Q: What specialization do you feel is the most marketable?

Q: What specialization do you feel is the most marketable?

Q: I searched your site but didn’t find an answer already on this subject. If I’m wrong, could you point me in the right direction?  My question:  I recently graduated with my BS in History. I have four years’ experience working first as a library page, then as a collections processor in Archives, and now I’m working as a Digital Projects and Oral History assistant in the Digitization Department of Special Collections. My next step is to get my MLIS. However, I am unsure of what to specialize in. I have most of my experience with Digitization and Archives but think I would be happier in a different area. I’d like to work with people more and love the hustle and bustle of reference and circulation. However, I am also in love with children’s literature and would love an opportunity to work with kids, set up reading programs in the library, etc. I feel that I can be happy in many capacities in the library. So I guess my question is what specialization do you feel is the most marketable? With library jobs being competitive, I’d like to choose a specialization in library school that will be widely marketable when I begin looking for permanent positions, but that will also be something I will enjoy doing for the long haul.

TA: I totally understand your question about finding ways to be most marketable upon graduation, but you also want to find a specialization that works for you.  You can be marketable and terribly unhappy, and that’s not where you want to end up.  Employers look for experience and potential, and library school is a great time to explore different areas of specialization and to try things on to see if they fit.  From taking a variety of classes, to different internships and volunteer opportunities, you can spend some time exploring librarianship.  According to ALA, the amount of academic credit hours required for an ALA-accredited MLS can vary from 36 semester hours to 72 quarter hours—this is both a lot of time, and time that flies by too quickly.  You should talk with an academic advisor at the school to chart your course, including which classes to take, how and when to register for field experiences, and identifying volunteer or paid work experiences.  Above all else, leave library school with the degree AND work experience.

Now is also a great time to join a few professional discussions lists.  You see if the discussion topics strike an interest.  You can also monitor the vacancy announcements that come across the lists.  Even though you aren’t on the market right now, you can see what’s in demand in terms of types of jobs, regions of employment, and desired skills and experience.  This information will be really useful when you are in library school and are deciding which classes to take or how to gain certain experiences.

Also, remember the power of the informational interview.  Elisa Topper, in her October 2003 “Working Knowledge” column in American Libraries, talks about all the potential benefits of the informational interview.  Her list includes: building a network of contacts; gaining information about internships, practicum experiences and other positions in the “hidden job market”; exposure to terminology and issues relevant to a specific field; and a glimpse into different organizational cultures.  Informational interviews are a great way to explore different areas of librarianship through the real-life experience of someone who’s doing it.  Be sure to read the rest of the Topper article, and refer to our other columns on Informational Interviews to learn more about conducting these types of interviews.

Q: I have been an MLIS graduate for a year now and still have no job. I had interviews and am always told they are impressed with me, but I never get the position. I have lots of experience working and interning in libraries. What am I doing wrong?

Q: I have been an MLIS graduate for a year now and still have no job. I had interviews and am always told they are impressed with me, but I never get the position. I have lots of experience working and interning in libraries. What am I doing wrong?

Q: I have been an MLIS graduate for a year now and still have no job.  I had interviews and am always told they are impressed with me, but I never get the position.  I have lots of experience working and interning in libraries.  What am I doing wrong? How do I get my foot in the door?  Thank you in advance for your time.

 TA: This can be a frustrating experience, but don’t lose sight on the positive: clearly your application materials are strong because you keep getting invitations for an interview.  There are a couple of ideas that come to mind that may get you some additional information.

First, you may want to speak with the institutions where you’ve interviewed.  If they have an HR person, or if you’ve been dealing directly with the chair of the search committee, ask for feedback on your interview.  Some candidates ask if there were particular areas of the interview where their performance could have been stronger, or if there are areas of experience that they could build on to strengthen their candidacy.  Some institutions are more guarded with the information they release to candidates after the interview, but it may be worth your time to inquire to see if you could get some helpful feedback.

