Q: How do I know if I am ready to commit to an MLS program?

Q: How do I know if I am ready to commit to an MLS program?

Q: I have been considering a library or archives career for many years now; during college, I had a brief internship at the Smithsonian in digitizing archival photography, plus I spent a year working the reserves and circulation desk at our university library. I loved both experiences (although different) and have always been a huge supporter of public libraries. I am now considering a career change after six years working in Silicon Valley in online community management, a job I started immediately upon graduation. I feel my experience would greatly benefit a local library, but I am not sure if I should dedicate myself to an MLIS degree yet. The good thing is: if I do decide to get my MLIS, I live in the same city as an ALA-accredited university.  What advice do you have for someone like me who has gotten my feet wet but is afraid to jump in?

CNW: Let’s see: you have been thinking about working in libraries for years, you love the work experiences you have had, but something is holding you back from committing to librarianship. That is very reasonable. An MLIS is an expensive investment to make if you aren’t sure you want to make a career of working in libraries. A career change, on the other hand,  is generally reversible.

Start by looking for job opportunities with your local public and academic libraries. Public libraries in particular often have community-oriented roles. You may find your path to career satisfaction bypasses the MLIS, at least for now. Be realistic in your expectations. Jobs usually require an MLS, and the salaries may be substantially lower than what you are accustomed to. If you find a job that is a good fit, you will probably find that an MLIS is required for advancement at some point in  your career. You will then know whether the investment is worth it. You may decide that supporting libraries with a Silicon Valley salary is a better way to fit for you, and that is a perfectly fine outcome as well.

As you look for job openings, you will want to network with professional librarian groups and request informational interviews. You can also consider auditing some MLIS classes at your local university to see if you’re interested in the theory as well as the practical aspects of library work. In the meantime, be honest with yourself about what is really holding you back from committing to a profession that you profess to love. That nagging feeling won’t magically disappear if it goes unacknowledged.

Q: What type of experience should I get while in library school?

Q: What type of experience should I get while in library school?

Q: I will be starting my MLIS training soon and I have a question about gaining experience before I complete my degree. The type of program I will be completing combines elements of distance based education and a localized scope in its application. I will be able to maintain full-time employment and complete my degree within two years. That being said, I wanted to ask your advice on the type of job I should be seeking while I am still a student in order to garner the type of experience I will need to secure a position after obtaining my degree. I am hoping to be strategic in building my resume so that I am a more attractive candidate. I know that there are Library Assistant jobs that I may be able to obtain before I receive my degree, however, I am curious if you believe that it may prove more advantageous to look for internships or mentoring in lieu of gainful employment or not? I am very eager to begin my training and hope that you may be able to aid me as I begin my journey as a librarian.

SM:  First off, paid employment, if you can do it, is better for several reasons:

  1. You’re getting a paycheck.
  2. You are held accountable for doing what is required of the job. You will be reviewed by your supervisors, which means you will (or should) care more about doing a good job.
  3. You get to learn what it is like to work (really work) in a library. You will discover the good and the bad and you will take this knowledge with you to each successive job.
  4. It is (generally) a longer commitment than non-paying types of work, and (usually) you can stay in it post-graduation while you look for a professional job.
  5. You will meet people who will become your mentors, serve as references, and perhaps give you a job down the road.

Internships can be wonderful opportunities, but they are usually short-lived and focus on one specific project. Mentorships are also a good idea, and I would encourage you to find a formal mentorship program or seek out a potential mentor on your own, but this should not be in lieu of actual work experience (if at all possible).

Much of what we learn in library school is meaningless until we apply it on the job, and there is no better way to learn about the profession and learn to be a librarian, than working in a library while going to library school.

To answer the second part of your question, library assistant jobs can be difficult to get and you should expect to encounter lots of competition, especially in universities or cities that have library school programs. Because of this, you will probably not have the luxury to pick and choose the exact job you want. But, a good thing to remember when you start looking for professional positions is that employers want experience, any experience. They won’t expect a new graduate to have the specific skills and experience that a working librarian will have. As a student, you should try to get experience in the type of library (academic, public, special) that you want to work in after you graduate. Any specialized experience you acquire along the way is icing on the cake.

