Q: I am starting to think about having children. How do I start a dialogue with the people I work with, and with my supervisor?

Q: I am starting to think about having children. How do I start a dialogue with the people I work with, and with my supervisor?

Q: I have an interesting question about a library/employment-related topic, and even after doing some research, I have been unable to find reliable sources of information on the topic. (Gasp! I know, right? What kind of librarian am I?)

I am starting to think about having children. Although I know many women in my organization who have had children and have made different choices about reducing or not reducing their hours, I am trying to get practical perspectives outside of my organization because I’m really new to the topic and I’d like to gather as much information as possible.

I know there is a lot out there written for academic librarians, and I have found a lot of that information useful, particularly things published by ACRL and other local and state library organizations. However, I am a public librarian, and I’m wondering if you know where I might be able to go to find information about women who work in public libraries and how they manage the transition from librarian to new mother.

What’s it like to discuss these transitions with a supervisor or manager? What is a good way to bring up the subject without sounding entitled? Is it even appropriate to bring up the subject with other female colleagues in a professional setting? (My hunch is “no”, but then how can we open a dialogue about it when it affects so many of us?)

I realize that this is an extremely unorthodox question, but any ideas you might be able to share would be most appreciated.


SM: We love unorthodox! And this is a dialogue that is dear to our hearts since we are all working mothers and we’ve all made sacrifices in our careers and our personal lives after having children. And we’ve all struggled with the difficulties and challenges of juggling parenthood with our professional lives.

The dialogue should happen on many levels, in different contexts, and with various people — and ideally before you get pregnant. I think this is the real problem, not having the dialogue early enough. And, it’s not just women who should be talking about it, men should be having the parenthood/flexibility discussion as well.

Flexibility is something that we all need or crave at some point in our careers, and for many of us, it is because of childbirth or raising our children.

You’ll want to start the dialogue early on because you definitely don’t want to run into work-related surprises after you have a baby (you’ll have enough as a new parent). The first person you should contact is someone in your institution’s human resources department, and read over your personnel policy manual or handbook. You should fully understand your benefits and family leave time, etc., and trust me, it is never simple or straightforward. Each organization is different, each work culture has its own rules and quirks, and each person will have different needs.

If you feel comfortable enough with colleagues who have recently had children, then have a private, hypothetical conversation with them. Invite them for coffee or lunch and ask them what they did after they had their child and how they handled it. Ask them about their leave and about any flexibility, or difficulties, they encountered. Ask them about daycare, and family sick time. This is the best way to get information. And from my experience, they will be more than happy to give their “maternal” advice.

Before I became pregnant with my first child, I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it at work because no one had young children (really). I did talk with a colleague who was in the same situation as me, but we were both rather lost. I got pregnant first, and when she did a year later, I could give her lots of advice. I knew, from the culture of the place and the attitude of some of the higher-ups who worked there, that flexibility was not an option at that point, so I did not pursue it.

It was when I had my second child years later, at a different job, when I talked to my supervisor about a temporary reduced work schedule after my maternity leave (which ended up lasting for five years, until after I had my third child). I knew that it was possible because one of my colleagues was already working a reduced schedule, and honestly, this was one of the reasons I took the job, because of the flexibility it would offer me as a parent.

In our book, Career Q&A, we have a chapter on flexibility, because we think it is an extremely important (and unfortunately still too rare) commodity and — you are right! — we need to have more dialogue about it. Here are some tips (from that chapter):

Pursuing a Flexible Schedule in Your Current Workplace

There are several steps you should take once you decide you want or need a more flexible schedule:

1. Gather information. Talk to your supervisor or director, human resources, your union (if you have one), and others in your library or your institution who have flexible schedules. Ask questions. Get feedback from others who have more longevity than you do. But even if no one in your organization has tried a flexible schedule, you can still be successful.

2. Think about the culture of your library or organization. Is it open to flexibility and change? Is it supportive of its employees? Are the managers easy to talk to? Does it encourage communication and professional development?

