Being Pressured to Make Do with Interns? Push for a Residency, But Do It Right

Being Pressured to Make Do with Interns? Push for a Residency, But Do It Right

With college and university hiring frozen or at least uncertain, it’s necessary to be creative when looking at how to get the staff you need. If new permanent positions are not an option, ask your administration to consider creating a residency. Readers may be familiar with this term from medical education, but in recent years, residencies have become popular in libraries, and if run properly, can benefit both the institutions and the (usually) early career librarians they bring in. 

In a residency, a librarian is hired for a contracted term—commonly a year or more. During that time, the person works on certain projects around a theme or may rotate through various departments in the library. The resident gets paid experience, and the library enjoys the benefit of a newly educated colleague who brings a fresh perspective. See, for example, this excerpt from a residency ad from the University of California, Santa Barbara:

“The program encourages Residents to imagine the academic library of the future and gives them the resources and freedom to experiment and explore new models. In return, the Library will benefit from the focused skills and initiative the Resident brings to redefine the required workforce of the future.”

It’s important to note—and perhaps to explain to your administration when you propose the plan, and to emphasize with colleagues once the new hire is in place—that a resident is not an intern. Residents are qualified professionals and may already have considerable experience under their belts, either in libraries or in a previous field. Even if not, a resident is there to do real, meaningful work that must be planned carefully so that both the hire and the library get the most possible out of the experience. Also important is to ensure that a residency is not viewed as a way to avoid hiring permanent staff—these are not temps!

Diversity Focus in Residencies

Library staff in the United States tend to lack diversity among staff. While we frequently hold panels and other discussions on how to bring candidates from a greater range of backgrounds into the field, not much has changed on the ground. The most recent statistics on the American Library Association’s membership, which are from 2017, show the following demographics:

ALA Members by Race or Family Origin

% of members self-identifying 2014 2017
American Indian or Alaskan Native 1.1 1.2
Asian 3.5 3.6
Black or African American 4.3 4.4
Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander 0.3 0.2
Hispanic or Latino (listed separately by ALA as ethnicity) 3.9 4.7
White 87.1 86.7
Other 3.7 4.0

ALA Office of Research and Statistics Demographic Study Report 2017

The study showed other forms of diversity as low, too. The only genders listed are male and female, at 19% and 81% respectively, numbers that remained unchanged between 2014 and 2017. The association also reports a low number of members who are disabled: 2.8% in 2014 and 2.91% in 2017.

Diversity is a common focus of residencies, with the idea being that libraries that lack diversity of viewpoints of various kinds, not just racial ones, can benefit enormously from a resident who brings a worldview and a set of experiences that the library has been missing. Students will have a greater chance to see someone like them working as a librarian, which is wonderful. Collection development, library instruction, and myriad other areas of the library’s work can also benefit from residents’ knowledge and skills. As long as the library doesn’t view its diversity work as done since it has a diversity resident, and doesn’t restrict the resident to only working on areas to do with their minority status, it’s a win. Don’t forget, too, that a resident should be considered for a permanent job when one opens up; again, they are not a temp! 

Residencies are great to suggest if your library is looking at long-term staffing plans that rely on free interns. It’s tough for new library-school graduates to get jobs these days, and many are stuck taking part-time work and strings of unpaid gigs. These internships can give valuable experience, but only young people of at least some means can participate in them. First-generation college graduates and other students whose backgrounds are not well represented in our field are largely unable to take unpaid work because someone’s got to pay the bills. So try instituting a residency instead—it’s more ethical and can help diversify librarianship.

Some Examples

Take a look at the following examples of residency programs at work right now, as well as at the experiences—positive and negative—of Quetzalli Barrientos, a former resident at American University, and of residents interviewed by American Libraries. ALA also has a Residency Interest Group that could be of use while planning and setting up your own program.

The Mary P. Key Diversity Residency Program
This Ohio State University program is alluded to in Barrientos’ article, above, as being one of the earliest library residency programs. It began in 1989.

Iowa State University Library 

Diversity Alliance Resident Librarian at the University of Michigan

University of Delaware

University of Illinois Residency Implementation Group