• Making it Work: Surviving as a Librarian Employed in Another Field

    March 6, 2013
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    In Brief: On average, it takes approximately five months for LIS graduates to find a library job, according to Library Journal’s 2012 Placements and Salaries Survey (Matta 2012). This time frame represents the experience of 34% of 2011 graduates, but stories of months- or year-long job searches are common (Weak 2012). While some can afford to wait or get by with part-time work, others cannot, so they begin to look outside the LIS field for opportunities. This article identifies effective strategies for maintaining connections to the library world while employed in a seemingly unrelated field and draws on interviews, research, and the author’s personal experience to illuminate these strategies.

    Photo from Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY 2.0)

    A Familiar Story

    I began my job search in earnest approximately three months before I graduated from library school. Realizing that the job market would be competitive, I applied to both professional and paraprofessional positions, but to no avail. I graduated and moved back to my hometown, taking advantage of my parents’ offer of free housing, but eager to begin the professional career that I had been confident would start shortly after graduation. I was lucky that one of my rejections came with an offer for a part-time, paraprofessional job staffing the reference desk of a mid-sized university library. Thankful for the experience I would gain, I eagerly accepted the job and found that the position reignited my passion for reference. I was excited to have discovered my niche: I was a reference librarian.

    However, even as I steered my full-time job search towards reference and instruction jobs, I grew increasingly discouraged. I knew that I couldn’t support myself only working part-time, so I began applying to non-LIS positions. It took two months of persistence, but I was able to land a communications job at a nearby university. Since my undergraduate degree was in print journalism, it was related to my interests. However, I didn’t go to library school because I wanted to continue working as a freelance writer and editor! I went to library school because instead of telling people’s stories as a journalist, I wanted to empower them to find the information that they could use to tell their own stories.

    I accepted people’s congratulations about my new position while fighting back the nagging feeling that I was a fraud. I felt like I was giving up on my dream, even though accepting this job didn’t mean I would stop looking for a librarian position. As a person fortunate enough to have both a supportive family and a part-time library job, I still felt that I should be taking advantage of that support to gain more direct LIS experience, even if it meant more personal struggles. Something had to come through eventually, right? In the end though, my impending student loan payments, lack of healthcare, and desire for stability won out over the waiting game.

    Does my story sound familiar? Many new librarians get caught in the catch-22 of needing experience to get a job, but unable to gain that experience for some reason or another. Perhaps part-time LIS work wasn’t fiscally possible, so you couldn’t build your resume sufficiently to get an interview for a full-time position. Maybe you couldn’t wait six to nine months to hear back from your dream academic library, or discovered that the public libraries in your area hadn’t hired new employees in years. For whatever reason, you just couldn’t get a job in a library. You’re not alone: Library Journal’s 2012 Placements and Salaries Survey reports that 18.3% of job placements in 2011 were outside LIS in the private industry, nonprofits, and the fields of law, retail, and finance (Matta 2012). The good news for those of us stuck in LIS “unemployment” is that even if you take a job outside of the field, you can still find your way back. Your MLS degree can be put to use in a variety of research, customer service, and marketing positions, and all of those fields can provide you with skills that will prepare you for future library work. This article is about how to make that happen.

    Taking a Job Outside LIS

    Imagine that after months of futile searching for a librarian position, and then any position at all, you finally get a job offer. As is the case with any hiring scenario, it’s important to think carefully about how a job will benefit your resume before accepting it. It’s tempting to take the first job offer you receive, especially if you’ve been rejected many times before, but you won’t be helping your long-term professional goals if you take the a position that’s the wrong fit. There are several factors to take into consideration beyond wages and benefits. Will the position allow you to refine your current skills or, better yet, grow in an area where you don’t have much experience? If you’re considering taking a job as a receptionist, it’s likely that you won’t just answer phones. You’ll be the face and voice that people associate with the organization, giving you an opportunity to hone your customer service skills.

    Jessica Olin, Director of the Robert H. Parker Library at Wesley College, recently wrote on her blog Letters to a Young Librarian about how her past experience as a waitress has made her a better librarian:

    With a customer who had never been to my restaurant, but who was obviously there for a special occasion, I acted one way. With a family of regulars who had been coming to that restaurant longer than I’d been alive, I acted another… Similarly, with a first generation college student in his/her first semester of college, I act one way. With a graduate student who just needs help refining a search strategy, I act another.

