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Bright Idea: Improving diversity in libraries

Hoping to introduce more diversity into library workforces, last year the Public Library Association kicked off its Inclusive Internship Initiative (III).

Now in its second year, the association is currently accepting applications from public libraries interested in participating. And small, rural and tribal libraries are especially encouraged to apply.

The program provides 50 paid summer internships for high school juniors and seniors, all of whom work with a mentor in various areas, including “completing a connected-learning project on behalf of their host library.”

Participating libraries must designate a staff person to serve as a mentor and offer about five hours per week of coaching and mentoring. That staff person will work with the intern to develop the learning project.

Last year’s initial program was a huge success, according to PLA.

“Participating in the 2017 cohort was an eye-opening experience for both the libraries and the interns,” said PLA President Pam Sandlian Smith, director of Anythink Libraries. “The libraries discovered how much passion, talent and enthusiasm the teens can have for their work, and the interns discovered the powerful contributions that libraries make in our communities.”

Despite the concern that libraries are becoming obsolete, millennials are flocking to them, according to recent Pew Research Center data. But, according to the American Library Association, diversity is lacking in the industry, with only 12 percent of ethnic minorities being credentialed librarians.

“Among the most common recruitment challenges which institutions face are interview methods that fail to demonstrate a commitment to diversity, poor access to networks of diverse professionals and hiring processes which do not allow for adequate time to develop diverse candidate pools,” the ALA says.

So in addition to teaching and engaging young minds, the internship may also be a successful step in creating a more versatile, better-represented profession.

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