How I Got My First Job: Marcos Sueiro Bal

How I Got My First Job: Marcos Sueiro Bal

Interviewed by Ellen Mehling

EM: What was your first professional position?

MSB: I am old enough to have found my first job on a physical board (which consisted of pieces of paper attached to a framed slab of cork) when I was a Sound Engineering student at Columbia College Chicago. One of those pieces of paper advertised an assistant position in a new library and archive at the Center for Black Music Research. I got the job, and they kept me after I graduated. The job consisted of helping my boss set up a new library and archive relating to aspects of black music worldwide.

EM: How did you get it?

MSB: Getting the student job was easy, but I was really interested in the work and I think I showed meticulousness and enthusiasm (you would have to ask my boss at the time!). I was working with a great team and I enjoyed my work. So then they kept me on after I graduated.

EM: To what do you attribute your job search success?

MSB: Mostly luck, and also a good match-up between the requirements of the job and my interests and abilities. The world of audio preservation was utterly unknown to me, but as a sound engineering student I was of course interested in sound, and I happened to have lived all my life in a house full of antiques and with an appreciation for all things old. My boss, Suzanne Flandreau, was a great mentor and sent me to conferences, and was herself enthusiastic about her work. And after almost 30 years in my field, I still love it and am learning things every day.

EM: What advice do you have for librarian/info-pro job hunters?

MSB: Be lucky –just kidding. How about this?: there is a fine balance between being open and doing something that stirs your heart. You are not going to become rich in our profession, so let passion drive your job search –but be open to learning and to exercising different muscles. Almost any human endeavour is much deeper than you think when you first encounter it, and I think this is particularly true in our profession –so roll up your sleeves, dig deep and enjoy!

Marcos Suiero Bal is Senior Archivist at New York Public Radio

Q: What’s the best undergrad degree for a children’s librarian? (and more…)

Q: What’s the best undergrad degree for a children’s librarian? (and more…)

Posted by Ellen Mehling

[This Q&A includes multiple questions, and we’ve enlisted the help of two info pros who work with children, Jennifer Spota and Abigail Garnett, to answer them.]

Q: I would like to become a children’s librarian, and I’m trying to figure out what kind of schooling I would need to complete to accomplish this. I’m thinking of getting my undergraduate BA in Education and then an MA in Library Sciences. Would this be a good path towards my goal? I would be fine working in either a school setting or a public library setting, but I want to specialize in early childhood literacy.

As to type of Education majors, would it be better to go through an early childhood education program (birth – kindergarten) or an elementary school education program (grades 1-6)? Which age group would be a better focus for a school or children’s librarian? 

A: I entered into the field of children’s librarianship without having a background in Early Childhood Education, but going through an Education program will certainly give you the skills you need to be a successful children’s or school librarian and may even give you a leg up when it comes to the job hunt.

Many Library Science Masters programs offer a specialization in school librarianship, which requires different and more targeted coursework than the generalized track. Some general masters programs will also offer electives related to children’s services—such as reader’s advisory for children—that are open to students who are not in the school librarian track.

Having an Education degree under your belt may also enable you to apply for other opportunities working in a public library in a position other than “librarian” – for instance, writing grants, managing projects related to children’s programs, or facilitating children’s programs as a contractor. These are great ways to get experience on your resume and explore what working for a public library system is like while you are still in library school.

Regarding which undergraduate program to choose, either one would be useful in a public library setting, and both will look good on a resume when looking for public children’s librarian positions. If you are aiming to work in a school library, you will most likely be working with students in grades K-5, so an elementary school education program will be your best bet.

With all that said, many people choose to change the field of librarianship they’re pursuing after getting partway (or all of the way!) through an MLS program. It all comes down to where your passions lie, and you should use your time in school to explore your interests further. Looking for internships or volunteer work while you’re in school is a great way to do that.

If your undergraduate program offers you opportunities to connect with school or public libraries, take advantage of them, and use your library school coursework to sample a wide range of professional duties. Your professors or Program Director may also be able to connect you with people working in school-based and public librarian positions for shadowing opportunities or for informational interviews. If you can get a sense of what it’s really like to work in public and school-based environments, you can make informed decisions about how to tailor your program of study.

