Q: I have been applying for academic librarian positions in southern California for just over two years. I received my MLIS in 2004 from Florida State University and have six years full-time elementary librarianship experience, three years part-time college reference librarian experience, and a year of part-time public reference librarian experience– all in the state of Florida. Since it was my goal to expand my experience and horizons as far as I could, I worked these jobs concurrently. When I returned to my hometown to help care for my aging father two and a half years ago, I managed to gain employment as a technician/circulation supervisor in a community college library. While my current position has set me back directionally in my career path, many of my current responsibilities include management, collection development, committee involvement and collaborative skills that parallel those of many academic librarian positions. Is there are real possibility that college and university librarian hiring committees might accept my experience as appropriately transferable or will I be deemed an unsuitable candidate?
TA: It’s hard to make such a sweeping blanket statement like being “deemed an unsuitable candidate” forever. The end. It’s never as easy as All Yes, or All No, but some people are able to switch specializations very successfully. I’m not personally acquainted with the California job market, but I would bet there are many similarities to other job markets across the country. Here are a few pointers:
As we’ve stated many times before, it’s the candidate’s job to give the hiring committee what they’re looking for in the ideal candidate. Don’t make assumptions and don’t expect the committee to deduce that you have what they need from simple statements on your resume or in your cover letter. Make it very clear what you’ve accomplished and how it relates to the job for which you’re applying.
Use vocabulary in your letter that reflects current terms in use in academic libraries. Your statement above about your current responsibilities including “management, collection development, committee involvement and collaborative skills” is a good example.
Address your reasons for moving from position to position in your cover letter. Don’t make it autobiographical essay, but be sure to give some idea about why you changed jobs and specializations. Even being as brief as “For personal reasons, I returned to Florida where I now serve as a supervisor in a local community college that has over 9,000 enrolled students on 4 campuses. In this capacity, I manage/lead/supervise/coordinate…” will work in the letter.
Apply for positions that will give you good experience for the next position. Remember, your career will build over time, and while you may have taken a sideways step, you’ll still get there with careful planning and execution.