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: How can I use my public library experience in the private sector, and how can I prepare for such jobs?

Q&A: How can I use my public library experience in the private sector, and how can I prepare for such jobs?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am 24 and have spent a year and a half working part-time in my local library’s Youth Services department, and have recently been hired as a Library Assistant. I am now in the process of applying for MLIS programs and am hoping to find the best way to prepare for my future. I’d love to learn more about how to use my experience for jobs outside of public libraries and how to best prepare for them while continuing to work and pursue my degree. Where should I start, and should I look into volunteer opportunities or focus on internships? Thanks!

A: You are in a very good position in that you have library experience prior to library school and will get more experience during your studies, and that you are thinking about this early and understand the importance of real-life experience. Many people graduate with a required internship or practicum as their only library-related work, which can put them at a disadvantage during a job search when they are competing against applicants with more experience. It sounds like you’ve already decided that public (or academic?) library work is not your goal, and that’s fine, and it is also fine if you are not at this point 100% clear on what kind of information work you *do* want to do.

What I’d recommend now and during the first months/classes of your graduate studies is to learn about as many different roles in the field as possible, via your classes, your own reading/research, informational interviews, and informal discussions with classmates, your professors and those already working in the field. As you talk with those who are working outside of public libraries, ask them about the most important skills they use every day and consider which ones you may already have (transferable skills) from public library work. These could include customer service, research, reference, programming and services targeted to a certain demographic, training/instruction/public speaking, etc.

 

The strongly-suggested-if-not-required internships that many MLIS programs have are usually done toward the end of your studies. By exploring and learning about different types of info work early on, you’ll be in a good position to decide what kind of information work and internship to pursue, and what additional skills and experience you’ll want to acquire before graduation if possible.  Even before you are actively job hunting, read job postings as research, to have a clear and realistic idea of what employers are seeking.

 

If you can do multiple internships, that’s even better than just one. You can volunteer as well; internships and volunteering are not an “either/or” choice – you can do both. And all of it will enrich your resume.

 

I’d also join and become active in professional organizations (your local chapter of SLA is probably a good place to start; people in your network may suggest others) and LinkedIn groups related to your chosen information work. These will give you a more robust network as well as marketable experience as you begin to create your professional reputation. 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&A: Should I say on my resume and LinkedIn page that I am a consultant or freelancer?

Q&A: Should I say on my resume and LinkedIn page that I am a consultant or freelancer?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am an experienced information professional and have been job hunting for many months. I’m concerned about how much time has passed since my last job ended and how this looks to potential employers. A friend suggested that I put on my resume and LinkedIn page that I am freelancing or consulting now, so it looks like I have some work experience that is current, is this a good idea?

A: Well, if you are freelancing or consulting, then you do have current work experience and you should include that information on your resume/LI page, describing the kind of work you’re doing and listing (at least some of) your clients and projects.

If you’re not consulting or freelancing though, putting those things on your LI profile and resume is dishonest. If you don’t list any projects or clients, a hiring manager or recruiter will read that as “probably unemployed and trying to hide it”. If you get an interview and have no answer when asked about your recent consulting or freelancing work, that will be the end of the conversation. And what would you do if an interviewer asked for the name of a satisfied client as a reference?

“Available for freelancing” or “interested in consulting” or a similar phrase are not likely to be effective either, in impressing readers or getting you interviews and/or job offers. They’re too passive, and even a bit desperate if you are otherwise not working. Potential employers are interested in what you have done and are doing, not what you wish you were doing.

Some people go so far as to create a business name and even a website to make it appear they are the founder/president/whatever of a company or nonprofit, and that they are working when they are not. An online portfolio showcasing your work and achievements is one thing, a fake business or organization that you’re the “founder” of is another. An interviewer with any skill will discover with a question or two and a quick look at your website that the company or organization is just for show.

Regarding your work history, something is better than nothing, but a gap is better than fictional work experience. Better ways to avoid or fill a gap include part-time work, work in another field (ideally something related to information work), volunteering, and service in professional organizations. You can also create a project or event, perhaps with others. With just a few hours of effort a week you can have something real for a potential employer to see, rather than a gap in your work experience or a lie on your resume.

