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: 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: I have an MBA from India. What are my chances to get employment as a Librarian or work related to Information Science in the US?

Q: I have an MBA from India. What are my chances to get employment as a Librarian or work related to Information Science in the US?

Q:  I am planning to pursue a course in Library Science / MS in Information Science in US. I am an Indian and I have an MBA from India. What are my chances to get employment as a Librarian or work related to Information Science in the US? I have heard of the H1b visa and employers sponsor the applicant’s visa. My husband is on this visa in US. Could you please advise if doing a MSIS course from US will help me get a job as a Librarian or job in Information Science?

TA:  This question is a little out of our realm of expertise, and I would definitely recommend that you consult with a professional who is better informed about international employment and work visas.

Each April, 65,000 H-1B visas are made available USCIS, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 20,000 of which are made available for workers with advanced degrees (a master’s degree or above).  Here’s a little more about the H-IB visa:

“An H-1B visa is the most common way for employers to sponsor professional workers in the U.S. In order to qualify for this sponsorship, the employee must hold a position that requires at least a bachelor’s degree or equivalent experience in that field. Once obtained, an H-1B visa allows its bearer to stay and work in the U.S. legally for up to three years. After those three years, the visa can be renewed for up to six total years.” (http://www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2014/04/07/how-does-a-company-sponsor-h1b-visas/)

If you would like to learn more the H-1B visa, you can also take a look at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services website: http://www.uscis.gov/eir/visa-guide/h-1b-specialty-occupation/h-1b-visa

If you are able to pursue the MLS in the US, it might be a nice supplement to your MBA.  Some job qualifications state a requirement of an ALA-accredited master’s degree in library or information science, so you definitely want to take that into consideration when looking at degree programs in the US.  You can find a searchable database (http://www.ala.org/accreditedprograms/directory/search) of ALA-accredited programs, as well as “Guidelines for Choosing a Master’s Program in Library and Information Studies” (http://www.ala.org/accreditedprograms/guidelines-choosing-masters-program-library-and-information-studies) on the ALA website, www.ala.org.

Q: If I took a position outside the field and later wanted to come back, would that be viewed negatively by search committees?

Q: If I took a position outside the field and later wanted to come back, would that be viewed negatively by search committees?

Q:  I am currently employed in the library field, but if I took a position outside the field and later wanted to come back, would that be viewed negatively by search committees?

TA:  Well, the answer is, It depends.  If you are taking a professional position outside of libraries doing the same or similar work just in a different environment, that’s one thing.  If you are deciding to take a break from libraries to work in a coffee shop or run a fitness gym, that could be a harder sell to the search committee.

In the first example, where you’re doing similar work in a different environment, you could more easily explain that to a search committee when returning to a library.  You would be able to rely on transferable skills that would relate to another positon in a library, and you could market the experience to the search committee as an opportunity that would be a benefit in their positon.  Of course, all of this would need to be explained in the cover letter and probably discussed during the interview, so make sure you have your talking points prepared…describe the experience as an asset not a liability.

In the second example, the coffee shop/fitness gym, you might need to get a little more creative about your reasons for leaving librarianship and would definitely need to offer an explanation in your application materials.  You still might be able to offer some transferable skills (customer service, working one on one with clients, preparing instruction materials…) but you would need to be a little more persuasive.  And you would definitely need to find a way to keep your library skills current—the more damaging part of your application might not be your diversion into another profession; instead it might be the dated library experience you bring to the position, because as we all know, things change quickly in this profession.  So be sure to stay connected professionally and make an effort to stay current with the work of the field.  Professional affiliations (memberships, conference attendance), continuing education or coursework, staying connected to the professional literature…all of these will be especially important if you venture into another profession with the intention of returning to librarianship eventually.

Q: I’m currently a library branch manager and want to make the jump into administration. What’s the best way to make my resume stand out and to cultivate the skills I need for this type of position?

Q: I’m currently a library branch manager and want to make the jump into administration. What’s the best way to make my resume stand out and to cultivate the skills I need for this type of position?

Q: I’m currently a library branch manager and want to make the jump into administration. What’s the best way to make my resume stand out and to cultivate the skills I need for this type of position? Do you know any career coaches or advisers that specialize in library management?

TA: Well, you are certainly in good company. When we conducted a national survey to gather data for our book, 45% of respondents were in a management position and wanted to be, and an additional 26% of respondents were not currently in a management position but hoped to be someday. (For what it’s worth, there were also 5% of our survey respondents who were in management positions and didn’t want to be. Yikes!)

While nothing substitutes for real, practical, hands-on experience in administration, there are several steps we recommend for preparing for the challenge:

1. Draw on transferable skills.

As a branch manager, you’re likely to have direct experience with managing people, budgets, resources, and facilities. This experience will transfer nicely to a position in administration, where you will probably deal with many of the same issues, just perhaps at a different level.

