Q: I recently discovered your excellent website and hoped you might be able to answer my career related question:
Will it damage my career to remain in my current job as a library paraprofessional even though I have the MLIS? Obviously I would prefer to be a professional librarian, but overall I’m very happy with my situation. I enjoy my job, my library and my coworkers very much. Furthermore, my employer provides excellent family benefits. I’m not geographically mobile and the job market in my area is extremely difficult right now, so most likely I’ll be stuck where I am for a while whether I want to be or not. However, I worry whether it will look bad to future employers that I stayed on as a paraprofessional after getting my degree; and whether my degree might eventually be considered outdated. I am making the most of my position by writing for publication, serving on committees, volunteering for different activities to broaden my horizons, etc. Is there anything else I should be doing for “damage control”? Am I making too much of this? Any advice would be appreciated.
A: We are both mothers and can attest to the importance of having good childcare and excellent family benefits. Working parents, at some point or another, have to balance not only their own schedules and careers, but they also have to make important (and often difficult) decisions about childcare and family finances. And that inevitably leads to the dreaded familial “s” word: sacrifice.
Normally we would advise people who have their library degrees to not stay in paraprofessional positions unless they are actively searching for profesional librarian positions. You are right to be a bit nervous about your current job situation affecting your future job prospects because, well, it might. It’s not so much that potential employers might view your degree as “outdated,” more likely they will view your skills and experience as not being on the level of those working in professional librarian roles, and they also might question your drive and motivation if you are content to stay in a non-librarian role for so long after receiving your MLIS.
But, we completely understand that everyone’s situation is different and our advice should not be prescribed universally. It seems like you have done your research on possible workplaces in your area (and their childcare options), you are not geographically mobile, and you have already made up your mind to stay where you are for a few years. This is perfectly fine and the most important thing is that you are happy. Happy with your decision and happy with your current work environment. Not everyone can say that, so count yourself lucky.
As for damage control, it sounds like you are already doing it by taking on extra commitments and duties and writing for publication. You are definitely making the most of your current situation and gaining professional-level experience along the way. Keep this up and when the time comes to apply for librarian positions, you will need to: a.) address why you chose to stay in a paraprofessional position in your cover letter, and b.) highlight your professional work/activities/committees/publications/etc. in your resume.
In the mean time, keep up your skills, show initiative in your current job by volunteering to take on new projects and new technologies, maintain connections with the library community in your area, attend classes and programs, and continue to build your professional portfolio.
We hope that this advice has given you some justification for your situation and some much needed reassurance that your future job prospects have not been ruined… because, as parents, we all need some of that.