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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SM: Dear Many Questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any further qualifications needed?

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




Q: When do academic institutions typically send out rejection notices to finalist candidates?

Q: When do academic institutions typically send out rejection notices to finalist candidates?

Q: When do academic institutions typically send out rejection notices to finalist candidates? I know the hiring process can be quite lengthy, but I am wondering if institutions wait until selected candidates actually show up for her/his first day of work before sending out rejection letters.

TA: While many parts of the hiring process can be similar from institution to institution, there are differences oftentimes with order, timing, and notification. For example, a lot of academic institutions will conduct phone or video interviews, collect references and host on campus interviews. But sometimes the references come before the on campus interview and sometimes they come after.

In response to your specific question about notifying non-selected candidates, that is likely to depend on the process in place at each individual institution. Some libraries will send non-selection letters at the time the search committee declines to pursue, so more immediate feedback is given to candidates. Other libraries may hold off on sending the letters until they have an offer accepted. And libraries with an online application process may be able to notify candidates electronically as soon as a status is changed in the online system. It would seem a bit late to me to wait until the selected candidate reports for his/her first day of work to then notify non-selected candidates, but I am sure that possibility exists at some institution out there. If you have questions about your status in the search, you can always check in with the institution by contacting the HR manager, the hiring supervisor, or the search committee chair. Your phone call or email can be as simple as “I’m writing to see if you could please give me an update on the status of my application for the position of…”.

Many college and university libraries follow the ACRL guidelines for recruitment; you may want to take a look to familiarize yourself with the overall process and the various stages in the process: http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/screenapguide. The model gives applicants a good idea of what to expect as part of the recruitment and selection process at a college or university library.


Q: Are there work-from-home opportunities for copy catalogers?

Q: Are there work-from-home opportunities for copy catalogers?

Q: I have worked in libraries for 30 years. I have worked as a copy cataloger for about 20 years at a university. Are there any work at home jobs in that area?

CNW: The short answer is yes: there are many kinds of work-from-home opportunities for librarians. Cataloging is an area that can be home-based, especially if you are cataloging digital materials.

To find opportunities, you’ll need to think broadly about alternative ways you might use your copy cataloging skills. You will also have to broaden your search beyond the usual library list serves to include sources like Indeed.com and LinkedIn, as well as any local job sources for your geographic area. Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Ed will be more targeted to your background and experience. Library vendors like OCLC are much more likely to offer work from home options than universities, although every situation is different.

I recommend approaching your current employer about the possibility of working remotely. It can be difficult to approach a supervisor with a request for an arrangement, but there are things you can do to frame your request effectively, including:

    Brush up on your negotiation skills before you make the ask
    Frame your request in terms of benefits to the employer. For example, you can research statistics on employee productivity and satisfaction to show why this could be good for the library. See the Suggested reading below for some articles to get started.
    Listen actively to any concerns your employer may express
    Keep the door open for further discussion, even if the first answer is no
    Suggest a trial period to try out the arrangement before either side commits to a long-term arrangement

Be honest about any personal reasons for making the request. If it is related to a health issue or a need to care for a family member, that can influence how your request is heard and received. It is also worth heeding LCP commenter Renee Young’s helpful advice:

I work for NoveList, an online Readers’ Advisory database primarily marketed to public and school libraries…. Although my position requires me to work on-site, a similar position could easily lend itself to working from home. Some of the considerations that I, as a supervisor, have, when considering requests to work from home, include the employee’s dedicated workspace and internet connection as well as the possible distractions they might face. Not to mention that working from home requires an inordinate amount of concentration and self-discipline and is not for everyone. If you are seeking a position that allows you to work from home, having these issues worked out in advance would make your case much more appealing to your potential employers.

Suggested resources:

Yes, Flexible Hours Ease Stress. But Is Everyone on Board?” Phyllis Korkki, The New York Times, 8/23/2014

Where do I look for home-based cataloging jobs?” Carrie Netzer Wajda, The Library Career People Website, 8/4/2013

Location, Location, Location,” The New York Times, 3/2/2013

Pros and Cons of Working at Home,” CareerBuilder.com, 4/17/2009

Q & A with Tiffany, 10/17/2011

Q: How do I make the switch from a non-profit to an academic library?

Q: How do I make the switch from a non-profit to an academic library?

Q: I was an art director for 12 years and then went to library school. I have been working at a large non-profit for the past 2.5 years doing in depth reference requests, writing white papers, creating information graphics, creating web pages, very light cataloging, strategic planning for the information center. Although I am in a non-profit, the setting is VERY corporate and I am not really finding a comfortable fit. I would like to switch to academic (I also have an MFA) or find another non-profit that is less corporate. Ideally a career that marries my excellent research skills with design and writing. I am lost? Any advice? In library school I kept hearing how employers wanted librarians who could design, but I am not seeing that at all.