2. Read—a lot.

Read management texts, articles, blogs, everything you can get your hands on to learn from the experience of others. (You can also check out our book, Career Q&A: A Librarian’s Real-Life, Practical Guide to Managing a Successful Career…It has several chapters that relate to your question, including profiles of professionals who offer their personal experience and pathways into management and administration.)

3. And speaking of learning from the experience of others…Talk with lots of people.

If you have a mentor, draw on this relationship for guidance, suggestions, and advice. Also, work your professional network, reach out to conduct informational interviews, and learn a little more about how folks got into their position that may be similar to the position you’re seeking. Be sure to ask them about the challenges and opportunities they see in their position and how they best prepared (and stay prepared) for the work they do.

4. Explore what your professional association offers to you.

Some associations offer leadership development programs, mentor partnerships, and other benefits of membership. Be sure to explore what’s offered and take advantage of what fits for you.

5. Build a successful track record of leadership and management.

Even in your current position, you have the opportunity to take on new projects, lead a new assignment, and manage people and resources. Be sure to position yourself to take on new things and expand your repertoire of skills and experience.

6. Lastly, be sure you know what you’re getting into and be prepared for it.

Look at vacancy announcements and position descriptions: read the description of work (Do you find it interesting? Exciting? Terrifying?); review the required and preferred qualifications (Do you have the educational credentials? Do you meet the required qualifications? Is there work you can do now to prepare yourself for this position in the future?). Also check out online resources like the materials available from ALA that describe, from an outside perspective, the work of libraries and library employees (see, http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers/librarycareerssite/whatyouneeddirector and http://www.ala.org/educationcareers/careers/librarycareerssite/whatyouneedlibrarymgr).

Q: How do I overcome the catch-22 of having experience that is often disregarded?

Q: How do I overcome the catch-22 of having experience that is often disregarded?

Q: I am in a strange situation that I am unsure how to change. I currently work in a paraprofessional position at a small public library. After working for five years and obtaining every possible promotion, I realized that if I wanted any chance of a decent salary and a decent career, I needed to make a significant change.  About two years ago, I received my library degree but have yet to find an opportunity to make a change. Because of the nature and flexibility afforded to me by my library’s size, my resume runs the gambit from Circulation assistant to two different department heads and shows that I performed the duties of each for a year before being promoted to another position (and often doing multiple positions simultaneously.)

Since each of these positions were prior to receiving my degree, they are often disregarded as actual experience despite performing the duties of each. On the rare instance that I am able to interview for professional opportunities I am often questioned as to why my experience is even on there or why I have switched positions as often as I have.  After explaining size, staffing constraints, promotions and skills, I am often told that I am in essence lying about titles that I have held. This level of disbelief is compounded by the fact that I have nearly ten years’ experience across a broad spectrum in nearly every department before reaching my mid-20s. I have tried to obtain extra skills by gaining extra certificates and doing continuing education following my degree to overcome any inadequacies anyone may consider I have. To offset any of the title disputes I have tried applying for part-time experience only to be told I’m over qualified and they know I will leave quickly.  From the few interviewers who have spoken to me after the interview, I have been told that I will have a successful career ahead of me and they understand that I am more than capable and qualified, but the titles matter to them. Some have even gone as far as saying that they would love to hire me but they know it would have been harder for the other candidate to find a job because of their age so they chose them.

Since this problem has been haunting me for a few years, I’d like to find a way to make a change for quality of life reasons. However, I am starting to get more than a little disheartened. I would consider switching concentration away from public libraries if that was the answer but I feel I would run into the same situation anywhere. My real questions are these:

1) How do I overcome the catch-22 of having experience that is often disregarded?

2) Is it worth changing my job titles?

3) Since my age is often questioned, should I take off my degree dates?

Thank you for any help you can provide.

Wow.  There’s a lot going on in this one question.  It’s hard for me to choose where to start, so I’m going to just jump in and answer your three specific questions.  Then I’ll add some additional commentary that I hope will also be useful.

1) Overcoming experience.  Most of the time, when we hear from folks the question is usually “How do I get experience without experience?”  It’s not often that we hear that having experience is what’s holding people back.  But there is some reality to it, and you should know you’re not alone.  Sometimes when you have the track record of being good and reliable, you’re given certain experiences not afforded to others.  And sometimes this experience can seem accelerated.  What I mean is, it can be judged by others as being too much, too soon.  It can also often result in quick promotions that might be perceived by potential employers as job-hopping and can cause concerns about whether you’ll stay in a position for any amount of time.

To combat these perceptions, you can do a couple of things.  First, address some of these things in your cover letter.  In your question to us, you describe the “nature and flexibility” afforded by your library’s size…this information should also be in your cover letter.  You should also talk about the duration of time and level of commitment you’ve displayed at your current institution, by staying on board for years and stepping up to assist when asked to move into new roles and positions.  What you want to do is shape the perception you’re presenting to employers:  Are your materials presenting an employee who constantly needs to be moved, who is overly ambitious and never content?  Or are you the kind of employee who is so dedicated to the life and success of the organization that you are willing to step up to new challenges, take on new responsibilities when asked, and who leaves behind a track record of successful projects and activities?

