Views from Italy: MLIS student Meghan O'Neill's traineeship at the European University Institute Library

By Alice Yin, FIMS Communications Staff

May 11, 2022

Master of Library & Information Science (MLIS) student Meghan O'Neill's studies have taken her from London, Ontario to Lethbridge, Alberta. Now she's completing her degree while soaking in the sunny views of Tuscany, Italy, with a traineeship at the European University Institute (EUI) Library.

Meghan O'Neill standing outside in a garden in Italy

Originally from Innisfil, Ontario, O'Neill's educational background and work experiences are what led her to the MLIS program at Western. After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts from OCAD University in 2012 and working in Toronto, O'Neill travelled to Tbilisi, Georgia to volunteer for a cultural heritage NGO. In Tbilisi, she participated in community-led cultural heritage preservation and research, where her interest in Library & Information Science (LIS) was sparked when she "experienced first-hand many barriers to access scholarly information and discovered Open Access (OA) repositories."

Inspired to write about her experiences in Georgia, O'Neill applied to Western's MA in Art History program and graduated in 2019. But even with two university degrees and a wealth of work and volunteer experiences under her belt, the world of library sciences continued to attract her.

"Throughout my experience in the arts, Library & Information Science was always in the back of my mind as a career path... My interest in academic libraries grew after researching and writing articles in Tbilisi, and my doing own master's-level research," she says.

"MLIS brings many of my seemingly disparate educational, work and life experiences together."

Western's MLIS program, offered through the Faculty of Information & Media Studies, is widely recognized as one of the best programs of its kind in North America. The program provides a strong foundation in traditional librarianship together with an opportunity to engage with innovative ideas and new information technologies. It is also uniquely flexible, with a part-time option for working professionals, and features a co-operative work/study option for students to apply classroom learning by working in a library or information-related position.

These unique features of Western's MLIS program are what drew O'Neill back to the university. As a part-time student, she was able to continue working and adding to her CV while being in school, and also seize the opportunity to participate in a co-op placement before graduation.

"Compared to other programs in Canada, the MLIS at Western has an excellent reputation for opening doors to employment opportunities for graduates thanks to the co-op program," she explains.

O'Neill's co-op placement took her to Alberta, where she had the opportunity to apply what she learned at Western to a Library Intern role at the University of Lethbridge Library and teach undergraduate level courses in Information Literacy. While at Lethbridge, a colleague recommended that O'Neill apply to the European University Institute (EUI) Library Traineeship in Italy. She jumped at the chance, and with her application successful, she moved to Tuscany in February 2022.

"My experience here so far has been incredible. The EUI Library is located in the Badia Fiesolana, in the hills of Tuscany with a view of the warm red rooftops in Florence, and the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore below. As a second-generation Irish citizen, I was able to easily begin working in Europe, and I joined the EUI Library with a cohort of five other trainees from all over the world: Burundi, Greece, Ireland, and Spain. My colleagues here are kind, encouraging, and talented Librarians with a range of academic and professional backgrounds."

O'Neill explains how her role at the EUI Library has allowed her to fill in the gaps in her library experience, with the position exposing her to the important everyday circulation tasks that take place in the library system.

"My former roles were more academic, related to instruction, Open Access and creating LibGuides. [At the EUI Library] we rotate certain duties such as reference desk and book delivery while maintaining two specializations," she says.

"In the mornings I work on Interlibrary Loans and in the afternoons I work on Electronic Resources. My primary task, Interlibrary Loans, is a great way to learn more about library partnerships and systems that support the research community on an international and national level in Italy."

Balancing her full-time traineeship with her MLIS courses, O'Neill finds connections between her library tasks and course material all of the time – noting that MLIS courses have been extremely helpful in her role at the EUI Library and transcending the language barriers.

"The Records Management course for example, I found that everyday circulation tasks illustrated concepts in the course. I often process Interlibrary Loan requests in Italian and German, and even though I don't read those languages yet, each request has a unique identifier and lifecycle."

Raving about her practical work experiences, O'Neill fully recommends the MLIS program and encourages students to take advantage of the professional and industry connections you can make while working in a professional library environment.

"I recommend MLIS students (and everyone!) to pursue international internships, traineeships, or work opportunities. If I hadn't taken the co-op at Western, I would not have met my colleague who encouraged me to apply to the EUI," she explains. "We are extremely lucky to have a variety of once-in-a-lifetime opportunities."

O'Neill is looking forward to graduating from the MLIS program in August and continuing her traineeship in Italy until January 2023. Afterwards, she hopes to stay in Europe and continue working in academic library roles.