Q: I recently discovered your site and have found it very helpful. My situation is identical to many recent library school graduates. I have had my MLS for nearly three years. Since I graduated, I have worked part-time in an after school program, as a media specialist, and currently, as a substitute teacher. I have been unemployed for over a year. I understand that it’s the economy and that there are many people in similar positions. I also know that I am doing everything I can to improve both my skills and my marketability.
I worked an internship in a public library youth services department while a student, so I had four years of library experience before graduation. I also have experience in museum and resource center settings. I have an e-portfolio and social networking presence. I subscribe to library, education job-hunting list-serves and follow related Twitter accounts. I customize each cover letter and resume, carefully prepare for interviews, and craft customized thank you emails. I am currently pursuing certification in educational technology. I plan to volunteer in a local elementary school media center and local university library. Since I am a student, I also plan to look into student library positions at my university. I have also broadened my geographical search parameters, but I am limited to two regions in my state.
If my job search is too narrow, I’d be considered too picky. Too broad, and I’d be considered either too desperate or someone who doesn’t do my research. I am able to communicate how my library skills will be an asset to paraprofessional, retail, and other positions for which I am overqualified. I have received mixed views about applying for paraprofessional positions. The positives: it will get my foot in the door, I’d be getting the experience, and I’d be working in a library. The negatives: why should the library waste time and resources on someone who might leave as soon as something better comes along? For jobs that I am under-qualified for or don’t have enough experience in that particular field, it’s a catch-22. I need experience to get a job, a job to get experience, and so on.
I’m trying not to be discouraged, but it’s not easy. I keep telling myself I’m doing the best that I can, that there are so many librarians in my position, and that there are people far worse off. I am trying to look up alternative careers for librarians and related search terms. Is there something else I should do to improve my skills and marketability? At what point do I throw in the towel and seek another career path? My intention for this letter is not to complain (I’ve landed interviews, so I know I’m doing at least something right). I just figure that I might not be doing enough and wanted to get professional advice.
TA: Well, this is a tough one. From what you describe above, it sounds like you’ve covered all your bases and done a lot of work. I am really impressed with all the attention you’ve paid to different work experiences, creating and maintaining an e-portfolio and social media presence, and your additional coursework on the educational technology certification. Having limited geographic mobility can impose some limits on the job search, but you’ve done a lot to compensate for that limitation.
Your question about paraprofessional work is one that is greatly debated and I’m not sure there’s ever one answer that’s right for everyone. In today’s economy, people realize that choices are made that might have been different under different circumstances. As the employer, yes, it’s likely my question would be “Why here? Why now? How long will you stay?” As the candidate, it’s your job to allay some of these concerns by expressing genuine interest in the position and the knowledge you can gain from the experience. You might also want to express some commitment to the position and the institution, and offer your experience and hard work in exchange for a chance to work in the position.
Another employment option to consider is a temp librarian position. There are placement and staffing agencies out there that specialize in placing librarians (MLS required) in temp positions all over the country, with positions that range from part time to full time, on-site to remote work locations. Take a look at this list of placement agencies: http://www.lisjobs.com/jobseekers/agencies.asp
Finally, you mention leaving librarianship altogether and seeking employment in another career track. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook:
“Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations. There will continue to be a need for librarians to manage libraries and staff and help patrons find information. As electronic resources become more common, patrons and support staff will be more comfortable using them, so fewer librarians will be needed for assistance. However, the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where they will be needed to help sort through the large amount of available information. Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost. Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings. Even though people with a master’s in library science may have trouble finding a job as a librarian, their research and analytical skills are valuable for jobs in a variety of other fields, such as market researchers or computer and information systems managers.”
For more information from the BLS on similar occupations, you can visit: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-7. Just be sure to check the job prospects of these associated fields before you leave librarianship. We’d hate to lose you.