To supplement your work, I recommend seeking out mentorship or internship opportunities that address the specific skills and experience you hope to gain to prepare you for the job you hope to get. Also, you should talk to the Career Services department at your school and let them know about your strategy to gain specific types of experience before you graduate. They will be able to help you fulfill your goals. Being strategic about gaining the right experience and skills (to get the job you want), before you even start library school, is very smart. I have a feeling you are on your way to a successful career.

Q: What can I do to improve my chances of getting hired?

Q: What can I do to improve my chances of getting hired?

This answer is provided by our guest author, Rachel Kuhn Stinehelfer.

Q: In the summer of 2010, I applied for massage therapy jobs and librarian jobs. I discovered with my simple 1-page massage therapy resume that I could get an interview and even the job. Most of the job opportunities were found using one information resource: Chicago Craigslist. The interview process included a practical portion: I had to give a massage to a colleague. The job opportunities were at respectable salons: Asha SalonSpa, the largest collection of Aveda salons in the Chicago area; Heavenly Massage with 11 locations in the Chicagoland area; Massage Envy, the biggest massage franchise in the country; and Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spa, a luxury spa on Michigan Avenue.

But when I applied for librarian jobs, I didn’t even receive a call back for interviews. It’s not like I didn’t do a deep search. I used nine different information resources: Chicago Department of Human Resources, USA jobs, LISjobs, Metropolitan Library System, American Library Association, Illinois Library Association, CareerBuilder, my alma matter’s career database, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.  My 1-page resume was not getting the response that I was hoping for. One rejection after the other reminded me of something else…my experience searching for jobs after graduating from Dominican University in 2007.

There must be a problem. Even though I was primarily looking for an entry-level position, I clearly am competing with candidates who look better on paper. The biggest issue could be that I am transitioning from an entirely different field. What’s the solution? My library resume and references could be improved if I acquired more experience; this would give my prospective employers more confidence.  But, by definition, I am a Librarian, since a Librarian is someone who completes a Master’s degree in Library and Information Science. Moreover, I already did two internships while in school: one was at the American Library Association and one was at St. Scholastica High School. What can I do to improve my chances of getting hired? 

RKS: You make some great points about the differences in looking for a salon type position and a professional librarian position.  Having been on the other end of reading those letters and resumes I can say that there is A LOT of competition out there.   There may even be fifty candidates for an entry-level job.  Try not to be discouraged, but do look at your resume and cover letter with a closer eye.  I would also recommend having a friend (especially one who is already in a professional librarian position) edit your resume and cover letter.

First things first – do not confine your resume to one page if you have more relevant experience than that.  The non-library work is somewhat relevant however you need to make sure it does not look like you are too heavy on the salon work.  I would briefly describe the salon work including the years you worked there and a two-sentence description for each job.  Mostly to show you have been working during those years.  You can bring together the public services/working with people aspects of the two types of jobs in the cover letter. 

The internships and your coursework at Dominican should be the bulk of the resume.  Describe the specifics of your internships and list any websites or databases where the committee can go and review your work. 

Do limit the cover letter not necessarily to only one page, but for an entry-level position not much more than one and a half.  The cover letter is the personal connection you can make with a search committee so be sure to tailor it to the job for which you are applying.  Know that this is your chance to express why you are making a career change and how the work you have done in a salon will help you in libraries. 

Who you list as your referees is also very important.  Do list library folks – I find it useful to list your relationship in parentheses or italics – Professor or Internship Supervisor.  I would only list one salon referee probably your current employer or if you are not comfortable with the current supervisor until you are further in the process you can simply say Current supervisor contact information upon request.

Finally make sure you are qualified for the position.  If you do not meet the basic qualifications which may include a specific major or years of experience then you do not need to apply.  

Good luck to you in your job search and new career as a librarian!

Q: Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

Q: Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

Q:  I am 27 and currently employed with the U.S. Navy.  I will be receiving my BS in Human Resource Management in February of 2011.  Upon completion of my degree I was planning on continuing school and receiving my MLS while remaining military.  At this point I no longer wish to remain with the military and am planning to get out in July of 2011.  Are there any positions I can apply for with my BS in the LS field while continuing my education?

