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.


Q: I accepted an entry-level academic position with tuition assistance, but I’m miserable. Should I suck it up and stick it out, or should I try to find a position elsewhere?

Q: I accepted an entry-level academic position with tuition assistance, but I’m miserable. Should I suck it up and stick it out, or should I try to find a position elsewhere?

Q: So I have a dilemma here. I accepted an entry-level position at an academic library earlier this year. I just graduated last year, and was very excited to get my foot in the door towards my dream career in librarianship. The place I work at is very casual and relaxed and, as common with university positions, provides tuition assistance (I would like to start on my MLIS soon). All around, it sounded like a great opportunity.

However, after working here for basically half a year, I am now in a place of knowing what kind of work environment I like and can thrive in… and it’s not this one. While I can’t speak on everything that’s going on in this library (and it’s a lot), I can confidently say that I do not want to stay. The problem is, I’ve been applying to numerous other positions and cannot seem to warrant any call-backs.

Should I suck it up, stick it out and get my MLIS, or should I try to find a position elsewhere? I don’t think it’s smart to pursue a Master’s degree when I’m not really in the right space mentally and socially, but… I really need some advice.

A: This is a tricky, and unfortunate, position to be in. If you are truly miserable, you shouldn’t stay. But leaving before you have another position can make your job search more difficult. And, the entire job search can take several months or longer… so you may need to be patient.

There are numerous reasons to dislike a position, some of these may include poor management, non-supportive (or downright unbearable) co-workers, and systemic dysfunction. Since you say that there is a lot going on in the library, I suspect that there are multiple reasons why you want to leave.

I don’t know all the details of your situation, but I will offer up a few suggestions: try to find someone at your library or institution to talk to — a boss or supervisor, someone in the human resources department, a colleague/friend. Find out from HR if it might be possible to move into another position, in a different area of the library or institution. Ask yourself: would you want to stay at this university if you could? If one thing changed (e.g., new role, new supervisor, a colleague left, etc.) would you change your mind and want to stay? What would have to happen for you to change your mind about leaving?

Having a job that offers tuition assistance can be extremely beneficial, but does this benefit outweigh the psychological cost of staying in a position (or place) that you do not want to be in? On the other hand, perhaps being in school, or finding professional outlets outside of work, could alleviate some of your unhappiness and frustration with your current position – both socially and mentally. And, once you receive your MLIS, you would (presumably) move on to a different position, in a different institution.

Not every job will be perfect, and not every work environment is suitable to all people. Most people have suffered through difficult roles, colleagues, and bosses at some point in their lives, and they learn from both the good and the bad. As you are starting out in your career, you may encounter several positions that you know are not right for you – but that’s why you want get your MLIS, and move on (and up) in your career. There is a purpose, so keep the end in mind. Having said that, I don’t think anyone should stay in an environment that makes them miserable, or may have lasting effects on one’s career choice and work-life satisfaction. I hope that this experience doesn’t drive you away from pursuing librarianship altogether.

If you know that you need to leave, for your own sanity and preservation, and you are applying for positions but not getting any responses, then I would suggest revamping your application materials, and making sure that you stay as positive as you can about your current position in both your written materials and in interviews.

Here is another Q&A on the same topic:  “Is it acceptable to pursue another position after four months of employment or should I continue in a situation that could prove to be detrimental to my career in the long term?

And good luck!

Q&A: Should I go back to school and get an ALA-accredited MLS, or pursue a PhD?

Q&A: Should I go back to school and get an ALA-accredited MLS, or pursue a PhD?

