Helping Others and Stepping Outside Comfort Zones in the Ask A Librarian Internship

Written by Ask a Librarian Intern Nicole Cowan

Libraries and literature have been integral parts of who I am as a person. Due to my love of libraries, literature, and helping others, I pursued my dream of completing a master’s program in library and information science to become a successful librarian. During the last semester of my master’s program, I had the honor to be an Ask a Librarian Intern for Columbia University Libraries. The internship focused on one of the many things I love about librarianship: helping others.

I had the privilege to staff the Ask A Librarian chat service and conduct my first online library workshop sessions. The internship opportunity allowed me to demonstrate and improve my reference skills as well as help members of the Columbia University community access and retrieve needed information.

I was nervous when I started to staff the Ask A Librarian chat service. Although I already had a little experience answering questions through online chat, I was very anxious because I didn’t know what type of questions I would be asked. Luckily, this anxiety was calmed once I started staffing the chat and became acquainted with the Libraries’ many resources. I also relaxed more knowing the librarians at Columbia are so helpful and patient. My experience staffing this online chat was wonderful. Every inquiry was a small challenge and I learned something from each one. I learned so much about Columbia University Libraries, the campus, and electronic and physical resources that are available.

Conducting my first online library instruction sessions was amazing. I never thought I would have the opportunity to lead not only one but two library workshops at a prestigious university such as Columbia. My goal for both sessions was to provide helpful information to attendees. The first workshop focused on using CLIO, the library catalog. I wanted to show attendees how to conduct a basic search and locate the many resources available through CLIO. My second online library instruction session, “Library Resources for Alumni,” was inspired by the many inquiries about alumni access and resources I received through the Ask A Librarian online chat. I stepped out of my comfort zone and was able to provide useful information and resources to students, staff, faculty, and alumni through these online workshops.

I am beyond grateful for this internship opportunity with Columbia University Libraries. I utilized and improved my research skills, helped others, and made connections with like-minded individuals with a passion for education.

About the author: Nicole Cowan (she/her) is a recent graduate of Chicago State University and a current employee with Chicago Public Library. This past spring, she participated in the Ask a Librarian internship at Columbia University, working with Eamon Tewell, Head of Research Support and Outreach in the Science, Engineering, and Social Sciences Libraries (SESSL), on the “Learning About and Leading Library Instruction” project. Since finishing her master’s degree in library and information science, she aspires to become a librarian at Chicago Public Library.

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