TA:  Most professional librarian positions require an MLS/MLIS and/or an advanced graduate degree in a specific discipline.  However, there are two ways that come to mind to work in the profession with a BS in the LS field, while also continuing your education.

First, many smaller institutions are staffed by individuals who may not possess the MLS.  The BS in LS could provide a strong foundation for providing access and services to that library’s constituency, and may provide an opportunity to pursue further educational credentials in the field.

Second, on the opposite end of the spectrum, larger institutions, especially public and academic libraries, will have support staff positions that do not require the MLS.  These positions may require a BS and will often focus primarily in one area of librarianship, such as technical services, access services, or public services.  The benefits of these positions are many: they provide a strong foundation in the fundamental operations of libraries; as large organizations, they may offer educational assistance to pursue an advanced degree; and because of the size of the organization, there may be promotional opportunities and room for professional growth.

I wish you the best when completing your degree and your service.  Thank you for your military service and welcome to librarianship!

Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q:  In December of 2008, I completed an MLIS degree from a fairly well-respected state university. The whole time I was in library school (2.5 years) I worked as a circulation clerk in a medium-sized public library which is part of a three county system. When it came close to graduation, I started applying for professional jobs in that system. I got interviews, but no offers. At least once, I was never extended the courtesy of a phone call to tell me I had not been chosen. I ended up getting a good job with a five county library system in a small town an hour south of where I had been living. Reluctantly, I moved there. I am used to living in a vibrant college town which is full of culture and stimulating activity. I was bored and lonely in the small town. The library’s director was a tyrant who treated her employees in a condescending manner. I quit in three months after an unexpected personal tragedy, and moved back to the town where I went to college.  Since, I have been doing some teaching, receptionist work, bartending, and working in a greenhouse. I want to be a public librarian. I wouldn’t mind working in children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference. I am confused as to why the system I worked for during school won’t hire me, and no one else will either. I don’t think it’s my resume, which has been looked over at state conference by a library branch manager and met with approval. Maybe it is my interview skills. Maybe it is the fact that I quit the job in the small town so suddenly and it has affected my reputation negatively. My question is two-fold. What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future?  Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

TA:  Dear Bummed Bookworm, I am sorry you are feeling dissatisfaction with your current situation.  I hope that I will be able to assist you in moving forward with a few thoughts and action items. 

First, you need to lose the negative attitude.  I can certainly understand your frustration at not having a library position, and having to make ends meet by teaching and bartending.  You did have a librarian position, but quit after three months in the position.  You described the library director as “condescending” and “a tyrant” and you added that there was also a personal tragedy that influenced your decision.  I acknowledge it may not have been perfect, but it’s time to get angry and get over it, because your negative feelings about the past seem to be influencing the present.  You need to find a way to describe your previous experience in a concise, honest, positive and professional way.  If you disparage one employer to another, their fear is that you’ll do the same to them when you’ve moved on.  And it’s just not professional. 

You’ve got a lot of things working for you, and that’s what you need to focus on.  First, you have a couple of years of solid public library experience.  Second, you’ve had your resume reviewed by others and feel pretty good about it.  Your interests are also wide (“children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference”), which broadens your opportunities. 

Your “To Do List” from me also has a few items to consider.  First, look at your cover letter and make sure its tone is positive and professional, and that it ties your experience to the needs of the position.  Your cover letter should project enthusiasm and confidence, and should be tailored to each position you apply for.  Second, you should consider going back to your supervisors at your first library system and asking them what you can do to make yourself a more competitive applicant for their positions.  Do you, for example, need to brush up on technology or repair any relationships from your previous employment?  If you ask someone to serve as a reference for you, be sure you ask them if they can be a GOOD reference for you for a SPECIFIC position.  Ask them to discuss with you their assessment of your strengths and weaknesses for the position, and ask if there’s anything they need from you to better prepare for the reference.  Make it easy for them to talk well about you.  Third, work your professional network to see if there are any volunteer positions available.  You will need to work carefully to build this into your already-busy schedule, but a volunteer position will allow you to keep your skills current, build a wider professional network, and rebuild a professional reputation.  Prove yourself to be trustworthy, reliable, professional and invaluable as a worker and a colleague.

