Ask A Librarian: How do you get/pay your intern?

tweet from the linked URL including a photo of my intern and me

Here is a post talking about how Drop-In Time functions. Now I’ll talk about a recent addition: my intern.

From the mailbag: I love your tech drop-in tweets. They’ve inspired me to get outside of my comfort zone in troubleshooting and helping patrons with their technology. I have reached out to my local high school about getting a student to help me run a drop-in time. My contact at the school has asked for a job description for the student and I’m wondering if you have any advice on specific skills I should list? (e.g. I know I am pretty hopeless when it comes to Macs so it would be very good to have someone who could fill that gap.) Also, I think you mentioned that your program is grant funded? May I ask if you pay your student assistant? and if so, ballpark $? I would love to hear any other advice that you have. Maybe I should just take a field trip to one of your drop-ins for the in-person rather than tweeted experience!

Now this is a question near and dear to me because I give the stink-eye to “for the experience!” unpaid internships for adults or college kids but when a kid is supposed to do community service as part of school, it seems odd to make that a job. So E and I had a compromise. He could keep an erratic schedule and show up when he felt like it and I’d treat it like an unpaid internship. Once he was a regular part of drop-in time (which I am hoping will happen this year), we’ll find a way to reimburse him. And, luckily, I had a short-lived job this summer where I wound up with an extra nice laptop. So that is going to be his payment for this year. Here’s the rest of my response email.

“I have been soooo lucky with my program. It runs about $2500 for a school-year one day a week program which pays for me and admin and coffee. My intern was doing this for course credit last year (as an irregular volunteer) but this year I managed to snag him a Pixelbook laptop which will “pay” him for this year (it’s sort of a long story but this worked for us). I feel like $12-15/hour is reasonable depending on what pay is like where you live. The two most important skills in a drop-in time volunteer are a sincere commitment to helping someone troubleshoot their problems, and patience. I often stress that they will be working with people who may be confused (or even wrong) and sometimes may come back with the same issue (which they haven’t fixed or don’t know how to fix) week after week and our job is not to teach them how to be better people but just to teach them how to be better users of technology. And they have to be flexible enough to be able to solve a problem for the USER and not for themselves. So being able to work with PCs or Macs, iPhones or Android, with a certain amount of cheer. Not being like “UGH don’t use Internet Explorer!!” but more like “Oh hey you might like Firefox/Chrome for this…”

I won’t lie, I Google a LOT of error messages because I see it as a joint commitment to the problem more than me being like “here is the answer” so finding ways to explain that would be useful. A lot of people are timid and really just want someone nearby while they try the thing they need to do (update operating system, add software, type a letter) and that is often great intern work, a few things that can be their specialty (E is great at helping people “speed up their PCs” and he is good at helping people install software).

You are welcome to come by. Sometimes it’s empty and sometimes it’s busy. It’s always a pretty good time in any case. Tweets are, of course, the highlights, though I try to include the ups and downs of the whole thing.