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!


How I Got My First Job: Marcos Sueiro Bal

How I Got My First Job: Marcos Sueiro Bal

Interviewed by Ellen Mehling

EM: What was your first professional position?

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

EM: How did you get it?

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

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

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

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

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

Marcos Suiero Bal is Senior Archivist at New York Public Radio http://www.wnyc.org/people/marcos-sueir-bal/

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

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

Posted by Ellen Mehling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best of luck!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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