Best of luck!

  • Abby Garnett is Library Information Supervisor and Children’s Librarian at the Cypress Hills branch of the Brooklyn Public Library in NYC.

Q: School librarians: What did you major in for your undergraduate studies? What would you recommend taking to start a successful career as a children’s or school librarian?

A: When someone asks what they should study as an undergraduate if they want to work as a Library Media Specialist or as a Children’s Librarian in a public library, my answer is a simple one: whatever you will enjoy and can be passionate about. I know this lack of a specific answer might be frustrating but one of the great things about becoming a librarian is that you can come into the profession with any undergraduate degree and become successful. I truly believe that it is more of a general mindset and approach to things that determines how well-suited one is for these particular tracks within the profession; you need to be flexible, creative, curious and analytical. Of course if you are looking to work as a Library Media Specialist or with children in a public library you should like kids as well!

I personally studied history and international studies as an undergraduate. My college also demanded that its students take a diverse set of liberal arts core classes. The great thing about this was that I was exposed to a cross section of knowledge and information. It’s important that these required core classes aren’t just written off as something to get out of the way. I have high school seniors with whom I am currently working across various classes and subjects. Having a basic understanding of a variety of topics and disciplines has proven to be invaluable. Even though as an LMS I’m not tasked with teaching subject content itself, my ability to talk knowledgeably about diverse topics gives me added credibility and impresses even some of the hardest-to-crack teenagers while we are working on research projects. History and international studies also helped me to develop critical thinking skills that are so important today. Library Media Specialists today need to involve themselves in supporting students in reaching the standards set for them by the Common Core. A lot of this involves inquiry, critical thinking and an increasing focus on interpreting informational texts. If you choose a major that helps you to develop these skills you will be much better-suited to help your patrons develop them as well.

You can always also consider majoring in education. This will give you a head start on the pedagogical theory and practices that you will cover when you enter library school. This is even true if you want to work in public libraries with children. Storytime and programming involve a lot of planning with the aim of helping children reach various developmental goals and skills.

Regardless of what you choose to study remember that if you show a genuine enthusiasm for reading and learning your students and patrons will be much more likely to look for that within themselves.

  • Jennifer Spota is School Library Media Specialist at Hampton Bays High School in Hampton Bays, NY and former Head Librarian at the Conjuring Arts Research Center in NYC.

Many thanks to Jen and Abby for sharing their expertise and advice!

Q: How can I get my start in a public library?

Q: How can I get my start in a public library?

Q: Aside from volunteering, what are some ways that a relatively recent MLIS graduate might get their start in a public library, even if they don’t have a lot of experience working in a library yet? Thank you.

EM: You have the right idea with volunteering as a way to start and you’re also correct in thinking there are other things you can do. Networking is an important part of a successful job hunt, and my suggestions below all involve networking to some degree:

If you can, get a part-time job in a public library. Even if the first position you have is not full time and not exactly what you have in mind in terms of title and duties, you’ll be gaining experience and a realistic idea of what public library work is all about, and connecting with others already doing that kind of work.

Ideally your supervisor will be willing to serve as a reference for you down the road, too. References are important when job hunting, and those in the field carry more weight than references from other fields.

Join and participate in local and regional professional organizations for public librarians. Don’t just show up to presentations and sit in the audience, contribute: serve on a task force or committee, help to plan an event, write for a newsletter, participate in advocacy efforts, or even run for office. This is a great way to meet those who are currently working in public libraries, in a venue where they’ll get to know you and your strengths, character and work ethic. Some of these groups and/or events are more work related while others are more social; both can be beneficial.

Conduct informational interviews to learn more about different roles for MLS holders in public libraries. Do not treat these informational interviews as stealth job interviews though! Prepare questions for your interviewees about the nature of public library work, what is surprising about it, their career trajectories (ask them how they got their first jobs), what they like and dislike about their work, what they wish they knew when they started, what organizations they are active in, etc. If you establish rapport and seem to get along well with someone you interview, they may be willing to be an advisor for you, which leads me to my next suggestion…

Get a mentor or even better, multiple mentors who are working in public libraries, and if you have more than one, seek mentors who are diverse, in their backgrounds, ethnicity, age, roles, skills, experience, years of service, etc. This doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement with advisors with whom you are in constant contact, in fact, that could be overwhelming for the mentors and might require more time and effort than they are willing to give. It could be a casual alliance, with you and each of your mentors meeting once every few months and catching up over a cup of coffee.