    On the surface, it may not seem like a non-LIS position has anything to offer the career you are trying to forge, but drawing connections is a matter of both perspective and practice. If you want to be a reference librarian but your current data entry position doesn’t offer you much interaction with the public, think about how you’re increasing your efficiency and furthering your attention to detail. While it can be challenging to repackage your skills in cover letter, the effort won’t go unrewarded. It may just take longer than you would like to see that reward.

    Career-Relevant Activities

    You don’t have to be working in a library to do work that’s related to librarianship. Making plans, goals, and timelines to build related skills will allow you to regain some control over your career direction. It might seem like more work to formulate plans for your current job while simultaneously continuing your LIS job hunt, but focusing on the beneficial aspects of your current position will enable you to get the most out of the experience—and help you translate that work to future positions.

    Britta Barrett, a 2012 MLS graduate, had no plans on quitting her office administration job at Experience Music Project (EMP) in Seattle to focus on securing a library job, but she realized that she could add a project to her duties that would expand her skill set while helping her employer. The museum boasts a library, but as Barrett explains, “it has been over a decade since the museum has had full time MLS librarians on staff and there is no indication that will change in the future” (B. Barrett, personal communication, February 4, 2013). Still, she proposed a practicum for academic credit on top of her daily administrative duties, which included conducting a needs analysis, weeding, physically moving materials to a new location, creating a strategic plan, and training and supervising four new cataloging interns. While EMP has not hired her as a librarian, they were so impressed by her work that they’ve officially added librarian duties to her current position and compensated her for the increased workload.

    Whether or not your employer rewards your hard work and initiative monetarily, this sort of approach to non-library work offers a variety of opportunities. Finding ways to bring your career into your day job can benefit your job search: Alan M. Saks and Jelena Zikic (2009) write that “career-relevant activities were positively related to job search self-efficacy and job search clarity. Job seekers who spent more time in both environmental and self career exploration…reported higher job search self-efficacy” (125). Of course, career-relevant activities may encompass a whole variety of things. Maybe it means reading LIS blogs on a daily basis or volunteering twice a month at a library. However you look at it, by committing to continuous professional development, you’ll actually improve the way you feel about your job search.

    Strategic Networking

    Although you may feel a pressing need to seek out opportunities to meet people who can help your job search, your focused professional development strategy should translate to any networking you may want to do as well. Networking is a way to get something you want, but it has to be a journey in and of itself. If I go to an event for the sheer purpose of chance networking rather than because I’m interested in the event itself, I walk away disappointed. For me, it makes the most sense to seek out events and opportunities that revolve around reference and instruction so that I can stay up-to-date on what local university and college libraries are doing to engage users. If I can meet someone who’s doing that work at an event, great! If not, I’m still learning about an area of librarianship that’s exciting to me and that I want to continue learning about.

    Instead of assuming that each person you meet could be your ticket to a great library job, a better approach is to attend events and talk with people you find interesting. Ultimately, networking is about developing and fostering relationships, and if you try to build a relationship based on something you want, you’re not likely to get very far. Emily Cable, a 2012 MLS graduate and full-time restaurant manager, observes:

    [W]hile it is good to meet a lot people in the field, I have found it has been really helpful to form better acquaintances with a smaller number of librarians that you really like. I know a handful of librarians that I meet up with about once a month socially. There is a little bit of shop talk that happens, but it is primarily social. It is through this group that I set up both my practicum and my impending volunteer work/internship with Oregon Health and Sciences University Library” (E. Cable, personal communication, February 2, 2013).

    To find your own groove, think about strategic networking. An article from the Harvard Business Review defines strategic networking as “figuring out future priorities and challenges [and] getting stakeholder support for them” (43). In that light, what are you doing when you’re networking if not figuring out future priorities (your career) and getting stakeholder support for them (by gaining contacts in the library field)? Erica Findley, a 2008 MLS graduate and Digital Resources and Metadata Librarian at Pacific University, explains her experience working post-graduation as a temporary Workforce Management Coordinator for Netflix and volunteering at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU):

    During the time I worked at Netflix, I was volunteering at the Oregon Health & Science University writing data for their digital collections. I did this for about 2-4 hours per week (on weeknights) until July 2010. I began the internship through a lot of serendipity (read: NETWORKING). I was working as an intern on another project at OHSU for someone that interviewed me for another library position; I think in early 2007. I kept in touch with the person and became involved in their project when they moved to OHSU. I started my volunteering in digital collections by hearing about the need for help through word of mouth.