Q: I currently have a MS in School Library-Media from an AASL-accredited program. This program falls under the purview of the ALA, but is not listed as one of the ALA-accredited MLS programs. Basically, I got it to work as a certified school librarian. Recently, I got a job at a public library, which recognizes my degree as being the same as an MLS since the public library institution I work for is under the state department of education. However, I’d like to eventually move out of the area and work in another state. So my question is… should I go back to school and get an ALA accredited MLS? I was also considering doing a PhD in Information Sciences since I already have a masters but wasn’t sure if public libraries in other states would recognize a PhD in Information Science as the same as having the equivalent to an MLS. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

A: If you continue to work as a school librarian, or a library media specialist in another state, then the degree you have should be appropriate. If you want to move out of school libraries into other types of librarianship, then you will most likely need to acquire your MLS from an ALA-accredited program. And, unfortunately, there is no shortcut to achieving this. According to the ALA “…there is no set of courses or tests that can be taken to ‘receive’ an accredited degree. You would need to attend an ALA-accredited program for another master’s degree.” But — since your current library does recognize your degree, it is possible that other public or educational institutions in other states will as well.

As for pursuing a PhD in Information Science, that is totally up to you and your future career goals. If you want to become a library director, work in a university setting, or teach in an LIS program, then a PhD may be beneficial and/or required. If you’ve always dreamed of getting your PhD, and have a passion for research and writing, then maybe you should consider this path.

To answer your final question, a PhD in Information Science (from an accredited program) is recognized as equivalent to an MLS – however, be aware that it could make you seem overqualified for certain positions that do not require a PhD. And, if you are thinking that it might be faster to do the PhD since you already have a masters under your belt, it won’t. The PhD program will be more competitive to get into, and take more time to complete. These programs emphasize scholarship and teaching, and you will need to start the program from scratch.

My advice is to start researching accredited programs. Look closely at their requirements, their faculty, their concentrations, and their courses. Contact them to get more information, and also take into consideration location, course schedules, tuition, financial aid, and career placement programs. Ultimately you want to find a program that will fit with your current lifestyle, and help move you toward achieving the job you want, in the location you desire. Good luck!


See also:

I will have to go back to school to get a second masters, but I’d rather just do a PhD. Would it be a good idea to go for the PhD now?

How You Too Can Transition from a Librarian to a Doctoral Student by Abigail Phillips for Hack Library School, 2013.

Q: How do I show increased responsibility (from one institution) on my CV?

Q: How do I show increased responsibility (from one institution) on my CV?

Q: Recently, my job title in an academic library was changed at my request to reflect an expansion of duties over the past two years (I have worked at the institution for 4+ years). Given that some job ads ask for demonstration of increased responsibility over time, I want to highlight the change appropriately on my CV. 

I have considered separate entries for each job title (i.e., listing the job title and associated duties for each) but some duties would seem redundant because they have been part of my purview since day one. I also considered listing the job titles one after the next, with dates in parentheses, and having only one list of duties below, but am concerned that it is misleading if I did not assume certain duties until my third year on the job. What do you suggest?

A: Congratulations on moving up, and good call on your part to request a title change that reflects your current role. You definitely need to add this to your current CV and, as you mentioned, there are several ways to do it. Since you have maintained many of your existing duties, I would suggest listing the different titles with the respective duties underneath each title (see example below) in order to highlight increased responsibility throughout your tenure at the library.

You may want to think about changing up the wording so you’re not repeating yourself verbatim – especially if you are using bullet points. If you’re using more of a paragraph style (common with CVs) rather than phrases, it may make it easier for you to explain your various role and duties as well as your progression. Put your new responsibilities at the top. You may want to use a combination of paragraph and bullets; you may want to highlight specific accomplishments of that particular position/time period; or, you may want to have two sections – one (professional experience) that just lists your titles along with dates, and another section (professional duties) that goes more in-depth into each position. And, as we’ve mentioned many times before, you will want to customize your CV (or resume) for each particular job you apply for, or each purpose it serves (tenure, promotion, online portfolio, etc.). Search for examples of CVs that you find attractive and play around with format and language until you get something that looks appealing and sounds professional.  I recommend revising and re-formatting your CV or resume on a regular basis. Changes, even little ones, can be so satisfying.



ABC University Library

Senior Librarian (2015 – Present)

Responsible for library-wide financial administration for personnel, equipment and furniture, and collection development. Manage all aspects of technical and access services departments. Participate in campus-wide strategic planning initiatives, such as….

