March 9, 2011

Be Your Own Intern

So far, the hardest part of reading Gretchen Rubin’s book--part of my embedded librarianship project--has been a small section that spans pages 79-80 in which Rubin describes how she learned to “Enjoy the fun of failure.” This was difficult for a number of reasons, not the least of which was feeling bad that she felt some of her efforts were failures simply because they were not appreciated by someone else. It was also hard to read this part, which appears in the “Work” chapter for March, because it served as a wake-up call for me on one of my ongoing work projects.

I wanted an intern. And, miracle of miracles, the hardest part of the process was not (as I had expected it to be) convincing the powers that be that we (a) needed an intern or (b) could recruit one for no pay. Last fall we were thinking of starting a podcast series and I had written a brief proposal detailing what I thought our equipment, staff, and training needs would be. I did all this with virtually no knowledge of podcast production and only a minimal search to try to find similar proposals. It was aspirational writing, with an imagined magic intern as one of our required resources underlined and in boldface type.

After the holidays and assorted delays, we revisited the proposal and had a lengthy team discussion (sidelined by ample philosophical waxing on the definition of podcast) about whether and why we truly wanted to undertake this project. We did and do, and last month I did due diligence to craft the best podcast internship ad this side of Dyersville, Iowa. If you build it they will come, right?

I was wrong. The response to my ad was not sufficient for us to hire someone. And rather than revisit the outreach and marketing strategies I had used to promote the internship, I reread the ad itself and questioned whether I could be my own intern. The time required to orient my hypothetical helper was already allotted. I wondered aloud if I could perform the tasks I had enumerated so meticulously in the position description. Wondering something aloud, particularly in the presence of one’s supervisor, invites a worthy challenge--or maybe a foolhardy adventure--not to mention a healthy dose of accountability.

Here was a project I would have gladly taken on as a library school student. Yet, as professional staff, I felt I lacked the expertise or capacity to commit to making the project a success without guidance from the outside. I was stuck on the notion that what people really want is not to make a difference per se, but to be effective. How could I be an effective podcast intern with no experience?

I reached out to the various list-servs for advice, as well as the people behind any podcast series that were along the lines of what ours would be. I managed to collect a decent number of tips and suggestions, though many of them contradicted one another. “It’s more work than you think,” some said. “Just try one and then make a better one next time,” others chimed in.

In my zeal to avoid the worst case scenario of producing a less-than-excellent podcast, I overlooked the fact that that is not really a worst case scenario. What would be worse is letting the fear of failure paralyze me into avoiding the project altogether. I reread Rubin’s “have fun failing” passage and was struck by all the tasks she tried and “failed.” She had racked up a huge list of “tries” even though she also listed them as “failures.” I decided that I wanted to create a similar list.

As of today, I am my own intern on the podcast project and am happily filling in the “try” column. Stay tuned.

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