    Findley continued volunteering while working a temporary, non-MLS staff position at Pacific University, which kept being extended. Eventually, a new MLS position was created, and Findley stepped into that role in July 2010 with digital collections experience under her belt (E. Findley, personal communication, February 13, 2013). This story reminds me that networking is not a numbers game. It’s about finding people who you click with and keeping up with them and their work. While I was attending presentations and conferences during library school, I would tell myself that I had to speak with a specific number of people before I left. I meant for this to be an antidote to my shyness, but it turned networking into a competition rather than an engaging experience. I’ve since scrapped that idea, and feel much more at ease with my professional social network.

    Fitting It All In

    Continuous professional development? Taking on additional projects without compensation? Networking? Who has time for all that?  When you’re employed, it can be difficult to carve out time to ruminate on goals and tackle extracurricular activities. But if you don’t know what you want, you certainly won’t be able to take the steps to get it. Also, it’ll be good practice for your future career. Many librarians exceed their forty hours a week with professional development and volunteer projects even when they are employed in a library.

    First things first, though. What kind of time are you willing to dedicate to professional development? Evenings? Weekends? A couple of days a month? Depending on the demands of your current job and your personal life, the answer will vary. Your time commitment will likely dictate the kind of activities you can engage in. If weekends are out of the question, then conferences may not be the best opportunities for you. If you’re willing to dedicate some evenings to pursuing your passion, you may be able to teach a computer class at your local public library. Remember: becoming a librarian or information specialist is your dream career. The extra work is worth it.

    Of course, as many of you know, even volunteer opportunities in libraries can be difficult to come by. As in all things, flexibility is key. Try to look at your interests from all possible angles. You may want to be a children’s librarian, but if your local libraries are fully staffed, why not take the elements of children’s librarianship and try to find an organization that works with children and education? As Kat Tkacik (2012) explains in Library Journal,

    If there’s a waiting list for volunteers at the library, look for other organizations promoting literacy and education. And don’t forget social services. Many shelters and soup kitchens include a computer or two—volunteer your expertise and help a neighbor navigate the job listings on Craigslist.

    On the other hand, if your search is so successful that you find yourself flooded with volunteer opportunities and projects, remember that working yourself into the ground won’t help you succeed. In case you need further advice on doling out the big N-O, check out Emily Ford’s (2009) In the Library with the Lead Pipe article on the subject. Personally I find that if I take on more than a couple of projects outside of work at a time, I’m less than pleasant to my friends and family. Have I taken on more than I should have in the past? Of course. Am I proud of that? Not anymore. To take on projects beyond my capacity does not help my career, nor does it help the organization I’m volunteering with. Working hard also means knowing your limits, and not worrying that those limits will keep you from getting a job you love.

    Continuing Your Search While Maintaining Your Sanity

    Google “job seeking while employed” and you’ll find plenty of blog posts and news stories about the importance of not searching while on the clock or on a work computer. You may think you work in an easygoing environment, but no supervisor will condone job hunting while they are paying you. In addition to limiting your job search to your lunch hour, evenings, and weekends, make sure you keep your hunt manageable. Nothing says “I’m living a balanced life” like working and then rushing home to check thirty job boards while eating a Lean Cuisine. While I have found interesting jobs via a one-off search on Indeed.com (Warning: searching “library” yields loads of nanny postings from parents that are desperate for you to take their children to the library), you will have more luck focusing on curated sources like I Need a Library Job, ALA JobList, or state library association job boards.

    You are in a stage of life that requires some relaxation time, too, so find a way to carve out time for yourself. Maybe that means you don’t look for jobs on the weekends, or that Tuesday nights are your crafting/cooking/doing absolutely nothing nights. Thea Evenstad, a 2012 MLS graduate and program assistant at a children’s science museum, explains:

    Graduate school and the job search have made my life feel lopsided. I think self-care is an important part of the job search and that it’s too easy to feel down with the dramatic highs and lows of the cycle of job applications, interviews, and rejections. I don’t feel guilty enjoying a weekend at the beach with my partner, knowing that I might move to another state soon for a librarian position (T. Evenstad, personal communication, February 11, 2013).