Join listservs / LinkedIn groups / FB groups for public librarians or that include many public librarians. Read what they post, get an idea of what their challenges are, join the conversation, share an article or other resource, pose a question to the group.

You may even want to create an event or project, group, blog/vlog/podcast/zine/FB page/book etc. yourself, or with other new grads to share the workload, related to public library work. That would be a great thing to discuss in a job interview – something that could really make you stand out from the other applicants, and who knows where it might lead?

With these activities you can start to build your professional reputation and connect with others. Remember that the benefits of networking are not instant, but they are definitely worth the effort and time, and can be a lot of fun too. Good luck!

How I Got My First Job: Dr. Sarah Clark

How I Got My First Job: Dr. Sarah Clark

Interviewed by Ellen Mehling

EM: What was your first professional position?

SC: I was promoted from a paraprofessional position to Access Services and Distance Learning Librarian at Rogers State University, shortly after I finished my MLIS at the University of Oklahoma.

EM: How did you get it?

SC: I’d like to think most of it was being well known and respected by my library’s leadership, having already worked there for about a year and a half. However, that would have been irrelevant had it not been for a librarian retiring at the same time I finished my degree and opening up a position.

EM: To what do you attribute your job search success?

SC: Having no library experience when I started my degree, I began looking for any full-time library job on the first day of class. I also signed up for an internship with a local archive, which helped me look more attractive on the job market.

EM: What advice do you have for librarian/info-pro job hunters?

SC: Start looking as early as humanly possible. Better yet, get a job in the field before you start your MLIS. I had it ridiculously easy compared to many librarians who came after me (I graduated in 2006), and you need to have a battle plan. No matter how talented you are, there is always an element of luck. However, fortune favors the prepared.

Dr. Sarah Clark is host of Better Library Leaders, a podcast, blog, and Facebook community.

Q:How do you prepare for a phone interview?

Q:How do you prepare for a phone interview?

Q: How do you prepare for a phone interview? Is the preparation different than for a face-to-face interview? Are phone interviews always just screening, to see who gets a face-to-face interview?

EM: The preparation is mostly the same – do research on the employer and salary for that kind of work in that area, and on the interviewer(s) too if you know who they are going to be, have ready answers for questions  you are likely to be asked, have questions of your own to ask them, and so on. The ways in which the phone interview itself differs from a face-to-face (F2F) interview offer some things to beware of and some things that are to your benefit.

Some disadvantages:

One of the biggest drawbacks of a phone interview is that there is no visual feedback (facial expression, eye contact, body language) from the interviewer(s). Until someone says something, you won’t be able to tell if they are happy or displeased with an answer you’ve given. Keep your answers on the brief side and to the point; don’t go on and on. Let them ask for more information if they want it, or say something like, “Do you want more details about that?”

You are also missing out on information you can gather during a visit to the workplace, including interactions between staff members, the physical set-up of the library and workspace, how happy and/or friendly the employees seem to be there, and how organized and prepared they are when you arrive.

Some advantages (with some preparation):

You can have a copy of the version of your resume you used to get the interview, and the job description, in front of you. These are the things the employer will be focused on, so you should be focused on them too. You can highlight or add notes for yourself of specific skills, experience and accomplishments you want to work into the conversation, if possible.

You can use your computer during the interview: to have the employer’s website open, look something up quickly, record the interviewer(s) name(s) and titles (which you’ll need later for “thank you”s), and/or take notes. Be sure that your attention is not hijacked by what is on the screen, though. Your use of the computer during the interview should be sporadic and brief. You may also need your calendar if all goes well and they want to schedule a follow-up interview.

You can have your questions for them in front of you.

You don’t have to worry about appearing nervous (although nervousness may still reveal itself in your voice).

No traveling, less worry about being late.