3. Track your work. Keep a log of everything you do, and where and how you do it.

4. Figure out what your ideal schedule would be. Do you want or need to reduce your hours? Do you need to work different hours? Is this temporary or permanent? When do you want or need this new schedule to begin?

5. Figure out how your role and your duties will be covered. How will your new schedule impact your co-workers, the library, and its services? This is especially important if you need to reduce your hours. How will things get done? Is there someone else in your library who can help complete your work? Are you able to do your work from home or another location? How will you track your work and your hours?

6. Write up a proposal. Include the information, evidence, ideas, and solutions you have compiled.

7. Figure out what you will do if your proposal is not accepted. Will you resign? Will you ask for a leave of absence? Will you continue to work your regular schedule? You should imagine different scenarios and be prepared to follow through on your decisions.

8. Meet with your supervisor. Present your proposal, and prepare to negotiate.

There isn’t much written about this matter (flexibility and parenthood), especially geared toward public librarians. Your best bet may be to peruse librarian blogs, to read first-hand accounts of what it’s like to work, or not work (or work a reduced schedule), after having a baby.

And — you are entitled to talk about your future, and to devise a working environment that suits your needs. The desire to have children shouldn’t be something that we need to keep secret, even though many of us do for fear of potentially hurting our careers. We need to bring it out into the open. Be brave, start the dialogue.


Articles that you may find useful:




Q: I am a co-chair of a junior faculty research roundtable. Can you give me some suggestions on how to keep it engaging for all the members?

Q: I am a co-chair of a junior faculty research roundtable. Can you give me some suggestions on how to keep it engaging for all the members?

Q: I have recently been appointed to the position of co-chair for my university’s Junior Faculty Research Roundtable (JFRR). JFRR is a forum for untenured library faculty to discuss their research ideas, concerns, and experiences. I have been brainstorming ideas on how to keep this roundtable engaging for all of the members. Can someone offer suggestions?

SM: Great question and one that many of us struggle with as we find ourselves involved with (and in charge of) discussion groups and committees. I have recently been involved in developing a writing support group for academic librarians in my area. The members are from various types of libraries, some are tenure-track and some are not. It has been challenging coming up with discussion topics — and a format — that will be of interest to everyone, every time. And… I’ve learned a few things: 1.) it isn’t possible to cater to everyone’s interests or needs because everyone is at a different stage in their research/writing, and 2.) these groups can be invaluable, if only to provide a supportive community and safe place to explore ideas and learn from one’s peers.

Here are some suggestions to help keep your roundtable engaging:

  • Have each meeting be focused on one particular aspect of the writing/research/tenure process. For example, have someone talk about how to analyze data, and perhaps give a demo of software or tools that he/she has used. And, for another meeting, have someone talk about the query and acceptance process.
  • Divide meetings into specific chunks (and keep track of time). For example: invite a guest speaker to talk for 30 minutes on a specific topic, then have a group discussion with questions for the speaker, and end with accountability talks which could mean going around the room to find out what each person is working on and to check in on his/her progress, or having people break off into smaller groups (could be based on type of project, or similar subject), to discuss in their groups.
  • Try to plan out future meeting topics in advance so people know what is on the agenda and can schedule accordingly. Not every topic will appeal to everyone, and that’s OK.
  • At the end of each meeting, give attendees a goal to aim for by the next meeting (or within a certain time frame), whether that is gathering research, writing five pages, or sending query letters and answering CFPs.
  • Encourage collaboration. Help attendees find mentors or potential co-authors, who can help support them on a particular project. Everything is more fun with a partner.
  • Use the meetings to actually do some research or writing, to find and discuss CFPs and to get started on some part of a project. Have attendees write for ten minutes – give them a topic (or writing prompt) if they need one. This can help to get the creative juices flowing, and provide them with something to take with them, because we know that getting started is typically the hardest part.
  • Assign reading materials for discussion — use the group as a book club, in a sense. We can’t be good writers without first being good readers.
  • Partner people up into accountability pairs, so they can communicate between meetings and help to keep one another motivated.
  • Incorporate some fun into it. Tenure can be a stressful process, so try to lighten it up with practical tricks and tips to help any writer, and discussions on non-scholarly writing (blogs, newsletters, trade magazines, etc.).

