Q: Dear Friends at Library Career People:
I have a professional dilemma, and I would be so grateful for any insight or encouragement you might be able to offer me. In June 2011, I completed library school thinking that I wanted to be a public librarian. Actually, I was pretty certain of this, even though I had minimal experience working in public libraries. My background is actually in special (government/law and art) libraries.
Shortly after earning my degree, I was offered a part-time librarian substitute position at a local large urban public library system. I have worked as a public reference librarian for one year now, and I have decided that it’s not for me. In addition to this, I have applied for countless internal job postings within the public library organization and I’ve had no luck. I think someone is trying to tell me something that I’ve ignored for a long time.
I feel like a fool, and like I have to start over. However, I am eager to get my career back on the right path and continue to pursue something more personally fulfilling. For the last four years, I have been employed part-time at a government law library and I absolutely love it. Even though there may not be a full-time or professional position for me there, I want to continue to pursue a career in government librarianship, perhaps in a science or engineering library. Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?
SM: I find that whether you like a job or not depends largely on the situation: the patrons, the setting, the demands/responsibilities/expectations, and the people you work with and work for… and less so on the job itself. I’ve worked in several types of libraries, in a variety of roles, and I’ve enjoyed aspects of each one of them. I’ve also disliked aspects of all of them. No place is perfect. And, I’ve figured out, along the way, what I am good at, what people expect of me, and what I really enjoy doing (and don’t enjoy doing). This information drives me onward to pursue my goals and tweak my job responsibilities and ultimately be a happier librarian.
If I had a dream job, it would be built from bits and pieces of all the jobs I’ve held: this supervisor, that location, those colleagues, these benefits, a mixture of duties, a scattering of clientele, the freedom to pursue my interests, and the structure to be held accountable for my actions and my progress and my commitment.
You shouldn’t feel like a fool. Not in the least. You are doing everything that you should be doing. You are exploring different roles and different libraries; you are discovering what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. You are learning about the profession and about yourself. Getting on-the-job experience in one role and in one type of library is the best way (or, perhaps, the only way) to figure out what path you want to pursue next. Yes, opportunities will pop up, jobs will present themselves (or not) and personal lives will intervene — and because of all these things, you may find yourself following an unplanned trajectory, and that’s OK. It is rare for someone to start out in their dream job, or dream location. You just need to keep moving toward your ultimate goal, and seek out anything and everything that can help you attain it. And remember that any experience you get is valuable.
So, don’t think of it as starting over, and don’t think of starting over as a bad thing. Sometimes starting over, or starting again, is the best cure for a deflated career. In the mean time, as you begin to steer yourself onto a new career path, you should enjoy the part time position that you love and learn all that you can about the job and the institution and the needs of the patrons, and the skills and resources and tools that are used to meet those needs.
Fulfillment comes in many packages, and even if your current job does not provide the level you crave, you can do other things (while you wait) to boost it up as well as help you move toward the job that you really want. Here are a few tips:
- Make connections and utilize your current connections: talk to colleagues and librarians in related libraries to find out how to move forward, where to look for jobs, and what to get involved in (e.g., committees, social networks).
- Join associations that are specific to the type of library you want to work in: seek out local and state and national organizations and see which might work best for you. Take advantage of the resources and networking opportunities they offer.
- Visit libraries: identify libraries that interest you, see if you can speak with (or communicate with) a librarian who works there. Have a list of questions and ask if there are any internship or volunteer opportunities (if your schedule permits).
- Be relentless in your job search: and don’t only look for jobs, look for skills and requirements for the jobs that you want. Find out what employers are asking for and make a list of things you do not have. Also, broaden your search to include job sites other than library-specific ones. Some corporations and government jobs will post on their own sites (e.g., state government or agency site).
- Rework your materials: does your resume reflect the job you want? You may need to revise it, or change it into a different type (e.g., from chronological to functional). You may need to highlight transferable experience and skills from other jobs.
- Consider professional development opportunities: seek out programs, classes, workshops, webinars, conferences, that might enhance your resume and your skill set.
- Talk to your alma mater: you are a recent graduate, so use your school’s career center and its resources to help you pursue your dream job.
Potentially Useful Links:
“How do I get there from here?: Changing jobs, changing roles, changing institutions”
by Susanne Markgren and Tiffany Allen