Q: Are you getting many questions about ageism in hiring librarians or library staff?

Q: Are you getting many questions about ageism in hiring librarians or library staff?

Q: Are you getting many questions about ageism in hiring librarians or library staff? I am a librarian with 22 years of experience, an MLS, and an advanced certificate in preservation management. I don’t consider myself old (I’m in my late 40’s) but feel like I am seen that way when I apply for jobs. I tried to get a volunteer position at a public library, and was asked if I was retired. I have applied for various positions, both professional and paraprofessional, part-time and full-time, over the last four months, and have not even been called for an interview for any of them. I even applied for a library page position, hoping to bring in a little bit of money, and did not even make it to the interview stage! I applied yesterday for a temporary contract position that stated a preference for recent library school graduates. I used to think that years of experience was a good thing, but apparently if I just graduated from library school and had little or no experience I would be a more attractive candidate.

I’m just curious as to whether or not others have written in with similar issues, and whether or not you had any advice on how to find a job after being in the field for over 20 years. Thanks so much!

SM: We get many more questions from people who lack experience and the advice we give to them, as you can guess, focuses on how to get that much needed experience.

Each person’s situation and experiences are unique, which makes it difficult to determine why or why not someone is a good candidate for a particular job. You have lots of experience, which (you are correct) is a very valuable thing to have, but (you are also correct) it might not be helping you out in your current search for a job.

Here are some possible reasons:

  1. Entry-level: Many of the available positions are entry-level jobs – jobs that require little experience and jobs that are at the beginning of the pay scale. For these positions, an employer may avoid candidates with years of experience because they might consider them overqualified or feel like they cannot justify paying them less than they deserve. In this case, your years of experience may indeed make you a less desirable candidate.
  2. Technology-centric: This is not a recent trend, but it is becoming increasingly critical for all librarians, in every role in the library, to have technology skills (have you seen the recent job ads for “emerging technologies librarians”?). These are skills that are being taught in library schools today, skills that are highly desired, and skills that those of us who graduated years ago need to pick up on our own.
  3. Geographic mobility and timing: Job openings continue to be sparse. Budgets are in crisis, institutions are experiencing hiring freezes and positions are being filled on an as-needed basis. If you are able to move for a job, it will open up more opportunities. If you are unable to move, you will need to be more patient as you wait for positions to open up in your area. Continue to seek out alternative positions, such as volunteering and part-time jobs or seek out a library employment agency [http://www.libraryjobpostings.org/placement.htm], in order to maintain and utilize your skills. You’ve only been searching for four months, which (even though I’m sure it feels like a very long time) is not long at all. Give it more time, and rather than apply for any available job, try to find one that suits you.
  4. It is easier to get a job when you have a job: If you do not have a current job, you are creating a gap in your work history. Potential employers will notice this and wonder why you are not currently working… so you will need to explain the gap in your cover letter. The longer the gap, the more difficult it can be to find a job. Employers expect their new employees to be on top of current trends and aware of emerging technologies, and they want to avoid conflict. So, if there was any at a past position, you can be pretty sure they will find out. If you are unemployed due to circumstances beyond your control (e.g., temporary position, relocation, budget cuts, etc.), then you need to relate that information in a cover letter. Be honest about your past work history.

Here are some things you can do that might help.

  • Update your resume and tailor it to highlight specific skills and experience that relate to a specific job. For example, if you are applying for a public services position, play up your public service experience even if it is minor compared to your experience in technical services. And, it is always a good idea to have someone review your resume for you. You might even want to look into a resume reviewing service.
  • Don’t underestimate the importance of a well-written and convincing cover letter. Like your resume, tailor each cover letter for each position. Your cover letter should communicate confidence, uniqueness, and enthusiastic interest in the position. This is where you can connect your years of experience to the job at hand and explain any gaps in your resume. Be positive and address how you can meet the requirements of the job. Avoid overconfidence, generalizations, and negativity.
  • Attend classes, webinars, symposia, and conferences. You can update your skills and network at the same time.
  • Become involved in local library organizations and take advantage of their meetings, programs, job lists, and people who might be able to help you in your job search.