Q: How can I possibly gain some (library) experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job?

Q: How can I possibly gain some (library) experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job?

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

Q: I have an MLIS that I received about 9 years ago. Prior to that, I had about 10 years of experience working as a page, circulation desk worker, supervisor, etc. After receiving my degree, I worked for a year and a half as a reference and systems librarian at a small academic library. Due to a job transfer on my husband’s part, I ended up having to quit that job, and was unable to find a new one in our new location. So I went back to school, and have been working as a web programmer and database designer for the last 5 years.

I really miss working in the library world, and would like to re-enter it. I now live in an area where there are many community colleges. One of the biggest problems I’m finding, though, is that all the job requirements mention wanting “recent” academic library experience — how can I possibly gain some experience while still holding down my current 9-5 job? I don’t see myself getting looked at twice by hiring committees without it, and frankly, I could really use some experience to get back up to speed on library technologies and procedures. I’d be happy to volunteer somewhere, but academic libraries don’t seem real big on volunteers. Is it possible for someone, post-degree, to get an internship? Any suggestions on how to handle this?

RKS: That does sound like a tough position to be in. There are several ways to look at your situation and many opportunities in front of you.

First, I would call a couple of the local community college libraries and ask to speak to the person in charge of hiring or the department head of the area you are most interested in. Set up an informational interview try to see if you can come in person to talk to them and if that is not an option then ask if you could arrange a phone interview. Prepare as if it is a real interview. Have lots of questions (not too many!) and take a copy of your résumé. Look the part – wear a nice outfit and take the conversation seriously. They will be able to talk to you about the job market, their particular library and the skills that they are expecting from a librarian. Be sure to follow up with a handwritten thank you note. All the impressions you are making could lead to a future opportunity.

Second, you mentioned that your skills need updating and refreshing. Taking a class either in person or online would be a real benefit to you – not only will it make your résumé more current, it will show that you are interested in staying current in the profession. You may even make connections that could lead to a job – you just never know.

Third, to your comment about academic libraries not wanting volunteers. I think that is not always the case. Sometimes it has to do with the school’s overall policy, so it is worth a phone call to the libraries you are interested in.

From your perspective it sounds like you are a bit stalled in making that next step, so I hope one or all of these ideas will help you to reach your goal. And good luck!

Q: How would someone who is totally new to librarianship get into it?

Q: How would someone who is totally new to librarianship get into it?

Q: Shamefully (or possibly beneficially) I have no experience working in a library save for a stint in high school when I was part of the library club. I worked as a library page for two hours a week almost twenty years ago and nothing since. I have, on the other hand, used libraries — especially in college.

On a more positive note, I got accepted into a library and information science program. I’m happy and shocked at the same time because now I need to get my feet wet. I am thinking it would be very nice if I started doing something in a library. I don’t think I should wait until an internship is posted and volunteer library associations are chuck filled with volunteers already.

So, now, my question is: how would someone who is totally new to librarianship get into it?

TA: Congratulations on your acceptance into library school. I’m not sure how no experience could be “possibly beneficial” and I’m a little curious what led you to this point of seeking the LS/IS degree when you admit that you haven’t worked in a library any more than as a page twenty years ago. But whatever your reasons, I hope that your interest, experience, and objectives are further enhanced by obtaining the degree.

You’re smart to begin thinking early about gaining experience. Today’s employers like to see a combination of education and experience in qualified applicants, and building related experience is a lot easier during library school than at the end of it, or when you’re actually on the job market. There are a number of options to consider to gain experience: A volunteer placement, internship (paid or unpaid), practicum for course credit, and paid employment as a library staff member. Any or all of these would provide an opportunity for you to work in an actual library, and to see and build a better understanding of the work of libraries. Additionally, you’ll be able to apply classroom theory to real-world situations, something that will benefit both your classroom and work experience. It’s also a great way to “try on” different types of work to see which you like best and may help you specialize and focus your course selections. And finally, all of these experiences will build a resume with current, relevant experience which will make you marketable to prospective employers at the conclusion of your degree program.

SM: Well, I would say you’ve already gotten yourself into it, mentally anyway, by applying and getting accepted into a library and information science program. You must have thought seriously about your decision to become a librarian, and what you might want to do with the degree.

Even though you don’t have much experience working in libraries, you obviously have a strong pull towards the profession, or you wouldn’t be pursuing it. And, please (please) don’t say that you love to read books. If you haven’t already, do some research into the vast variety of roles librarians can play, and the incredibly diverse institutions in which they can work.

I recommend visiting the placement center, or career services center, of the school you will be attending and see if they have an online or a physical job board. Look for positions in the library or libraries of the university. Look for positions in local public libraries. Search for positions on online job sites, specific to librarianship such as LISjobs.com, or broader such as SimplyHired.com. Visit library web sites and see if they are hiring or if they have procedures you need to complete before they will hire you (civil service exam, typing test, forms to fill out, etc.). Don’t limit yourself to volunteering or wait for the perfect internship – get out there now and start getting experience! Ideally, you should get library experience before and during library school; which, in turn, will help you land a great job after you graduate. And believe me, nothing makes library school classes more relevant and more interesting than concurrently working in a library.

As you apply for positions, let prospective employers know that you are enrolled in library school and mention your past experience as a page in a library. This can help get you in the door, and convey both enthusiasm and commitment. And don’t be afraid to start out small… if you are good at what you do and motivated to learn, you will move up quickly and learn lots along the way.

Take a look at some of our previous postings on getting started:

How Do I Get a Job with Little (or no) Experience AND no Degree?

Two Questions on Getting Experience Through Internships and Volunteering