    The calm you gain from that time off will assuage any anxiety you may feel about not looking for a new job or professionally developing yourself during that period of time. Leslie A. Perlow and Jessica L. Porter conducted a study in which they found that by challenging the idea that  a person must always be available and ready to work, people were more likely to take time off,  and their work improved as a result (104). Since you’re working and trying to find another job, be sure to relax and build in breaks for yourself. You’ve earned them!


    I’m several months into my communications position, and I’ve developed web design, project management, and interpersonal skills that I know will help me when I’m on a future committee that’s redesigning a library website, implementing tools to better track reference interactions, or fostering relationships with faculty members. I spend about thirty minutes several evenings a week checking three LIS job boards and perusing the employment pages of a couple of local university libraries. I continue to apply for positions, but am pickier than when I was unemployed, and I’ve had several phone interviews in the past month. I believe that’s because I’m only writing cover letters for positions I’m truly passionate about.

    In addition to my job search, I’ve managed to create a small but mighty professional network, which includes a librarian that I’m working with to help develop the children’s literature collection at his institution. I’ve never participated in collection development before, and I love every aspect of it, from physically surveying the current collection to figure out what gaps exist to identifying the best children’s awards to draw materials from. I’m thrilled that I’ve been invited to help draft the collection development policy for this particular collection, and feel that the professional writing I do in my current position will serve this project well.

    If, like me, you’re working outside the field, remind yourself that LIS skills aren’t solely developed and utilized within a library. Your day job — whether you’re working in retail, acting as an office administrator, or waiting tables — is providing you not only with a paycheck but with professional qualities that a library will be lucky to have. It might feel overwhelming at times to work while trying to find another job and pursuing professional development opportunities, but that dedication will benefit you throughout your entire career, not just your job search process. It’ll take time and it’ll take a lot of patience, but if you persist, good things will happen. At least that’s what Conan O’Brien and I believe (Glamourbombtv 2010).

    If you ever feel like you’re the only one balancing your future career with your day job, know that you’re not, and reach out! Whether on Twitter, in these comments, or with your former classmates, you’ll be surprised how many people will respond with “I’m going through the same thing, let’s talk” or “Yup, that was me last year, and this is what I did.” If you’ve been or are currently in a similar situation, I’d love to hear your strategies for making the most out of your current or past jobs and how you balance job searching with employment. Please share them in the comments below.

    Thanks to Kim Leeder and Heather Martin for their thoughtful edits and comments as reviewers; additional thanks to Britta, Emily, Erica, and Thea for their time and personal contributions to the article.


    Ford, E. (2009). How do you say no? In the Library with the Lead Pipe. Retrieved from http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2009/how-do-you-say-no/.

    Glamourbombtv. (2010, Jan. 5). Conan O’Brien takes a bow [Video file]. Retrieved from http://youtu.be/DxOHez1zlms.

    Ibarra, H., & Hunter, M. (2007). How leaders create and use networks. Harvard Business Review85(1), 40-47.

    Matta, S.L. (2012, October 15). A job by any other name: LJ’s Placements and Salaries Survey 2012. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/10/placements-and-salaries/2012-survey/a-job-by-any-other-name-ljs-placements-salaries-survey-2012/.

    Olin, J. (2013, February 5). Could I show you the wine list?, Or, how waitressing made me a better librarian. Letters to a Young Librarian. Retrieved from http://letterstoayounglibrarian.blogspot.com/2013/02/could-i-show-you-wine-list-or-how.html.

    Perlow, L.A., & Porter, J.L. (2009). Making time off predictable — and required. Harvard Business Review, 87(10), 102-109.

    Saks, A.M., & Zikic, J. (2009). Job search and social cognitive theory: The role of career-relevant activities. Journal of Vocational Behavior, 74(1), 117-127.

    Tkacik, K. (2012, June 4). The Class of twentysomething: Degreed and jobless. Library Journal. Retrieved from http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/06/opinion/backtalk/the-class-of-twentysomething-degreed-and-jobless-backtalk/.

