In 2017, Teen Services Librarian Jesse Vieau and Bubbler Media Instructor Rob Franklin were approached with an interesting new opportunity. The Public Library Association’s Inclusive Internship Initiative (PLA III) offered paid, summer-long internships to high school students at their local public library.
Students from diverse backgrounds, often underrepresented in the field of librarianship, would be paired with a library mentor and introduced to the career. The national cohort of interns would meet twice in the summer, in Chicago and Washington DC, to network with other youth and mentors from around the nation and to share their summer projects in a formal presentation.
It was a big undertaking for Jesse and Rob, but too good an opportunity to pass up. So they thought creatively, and rather than create another new project from scratch, they worked to incorporate the internship into taking a leadership role in Media Academy - a program under development and kicking off that same summer, described by Rob as an “open ended bootcamp for working in the (media production) industry.”
No two Media Academies look alike, as the topics covered and the products created are entirely student driven. Jesse and Rob envisioned an internship that would allow youth to develop management skills by helping to run the academy, but also allow the intern to go deeper into a skill set and design their own project. The academy kids would produce the content and steer ideas, while the intern took on the heavy lift on the backside to make their ideas come to fruition.
The results have been outstanding. This summer (2019) concluded our third round taking part in the PLA III - three years of continued national support is a testament to the quality of the projects and the mentors.
“This internship is such a positive opportunity presented for the kids,” Rob reflected. “By the end of it they really have learned something about what they really want to do with themselves. We’ve seen it propel them into a path for their future careers.”
James - PLA iii 2017 and now page at Goodman South Madison Library - agrees, stating that “the internship was definitely a blessing in disguise. As of right now I am serious about pursuing a career in the library, but I realize that's a long road. For now I am just trying to get through completing college and eventually getting my Bachelor's."
On top of helping teens in Media Academy produce two original songs and a documentary about homelessness in Madison, with James producing the documentary’s score and Jalen editing and narrating the footage, their final project for the internship was an original song and music video as homage to their time working in the library. “The Read Song” was the library’s anthem of the summer.
In 2018, Eli, one of the song writers from Media Academy 2017, became our second PLA intern. Eli returned for the second summer to take the lead on producing a complete album inspired by, and collaboratively built by, the local teenagers attending the academy. While the songs on the album are written and sung by Eli, the other participants were hard at work creating the beats for each song, recording and editing Eli’s tracks, along with filming and editing the music video for the song, “Committed”. Eli would also join the library staff as a page at the Central Library before moving to further his education - but is still pursuing his career in music and hopes to be back to contribute again soon.
This year’s intern, Marco, found his passion behind the camera rather than in front. He took on the role of filming and producing the other kids' content - two original songs and the music video, “Dear Mama”. The team did shoot a video for the 2nd song, but it is still in production -- “That’s true life project management for you,” Rob laughs. We can’t wait to see where Marco goes next.
But it isn’t just the kids who are learning. The Bubbler team has learned a lot about mentorship. “See all these grey hairs I have earned?” Rob laughs. “that’s from all the wisdom I’ve gained and opportunities we’ve made for these kids. As a mentor, I feel like I learn and grow along with the kids to bring out the best in them. I’ve learned to meet the kids where they are, helping them find direction, and find their best selves.”
It’s why we keep coming back year after year. “The kids make us keep it real,” Jesse reflected. “They’re our check that keeps us constantly thinking about what resources we’re building and providing access to. They keep connected to issues on the ground to what teens are really interested in."