Q: Hi. I had a few career related questions. I specialized in archival administration/special collections, and I’ve been struggling for 10 years now to find full time work. I would gladly take a job as a reference librarian or public librarian to at least get some full time experience, and maybe broaden my skill set so that at some point, I could go back into archives. But I’ve tried applying for reference/public librarian positions in the past, without luck. I’m convinced that these places are very, very picky in who they choose. They want someone with public or reference librarian experience. And while I have done reference work as part of my archival duties, I’m guessing they want “public/academic” reference experience? I don’t know, but my point is: is there a way to translate my archival skills into the public library/academic library sphere to improve my chances?
My other question is: I don’t have experience supervising anyone since my archival repository is a one person shop. Yet a lot of archival positions I see require supervisory experience. Likewise, while I’m familiar with different cataloging systems, and mark up languages, the collections in the archives are not integrated into the library’s online catalog, and even if they were, we have cataloging librarians who would handle this. Thus there’s no opportunity for me to get experience cataloging archival collections and using the different mark up languages. What can I do about these seemingly impossible to overcome catch 22’s?
TA: A couple of things to note: first, these places are not necessarily “very, very picky in who they choose”, it’s just that there are probably more qualified candidates with more directly related experience. Which brings us to your primary question: How can I move from one specialization to another? This can be tough. As I’m sure you know, archival experience is very different from public libraries, or even academic libraries. But there are commonalities among them and it’s your job as the candidate to make that case when applying for positions in libraries different from your own. (See our previous articles on Transferable
Skills.) You should also consider taking on volunteer opportunities or other part-time work to supplement your skills in the areas of reference and instruction; supervision, project management, and leadership; and cataloging and online catalogs.