“It’s a good thing, doing an internship virtually,” says an enthusiastic Kristina Elliott, reflecting on her virtual internship at the National Library of Medicine. “Doing the work virtually makes it totally positive—not having to battle traffic, get dressed and all that. You don’t have to spend time getting used to an office’s culture. It’s great to keep the focus on what you’re actually doing for the internship instead. You put your hands to it and do it.”
A 2014 graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park, College of Information Studies (Maryland’s iSchool), Elliott was one of two students in the inaugural class of a virtual internship program launched last year.
The program is one of the first fruits of a partnership between NLM, the Universities at Shady Grove (USG), the University of Maryland at College Park, and the Health and Human Services Library at the University of Maryland. Those institutions signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2011 to enhance the training of librarians and improve the public’s access to, and understanding of health information.
As NLM virtual internship coordinator Kathel Dunn, PhD, MSLS explains, “One of Shady Grove’s emphases is making educational opportunities available to busy professionals. It can be a challenge for people holding jobs to take time for the job and school, and also fit in an internship, which is usually a requirement for their degree program,” she continued. “And even if they’re working, odds are that their job isn’t library-related. They need that library experience.” Dunn is also coordinator of NLM’s successful Associate Fellowship Program, which has proven an invaluable training ground for recent library school graduates, many of whom go on to positions of leadership in medical libraries.
Virtual internships combine the best of both worlds, allowing students to work for a government agency like NLM while still in school. Communication is by e-mail, phone or webcam, and assignments are given and reviewed via those same technologies. NLM-USG virtual interns receive 120 hours of academic credit and the benefit of an NLM professional to serve as mentor and project sponsor.
Kristina Elliott’s virtual internship project was, “Social media 360: scanning the landscape of literature to research and provide recommendations for how the National Library of Medicine can most effectively use social media to provide health information to the public.” Project goals included evaluating the pluses and minuses of NLM Twitter chats; developing a “how to” guide for NLM staff wanting to launch new social media outlets; and exploring some of the most popular and successful Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, to discover what they’re doing to communicate their messages and share their information. Her final deliverable was a paper with suggestions for how NLM can amplify and improve its social media presence.
Elliott gained an even wider audience when a poster she created to show her findings was accepted for the annual conference of the Medical Library Association, May 16-20, 2014 in Chicago. She went to Chicago herself, to experience her first MLA conference and discuss her poster with attendees.
“I have to say, I didn’t need to do this internship,” Elliott commented. “I already had the internship requirement for my degree under my belt. But, for me, the NLM opportunity was about pushing my boundaries. I wanted to get in there, do the work and get the results, and that’s just what happened. It was a very positive experience and I feel like, between NLM and MLA, I’ve found some long-term mentors.”
There’s a benefit for NLM as well. “This virtual internship program seemed a good fit for NLM because we’d like to offer internships and fellowships to those outside the immediate DC metropolitan area,” Dunn says. “The students in our USG classes are near us, but also at a distance, really.”
NLM hosted three more virtual interns in the spring of 2014 and two more students are expected this fall. Looking ahead, Dunn says, “I could see this virtual internship program actually expanding beyond Maryland—maybe even nationwide.”
The exclamation point to end this story is that former NLM-USG virtual intern Kristina Elliott has been accepted into the NLM Associate Fellowship Program for the 2014-2015 term, beginning in September.
Students who are part of the USG-University of Maryland partnership are eligible to apply. For more information on the NLM-USG virtual internships and the NLM Associate Fellowship Program contact Kathel Dunn, firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Melanie Modlin, NLM Deputy Director, Office of Communications and Public Liaison, and Kristina Elliott’s NLM project sponsor and mentor.