Q: Recently, we’ve received a number of questions with a similar theme, a little like we’ve seen before, but with a new twist: How do I get a library job before I go to library school? Two of those seeking advice have been accepted to library schools in the fall, and want to know how to get a position in a library to gain a little experience before classes start. The question is: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?
TA: First, let me just say kudos to you for giving this some thought before you enter school. Not only will you get a jump on your fellow classmates in terms of job opportunities, but you will start building the experience section of your post-MLS resume. Additionally, working before and during school can really enhance the classroom experience by providing real life context and examples.
I am still astonished by the number of resumes I see with a degree and no experience â€“ or the posts I see on lists of new-to-the- profession librarians who lament the fact that they canâ€™t get a job, but who have no library experience at all. Your time during school should be spent, not only learning in the classroom, but also exploring the profession through work experience (paid or unpaid, for credit or not). It’s much better to learn in school what you really like to do (and perhaps even more importantly, what you really don’t enjoy doing) than to learn that lesson in your first professional position.
So, how do you convince hiring authorities that you’re worth the risk before you have any experience, a degree – or even coursework? First, look for transferable experience. If you have any previous work experience or educational qualifications that may be valuable, play those up as strengths. One person who wrote to us had a background in the Marine Corps aviation unit, as well as ten years of experience as a chef. That individual may want to emphasize the ability to work effectively with others, lead a team, or manage resources, all of which are incredibly relevant in todayâ€™s libraries.
Another person wrote to us with the experience of being “an avid user” of libraries. He or she may want to draw upon those experiences as a user to talk about familiarity with print and electronic resources, experience navigating the library’s web site and online catalog, or positive reference interactions and what made the exchanges successful. As an applicant, youâ€™re going to need more than “I love books” or “I love libraries,” but this can be as simple as analyzing everyday events and previous experiences to make them relevant to today’s job search.
Secondly, you’re going to need a good cover letter and resume. Your resume should outline your job history, and your cover letter should explain it. Your cover letter should also draw parallels between your experience and what the hiring institution is looking for. And finally, your cover letter should be a genuine introduction of yourself and your interest in the position and the profession. Enthusiasm is endearing; if you can express your interest and passion for library work in your cover letter genuinely and without sounding forced (or desperate) they’re going to want to talk to you. Once they want to talk to you, it’s up to you to convince them you’re the best candidate for the job… but that’s another column!
For additional tips, see the articles and sites Susanne listed previously on job hunting, resumes, and cover letters.