Q&A: Finding a library-specific career coach or resume writer

Q&A: Finding a library-specific career coach or resume writer

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am wondering if there are library specific career coaches/resume writers out there. I have been receiving conflicting information when I have my resume reviewed, and the comments I am getting are more appropriate for business and sales, which are very different worlds than the library one. I want to show myself at my best, but I’m confused as to how to best do that, when it seems that some people look at what you have achieved, and being at my current job as a temporary employee for more than a year, but not getting more responsibility because I’m not even a part-time employee.

EM: (Full disclosure: I have been a career/resume advisor and instructor for librarians/info pros and library school students for over ten years.)

Yes, there are library-specific advisors who can give you feedback on your resume and make recommendations regarding your career development. As you noted, advice that is geared towards other fields may not be ideal for an information professional.

You can start with local, regional or even national professional organizations that have mentorship programs or offer resume-reviewing or other job-search assistance services. Such services may come with membership or there may be an additional fee for, for example, a resume or cover letter review, or a one-on-one advising session. Sometimes resume-review services are offered at conferences.

You can also ask trusted librarians in your network if there is anyone they’d recommend. As with any kind of advising or any paid service, you’ll want to get some info about the person providing the service, either from their website or LinkedIn page or via direct communication, to be sure this is the right one for you:

• How long have they been advising librarians? What are their qualifications as a career/resume advisor?
• Have they been a hiring decision maker (hiring manager, member of a hiring committee, etc.); have they reviewed resumes and interviewed info pro job applicants in real life?
• Does their LinkedIn page and/or other online information support the qualifications or provide samples of their advice for info pros? Do they have recommendations from other info pros re: their advising?
• What exactly do their services include and not include, and what are the fees for the services? For example, do they provide one-on-one advising or coaching, cover letter reviews, mock interviews? Do they provide resume reviews or offer a resume writing/re-writing service? (If they offer resume writing/re-writing, that is going to be more expensive than a review.)

There are also some red flags to look out for: if a potential advisor pressures you in any way, or makes unrealistic promises, such as definite interviews or even job offers, I’d steer clear. If an advisor has not been job hunting him/herself in decades, their advice may be out of date. In general, if you don’t feel comfortable with a certain potential advisor, keep looking.

You say that “it seems that… people look at what you have achieved” and that is true; a resume is a tailored account of your work history, skills, strengths, and achievements. If you are concerned that you need more library-related experience, a reputable advisor can discuss with you how to get that experience.

Good luck to you!

How I Got My First Job: Mai Reitmeyer

How I Got My First Job: Mai Reitmeyer

Interviewed by Ellen Mehling

EM: What was your first professional position?

MR: My undergraduate degree was in Biology and Secondary Education. After teaching high school biology for a year, I decided teaching was not for me so I leveraged my biology degree and found a job in the pharmaceutical industry. Six years in a corporate job reminded me of why I wanted to be a teacher – I loved doing research and helping others learn new things so I decided to go back for my MLIS. My first professional position was as a Reference / Technical Services Librarian at a private boarding school.

EM: How did you get it?

MR: I saw the job listed on the Rutgers University SC&I job listings page and I immediately applied. I was offered the job partly because of my subject specialty in science, along with my prior teaching and work experience. However, I also believe that I was hired because I expressed an intense enthusiasm for learning. As a new librarian, I felt that it was extremely important to be highly adaptable. I now know that this is a skill that every librarian needs, whether or not we are early in our careers.

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

MR: When I decided to go back for my MLIS, my dream was to one day become a Science Librarian so I could combine my love for science, research, and learning. However, I knew without prior experience as a professional librarian or a second Master’s Degree, that it would be difficult to find the exact position that I had in mind. As a result, I routinely searched the various online job postings for a job that I was qualified for that would put me on that path to the job that I had envisioned. Since I was still working at my full-time job in pharma, I had the luxury of waiting until the perfect opportunity arose. My job as a Reference / Technical Services Librarian at the boarding school gave me invaluable experience in reference, instruction, and various library technologies. I also had the opportunity to work with a wonderful group of librarians who provided me with immeasurable support and mentoring. Thus, when the perfect position became available at the American Museum of Natural History, I was uniquely qualified because of my past experiences. Had it not been for my first job, I literally would not be where I am today.

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

MR: It’s always good to have a career goal in mind but don’t be afraid to seize any opportunity that may push you outside your comfort zone. Every opportunity is a chance to gain invaluable experience and make connections that could lead you to your perfect job.

Mai Reitmeyer is Sr. Research Services Librarian at the American Museum of Natural History. She provides research assistance and instruction to the Museum’s staff, students, researchers and the general public using the Museum’s main and rare collections and extensive archives.