    Weak, E. (2012, Sept. 14). Further questions: How long did it take to get your first library job? Hiring Librarians. Retrieved from http://hiringlibrarians.com/2012/09/14/further-questions-how-long-did-it-take-to-get-your-first-library-job/.

Please read the comment policy before posting: 24 Comments

  • Kiersten Bryant says:

    Great article Alyssa! I’m in a similar situation myself, and I love hearing your experience, advice and tips! I work full-time at an outdoor apparel company in a quality assurance position, a job I had before and during my time in the MLIS program at San Jose State University. Since I graduated in December and now have more free time, I have made it a goal to stay relevant in the LIS field while job searching. I look for opportunities that I can do virtually because I also have a toddler aged daughter to take care of. Currently I volunteer as a head editor for INALJ.com (thanks for the INALJ mention above!), which keeps me involved and complements my own job searching activities. On the work-front I’ve recently had a lucky break because my director has been put in charge of developing a fabric library for the company I work for. He knows that I have my MLIS so he asked if I would be interested in helping him with the project in a consultant capacity. Of course I said yes! It’s extra work on top of my own work, but since it’s something I enjoy doing and am passionate about so I don’t mind at all. There’s also a chance it could develop into a full-time fabric library position so that is a bonus! But, if for some reason he can’t get the funding for the librarian position, then at least I will have gained more hands-on library-related skills and I can put the experience on my resume. Having a full-time job does give me less time and energy to spend writing personalized cover letters, customizing resumes, and filling out long, detailed online applications, but if I see I job I’m really excited about then the motivation finds me! If any of your readers are looking for virtual volunteer work then I recommend volunteering for INALJ! Naomi needs more volunteers, and it’s another place you can build a network and community with other LIS peeps!

    • Alyssa Vincent says:

      Kiersten, it’s great to hear that you’ve got an opportunity to build your LIS skills in your current job (with the possibility of that extra work becoming a full-time job)! I think you illustrate that when it comes to volunteering, it really is about customizing your experience–whether that means you’re doing work virtually to be able to care for your family or that you physically volunteer at library if you work from home. Thanks for the INALJ volunteering suggestion!

  • Jill says:

    I had worked for quite a few years in paraprofessional library roles before finally finishing my MLS. The year I did, I was laid off from my job. It was sort of good timing, because I had severance pay to give me a cushion to find the new dream job. Unfortunately, the market is just not there for loads of library jobs. Through networking (THE BEST WAY TO FIND A JOB!) I was able to land a job with an information vendor. It is not a librarian position, however I do work with librarians to develop and improve information products. It has been so much more rewarding than I could have imagined, and I can’t stress enough to those in my position to look outside the box. I use my research and reference skills every day, when working with the product developers, as well as the customers. Library school taught me so much more than how to catalog a book….thank goodness!!!

  • I appreciate your view and I had the same positive outlook a few months back….

    1) You are preaching to the choir. We, as librarians, know that our job skills cross over. It seems that HR and hiring employers don’t. Each application has come back with a rejection note stating “not enough experience”. I have 20 years work experience in nonprofits, customer service, and administrative/office responsibilities (I worked full-time through undergrad and grad). I have an MLIS, an undergrad in Lit, volunteered at a library throughout my grad program, and held leadership roles in several organizations. Still unemployed 22 months after grad.

    2) I did eventually get a job offer 5 months AFTER I originally applied for the job. I would have taken it in a heart beat, but the cost of moving in to a new town was so outrageous (the electric company wanted a $300 deposit because I was from out of the area, plus 1st/last and cleaning deposit, plus drive cost). I had been living off a part-time job for so long that my savings and money ran out. So, for now I am staying put, living in my car, and hoping for the best.

    Best of luck to the aspiring librarians out there!

  • Mary Jo says:

    As a Library Director and former HR manager for a public library, I can attest that there are a number of non-library skills we look for when hiring. Customer service experience is a priority when hiring anyone who will work at a public desk or run programs. Teaching experience of any kind is a plus. Because we cater to a lot of families, we love to see experience working with children. In this time of growing e-gadgets, your proficiency in using them shows not only technical ability but also your preparedness to stay abreast of the latest “thing.” Some positions require graphics experience and others require some website experience. Finally, we have a lot of volunteers, and we love to hire staff who have experience supervising and motivating volunteers.
    Our latest hire is a teacher who went back for her MLIS, and the one before that had spent a number of years organizing volunteers to run book fairs for elementary schools. Neither had library experience. Make sure your cover letter emphasizes those skills you have developed in other fields that cross over, as a hirer reading dozens of resumes could miss the connection.