Do a mock phone interview, or even better, multiple mock interviews, before the actual interview. If you know someone who has done real-life job interviewing and who is willing to give you honest feedback, that person will be a better mock interviewer than an inexperienced friend who is just asking random interview questions. What I tell clients when I am advising them and/or doing a mock interview is, “If you’re going to make a mistake, make it with me, when there is nothing at stake.”

Confirm the day and time and who will be calling whom, a day or two before the interview.

Make sure you are in a place that is quiet and where you will not be interrupted or distracted. Have a glass or bottle of water nearby to take a sip if your mouth gets dry, but otherwise don’t eat or drink during the interview.

Smile at least some of the time during the interview – it can help you to feel less nervous and the interviewer(s) will be able to hear it in your voice. Take a (silent) deep breath before answering a question, to give yourself a moment to think. Take care that you are speaking clearly and not too quickly.

Wear a suit, and sit at a table or desk rather than on a sofa or bed or comfy chair. Even though the interviewer(s) can’t see you, you will feel and behave in a way that is more professional, and this is to your advantage when you are being evaluated as a professional.

As for whether the phone interview is for screening: all first interviews are used to decide who moves ahead in the hiring process, but phone interviews may be briefer and used for big picture questions to make sure the employer and applicant are on the same page regarding things like basic qualifications and what you know about the position and the employer. While you as the applicant should not bring up salary until an offer is made, the employer may bring it up earlier, including during a phone interview. Usually this is to determine early on if your requirements are more than they are willing to pay, so you should be ready to discuss that.

A phone interview is rarely the only interview before an offer is made; in fact that is so unusual that it would be a red flag for you as the applicant – you’ll want to meet them in person before making the big decision to accept a job offer, and they should want to meet you and get to know you better before making an offer.

How I Got My First Job: Kim Dority

How I Got My First Job: Kim Dority

Interviewed by Ellen Mehling

EM: What was your first professional position?

KD: I was a copy editor and copywriter for Libraries Unlimited, a publisher of reference books and textbooks for the library profession.

EM: How did you get it?

KD: Libraries Unlimited was located where I lived and where I was completing my MLIS (Denver), and the company had called the grad program to see if they could recommend someone with good writing and editing skills who was looking for an entry-level position. I’d attended the Publishing Institute as part of my MLIS coursework, and was known to the program administration, so they recommended me.

EM: To what do you attribute your job search success?

KD: At that point in my career, I would attribute my success to the three things that have opened up every job opportunity I’ve had since: 1) build good relationships with as many people as possible, 2) become visible for the type of work you want to do (the MLIS administrators knew how interested I was in publishing), and 3) try to be in the right place at the right time, what I would describe as putting yourself in the path of opportunity. You never know what skill or connection or contribution will open up opportunities for you, so just keep engaging, talking with people, volunteering, helping others, and doing everything you can to be standing in the middle of the road when an opportunity comes rolling through. Every job or project I’ve taken on since has been the result of this type of “happy happenstance,” but it only happens when you’ve created the conditions for it.

EM: What advice do you have for librarian/info-pro job hunters?

KD: Let everyone know what type of job you’re looking for, ask for their advice/counsel/recommendations, and then get active. Make sure you have a killer online presence (especially a solid LinkedIn profile) so that if someone casually recommends you in a conversation with a potential employer, that potential employer can immediately check you out (and be dazzled by you). Volunteer in some way or on some project that lets you use your information skills to create value – this not only extends your network and professional visibility, it also gives you good stuff to talk about in an interview. Don’t focus so much on sending out 100 resumes to online job postings every day; instead, do several information interviews a week (be sure not to ask for a job!), work on cool information projects that interest you and could help others, and remain active and professionally engaged. And if a part-time gig or temp job helps you get a foot in the door and demonstrate how amazing you are, go for it!

I’d also recommend that job-seekers think of potential jobs from a broader career perspective. With every new job, you want to be able to continue to build what I would call your “professional equity” – that is, what you know (skills and domain knowledge), who you know (your professional community or network), and who knows what about you (your professional reputation and visibility, also known as your brand). Sometimes a job may not be the perfect match at first blush, but when you consider a position from the broader perspective of your career lifecycle, it may turn out to provide substantial benefits.