Q&A: Should I get the MLIS?

Q&A: Should I get the MLIS?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am 44 years old and live in New Jersey. I have decided to change careers and want to pursue my lifelong dream of working in a library, preferably as a librarian. The only licensing/degree requirements in our state at this time is for librarians (MLIS) and not any college, nor certification/licensing, for library support staff. I have started to volunteer at my local library and also began online classes for a library technician certificate, then associate program offered in another state. I am enjoying the classes so much that I plan to get the degree regardless of the fact that it is not required in my state in order to obtain a support staff position. My home library is encouraging me to pursue becoming a librarian, which is wonderful. However, I am concerned that at this junction in my life, investing 50K into college (I am starting from ground zero, so A.A.+ BA + MLIS) and graduating at 50 years of age, would be foolish with the library job prospects for the future being so competitive and that most likely positions obtained may be a part-time position…all this is making me question my sanity, let alone that will not allow me to pay off my college debt before retiring. Do you have any advice for someone like me, new to the library world, but has the utmost passion and desire to be a part of it and is keen to climb any mountain to do it?

A: When someone says “Being a librarian is my dream job” I think, “You need to learn more about what it is really like to work in this field”. What I would do now is research: take a thorough look at the profession to make the decision that is right for you. There are real challenges in information work and you’ll want to begin your studies with eyes open.

It is good that you are thinking about this well in advance of starting work on a Master’s degree. It is also beneficial that you are volunteering in a library; that will give you valuable experience, networking opportunities and an understanding of how that type of library works. So you’ve got a strong starting point. Here’s what I recommend:

  • Do some informational interviews. Talk to a number of info pros, as many as possible and from diverse backgrounds, experience, years in the profession, levels of responsibility, types of jobs, locations, etc. In the interviews, include questions about how interviewees got their first jobs, typical daily duties, biggest challenges and frustrations, what they wish they knew when they started, how things have changed, what they like best and least, and the trajectory of their careers and whether they are happy where they are now. Ask about the biggest surprises and misconceptions of library work. Ask about their worst day on the job. Ask if they have any reservations about recommending this profession. Listen to all of it, positive and negative. Take notes and read and re-read them later. Give extra consideration to any opinion or piece of advice you hear from more than one person. Start with your colleagues at your home library; they may suggest others you can talk to.
  • Join info-pro listservs, LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups and – if possible – professional organizations (local, regional, national); learn about current and emerging trends and issues in the field, join discussions, connect with others. Immerse yourself in the field as much as you can.
  • Think about how you want to brand yourself and make your decisions with your goal in mind. Is there a certain type of library work you know you want to do? Focus on that in your information gathering but try to be open minded as you hear and read about other types of work.
  • Consider moving to another part of the country after graduation, if your situation allows. This can expand your options re: employment once you graduate. Find out about the job market, salaries, experience and other job requirements and cost of living in the area in which you plan to live. Think about how you might use the degree outside of libraries. If you have your heart set on having the title of “librarian” as opposed to doing information work in a setting that is not a library and with another title, understand that your job search may be longer and more difficult. (INALJ has a list of keywords on its home page that include non-traditional titles.) Understand too, that even with the Master’s degree, marketable skills, and enthusiasm, the job search may take months and months and that networking (which takes time) is crucial when job hunting.
  • Regarding your age, there are many info pros who come to librarianship as a second career, and make good use of previously-acquired skills and experience in their new profession, so I wouldn’t let that one variable factor strongly into your decision.

(The Associate’s degree, unfortunately, is not going to help you to get into grad school or land a job after getting the Master’s. You’ll need a Bachelor’s to get into library school, and work experience in a library will help to make you a stronger job candidate, but the Associate’s won’t give you any advantage.)

Finally, pay attention to your gut reaction as you read and hear more about librarianship and be honest with yourself. You know that the MLS is a big investment of time, effort and money. It would be an awful thing to get halfway through and quit (and either have spent money for something uncompleted, or have loans that will still need to be paid off), or force yourself to finish just because you started, without enthusiasm or excitement about your goal.

If you find yourself feeling overwhelmed or just unmoved about what you’re learning about the field, you may want to choose another path. But if you feel exhilarated and energized by your examination of librarianship, this may just be the right profession for you. (And you can write back to us and ask how to choose a grad school!)

Good luck!