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&A: How do I switch from corporate library work to public library work?

Q&A: How do I switch from corporate library work to public library work?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: When I attended library school a decade ago, it was with the intention of working in a public library, but I got drawn into corporate work as a metadata specialist. The work was interesting, the salary was good, and I had loans to pay off. Mission accomplished, I’d like to get back to my original intention. However, I’ve advanced far enough in my corporate career that I suspect my resume is a turn-off for most library hiring managers and have gained little traction in my applications. I’ve considered deeply the step back in pay and seniority I’d have to take, and I’m willing. What can I do to make myself a more attractive candidate?

A: I’d start by examining a large number of public library job postings that interest you, and compare your existing skills and experience to what employers are requesting. Consider which public library-related skills and experience are conveyed clearly by your resume, which ones will need some explanation from you, and which you don’t yet have.

For the ones that require explanation, remember that you are competing for jobs with others that clearly have the experience the employers want and you’ll have to convince the reader of your application documents to contact you for an interview – connect the dots for the hiring manager, make it very clear how your past experience and existing skills would translate or transfer to the new venue. Hiring managers may be skeptical about your suitability based on your past experience; you’ll have to overcome that and be very persuasive in your cover letter in order to get a chance to interview, and be able to explain clearly why you feel you’re a strong candidate in the interview.

You’ll need a compelling answer to the question “Why are you seeking to make the switch from corporate work to public libraries?”, especially if this will, as you said, involve a step back and a pay cut. Your answer must convey that you really understand what public library work entails and that you’ve decided what kind of public library work you want to do. Be specific; “I’ll do anything” conveys desperation and a lack of preparation. You also don’t want to have an attitude of “My past experience, though different, should be enough to get me hired, just give me the job and I’ll figure it out and learn quickly, how hard could it be?”, etc.

Network with public librarians, join public library professional organizations and Linkedin groups; engage with as many public librarians as possible. Really listen to what they have to say, positive and negative, about their work. Start building your reputation in the public library community.

Most important: for the skills and experience you don’t yet have, figure out a way to get them, via volunteering/pro bono or part-time work, for example. Public library work is different in significant ways from other types of library work, and it is not easy. By getting this experience, you’ll convey how serious you are about making the switch and that you understand what the work is like, what its challenges are, and what it takes to be successful working in a public library. Good luck!

Q&A: After 12 years at a public library, how do I position myself for a new job?

Q&A: After 12 years at a public library, how do I position myself for a new job?

Posted by Ellen Mehling

Q: I am coming up on my 12th anniversary in the first professional librarian position I took after finishing library school. I was a midlife career changer, and was fortunate enough to land in a situation that suited me perfectly in practically every respect. Now, a dozen years later, it’s not that I am actively looking to make a move, but a combination of factors are pushing me to get my resume in order so I can be ready with it in case something unfortunate happens where I am, or if a really promising opportunity should present itself. However, it’s obviously going to take more than simply adding my current position to the last resume I used. The career-changer resume that succeeded for me when I was fresh out of library school (but had years of experience in other fields) has to go. Where I work, all positions report directly to the director, without any management or supervisory paths. This has been fine with me, as I have no interest in being a manager or a supervisor – but I know that this kind of progression is common and is one of the things that hiring managers look for. So I have spent nearly 12 years doing a lot of different things (at our medium-small, semi-independent public library, we all wear many hats to get everything done) and learning all kinds of stuff … but I am stymied by the prospect of putting all of it into a format that is concise enough for a resume but still meaningful enough to get the point across. Also, I’m not sure how much of my 22 years of pre-library work experience should stay on there. Should I put together an online portfolio to back up what’s on my resume? Do people even use those anymore, and if so, do hiring managers really look at them? I would appreciate any guidance you can offer. I have found a wealth of resources to assist those trying to land a first librarian position, but little to nothing that looks really useful for my situation.

EM: Your best bet is to make the most of your assets and strengths, and do some networking and research. Some of the things that you might see as weaknesses may in fact be selling points to a potential employer.

I’d start by creating a “master” version of your resume, with every duty, responsibility and achievement. This comprehensive version is for you, not to be sent out in application for a position; choose carefully each time you apply for a job which pieces of information to include and what to leave out. You don’t want to “[put] all of it” in the resume; customize it to the job description each time. Tailor your summary and duties/achievements to include only the ones that will be of greatest interest to the reader based on the job posting.

The fact that your experience at your current job is varied is beneficial. You’ll have many skill sets to choose from which gives you more options for which jobs to apply to and what information to include and emphasize – this indicates your versatility, flexibility and reliability. In your cover letter you can describe your workplace as you have in your query above, stressing that you did whatever was needed to keep things running and serve your patrons. The fact that you haven’t been a supervisor doesn’t mean you can’t present yourself as a strong candidate for a non-supervisory position; you can indicate in your cover letter that this is exactly the kind of position you are seeking.

I usually advise job hunters to go back around 10-12 years maximum on their resume, which should be no more than two pages. In your case that would include all of your years at your current job. If (and only if) there is something in your earlier career that relates strongly to the position you’re applying for right now, you can mention that briefly in a cover letter, saying something like “Prior to my time at [current employer], I worked as a [former title], doing [former duties]…”  If you have to reach back 15-20 years or more, though, to find anything that is relevant to the job you’re trying to get now, it is better not to apply for that particular job and find another one related to your more recent experience to go for. Relying heavily on long-ago experience will hurt more than it will help; it can make you appear desperate and out of touch. Remember too that you are competing for jobs with others who have more recent experience, and employers always prefer that.

Give some thought to how you can address the interview question, “Why are you looking for a job right now?”, as a hiring manager is going to wonder why you are seeking to leave after so long at one employer. I don’t know exactly what occurrences are prompting you to think of getting a new job right now but something like, “after twelve years I’m seeking a new work environment and new challenges” or “recent changes at my workplace have me concerned that there may not be a place for me there long term, so I decided it was best to start looking at other options” may work. It always sounds better to employers if you are trying to move towards something you want rather than away from something you don’t want, but they also understand that when certain things happen in a workplace, employees will start looking for the exits. If the interviewer asks “What kind of changes?” or “What kind of new environment / new challenges?” you want to give an answer that is true, brief, and does not cast blame or badmouth anyone. For example, you could cite new management and drastic changes in staffing, job descriptions, and/or schedules, or layoffs of other staff members as a reason for wanting to leave, or mention a specific facet of the job you’re applying for that would be new and attractive for you.

Regarding a portfolio, if you have one that presents your achievements well and that you add content to regularly, that can be helpful, but remember that you have no control over if, or when, a potential employer looks at it. The same goes for your LinkedIn page. If it is a static recounting of your resume, it is not likely to be of much benefit. As with the resume, you don’t want a portfolio to go into the distant past.

It sounds like you’re not in a dire I-have-to-get-out-of-here-NOW situation, and that’s good. What I’d do now is

  • Create that all-inclusive, “for your eyes only” version of your resume.
  • Step up your networking. Get back in touch with past colleagues you may have lost touch with. Join and become active in LinkedIn groups; once you’ve established a presence there you can connect with others to expand your network and ask for advice from the group.
  • Examine current job postings for research purposes: to see what skills, experience, and strengths employers are looking for right now, and what salaries are being offered. If there are some skills/experience you’re seeing again and again in postings of jobs you’re interested in that you don’t have, figure out how you can get those missing qualifications. This is especially important if you are thinking of switching to another type of library work.
  • Consider joining and becoming active in professional organizations to gain more experience, expand your network further, enhance your reputation and raise your visibility within the field, all of which can make it easier to get a job when the time comes for active job hunting.

Good luck!

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.