Assistant Librarian (2012-2015)

Managed all aspects of electronic resources and assessment for the library. Managed the discovery service and knowledge base. Participated in reference and instruction services, including….


Related articles:

2 Jobs, 1 Company: How to Show Multiple Positions on Your Resume

How to Format Promotions In Your Resume

How to Rewrite Your Resume to Focus on Accomplishments, Not Just Job Duties

Resumes, Curriculum Vitae, and Cover Letters (Simmons College)

Q: I want to be an academic librarian. Will my current job help my goal, are online degree programs viewed the same as in-person ones, and what qualifications will I need?

Q: I want to be an academic librarian. Will my current job help my goal, are online degree programs viewed the same as in-person ones, and what qualifications will I need?

Q: Whilst studying for my PhD I began working part time in a university library, and discovered just how much I love it! I have an undergraduate degree and masters in media and creative writing, and I had been pursuing the PhD because of my love of academic research and education, and to be truthful because I had found it very difficult finding a career path with my qualifications.

During my studies, I felt increasingly worried about future career prospects, and the uncertainty of an academic faculty career, and when I started working in the library it felt like I had finally found the perfect career for me which brought together all my skills and passions, so much so that I quit my PhD at the end of the first year and began applying for MLIS courses and entry level library positions.

After looking into costs I decided an online course may be the best option for me. I also managed to secure a full-time job working as an information assistant at a further education college.

I just wanted to ask – if I have taken a job in a further education college, would I then be able to move into higher education and academic library roles in the future, or into public library roles (after I have the MLIS qualification)?

I also wondered if an online MLIS program (accredited by CILIP in the UK) is viewed the same as attended courses by employers?

And finally, I just wanted to ask if any further qualifications would be needed to become an academic librarian alongside the MLIS and an additional masters? Ironically after quitting my PhD, I finally got offered a paid studentship, and I just wanted to be sure that the PhD wouldn’t be useful or essential to a library career before closing the door on it.

Sorry for all the questions. I would be so grateful of any advice, help or suggestions you may have! Thanks so very much!


SM: Dear Many Questions:

So glad you discovered your love for working in libraries and are taking the steps to realize your perfect career! I know several librarians who have PhDs, and know of several others who left their respective PhD programs to pursue librarianship instead. I think, as you mentioned, the career prospects for (teaching) faculty members in higher education can be uncertain and for people like yourself, who love research and being involved in higher education, a job as an academic librarian can be a satisfying alternative.

I will attempt to answer your questions as best I can, in sections (and from the point of view of a US librarian):

Will my job in further education make me eligible to work in higher education?

To first clarify for my US readers, further education (FE) in the UK and elsewhere is similar to vocational, trade, professional schools in the US. Higher education (HE) means universities in both the UK and the US.

In the US, academic librarians are academic librarians, whether you work in two-year colleges, four-year colleges, or universities. There are similar roles, and similar duties in all academic libraries. However, there will always be differences in populations served, amount/type/number of resources offered, and the structure of administrative hierarchy – but this is also true in public vs. private schools, as well as in schools of different sizes and in different locations. It is possible to move from one type of academic setting to another, and (it seems to me that) working in a FE setting is closer to working in an HE setting than a public library setting. As an academic librarian, or someone working in education, you would (most likely) be working with student populations, teaching information literacy classes, providing reference services, collaborating with faculty, and sitting on campus committees. Also, you are a still a student and not working as a professional librarian. Most potential employers will recognize that a library job of any kind, while you’re pursuing your degree, is ambitious and beneficial.

The most important thing is that you are working while taking classes. You are gaining much needed experience and skills — transferable skills, which are wanted in many different types of academic libraries and institutions, and will make you more hire-able when you complete your degree. It all comes down to your skills, your experience, and your attitude — and how you translate all of that in your application materials. And… it is always possible to get there from here.

Are online courses viewed the same as in-person by employers?