It is a lot of work to chair committees and roundtables and to organize meetings and come up with topics, so I applaud your efforts to seek out suggestions and I hope that I’ve provided you with a few that you can use to help make your roundtable discussions a tad more engaging. Good luck!

Q: 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?

Q: 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?

Q: Hello! I am currently a Sub-Instructor/Reference Librarian at a college. Prior to this, I worked for five years as a Library Associate at a research library. I received my MLS in 2011 and was very grateful to get a chance to take this substitute position which could very well turn into something permanent. I, for sure, will have to go back to school for a second masters to remain a librarian at the college level. However, I’d rather just do a PhD because I think that will go further and it’s more of a personal accomplishment for me. I guess my question is would it be a good idea to go for the PhD now? Going for the PhD in Library and Information Science means I will have to move (which I am fine with) out of NYC. Would this be worth it? If this were to become a permanent position, should I abandon the PhD idea? I’m currently 28 and I want to get this out of the way while I am still kind of young and because I know PhD programs can last up to 6 years. I was wondering if someone who has graduated with their PhD can provide me with some guidance on that? Also, where should I begin in terms of looking for PhD programs? How many should I apply to? How did you find funding? If I were to go ahead with this I’m looking to be back in school by Fall 2015. I’ll be 29 by then!

SM: So many questions! So much ambition! I’m exhausted just thinking about going back to school for another degree. Whew… let me catch my breath. Actually, I recently finished an MFA program, which took me five+ years, but I did it — very part time — while I was working (and I’m much older than 29).

I like your motivation and that you are thinking about the future of your career in libraries. Your substitute position sounds great, and the best part is that you are gaining experience to add to your resume, even if the position is only temporary. The question of getting additional degrees, and whether you need to or not, has long been discussed and debated among librarians (we’ve written a few times about PhDs and second masters). There are many academic library positions that do not require a second masters, so don’t think that it is always a necessity. Will it help you get a job? Quite possibly. Do you need a PhD? Probably not. Will it expand your job prospects? Maybe. However, the time you spend getting your PhD will take away from the time you could spend working, which equals experience, which is what gets jobs. A PhD in library and information science is a requirement for being a professor in a LIS graduate program and will make it easier for you to teach (part time or full time) at the graduate level, so if that is where you see yourself someday, go for it. Should you quit your job to pursue more education? Well, that’s a tough decision that only you can make.

Since I don’t have a PhD, I will point you to a few other, really smart librarians, who have written on this topic. A friend, Geeky Artist Librarian, who just happens to have her PhD, wrote “MLS, MA, PhD, EdD… Academic Librarians & Degrees.” And, on the other side of the conversation, Mr. Library Dude wrote “On Being a Generalist Librarian & Not Having a 2nd Master’s.”

The main points that I want to get across is you should do what you want to do, do it for the right reasons, and make sure you enjoy it. Don’t feel like you absolutely have to go back to school for additional degrees. Don’t put pressure on yourself to complete a degree in a certain time frame (trust me, you’re still young and the PhD programs will always be there). Don’t rush into putting yourself into (more) debt for something you may not need, and don’t make yourself miserable in the process.

However, if getting a PhD is something that you absolutely want to do, and you won’t be happy or content until you do it, then by all means, pursue your education. Figure out what area of library and information science you want to focus on, and research PhD programs. Look at their curriculum, their faculty, their areas of concentration, their requirements, and what their PhD candidates are researching and/or writing. All of this may influence your decision. You can find accredited ones by using the American Library Association’s Searchable Database of ALA Accredited Programs. Limit by “PhD.”

