Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Q&A: Returning to a professional librarian position after years in para-professional roles

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I qualified as a librarian in 1997 and worked full-time in the profession until 2005, the year my first child was born. A mum of three, each child brought new work-life balance challenges until I eventually stopped work altogether when my third child was born. Four years later I returned to a para-professional position. I’ve been working as an assistant in a public library for 15 months now and would like to move into a part time professional post before my contract ends in December. However, positions are not really being advertised and when they are, I’m finding it hard to get an interview. Do you have any advice for career break librarians like me?


EM: Right now you have some significant obstacles, including many years out of the workforce in a professional position, which can impact your job searches and career trajectory for a long time, and the posted openings that are few and far between. At this point your job search may be more like that of a recent graduate than of someone who received their library degree over 20 years ago. (I am not sure but it sounds like perhaps you are outside the U.S., so we may not be talking about an American MLS/MLIS, but in general my advice would be the same.)


You have some recent/current experience, which is good, but you’ll have to convince hiring managers that your skills and experience as a professional are up to date and competitive with other applicants who are currently in librarian positions.


The first thing I would do is (more) networking. Having a large, solid network is one of the best ways to hear about unadvertised positions, and/or to learn about positions before they are posted publicly. Become active in your local library community. Become known to many, including leaders if possible, and make sure those in your network know what you have to offer and what you are seeking. If you haven’t been doing much networking recently, know that this will take time.


If you’ve lost touch with former colleagues and supervisors, get back in touch and see if there is some way you can be of service. Volunteering, even just a few hours a week, can help to build and strengthen your network and enrich your resume. Take care not to get back in touch and then immediately ask for something, though – that can make you look desperate and is not likely to be received well. 


Expand your search to a wider geographical area if possible and to different types of libraries if your local public libraries are not offering many opportunities at the moment. Consider using your library-related skills in a job outside of a traditional library (INALJ article: If You Want A Library Job, Look Outside the Library!) and/or freelancing, even just temporarily. You can search for open positions based on skills rather than job titles too, to expand the number of positions you may find that you’d qualify for. A position outside a library may not be what you really want right now, but it may help to position you for the job you do want down the road.


I’d also have your resume and cover letter reviewed by a professional reviewer, to be sure that you are presenting yourself effectively and compellingly for a professional position. Ask those in your network for a recommendation to a reputable reviewer. 


Good luck!

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