Second, you may want to practice some of the more common interviewing techniques.  You could practice with friends or a professional interview coach.  Most campuses offer interviewing services for alumni, so that could also be a resource for you.  Consider practicing your candidate presentation and getting feedback on the content and the delivery.  Also practice the post-presentation Question-and-Answer.  Or practice your answers to some of the more commonly asked interview questions that you will encounter throughout the campus interview day, and get feedback on your responses.

And finally, you may want to consider pursuing an informational interview with librarians in institutions where you’re considering employment.  Be sure to read our recommendations on informational interviews, but briefly, keep the appointments to less than 30 minutes, bring a resume, and schedule the appointment before applying for a position.  What you hope to come out with from those interactions are ideas about what kinds of positions may be on the recruitment horizon at that institution, what the culture and values are of that institution, and what kind of qualities they’re looking for in their candidates.

Q: I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring…

Q: I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring…

Q:  I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring. Until recently I worked with the developmentally challenged in a residence as a Case Coordinator but became burnt out. I went to a career counselor several weeks ago who administered several tests and after talking with me suggested that I consider learning Library Sciences either to be a librarian or a non traditional path. I am having trouble making up my mind if this the right career for me. Unfortunately, I have only 6 weeks to decide before I will need to submit an application! Is this enough time to make a good decision and if so, what should I be doing to in the meantime to aid that decision?

TA: Wow, this is an interesting, and extraordinarily time-sensitive, question.  I know that we’re all required at some point in our life to make quick decisions, but this feels a little pressured in terms of the short period of time and the large impact of this decision.  My advice would be to slow things down a little.  Meeting with the career counselor was a great first step, and it’s indicative of a level of intellectual curiosity and self awareness.  On the other hand, you shouldn’t pursue a graduate degree just because someone told you to, or because you tested that way.  I would strongly recommend that you get some kind of library experience first, and then pursue the degree if it’s a career of interest.  Try to find a job or even a volunteer experience in a library.  And explore different types of work experience and environments—public services, technical services, public library, academic library, school library.  There are so many choices.  You’ve done the initial work of identifying a new field of potential employment.  Take some time to do the in-the-trenches work to see if actually fits.

Q: What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

Q: What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

Q: I’m an MLIS student and my concentration is digital librarianship. Online databases and helping individuals retrieve information off of them is the largest interest to me. I’d enjoy helping students, professors, lawyers, or doctors. What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

TA: Now is the time to seize the opportunity. Once you leave graduate school, the ease of free exploration of different areas of librarianship grows exponentially more difficult. It’s an accepted practice to try different things when you’re in graduate school. You’re still learning and in many cases still trying things on for size. In graduate school, you can take classes across the curriculum and you can try different (paid or unpaid) working experiences, all in the effort to identify your area of specialization in the field. It sounds like you’ve narrowed your concentration to digital librarianship, but you’re still working on what type of library might suit you best. I would encourage you to use this time in school to try different working environments to see which challenge and engage you the most. You may also be able to earn course credit for some of your employment through field experiences or volunteer placements through your academic program, which might help balance the work hours with your course load.

Additionally, you should also consider other avenues of learning about areas of specialization, such as informational interviews and networking with colleagues through professional associations. I would also encourage you to join several listservs and follow the conversation. Are you interested in what they’re talking about? Do you have ideas to share regarding their topics of discussion? Do you want to learn more? Job announcements, which are often shared via listservs, are also a great source of information. Pay attention to the way positions are described, to the job responsibilities outlined in the announcement, and to the required and preferred qualifications, and use this information to shape your academic and professional pursuits.

Q: What is the best way to get a behind-the-scenes look at a few libraries in a city where I’ll be vacationing?

Q: What is the best way to get a behind-the-scenes look at a few libraries in a city where I’ll be vacationing?