As for funding, if you are accepted into a PhD program, most, if not all, will provide some support or funding for the duration of the program. It is a competitive process and if you’re accepted, they want you to stay – they also want you to teach (TA) and work (RA) for them, as part of the program, which will provide you with funds to help support you along the way. Most programs will provide information on the types of funding available on their web sites.

Good luck!

Q: Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?

Q: Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?

Q:  I have been looking for a permanent job in mostly archives and university libraries for nearly three years. I will spare you details of how discouraging the search has been. I have been volunteering for various organizations for those three years doing a few projects as an unpaid librarian for a couple non-profit organizations. Currently on my résumé I list my volunteer and intern experience in a separate section from my professional experience. Someone suggested I list these experiences with the professional and don’t mention that they were volunteer gigs. This feels dishonest somehow. Is it OK to treat unpaid experience as professional experience on my résumé?


SM: Yes, yes, yes! Just because you weren’t paid for the work you did doesn’t mean you cannot call it professional experience – especially since it is. You are doing internships to get the experience you need to get you the job you want. This is what internships are designed to do… and some do it better than others.

You should put your most relevant experience up front, regardless of whether you got paid for it. This is especially true for people who don’t have that much current, or recent, library experience under their belts. If it makes you feel better (or less dishonest), rename your heading “Library Experience” and put everything else under “Other Experience” or something similar. And, since we’re talking honestly, I can’t take full credit for this advice. As I was graduating from library school (some oh so many years ago), this is how the director of career development told me to arrange my résumé — more functional than chronological.

As you rework your résumé, don’t lie about what you did, or what your title was — call it an internship, call yourself a volunteer — just make sure to include all the important skills, jobs, projects, systems, technology, tools, etc., that you worked on and used. If you were “hired” as an unpaid librarian, then your title was librarian. You don’t have to mention that you weren’t getting paid, although you may want to mention that the job was temporary.

Here’s the thing: potential employers and hiring committees don’t want to spend a lot of time going over your résumé to try to find applicable experience and skills. So don’t make them search. Highlight your experience and skills that correspond to the requirements of the job by putting them up front, where they can be easily found.

If the job calls for a certain number of years of “professional experience,” then your unpaid work probably won’t be considered as part of this requirement. Typically (although this can differ from job to job) this only applies to people who have held professional positions that required an MLS. But that doesn’t mean that the work you’ve done in your various unpaid positions is not “professional” in nature. Best of luck!


Related, and potentially useful, articles:


Q: Would it be unethical if I did not disclose future travel plans during an interview?

Q: Would it be unethical if I did not disclose future travel plans during an interview?

Q: I am interviewing for several public library positions, including one which will mean a 2,000-mile move if I get the job. Once I receive a job offer, I’ll be available to start almost immediately. However, I do have non-negotiable travel plans in three months. I am attending a wedding in Africa, and I will be there for seventeen days.  At what point should I disclose those plans? I want to be upfront about it, and discuss it when asked about my available start date, but a number of people have advised me to wait until I have a firm job offer. Is that unethical, and would it cause resentment to spring it on them like that, or am I jeopardizing my potential as a candidate by announcing it during the interview?

SM: Good question, and a bit of a catch-22. You are certainly not the first person, or the last, to have this dilemma. First off, that’s great that you are getting interviews and you sound so positive about your future career in public libraries! Second, I wouldn’t worry about your start date or the potential for your trip to jeopardize anything at this point. You haven’t yet received an offer, so in reality, there’s nothing to worry about. Lastly, if and when you do get that job offer, be honest and up front about your availability, your preferred start date, and your upcoming trip.