SM: This is a great question. You seem like you would be the perfect fit for an academic position. You have experience doing research, writing, strategic planning, creating and designing web pages and other materials, and you have an additional advanced degree (and you were an art director!). This all seems quite impressive and completely suited to a career as an academic librarian.

However, as you’re starting to figure out, the fact is – it can be bloody difficult to break into the academic library world, especially when you don’t have academic library experience. I hear this from so many people — new librarians, and those who have worked in other types of libraries — who just can’t get a foot in the (academic) door.

Now, it could be that part of the reason you are not getting interviews or jobs is that there just aren’t that many jobs available in whatever geographic area you are searching in, or you are being overly selective in your search. Whatever the reason, don’t give up your job search if academia is where you want to be. Here are some tips and ideas that may help:

Overhaul your résumé – create a CV that emphasizes and highlights your “academic-like” work: writing, reference, research, training, web design, cataloging, etc.

Start small – if you have never worked in an academic library, then that is one strike against you (unfortunate, but true). Look for part-time/adjunct reference work in an academic library, or an internship of some kind. These positions can provide you with experience and contacts who can serve as references when looking for full time work. And, these positions could potentially turn into full time jobs. In other words, identify the experience you are lacking (look at job descriptions) and go out there and get it.

Specialize, and sell yourself as special – what type of library position do you want? Why types of jobs are you applying for? Do you want more technical services, more public services, or a combination? Do you enjoy instruction or outreach? Would you like to be a subject specialist? It will be easier to get a job if you have a clear idea of the type of role you want to be in. Academic libraries and librarian roles can be quite different from special libraries (or corporate libraries)… different missions, different clientele, different expectations. And in some academic libraries you may be required to serve on committees and publish and prove your worth (so to speak) as a member of the faculty. Research, writing and design skills are all wonderful — but these are somewhat common amongst librarians. You need to combine them with something special, something that a hiring committee will remember.

Diversify – have you considered all types of academic libraries? How about community colleges, for-profit colleges, specialized schools (like design schools or trade schools)?

Write thoughtful cover letters – again, highlight your “academic-like” experience, and talk about why you want to move to an academic environment and how your experience and skills make you a great candidate for the job at hand (just remember to tailor each cover letter to the requirements of the specific job). Check out ones that have worked.

Utilize what you know – I always like to talk to and interview people who have worked in other areas, in different types of libraries, and had different careers. They tend to bring in new ideas and new ways to get things done. In your application materials, and during interviews, make sure to relate your past and current positions and the varied skills you obtained along the way, to academic librarianship and the job at hand. We call this: highlighting transferable skills. And these can make you special.

Create an online portfolio – which will be useful for displaying your graphic design work. This way, potential employers can view it and decide for themselves if your skills can be useful. You are right that web and design skills can be extremely beneficial for a librarian to have (and will come in handy, I guarantee it!), but unless the job specifically asks for those skills, then I wouldn’t emphasize them too much. From my experience, design skills are more of a bonus than a deal-breaker.

Become involved – join academic library organizations and associations in your area. Get to know people who may be able to help you find that job. Ask questions, volunteer for things, find a mentor or someone to talk to, get advice about your application materials, and ask your contacts to keep an eye out for job openings.

The job search process – and moving from one type of library to another – can be daunting and lengthy; but with a little ingenuity and a lot of patience, you should be able to get your foot in the door, and secure the type of job you desire. Good luck!

Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: After working in city libraries for more than ten years (and before that, a work life spent mostly in book stores) I found myself in [moving back home] because of my mother’s advanced age and fragile health. I had three years of Interlibrary Loan experience from my most recent job and I was able to secure a position in the Interlibrary Loan department of the health sciences library at the university.

My work record at the time was excellent and I was very happy to find the job I’d wanted the most. It was a very busy department and I was responsible for lending. I approached my job with energy and enthusiasm and worked hard; I even kept current with “the literature” (Library Journal, etc.) but my boss never stopped casting everything I did in a negative light.

I managed to maintain decent performance reviews by scrupulously documenting everything I did; but in the end, I saw an EAP counselor who helped me to plan and set up meetings with the director, my boss, and other concerned parties to try to bring about a more equitable workplace (as this was affecting my health). After almost nine years at this university, my supervisor wrote an entirely false performance review which despite my response (written at the director’s urging) with documentation to refute her assertions, I resigned after being placed on a disciplinary program that no one in that library’s history had been put on before and the full details of which were not written down anywhere.