Q: I’m finishing up my MLIS very soon, and I’m trying to get a feel for as many types of libraries as possible. I would love to get a behind-the-scenes look at a few libraries in a city where I’ll be vacationing soon. What is the best way to approach this? Should I request informational interviews, or offer to volunteer for a day or two? I don’t want to inconvenience anyone, and I certainly don’t want to overstep the bounds of professional courtesy. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

TA: Excellent question! And great timing. There are certainly a large number of soon-to-be-grads in your same situation: finishing school, maybe a semester or two remaining, and wondering what life is like at a real reference desk. Or, perhaps, about what it’s really like to be a children’s librarian? Or, more than anything, about what happens during any given day as a professional… You’re smart to start thinking about this now, and you’re very wise to recognize the limits of professional courtesy and the risk of overstepping those boundaries. There are ways, though, to get the information you need while working within the guidelines of professional courtesy.

First, to answer your basic question, I would try to set up several informational interviews, as opposed to volunteering for a day or two. We all know the old saying that “there’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Well, along the same lines, volunteers aren’t really free. While libraries may not pay a salary, volunteers require orientation, training, supervision, space, and resources. In most cases, having a volunteer for only a day or two wouldn’t be in the library’s best interest; it would be a heavy investment of their time for very little return. Informational interviews can (and should) be scheduled in advance, and do not take a lot of any one person’s time. As a matter of fact, you may be able to schedule a couple of interviews in the same library, but with different people in different departments.

WHY do informational interviews?

Let’s briefly review informational interviews. In an informational interview, you can accomplish several things. You may:

  • Explore careers and clarify your career goal
  • Expand your professional network
  • Build confidence for your job interviews
  • Access the most up-to-date career information
  • Identify your professional strengths and weaknesses

(Informational Interviewing Tutorial) WHAT to do?

Do your research: Research the profession, research the organization, and research the person with whom you are meeting. You may want to look at general resources that give an overview of the profession. For example, take a look at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. You could also look at web pages, annual reports, and statistics for the organization you’ll be visiting. Do your research on the person with whom you would like to meet. You want this appointment to be productive, so make sure you’re speaking with someone who is active in the field and ready to share his or her story with you. By knowing more about this person (Are they published? Are they active in professional organizations? Are they in a position you aspire to achieve someday?), you’ll be better able to shape productive questions for the limited time you have during an informational interview.

Make an appointment: Call, e-mail, or write in advance to ask for an appointment. You may also have a mutual acquaintance who could refer you. Be sure to be up front and tell the person that you have some questions about working in a particular area, and would be interested in meeting with them for an informational interview. Keep the appointment to 20 or 30 minutes.

Have your list of questions and take notes: Come prepared with questions (and something to take notes with). Remember, this is two- way. The person you are interviewing may be interested in learning about you in this process, so be prepared to have a conversation and answer questions about yourself. For a nice list of potential questions, take a look at: http://www.quintcareers.com/information_interview.html.

Say thank you: Before you leave, express your thanks for the person’s time. Also follow up with a written thank you note within a few days of the interview. Remember, you are not just gaining valuable knowledge about the profession, you’re establishing your professional network. You want to make a good impression.

What NOT to do?

Do not show up unprepared: See the notes above about doing your research.

Do not go over your time limit: Respect everyone’s time and do not stay longer than originally agreed upon, unless you are invited to stay by the person you’re interviewing.

Do not ask for a job: Remember, this is an informational interview only. Do not overstep the limits of the informational interview by asking about employment opportunities or your qualifications for a specific position.

I hope these tips help you plan for your interviews. Additional resources are also listed below. Most importantly, be sure to have a good time on your vacation!

Additional Resources:

Q: Most places need some sort of experience, but I do not know if my work and life experience will do?

Q: Most places need some sort of experience, but I do not know if my work and life experience will do?

Q: I’m interested in working in a library environment, but hold no previous experience. The only thing I hold is a great passion for literature. I would like to work within this educational environment, but do not know what to do. Most places need some sort of experience, but I do not know if my work and life experience will do?

