  Instead I’ve worked on several different skills in the library.  Though this experience has been very different than what I expected going in, I think I have probably enjoyed the reality more than what I anticipated.” 

Now, the clue to a lasting impression is our intern’s answer to the question of, “Will this influence your future job search?”  Her response: “Based on this experience I think I learned that I like to do creative things and come up with ideas in a job, rather than just working hard and doing customer service like my other job at Fareway has been about.  I think this information about myself will help me to find a job in the future that I will enjoy doing.”

That is what having a summer reading intern is all about.  We were able to give a young person a fun summer; they took the experience and learned something about themselves that will likely shape their future.  I’d say that combination made for a successful summer intern program at Algona Public Library.


Sonya Harsha is the Young Adult Librarian at Algona Public Library in Algona, IA.  She comes from an education background, having taught in both public and private school settings and as a homeschool parent.  She has seven children of her own keeping her up-to-date on all the best books and latest trends.  She has been working in Library Youth Services for 10 years.