Notice, I say, “when” you get the job offer. During the interview process, there is no need to bring up your upcoming international trip or anything that may potentially cause a hiring committee to question your commitment to the job before you even get the job. Your personal life is personal. However, if they do ask you during the interview if you can start right away, then you have to be honest with them and say “yes, but…” and then also say that your travel plans are set in stone and if it is better for them, you could start upon your return. Also, there is usually some time (weeks or months) between getting the job offer and starting the job. Employers know that it may take time to move (especially long distance) or leave another job. Rarely are people available to start immediately, and rarely do employers expect this.

I would also say that if the job description has a firm start date on it, then it is probably going to be something they bring up during the interview, so you should be prepared to answer honestly, if asked. If they don’t ask you about start dates during the interview, I wouldn’t bring it up until you get the job offer. If they want to hire you, they will understand (everyone has family obligations, after all) and make it work. And honestly, if they hold this against you, would you really want to work there anyway? Good luck!

Q: School librarian or archival studies? I can’t decide which path to choose in library school.

Q: School librarian or archival studies? I can’t decide which path to choose in library school.

Q: Hello! I’ve just been accepted into the graduate program of my choice and am incredibly excited to get into the field. But I am having a really difficult time trying to decide whether I want to complete the school library sequence or the archive studies sequence. The school I will be attending in the fall has excellent programs for both of these fields, so the quality of the program is not really an issue. I realize there are many great attributes to both of these career paths, and that ultimately I must decide for myself, but I wondered if you had any advice on how to choose or could talk about things that ought to be considered as I make my decision.

SM: First off, congratulations! That’s wonderful that you got into the program you wanted. Second, this is a tricky question, and a rather difficult decision, so I’ll turn it back to you and ask:

  • What’s your gut decision?
  • What made you choose that particular school/program in the first place (was it one of the sequences you mention)?
  • What’s your dream job?
  • Have you worked as a teacher, or in a school library?
  • Have you worked in archives?

These are both rather specialized fields, and quite different from one another.  I would suggest, if you haven’t already, to attempt to get experience working in one or both of these areas (internship, part-time job, volunteer) to get a feel for the work and for the daily activities and skills needed. I know that each place of work is different, but (seriously) there is nothing like hands-on experience to make you realize what roles you want to pursue and which ones you don’t.

Perhaps, you may say, you are equally attracted to both areas and you’ve gained experience working in both types of roles. And to that I would say, good for you! You may be perfectly suited for both of these specialized roles. If this is the case, you may want to look at the existing job market for archival positions and school librarian positions. Study the job listings, see how many jobs are available, and take note of any requirements that you may need to acquire in order to be a school librarian or archivist, depending on where you live and the specific qualifications of the job. Other things that can help:

  • Interview (see Q&As on informational interviews) librarians working in both of these fields – ask them how they like their jobs, how they got their jobs, and what they would recommend you do while you’re in school, to make you hire-able when you get out.
  • Talk to someone in your library school’s career center. As an accepted student, you should be able to use their services and ask questions about the different sequences and see if they can offer some advice since they know the courses and instructors as well as the job placements of their graduates.
  • Talk to your advisor when you start the program. Find out what it would take to transfer from one sequence to another.

And finally, don’t sweat it too much. You’re just starting out and many people change their minds, and many others try several different roles and that’s all right. You’ll find your path, and it may be completely different from what you originally planned. Just make sure that while you’re in school, use your professors and classmates and colleagues to help guide you along the way, and try to get experience to supplement your education.

Q: I’ve been in my job for almost a year. I love it, but my husband’s job is taking us elsewhere. How do I tell my current supervisor and will it look bad on my resume?

Q: I’ve been in my job for almost a year. I love it, but my husband’s job is taking us elsewhere. How do I tell my current supervisor and will it look bad on my resume?

Q: In February 2013, I finally landed the public library job of my dreams. I had been working as an on-call substitute for two years before landing this professional, permanent, full-time job. I love what I am currently doing, and I love where I work. Sure, there are difficult days, but as far as jobs go, I am really content with where I’m at. I am grateful to my supervisor for hiring me and for giving me this amazing opportunity to be a public librarian.

