Posted by Ellen Mehling
Q: I am 24 and have spent a year and a half working part-time in my local library’s Youth Services department, and have recently been hired as a Library Assistant. I am now in the process of applying for MLIS programs and am hoping to find the best way to prepare for my future. I’d love to learn more about how to use my experience for jobs outside of public libraries and how to best prepare for them while continuing to work and pursue my degree. Where should I start, and should I look into volunteer opportunities or focus on internships? Thanks!
A: You are in a very good position in that you have library experience prior to library school and will get more experience during your studies, and that you are thinking about this early and understand the importance of real-life experience. Many people graduate with a required internship or practicum as their only library-related work, which can put them at a disadvantage during a job search when they are competing against applicants with more experience. It sounds like you’ve already decided that public (or academic?) library work is not your goal, and that’s fine, and it is also fine if you are not at this point 100% clear on what kind of information work you *do* want to do.
What I’d recommend now and during the first months/classes of your graduate studies is to learn about as many different roles in the field as possible, via your classes, your own reading/research, informational interviews, and informal discussions with classmates, your professors and those already working in the field. As you talk with those who are working outside of public libraries, ask them about the most important skills they use every day and consider which ones you may already have (transferable skills) from public library work. These could include customer service, research, reference, programming and services targeted to a certain demographic, training/instruction/public speaking, etc.
The strongly-suggested-if-not-required internships that many MLIS programs have are usually done toward the end of your studies. By exploring and learning about different types of info work early on, you’ll be in a good position to decide what kind of information work and internship to pursue, and what additional skills and experience you’ll want to acquire before graduation if possible. Even before you are actively job hunting, read job postings as research, to have a clear and realistic idea of what employers are seeking.
If you can do multiple internships, that’s even better than just one. You can volunteer as well; internships and volunteering are not an “either/or” choice – you can do both. And all of it will enrich your resume.
I’d also join and become active in professional organizations (your local chapter of SLA is probably a good place to start; people in your network may suggest others) and LinkedIn groups related to your chosen information work. These will give you a more robust network as well as marketable experience as you begin to create your professional reputation. Good luck!