Three interns in the library

In collaboration with local community, Princeton University Library starts high school summer internship program

July 26, 2019 12:21 p.m.

Three high school students are spending this summer interning at the Princeton University Library, learning more about library work and research as well as preparing for their academic and professional futures. From left to right: Jayvee Lam, Nabia Evans and Toniyah Harris.

Throughout the summer, many high school students might enjoy their spare time away from school playing sports in the park, swimming at community pools or lounging at home. But this summer, three students from Princeton and Lawrenceville high schools are spending much  of their break interning at Princeton University Library (PUL), learning more about library work and research as well as preparing for their academic and professional futures.

Nabia Evans, Toniyah Harris and Jayvee Lam joined PUL this year as part of a pilot summer internship program in collaboration with Princeton University’s Office of Community and Regional Affairs and the summer youth employment programs in Princeton and Trenton. For seven to eight weeks, working closely with their PUL mentors and supervisors, the students are tasked with a number of responsibilities and projects, from digital mapping and preparing course reserves for University faculty and staff to shelving and cataloging.

“When [Associate Director] Erin Metro from the Office of Community and Regional Affairs asked if we were interested in hosting summer interns, we were delighted to have this unique opportunity to connect with the local community,” said Anu Vedantham, assistant University librarian for research services. “Our interns will gain not only professional experience but also a stronger understanding of academic libraries, whether as a potential career path for them or as a partner in their future research. In turn, we gain insight into our rising students’ needs and interests, as well as the ways they might perceive our library – its buildings, its history and its services. We can learn as much from the students as they learn from us.”

In addition to their everyday tasks, each student is required to complete a research project of their choice, a fact that excites them all as they prepare for college-level research. Evans, who will soon start her first year at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, said learning about the key components of the library, such as searching and scanning materials or creating a bibliography, will really help her in college. 

While Evans, 18, and Harris, 16, are still working on their project themes, Lam, 16, is studying how early American wars impacted society through an art history lens using the collections in the Marquand Library of Art and Archaeology

“Art is a major part of culture,” he said. “I’m looking at the art history books on America and [observing when and how the style] changes.” He’s currently researching how paintings became more patriotic after the Revolutionary War and how art expanded, from portraits to scenes. 

“It was a lot of portraits before, but then they began painting scenes, particularly scenes of war to glorify the country,” Lam said. “This shows that America as a society was very unified after the war for a small period of time because of national pride.” 

While the high school interns gain experience in research and scholarly work, they also view their experience at the library as one beyond academics. “Honestly, I think I want to take away something about myself, being that I am working in African American studies [with librarian Steve Knowlton]," said Harris. "I want to learn something about me, my culture, my background, where my people came from, [their] great accomplishments. . .  I’m hoping to find something in either Rare Books [and Special Collections] or the [African American Studies] Reading Room.”

Evans said “learning the history behind [the library collections] is really interesting." A recent graduate from Notre Dame High School in Lawrenceville, she works mornings in the Donald E. Stokes Library and afternoons in Firestone Library in the Research Services Division. She learned about the internship through the Millhill Child and Family Development Center, which partners with the city of Trenton and the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce to offer students ages 16 through 21 summer employment with a local organization or city government to provide them job experience and prepare them for the workforce.

Harris and Lam, rising juniors at Princeton High School (PHS), found the opportunity through Princeton’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which empowers students ages 14 through 18 living in Princeton or attending PHS with professional experience, job readiness and career development training. Harris works mornings in Lewis Science Library and afternoons in Firestone Library in the Collection Development Division, while Lam works mornings in Marquand and afternoons in Firestone's Information Services.

"This is a superb opportunity for these youth to learn about Princeton University, working on a college campus, and in particular, the many interesting jobs and opportunities that are available in the area of Library Science," said Kristin Appelget, director of the Office of Community and Regional Affairs. "We are thankful for the Princeton University Library leadership and staff who are managing the student employees this summer in this pilot program. We hope to learn from the experience, and take feedback from participants in the program this summer, and to perhaps expand to other departments on campus in future years."

Evans, who started the internship on July 1, will work through August 16. Harris and Lam, who started the internship on July 18, will work through August 30.