No investigation was done. I hired a lawyer and the university’s response to his letter was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”. No reference, severance, or unemployment insurance benefits. I looked for a job for 8 months; customized my resume and cover letter for each position I applied for. Not only was I not contacted, other positions included; when I attempted to contact the HR person, no one called me back.

Since my resignation, the university I worked for has been beset by scandals; ranging from mismanagement of large grants to the dismissal of a student without due process. How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide, that was spent doing excellent work (our borrowing institutions regularly sent notes of praise and, of course, the work was reflected in our statistics!) but is entangled in an institutionally- sanctioned lie?

TA: After reading your question a couple of times, there are a couple of things that come to my attention that I think would be helpful to point out in an attempt to move ahead. First, it’s clear you feel very hurt and betrayed by the situation with your supervisor. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone in the situation you’ve described to feel this way. However, and this is the second thing I noticed, you also seem to express yourself in a way that hints at feelings of resentment, maybe even hostility. Talking about how your lawyer thought the University’s response was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”, but not talking about any successful litigation feels like a worthless jab. The same goes for your reference to “an institutionally-sanctioned lie.”

As an outsider looking in, and with only the information you’ve provided to me, here’s the situation as it seems to me: you worked for many years at an institution with a challenging supervisor and in challenging work conditions. By your own accounts, you had some successes in the position, but when it got to be too severe, you resigned from your position. Now you’re looking for a new position and you aren’t getting many responses. What do you do now?

First, you need to figure out a way to talk about your experience at the University that does not criticize or come across as negative. When you’re describing your work experience in your cover letter and resume, talk about your successes. Mention your increased, and sustained, usage statistics. Talk about successful partnerships and collaboration within the library and beyond. Do not talk about how you managed to survive despite the oppressive supervisor, or the challenging circumstances, or a University “beset by scandals.” That’s really just too much drama for anyone, especially a prospective employer. You may also want to ask a couple of colleagues for written letters of reference that you can attach to your application materials. If you take this approach, make sure they are current letters, and the colleagues speak to your professional experiences and talents. Do not turn these letters into you-versus-them detailed sagas of your University experience. The letters should describe how the colleague knows you, in what context and for how long, as well as his or her description of your work experience, knowledge and strengths.

Second, choose your references carefully. With such a long tenure at the University, it might seem conspicuous to not have a reference from that institution. However, given your relationship with your supervisor and director, you probably don’t want to list them as professional references. You should think carefully about other colleagues, maybe even folks with whom you worked at the University but they too have moved on, and consider if they could serve as a reference for you. And of course, colleagues, supervisors, department heads, directors, etc… from other institutions of employment would be good to include as well.

Third, when you get an interview, be prepared to talk about all of your work experience, including your time at the University. Again, leave out the drama and negativity and find a way to talk in a positive way about what you learned and what you gained from the experience. If you’re asked a reason for leaving, since you resigned, you can simply say that you had been at the University for a number of years, but were also dealing with an aging parent and needed to resign for personal reasons.

Just because the University is still struggling with some issues doesn’t mean you need to be swept up with it. Your focus needs to be on you and your future, not anchored to the past and a very difficult situation.

Q: How can I find information about making the move from a community college to a four-year college or university?

Q: How can I find information about making the move from a community college to a four-year college or university?

Q: Would there be any resources about making the move from a community college to a four-year college or university? I’ve found it exceedingly difficult myself. The question that arises, of course, is how to address the issue without offending those already at the four-year or university level, i.e., how not to accuse them of conforming to a stigma about CC librarians being “dangerously” unqualified to work for them.

TA: Unfortunately, there is sometimes a perception that the gulf between community college libraries and university libraries may be too wide to bridge, so it’s your job to address these concerns in your application materials. It will help to first identify and consider the differences between the two types of institutions.

In her article, “The Other Academic Library: Librarianship at the Community College,” author Jennifer Arnold explores the differences between working at a community college library and at a four-year college or university library. The main difference is that community college faculty generally focus more on teaching and less on research. Faculty are generally not tenured, rather, they participate in what Arnold calls “tenure light.” As she writes: “After a period of employment ranging from 3 to 5 years, a community college employee can move from a yearly, conditional contract to an extendible contract, which protects the employee against the termination of his or her contract outside of an act of gross misconduct, as defined by the college.”

There are also many differences between the students at the two types of institutions. Most significantly, Arnold points out the transient nature of the student population at community colleges: “With unique programs, and a significant amount of corporate/ continuing education, students also tend to flow in and out of the community college.”