This question comes up often, and there has been lots of public discussion on this topic, which you wouldn’t think would be an issue today. According to the American Library Association, there are twenty-nine fully online accredited MLS programs in the US and Canada. So… my answer to you is: it all depends on who’s doing the hiring. It shouldn’t matter whether you got your degree entirely online, in a hybrid program, or in a traditional on-campus setting. However, there will always be bias and opinions that come into play in the hiring process, and some people do think that the online degree is not quite the same (see discussions on this topic from Information Wants to be Free, and Hiring Librarians). I completely disagree with this opinion. Some of the smartest librarians I know got their degrees from online programs. I also believe that you get what you put into it. Every person, whether the program is online or in-person, needs to commit to a certain level of scholarship, communication, follow-through, and ingenuity, in order to complete a degree program. Once you have that piece of paper, nothing else matters (except for skills, experience, and attitude… as mentioned above).

Any further qualifications needed?

Other than the MLIS (or equivalent accredited degree), there are no other across-the-board qualifications needed to obtain an academic librarian position. But every position, and every institution, and every library will have its own unique set of requirements. Normally, a PhD is not required for academic librarian positions in the UK or the US; although for certain positions such as a subject specialist in a large research university or a director position, it may be a required or preferred qualification. A second masters (which you have) is often required to work as a librarian in a higher ed institution, but some places will allow you to obtain that degree on-the-job within a specific time period. You may decide, one day, to finish your PhD, and that may or may not open other doors or opportunities for you. But if you think about the changing nature of the library profession, any education, certificate, or degree above and beyond the MLIS will only help to enhance your skills and drive your career path to the next level or stage.




Q: Should I enter an accelerated Library Information Technician Diploma program, or go for a Masters in Library & Information Science?

Q: Should I enter an accelerated Library Information Technician Diploma program, or go for a Masters in Library & Information Science?

Q: I have a Humanities BA, and a Bachelor of Education, but I ended up discovering that teaching isn’t my thing. My dream job would be to work in an academic library!

If I take the diploma program, I can start job hunting after only a year, and the cost will be minimal. It also seems like it provides directly applicable technical skills, as well as experience through work placements. If I later decide I want to advance my career, I could still apply for a MLIS in the future.

But it looks like the best academic librarian jobs require a MLIS anyway. So should I skip the community college diploma and just go for the Master’s degree right from the start? I’m worried that it would just put me in even more student debt without much payoff.

What are the differences between the kinds of jobs I can expect to qualify for with a LIT diploma vs. a MLIS degree?


SM: Correction: not only the best academic jobs will require an MLIS — all academic librarian positions will require an MLIS (or equivalent). While the LIT diploma may help you secure a library staff/technician position, it typically is not required for those positions. If you want to apply for staff positions, your current degrees should serve you well. If working as an academic librarian is your ultimate goal, I recommend that you go for the MLIS, rather than the diploma. I understand the economic incentive to spend the least amount of money, but if you go the diploma route, and then can’t get the jobs you want, you’ll end up spending more money (and time) for both degrees — rather than just getting your MLIS in the first place.

Spend some time perusing current job ads for positions you find interesting, and look at the requirements: degrees, background, specific skills, and experience that is expected in applicants. And then compare that to what you already have, and make an inventory of what you need to acquire.

As for library schools, do your research and look at programs across the country, including online programs. The costs will vary greatly depending on school, location, private vs. public, and specialization. And keep in mind that you may qualify for student aid and loans. You could complete an MLIS program, if you took the max workload, in under two years. I’ve known some people to finish in just a year and a half. However, it would be most beneficial to your future career as a librarian, if you could work in a library (preferably an academic one) while you are taking classes toward your MLIS. You will need the MLIS in order to apply for positions, but employers always prefer some experience, especially for academic librarian positions.

But, don’t just take my word for it. Contact a local librarian and see if you can talk to him/her about the profession and about his/her own career path. Get advice from online forums, and join local associations where you can network and learn more about what it might take to land your dream job in an academic library.


