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Matching top students with opportunities in Canada's top library system

TALint program aims to transform the student librarian experience

Carolyn Pecoskie (left) is working closely with professional librarian Maria Buda (right) at the Faculty of Dentistry library (photo by Kathleen O'Brien)

It’s an opportunity for mentorship and the chance to experience the real-world challenges of a contemporary librarian, from data management to communications: working in Canada's top-ranked library system

To enhance the student experience and prepare high-performing students for leadership roles in the library field, the Faculty of Information (iSchool) and University of Toronto Libraries (UTL) have launched the Toronto Academic Libraries Internship program, or TALint. (Read about how U of T's library sytem is ranked one of the top three library stems in North America.)

“While many part-time positions in libraries augment students’ educational and professional development, often they do not provide structured learning about libraries beyond the role,” says Professor Wendy Duff. “Through UTL and the TALint program, U of T is transforming education for our interns as they now have the opportunity to not only increase the quality of their learning, but strengthen the profession. 

“We are creating future leaders who will meet the complexities inherent in the libraries, archives and records management fields.” 

Under the TALint program, 19 first-year and second-year Master of Information students are now well into working with professional librarians in such areas as the university archives, Media Commons, engineering library, and outreach and student engagement. For the 2015-16 academic year, TALint positions are open to full-time, incoming MI students.

Enhancing the Student Experience 

A TALint student in her first year of studies at the iSchool, Carolyn Pecoskie is working closely with professional librarian, Maria Buda, at the Faculty of Dentistry library. 

Pecoskie is running a literature search and interviewing lab directors to investigate data sharing, archiving and management in health science laboratories at Dentistry. She will analyze the results in a report. 

“So much of what I have been learning in my classes has been reinforced or expanded upon by what I have seen or done at Dentistry,” Pecoskie says. “It’s been very valuable to gain the practical experience alongside my more theoretical coursework.” 

Another tangible benefit is gaining not just reference desk experience ‒ like most student library positions ‒ but having one goal. “This project is focused on data management, an increasingly relevant topic for librarians. It is something I would not see unless I was trying it in reality.” 

Buda predicts data management will become a priority for academic institutions, and with the TALint student’s help, the library will be prepared. “Smaller libraries struggle to keep up with the demanding goals. We rely on a part-time staff member to tackle special projects, which the TALint program allowed this year,” she says.

The TALint intern gets almost double the hours of a typical student library position, and as a result, Buda says, students get more exposure.

“Spending more time at the library is beneficial for them to learn our policies, service and collections quicker, thus getting a much more comprehensive understanding of the operation of a small academic library, as well as the professional development activities of academic librarians,” Buda says.  

Recently, Pecoskie  took advantage of another perk where TALint students job shadow librarians throughout the U of T libraries system. 

“I have already met and spoke to many librarians doing a wide variety of jobs within UTL, which has been invaluable. Gaining some insight into the operations of such a reputed library system is such a privilege,” Pecoskie  says. “I came into the iSchool thinking that I wanted to be a librarian, but not sure where I would work. Now the experience I am gaining would be applicable for work in a health library setting, but also in any organization that plans to expand their services into the realm of data.”

How the TALint Program Works 

Students gain exposure to and hands-on experience in many aspects of the information field in their courses, but this program goes further. By design, the program allows students to obtain specialized training in libraries, directly matching their specific courses or area of studies.

Incoming MI students who will study full-time and hold a minimum A- grade average compete for the internships each spring. They get paid for 15 hours per week and can hold the position for up to 20 months. In addition, interns have access to 10 to 14 hours of professional development opportunities, such as specialized technical and leadership training. 

The goal is to provide outstanding students with: (1) hands-on learning opportunities from library and records tasks; (2) seminars, tours and other learning opportunities that complement their courses of study; (3) soft skills necessary to the development of leaders in the profession; and (4) overall enrichment of the education experience via mentoring and exposure to real workplace issues and situations.

“By working with UTL on this initiative, we are helping to train students for a career and field that is needed in today’s society,” says iSchool Dean Seamus Ross. “These leaders will be equipped to meet the emerging challenges of the Information profession.” 

Putting Theory into Practice

Bridgette Kelly, another first-year TALint student, says working at the OISE Library is allowing her to see first hand how to address the information needs of library users in the U of T community and beyond. “It requires us to develop a skill set that is very much rooted in the ‘in-demand’ competencies of the profession that we’re learning about in class,” she says. 

Already Kelly has drawn upon skills in communications, project management, content expertise, knowledge of digital environments and information systems. And Kelly says the job has taught her about the context of practice, adding it is one thing to hear about skills associated with being an information professional, and quite another to be involved in a real life workplace situation.

“I’m learning more about where my skills fit best in the profession and which courses might serve me well at the iSchool in order to meet my career goals. It’s a lot of work, and a lot of fun.”

Julie Hannaford, deputy chief librarian for the humanities and social sciences, says UTL supports the program continuing to grow and develop in the coming years. “We see the TALint program as a terrific opportunity to mentor and work with our future information professionals. We are excited by all the possibilities.”

Kathleen O'Brien is a writer with the iSchool at the University of Toronto.