Q&A: How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience?

Q&A: How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience?

Q: I need your advice. I have nine years experience in public libraries. I completed my Library Science Degree while working full time. It has been a year since my graduation and I am itching to work in academic libraries. Before library school, I always thought I would end up working in public libraries, however since I have been exposed to all the available options —  that has changed.

I enjoy working in public libraries but want to explore academic libraries and I think it is a better fit for my skills. For the past year I have been applying to academic institutions for entry level positions but to date have received no call backs. How do I move from a public library to an academic library with no academic library experience, because most academic vacancies require at least one year experience in an academic environment. Any advice on how I can make myself more employable without having the necessary working experience would be most appreciated.


A: This is a common question, and moving from one type of library to another can be a difficult maneuver, but isn’t impossible. And advice about switching from one type of library to another can be helpful, no matter what type of library. As Ellen said in a previous Q&A, “You’ll need a compelling answer to the question ‘Why are you seeking to make the switch from A to B?’”

Here are a few (other) suggestions:

  1. Revise your application materials. Look at academic librarian resumes to see how they are formatted and organized. Use the job description to emphasize the aspects of your experience and skills to best match the top job requirements — in both your resume and cover letter.
  2. Don’t hide the elephant in the room, use your public library experience to your advantage, to make you a unique candidate. Mention in your cover letter how your years working in public libraries will make you an excellent academic librarian – and use examples. Do you work with diverse populations, or a specific ethnic group? Do you have experience with programming, teaching, reference work, access services, systems, collection development? Do you work with high school students? Do you have unique customer service or language expertise? Be specific in your language and the tools you’ve used in your work.
  3. Academic librarian positions typically require, or desire, a candidate to show a commitment to scholarly work and achievement. Many positions may require you publish, serve on campus committees, be involved in professional associations, and have (or be willing to acquire) a second masters degree. Be prepared to address this aspect of academic librarian positions, and be able to talk about how you will fulfill these requirements if needed (e.g., what kind of scholarship/research might you be interested in?)
  4. Consider applying to community colleges, or two-year schools with a focus on nontraditional students and career-based education, and that cater (usually) to a specific community group. These types of colleges are often a cross between public and academic libraries, and may be a good place to start your academic library career.
  5. Consider applying to academic positions outside of traditional academic institutions, like a medical school or an independent research institution, where you are still working with students or researchers, using academic resources and tools.
  6. Get involved in local (or regional or national) organizations and associations for academic librarians. Meet people, network, make connections. See if they might have a resume reviewing service, or a mentoring program that you could benefit from. See if there are committees you could join. This type of involvement will also reflect well on your application materials.
  7. Finally, don’t get discouraged. Keep applying, and revising your materials, and sending them out. A year in a job search is not unusual (unfortunately), and fortunately you have a library job and income, which is important. You may not get your dream job in the beginning, but if you have a vision for where you want to go – and you “keep the end in mind” — you’ll be in a much better place from the beginning.


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