    • Alyssa Vincent says:

      Mary Jo, thanks for chiming in. When I started my job search, I “tailored” my cover letters to positions by referencing specific aspects of the job postings or of the institution itself, but I assumed that I didn’t need to draw more connections than that. The hirer would just “get” my letter and resume. I now know that it’s not the hirer’s job to connect the dots of my resume, and my cover letter writing has improved as a result.

      • I would argue that it IS the hiring managers job to make those connections. We taylor our letters and resumes to address the needs of the job but the hiring manager IS supposed to be skilled at connecting the dots – that’s why they are in that position!

        I do recognize that there are many, many qualified applicants applying to the very same positions that I am. It’s a hard choice for the hiring department to make after being flooded with resumes from many talented people.

        I’ve also been reading a lot about job search skills to update my knowledge on applying and hiring (that’s how I ended up reading this post). There is so much contradiction – some say be specific others say be a generalist; some say call for a follow up, but often there is no way to follow up on e-apps; some say they read cover letters, others ignore them. Many suggest asking why you were not qualified or what you might do better on the next resume/application but this usually results in a canned answer or no response. I presume it is due to fear of repercussions if the hiring manager tells you the truth about your resume.

        • Mary Jo says:

          Anonymous, I can hear your frustration, and I can only speak from my own experience, so I don’t know how helpful I can be. Yes, a skilled hiring manager will connect dots, but they read a LOT of resumes, and many hiring managers in libraries are librarians without a specific HR background – so maybe less skilled than you would hope. The easier you make their job, the better.
          There is a lot of conflicting information out there, because of course different hiring managers look for different things. Our library district is small (25 employees), so perhaps that allows us to be more flexible than a larger institution. I can tell you I was always impressed with a follow-up, but I did not think negatively if someone did not follow up. I cannot imagine not reading a cover letter – I always want the extra information. For me, a hint of humor somewhere is always a plus, though not required. One time an applicant who did not get an interview asked for a review of her resume, and I sent her several paragraphs worth of information that I thought might be helpful.
          Here is one of the best pieces of advice I ever read for the job seeker: The purpose of a resume/cover letter is to get an interview. The purpose of an interview is to get a job.
          My process as a hiring manager was this:
          1. Identify skills/experience required for the job.
          2. Identify talents that would be an asset for the job – Buckingham and Coffman’s First, Break All the Rules has a great discussion on this.
          3. Screen resumes for skills/experience, conduct phone interviews and reference checks to help refine the list to the best matches, then conduct in-person interviews with the best 3-4 candidates to assess talents.
          Best wishes in your job search!

  • Emily Ford says:

    Thanks for writing this thoughtful article, Alyssa. We’ve had a number of other employment related articles here at Lead Pipe that might be worth mentioning in comments if other readers haven’t seen them. Your article is a nice complement to what we have already published.

  • […] In the Library, With the Lead Pipe: Making it Work: Surviving as a Librarian Employed in Another Fie… (inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org) […]

  • Anonymous says:

    You all need 1 person to believe in you. I got lucky with that but I also had parents who were willing to support me financially until I landed a job. Luckily it only took 3 months after graduation when I found a lot of part time work in different libraries. It still took 3 years of experience in those different libraries before I found full time work. Now being on the other side – the hiring side – I can’t stress enough how much my colleagues talk about experience. I realize now that I did the right thing even though waiting 3 years for a full time job was tough and I often considered leaving librarianship and going into law, social work or accounting. Even if it’s just 1 day (5 hours) a week, find an internship or volunteer gig in a type of library you want to work for. Don’t snub your nose at any position or offer – it may not be the Harvard of your town, but people are always watching – if you do well, if you’re likable, other opportunities will present themselves. A down pour starts with one drop of rain. Keep up your chin, all of these experiences, while not fun, will build character and add to your story which you will be sharing and even grateful for some day.

