Q: I graduated from library school not too long ago, but it’s been hard for me to find a job in the immediate area because of family obligations. Do you know of any library-related jobs that can be done online? Since I got my MLS from a distance ed program, I think I’d have a lot to offer employers looking for librarians to do online reference or research, if only I knew where I could find them. Thanks.
– Virtual Job Seeker
RSG: Your question at its heart boils down, not to whether there are library-related jobs that can be done online (of course there are!), but how to find and apply for such positions – which is somewhat trickier. There is unfortunately no central source that lists all virtual positions. Occasional postings, however, can be found on general library job sites such as Lisjobs.com and libraryjobpostings.org. These have included virtual reference positions with companies like LSSI and partially at-home indexing opportunities with organizations like the National Library of Medicine. You can also bookmark HR sites at some of the individual organizations that tend to offer virtual jobs and check them weekly for new offerings.
Although this will be less help in your immediate situation, realize that librarians also often have more success negotiating part-time telecommuting work with an existing employer who is already familiar with their work ethic and abilities. In my last full-time position, for example, I began working one day a week from home doing collection development and web design, and have continued to work from home on a part-time basis since starting a family in fall 2002 – the precedent had already been set. So readers thinking of having children, or who are simply looking to get some work done without office-related disruptions, might want to discuss the option with their current employers.
SLJ: Because there is no one source that lists virtual positions, employers who hire contract librarians to do online projects frequently turn to recruiters. There are a number of recruiters in the library field, and most have web sites. See this list of agencies that place librarians with employers on a temporary or permanent basis. Investigate the web sites of these agencies, and speak to their representatives, to get a feel for how frequently they receive job ads for online positions. The type of work can vary, and the employers doing the hiring may or may not be libraries. Examples of employers and typical jobs available may include: publishers looking for freelance indexers or copy editors; firms that outsource cataloging work for other libraries; and database vendors looking for abstractors. Be aware that indexing jobs may require additional training; you can learn more about the indexing field at the American Society of Indexers site.
Also, if you enjoy online research so much that you would like to make it your permanent career, you may want to investigate becoming an entrepreneurial librarian, running your own research business from home. The Suite 101 site on The Entrepreneurial Librarian has a number of good suggestions. In addition, a great book to get you started is Mary Ellen Bates’ Building and Running a Successful Research Business: A Guide for the Independent Information Professional. The book will give you an overview of what is involved in starting your own business, and will recommend useful resources for you to consult. For example, a good organization to join is the Association of Independent Information Professionals (AIIP). AIIP has a number of useful resources on their web site, and they also offer an annual conference where you can meet others already involved in the field or interested in pursuing such work. [Ed.: see also Barbara Fritchman Thompson’s article later in this issue.]
RSG: Sarah’s suggestions on starting your own research business are very helpful. You might also want to consider exploring related work-at-home fields, such as freelance writing (which involves both research and synthesis!). A useful site for any freelance writer is Writer’s Weekly, and you can also explore contributing to some of the library-related publications that pay honoraria. While writing for trade publications probably will not entirely replace a career, this can be a helpful supplement for stay-at-home librarian parents, part-time library workers, and anyone else interested in contributing to the profession this way. (For much more on writing for the profession, check out my forthcoming Librarian’s Guide to Writing for Publication, available from Scarecrow Press. Online orders at the Scarecrow site receive a 15% discount.
If your family obligations include stay-at-home parenting, you might also want to join the Librarian Stay At Home Mom e-mail list. Home- based work is a topic that often comes up for discussion there, and list members can have additional ideas and leads.