TA: Well, I am certainly glad that you are considering librarianship as a profession, but I would add a word of caution: most librarians I know don’t sit around and read, so a “passion for literature” needs to be supplemented with a passion for library work. I hear in your question a love of books and a fondness for the campus lifestyle, but I do not hear any enthusiasm for library work. I may have misinterpreted your question, or, perhaps having not worked in a library, you are unsure about the work and so cannot express enthusiasm for those possibilities. You need to know what goes on in a library (from the service point of view) before you can decide if you would like to make a commitment to the profession. You can do this in a number of ways:

  1. Schedule informational interviews Make an appointment with an individual working in a position that you may be considering. Ask general questions about the work, the environment, and how they got to this point in their career. Do not stay longer than 15 minutes unless invited to do so. And be sure to send a thank you note after your visit to express your gratitude for their time and for freely sharing information about their position and career in librarianship. For a quick article on informational interviewing, check out Carole Martin’s article “Informational Interviewing: The Neglected Job Search Tool” at http://interview.monster.com/articles/informational/ .
  2. Volunteer By volunteering to shelve books at your public library or assisting with a Friends of the Library book sale, you will make invaluable contacts and gather information that will help you determine if this is work you really enjoy.
  3. Research careers in libraries Take a look at ALA’s Human Resource Development and Recruitment site to learn about opportunities in librarianship. You will also find other general resources for researching careers in libraries.

When you are ready to pursue a career in a library, start researching job opportunities in your area (or elsewhere, if you are geographically mobile). In most cases, unless you possess a Masters in Library Science or a Masters in a comparable field, you will not be eligible for a librarian position. You may want to consider researching and applying for library support staff positions. If you are interested in an educational environment, look at your local college or university library for possible opportunities. Also consider school libraries, large public libraries and special libraries.

Read vacancy announcements to determine the qualifications of a position and look for transferable skills. Transferable skills (see previous columns) are skills learned in one context that easily transfer to another. For example, if you managed a video store and supervised ten employees, you may have gained valuable experience in the areas of supervision, managing a budget, and/or facilities operation. These experiences would all translate well into another setting, whether it’s a university library, a public library – or another video store.

If you enjoy working in a library, you may want to eventually consider returning to school for an MLS. You can find ALA-accredited programs in your area online.

SM: I agree with all of Tiffany’s suggestions. You definitely need to do a little research and find out what is involved in working in a library before you start looking for a job in one. And, just to reiterate, you will need more than a “passion for literature” to work in libraries. Sadly, we do very little reading on the job. The only librarians I know who do quite a bit of reading are children’s librarians, and most children’s books, as interesting as they can be, are not what you’re likely referring to as “literature.”

Librarianship is a very difficult profession to define. People generally have no idea what librarians do, other than help patrons find resources and information. This is partly because our profession is so diverse; we do very different things in very different places. The best way to figure out if you will really like working in libraries is to actually work in one, in your case, most likely as support staff. All libraries depend greatly on their support staff. These positions can be exceptional learning opportunities for those expecting to pursue their MLS, or wonderful careers in themselves.

Getting library experience, of any kind, will help you decide if a career in libraries is right for you. Also start thinking about what kind of library you want to work in, and in what capacity. The three main areas of libraries are public services, technical services, and administration. If you really want to work with people in an educational capacity, you may want to find a position in public services. I have worked in a variety of library positions over the years, in professional and non-professional roles, both part-time and full-time, in public libraries, a government library, a theater library, a theology library, and both large and small academic libraries. The experience I gained along the way has been invaluable in shaping and charting my career as a librarian. There is nothing like working in a library to help you figure out if you truly want to be a librarian – how do you know until you try it? Good luck!

For more information on the profession and the different roles within libraries, take a look at the Occupational Outlook Handbook entries on Librarians, Library Assistants, and Library Technicians; and the Getting Started section of Lisjobs.com.