My husband’s job is eventually going to take us 60 miles north of where we currently live. The commute would be terrible if I stayed in my current position. Ultimately, we will end up moving north; it’s not a matter of if, but rather a matter of when.

A professional, public library job in this northern city has just opened up, and I’m tempted to apply. Problem is, my resume will say that I have only worked in my current position from February 2013-present, which is obviously a little less than 12 months. Normally I like to stay in a job for 2 years or more; I was in my last two positions for 2-4 years before moving on to new opportunities.

My question for you is: How do I go about telling my current supervisor about my family situation? I am new at this, and I know things come up in life, but how do I do this when I have only been in my current position for 12 months? I feel guilty. Thank you for your help.

SM: If you know (I mean, you are absolutely certain) that you will need to leave your current position, then the sooner you talk to your supervisor, the better. You feel guilty because you are a nice person and you genuinely care about your job and the people you work with; and you feel like (if you leave) you are not fulfilling your obligation to them. I get it. I’ve been there. I left a job after six months, not because I wasn’t happy, but because I decided (a bit spur-of-the-moment) to move to another state – to go to library school. I was terrified of telling my supervisor that I was leaving because she was so nice to me and spent so much time training me. But, lucky for me, she took it quite well, and ended up writing a very nice letter of reference for me, which helped to get me a new job in a public library in my new city.

You need to remember that you don’t have any kind of obligation to stay a certain amount of time at your job. And, one year is a pretty decent amount of time – enough time to get to know your job well, to learn new skills, to build new relationships, and to make long-lasting connections.

Our professional lives are often times interrupted by sacrifices and decisions that we didn’t expect to make; decisions that may change the course of our careers… but life happens and moves on around us, and we need to move with it. We can learn many great things in a short amount of time, and it is important to get the most that we can out of each and every job, because you never know when life will throw another curve ball and everything (unexpectedly) changes, once again.

So, here’s some advice on your current job:

Ask to meet with your supervisor and tell her about your situation and why you need to leave. If she is a reasonable person, she will not only understand, but be supportive of you during this stressful time. She may ask for a specific date of departure, so you should have something to tell her – not just “I will be leaving at some point in the future.” If you don’t have this figured out yet, then hold off on talking to her until you have a more specific time frame, but plan on giving her enough notice (at least four weeks, if possible) to prepare.

By telling her early, she can start searching for your replacement. And you can stop feeling guilty as you help her plan for your departure by completing projects and paperwork, writing up documentation on your job duties, and training others. By easing into your departure, you can continue to cultivate good relations with your supervisor, which is important because you need her to be a good reference for you as you seek out a new job.

On the other hand, if you think she might take it badly or make your life miserable while you are still employed, then I would hold off on the conversation until you have an exact date of departure (but still giving as much notice as you can, or is required — in this case you may want to contact your HR department).

As for the new job opening in the new city – you should definitely apply for it. Keep in mind that they may have a specific start date and if you don’t know when you are moving, or when you could actually start the job, then that might put you in a difficult position should they offer it to you. Don’t worry about being at your current job for only a year. This shouldn’t hurt your chances, as long as you explain it in your cover letter. Let them know why you are leaving your current position (moving for your spouse’s job), and let them know that you’ve done your research on their library and their city – and convince them that you are excited about all of it. And hopefully, with the support of your current supervisor, you’ll have an excellent reference to help with your job applications.

It can be both invigorating and nerve-wracking to start fresh, in a new place and a new role. Take time to get to know your new locale and meet new people by reaching out to professional networks and organizations and groups. Best of luck!

Here are some articles that might be useful:

An Employer’s Opinion on How to Quit Your Job
by Akhil Gupta

How Can I Quit My Job on Short Notice Without Burning a Bridge?
by Adam Dachis

The Librarian Has Not Yet Left the Building: Resignation After-Effects
by Doreen Sullivan