Q: I will be starting my MLIS training soon and I have a question about gaining experience before I complete my degree. The type of program I will be completing combines elements of distance based education and a localized scope in its application. I will be able to maintain full-time employment and complete my degree within two years. That being said, I wanted to ask your advice on the type of job I should be seeking while I am still a student in order to garner the type of experience I will need to secure a position after obtaining my degree. I am hoping to be strategic in building my resume so that I am a more attractive candidate. I know that there are Library Assistant jobs that I may be able to obtain before I receive my degree, however, I am curious if you believe that it may prove more advantageous to look for internships or mentoring in lieu of gainful employment or not? I am very eager to begin my training and hope that you may be able to aid me as I begin my journey as a librarian.
SM: First off, paid employment, if you can do it, is better for several reasons:
- You’re getting a paycheck.
- You are held accountable for doing what is required of the job. You will be reviewed by your supervisors, which means you will (or should) care more about doing a good job.
- You get to learn what it is like to work (really work) in a library. You will discover the good and the bad and you will take this knowledge with you to each successive job.
- It is (generally) a longer commitment than non-paying types of work, and (usually) you can stay in it post-graduation while you look for a professional job.
- You will meet people who will become your mentors, serve as references, and perhaps give you a job down the road.
Internships can be wonderful opportunities, but they are usually short-lived and focus on one specific project. Mentorships are also a good idea, and I would encourage you to find a formal mentorship program or seek out a potential mentor on your own, but this should not be in lieu of actual work experience (if at all possible).
Much of what we learn in library school is meaningless until we apply it on the job, and there is no better way to learn about the profession and learn to be a librarian, than working in a library while going to library school.
To answer the second part of your question, library assistant jobs can be difficult to get and you should expect to encounter lots of competition, especially in universities or cities that have library school programs. Because of this, you will probably not have the luxury to pick and choose the exact job you want. But, a good thing to remember when you start looking for professional positions is that employers want experience, any experience. They won’t expect a new graduate to have the specific skills and experience that a working librarian will have. As a student, you should try to get experience in the type of library (academic, public, special) that you want to work in after you graduate. Any specialized experience you acquire along the way is icing on the cake.
To supplement your work, I recommend seeking out mentorship or internship opportunities that address the specific skills and experience you hope to gain to prepare you for the job you hope to get. Also, you should talk to the Career Services department at your school and let them know about your strategy to gain specific types of experience before you graduate. They will be able to help you fulfill your goals. Being strategic about gaining the right experience and skills (to get the job you want), before you even start library school, is very smart. I have a feeling you are on your way to a successful career.