Useful Sites:

ALA JobList

Careers in Librarianship – What Librarians Need to Know  |  Becoming a Library Assistant or Technician

Directory of ALA-Accredited and Candidate Programs in Library and Information Studies

INALJ jobs!

Occupation Outlook Handbook:  Librarians   |   Library Technicians & Assistants

State of America’s Libraries Report 2015  |  Academic Libraries


Q: I’m currently working in a non-library field. How can I gain the skills and experience needed to get a librarian job?

Q: I’m currently working in a non-library field. How can I gain the skills and experience needed to get a librarian job?

Q: I have a background in public library assistant work, and graduated with an LIS degree in 2012, but have been working in a non-library field since then (academic administration).

I’ve been applying since graduation for entry-level librarian positions, and have interviewed for a number of posts, but with no success. The feedback I receive is that another candidate with more specialized experience has been hired.

I’m not in a position to give up my present job to take on temporary or part-time work for the sake of the CV, and I’m finding it really difficult to obtain any kind of volunteering opportunities which would work around a full-time job. (I also don’t have the option to change my present working hours.)

If you have any advice on how to gain more specialized library skills in the above situation, and/or how to make non-library experience sound relevant and transferable to a library context, I would really appreciate it!

Many thanks for your time and consideration.

SM: The best way to get a job is to have (or have had) a job. This is the classic dilemma: You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. Most job ads say “experience required” or “experience preferred.” It’s no secret, employers prefer candidates with prior library experience, even for entry-level positions. They also want to hire candidates whose skills are up-to-date and who are aware of recent trends and issues in the profession.

Normally we would suggest that you get any kind of library experience you can: internships, part-time positions, paraprofessional jobs, volunteering, etc. But we also understand that there are many people, like you, who cannot seek out these opportunities (if they can even find them). And keep in mind that most people don’t find their dream job right away. The path to your dream job will most likely involve several roles, levels, and locations.

Here are some tips to help make you a more competitive job applicant in order to get your foot in the (library) door:

  • Draw on transferable skills. From previous careers to current positions, everything you do and learn will prepare you for your next job — even in a different field. Think in broad categories: communication, technology, committee work, project management, public service (working with college students or faculty!), writing, analyzing, budgeting, etc.
  • Keep current. Read, a lot. It’s helpful to learn from the experiences of others, and to keep current on what’s going on in the profession. If possible, enroll in an online course or workshop that interests you and can enhance your knowledge on a specific topic.
  • Talk with others about their experiences. A good mentor, and/or network of colleagues, can teach you a lot, and help you figure out the best direction to set your sights. Join local library associations and take advantage of their meetings, events, and conferences.
  • Consider alternative jobs and roles. You may have your heart set on an academic librarian position (for example), but perhaps you, and your current skill set, may be better suited for a special librarian position.
  • Rework your materials. Since you don’t have a lot of library experience, you may want to use a functional resume, or a combination of a chronological and functional resume. Group similar skills together under broad categories such as public services, technology, and management. This can work well for highlighting transferable skills. And use your cover letter to tie your current position and skills to the requirements of the job.
  • Don’t ignore your online identity. Make sure you have a professional online identity (LinkedIn, online portfolio, blog, etc.) that is current and reflects your professional interests, skills, and goals. And include the link in your application materials.

Keep applying for jobs, and try not to get discouraged! Job hunting, and finding the right job, can be a lengthy — but hopefully rewarding — process.

Additional resources:

Alternative Careers:
Infonista: On Being an Information Entrepreneur | Kim Dority

What Can I Do With a Degree in Library Science? | Simmons College

Online Identities:
Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identityHow to use portfolios and profiles” | Susanne Markgren

Using E-Portfolios to Showcase Your Work, Experience, and Skills | Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas

Susan Ireland’s Resume Site

How to Use a Combination Resume when Job Searching

Transferable Skills:
Examples of Transferable Skills

Thinking about making a career transition? Highlight your transferable skills” | Rachael Altman, INALJ

The majority of the material for this answer came directly from our book: Career Q&A: A Librarian’s Real-Life Practical Guide to Managing a Successful Career.