    • Alyssa Vincent says:

      Anon, you make a great point about building character. Even though it would have been great to graduate, move to my desired city, and immediately step into a full-time librarian position, I know that my employment/volunteering situation is not only increasing my skill set, but is also forcing me to be patient and gain some perspective.

      • anonymous says:

        It is great to volunteer or work part time jobs and build experience and to make connections. However, keep in mind that 8 hours per week for 52 weeks of volunteer time only equals 416 hours of experience. That’s equivalent to about 2.5 months of full-time experience. So how many years would one need to volunteer at 8-15 hours a week to gain the 3-5 years experience employers require?? Do the math.

        I am not being cynical; many applications ask for the exact amount of experience time and specify that PT work will be calculated and prorated. During grad school I volunteered, worked half time in a library, worked half time at another job, and came out near the top of my class. If that isn’t enough experience coming out of an MLS, what is?

        As for working a part time job until the dream job comes through… Great idea, if I could get a part time library job I would have done so by now. I am more than happy to work a PT library job (and fill in with another PT job or volunteer work to build more experience). But, even the PT jobs and the few paid internships are asking for extensive experience. So, unless there is a magic formula I am missing – it doesn’t add up. Who are these hiring managers expecting someone coming out of a two year program to have 3-5 years experience??? Or are these job descriptions really designed to just hire who you already have in mind?!

        Additionally, not everyone has parents or other relatives/friends with money to fall back on. There is no ‘home’ to run back to for some of us. I would love to hear suggestions on where to work (other than a library) to build these 3-5 years of experience in library work so that I can eventually join the ranks of the elite and work in a library.

        • Alyssa Vincent says:

          I don’t think you’re being cynical. Volunteering for a few hours a week does not add up to 3-5 years of library experience. However, I’ve seen more job descriptions with slightly more flexible understandings of library experience. Mary Jo made a great point in the comments that her public library recently hired two employees who did not have library experience, but rather had experience with organizing volunteers and in teaching. Plenty of job postings are firm on the phrase “library experience,” but I’ve seen several–particularly paraprofessional postings–that ask for “public service experience” or “web development experience.” These are skills that can be developed outside the walls of a library in retail settings, restaurants, administrative offices, etc. If you’re interested in a more entrepreneurial route, I think Andy Woodworth does a great job addressing that near the end of this blog post: http://agnosticmaybe.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/reader-mail-unemployment-in-libraryland/

          It sounds like you gained a lot of experience and worked hard while in library school, and I can understand your frustration that you are somehow still “unqualified” for certain library jobs. All I can say is that there is no magic formula. What I’m finding helpful is volunteering with a library on a really enjoyable project outside of my full-time/non-library work, commiserating with friends going through their own job searches, and continuing to write cover letters for positions I feel qualified for. Best of luck with your job search.

        • Mary Jo says:

          Some suggestions of where to work/volunteer:
          1. Small libraries – They often have small budgets, so they need volunteers more. They also have smaller staffs, so will notice your contribution more. While you are there, look for needs that are not being met and offer a solution. Create a project and see it through. Then you will have more than volunteer hours to show on your resume, you will have accomplishments.
          2. Libraries where you would like to work – I was very intentional about where I did my practicum – the library where I wanted to work got 120+ hours of excellent free labor from me in a condensed time frame. While I was there, I did extra things like attending the staff meetings and the board meetings because I wanted to learn as much as I could. I interviewed the Library Director and the department heads to learn about their areas of responsibility. When I applied for a job, they knew who I was, they were aware of my work ethic and strengths, and they knew I understood how they operated. They knew I would be a good fit.
          3. Librarian organizations – Join a roundtable at your state’s Library Association. You can network with other librarians who can suggest to their employers that you would be an excellent hire. Be active; make sure people know who you are; do things that make a difference.
          4. School libraries or classrooms – they are educational settings and they are full of kids.
          5. Any management position – Management is not an easy skill to learn, few people come to it naturally, and a lot of librarians want no part of it. If you manage retail (customer service) in a store where customers need educating (computer store? book store? health care store?), you are answering reference questions. Make sure your cover letter points this out.

          I think if I was applying to a library that was really strict about what experience was considered acceptable, I would be a bit worried about how much I would enjoy working there. Rigid work environments are often not friendly to innovation or employee needs (though if it is a city or county library where the HR department is centralized, you might just be being screened by non-library people).

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