I think this is especially the case in an era where people may be changing jobs (voluntarily or not) more frequently. Going into a new job knowing 1) that it may not last ten years, but 2) that’s okay, because you’ve put together an agenda for what career goals you intend to accomplish while you’re there, tends to make it much easier to become professionally independent. The reality is that regardless of where we work today, we’re all self-employed, and need to look at our careers from that sense of self-management. That said, who could imagine a cooler, more interesting, or more infinitely adaptable skill set than we’ve got?!

Kim Dority is President, Dority & Associates, Inc. and author, Rethinking Information Work, 2d ed. (Libraries Unlimited, 2016)

Advice I Give All The Time…

Advice I Give All The Time…

(…to which there is sometimes resistance!)

By Ellen Mehling

I’ve been advising job hunters, including librarians and library school students, for over ten years. As you might imagine, there are pieces of advice I give again and again, whether in an individual advising session or during a workshop for a group, and for some of this advice there is resistance at times, or a misconception that these things are not that important. Disregarding these things, though, can result in missed opportunities or a job search that is more difficult and/or longer than it needs to be.


Many people are uncomfortable with networking. It really is necessary though, and not just for job search success, but for continuing career success. Students should begin networking before graduation, with their professors and classmates, supervisors and other staff at internships, co-workers if they are employed in the field, and other members of professional organizations. Being known in the profession and by hiring decision-makers can greatly increase your chances of finding employment.

Relevant Experience/Skills

Having the specific, required skills and experience for the job is crucial. On a regular basis, though, I talk to MLS students who have the idea that the degree alone will get them interviews and job offers. Even some job hunters who are not new to the field will discount the need for specific experience, thinking they can just talk their way in and they’ll “wing it” and figure things out on the job. If you can’t convey that you have something of value (relevant experience and skills) to offer the employer, though, you are very unlikely to even get a chance to bluff your way in.

Review job postings to see what skills employers are seeking for the positions you are interested in, and figure out how to get them however you can, including part- or full-time work, internships, and volunteering. If you are reluctant to volunteer, know that employers will always prefer job candidates with experience to those without. (FWIW, I started volunteering while still in graduate school, I still volunteer and do pro bono work, and expect to continue to do so for the rest of my career.)

Customized application documents

Having one version of your resume and cover letter that you send in application to all positions is simply not effective in getting interviews. You can be sure that others applying for that same position are tailoring those documents to each position to catch the attention of the hiring manager reading them. Employers want to see that you are putting more than minimal effort into your application documents, and that you are very interested in that specific job that they have open.

Realistic expectations

Job searching, writing effective application documents, and networking take time, effort, and perseverance. When you are applying for jobs, you won’t hear back from all employers. In fact, it may be a rare thing to get any kind of a response, no matter how strong a candidate you feel you are. An interview is not a job offer, and having an interview (even a second or third interview) does not mean that the job is “yours to lose”. Until you are formally offered the job, negotiate and accept it, and begin your first day, the job is not yours and you should continue your active search for employment.

Trust your gut when deciding to accept a job. Accepting a job when you have doubts or serious concerns about fit, or that you would not accept if not for desperation, is a recipe for disaster. Consider all of the aspects of the job offer, and use your intuition as well as your head in making the decision to accept or decline.

Other unrealistic expectations include anticipating a salary that is out of line with job requirements (do your homework), thinking that interview preparation is unnecessary (mock interviews with honest feedback can make a huge difference) and thinking that gimmicky tactics like “pain letters” will impress a hiring manager (they won’t).


Before a hire, employers will want references (usually three) and references in the field are preferable to those doing a different type of work (another reason to get library-related experience, as you will be connecting with others who may be willing to recommend you to a potential employer).

Keep resume up to date

This one is like flossing your teeth daily: everyone knows they should do it, but some people just don’t. So many of the resume reviews I do are under time pressure because someone who hasn’t looked at his/her resume in many months (or years!) needs to send a current version that same day or the next day. Your resume should always be up to date or so near to current that it could be updated quickly. You never know when an opportunity may arise, and it really isn’t difficult to spend a few minutes reviewing it every couple of months or whenever you have something to change or add, and keep it ready to go.