All of these circumstances converge to create quite a different environment for libraries on the community college campus, who are generally involved in a number of activities. Instead of focusing strictly on public services or technical services, for example, community college librarians are frequently involved in all aspects of the library: working in technical services, serving on the reference desk, meeting with faculty, etc. Arnold refers to this as the “soup to nuts” aspect of community college librarianship.

Community college librarians also face the challenges of getting faculty (who focus primarily on teaching rather than research) and students (who may commute from a distance for their specific program, and who are on campus for limited amounts of time) to use library materials and services. Some view these as challenges, where others see opportunities. These opportunities are what you want to focus on when applying for other positions.

So, recognizing these differences, how do you make the switch?

  1. Play up the strengths and the opportunities available in your community college position, especially the diversity of duties and the diversity of your clientele. This will show your ability to relate to people at all levels, and provide evidence of flexibility, creative thinking, and innovation.
  2. Stay active professionally: publish, speak, attend conferences, and/or be an active (and responsible) participant on library lists. Join local or national associations, and work hard to establish yourself professionally by serving on committees or running for office.
  3. Last, but not least: Highlight transferable skills in your cover letter and resume, and show progressively responsible job duties or leadership opportunities (committee service, campus service, professional involvement).

Yes, some do believe that those making the “leap” from a community college library to a four-year institution may be, in your words, “dangerously unqualified.” Most institutions, though, are looking for applicants with demonstrated experience in leadership, creativity, innovation, outreach, and working with a diverse clientele, in addition to the specific technical duties of the position. Community college libraries are an excellent environment in which to gain some of these skills; seize these opportunities and make them work to your advantage when moving on to your next position.

Q: Is it true that search committees (especially in academia) do not appreciate follow-up calls?

Q: Is it true that search committees (especially in academia) do not appreciate follow-up calls?

Q: I’ve heard that librarian search committees (especially in academia) do not appreciate follow-up calls from candidates. Is this true?

SM: I wouldn’t go so far as to say they are not appreciated. I will say, however, that follow-up phone calls (or e-mails) will most likely be futile; the committee will be reluctant to give out any information until the search is complete and a candidate has accepted the position. Further, follow-up phone calls, often encouraged in other professions as a way of showing your interest in a position, will not give you an edge in an academic librarian job search.

It is no secret that academic librarian job searches can take a very long time. You may wait several months before being contacted for an interview, or you might not hear anything at all (unfortunate, but common). Let’s say you were contacted by the committee for an interview. At the end of your interview, the search committee should give you some kind of timeline, or a general date of when you can expect to be contacted with the results of the search. If they do not, you should ask them (preferably before you leave) when you can expect to hear from them.

Once you know the general timeline, you should not contact the committee before the given date, unless: 1) you have pertinent questions for the committee that you forgot to ask at the interview, 2) you have (genuinely) been offered a position elsewhere and would like to at least find out if you are “in the running” for this other position, or, 3) you have decided you are no longer interested or have accepted a position elsewhere, and you wish to withdraw from the search.

If your purpose for contacting the committee is to promote yourself or to emphasize how much you want the job, don’t do it. This type of contact (anytime during the search process) is not appreciated. If the interviews have been completed, the committee gave you a general timeline of two weeks, and it has now been three weeks, then you do have every right to contact them to find out the status of the search. Just don’t expect to hear any real news – good or bad – until a candidate has accepted and the job search is officially over.

I have headed up, and participated in, several academic search committees. I can attest to the fact that the committee, like the candidates, often spends a lot of time waiting – for interviews to finish, for input from relevant people (other than the search committee), for a final decision (hopefully a consensus) to be made, for paperwork to be completed, for reference letters or calls, for approval from Human Resources to move forward, for a candidate’s decision once a job has been offered. Trust me, search committees do not enjoy waiting either. Ultimately, they want to finish the interview and selection process as quickly as possible and fill the open position with the best candidate possible.

TA: As a personnel librarian, I would have to add that, should you have any questions, even just about the status of the search, you should be able to call the library’s HR representative. We realize this is a long process, and that both the process and the time it takes can make candidates nervous. While you may not get specific information, you should be able to find out where we are in the search process – and, sometimes, just hearing a voice on the other end of the phone is comfort enough.

Additional Information on the Academic Job Search

Academic Interview Process” by Nanako Kodaira

Surviving (and Even Impressing!) the Search Committee” by Karla J. Block

The Interviewing Process Broken Down” by Suzan Lee

Do Academic Librarian Searches Take Too Long?” by Steven J. Bell

Endlesse Searche” by Todd Gilman

The Successful Academic Librarian: Winning Strategies From Library Leaders by Gwen Meyer Gregory

Cornell University, Search Procedures for Academic Appointments