Second, be prepared to talk about your experiences (and your successes) during the interview.  Be sure to present a logical pathway from one position to the next, especially if you were asked to assume additional responsibilities based on success in another position.  (I say to folks all the time, “the reward for good work is more work”!)

2) Job titles?  They vary from state to state, institution to institution, so the meaning is difficult to translate from one context to the other.  My advice here is to be honest.  If you’re worried about how a title will be perceived by a potential employer, go with the simplest form.  But still be honest.  One of the greatest risks to a successful candidacy is being dishonest, even if you were trying to help.

3) And about the age thing…From what you’ve written, I just don’t think this is about age.  I would encourage you to leave the grad dates on (it’s actually very helpful information, and not a true indicator of age—librarianship is one of the most common second careers) and try to address what you perceive to be the age thing in a different way.  Let me give you one example…

In your question to us, you say “I have nearly ten years’ experience across a broad spectrum in nearly every department before reaching my mid-20s.”  I know that you hedge a little bit with words like “nearly” and “mid” but at the roughest calculation, that would mean you started working in the library at the age of 15, which most employers would not consider relevant professional experience.  In this case, it’s not the age that’s the problem, it’s the hyperbole.  You may have been writing at a time of great frustration, but these kinds of statements can be interpreted by employers as embellishment or a magnification of your real experience.  Don’t devalue your real experience by making grandiose overstatements.

And finally, let me add one other note about something you mention in your question.  You state that you have started applying for part-time positions only to be told you’re overqualified.  This may actually be true.  Given the fact that you have had all kinds of opportunities over the years in your full time job, it is natural for a potential employer to wonder why you are interested in their (possibly somewhat limited) part-time position.  If you are really interested in the part-time position, you need to make a case for it in your cover letter.  Maybe you’re looking to try librarianship in another context, or a different type of library.  Maybe you’re looking for an opportunity to develop new skills.  Or maybe you’re looking to relocate.  Whatever the reason, offer an explanation in your cover letter.  Don’t just let the hiring supervisor or hiring committee guess, or worse, speculate as to your reasons.

To summarize, let me mention a few action items:

  • Have an excellent cover letter and resume.
  • In the cover letter, address some of these lingering questions (Why did you move around so much in the same organization? Why are you interested in this new position?)
  • Have someone outside of your organization review your resume.  How does it read?  Does is make sense in terms of promotional opportunities?  There are a lot of professional associations who will hook you up with a resume reviewer…
  • Be aware of how you describe things and how that might be interpreted by others.  Avoid hyperbole.
Q: How will volunteer work benefit me?

Q: How will volunteer work benefit me?

Q: I am interviewing for a volunteer position in a public library. How will this benefit me and is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer? I do not have a master’s degree yet but I am considering it.

TA: A volunteer position can be a great way to learn about libraries, especially if you are considering pursuing the MLS.  Let’s take a look at your question and break it down:

  • How will volunteering in a public library benefit me?
  • Is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer?
  • I’m thinking about getting my master’s degree…

First, as mentioned earlier, volunteering in a library is a great way to learn about what goes on in a library.  It’s basically a behind-the-scenes tour of library operations.  Not only are you gaining valuable insights into the inner workings of a library organization, you are also gaining experience in the work of libraries.  Additionally, if you’re around long enough, you’ll start to pick up on the vocabulary and meaning of technical terms used in the work, the workflow cycles, and the politics of the workplace.  You will also begin to establish a professional network, which, if you prove yourself as a valuable and reliable volunteer, will help you in your job search.  Which brings us to question number two…

Is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer?  If you were to take a look back through some of our older posts, you’ll find that we often say it’s easier to find a job when you have a job.  What we mean by that is when you’re in the workforce (even as a volunteer) there are certain advantages that help with the job search.  First, all the things mentioned above as benefits to a volunteer position (knowledge of the work of libraries, common vocabulary, workflow, politics, etc.) are also benefits when you’re on the job market.  When you’re asked questions during an interview (like, Tell us about a time you had to work with a patron…), you will be able to speak from a position of experience, as opposed to theory.  Second, the professional network that you’ve established as a volunteer is also very helpful.  Librarianship is a small (and close!) profession.  Lots of people know lots of other people.  Your professional reputation—something else you’re building as a volunteer—is another tool in your toolkit.  Working hard pays off; the professional reputation you build will serve you well as apply for jobs.  And finally, by volunteering you’re gaining hands-on experience and receiving up-to-date training on information tools and the work of libraries.

And I’ll close with this, a response to the third part of your question.  If you’re thinking about going back to school, working experience in a library (paid and unpaid) will help you decide if you’re ready for the investment (of time, attention and money).  Finding out what you like about working in libraries is equally as important as finding out what you don’t like.  And those experiences will help you shape your academic experience when you do decide to return for the master’s degree.  Having some experience under your belt when you enter graduate school will benefit not only you, but your classmates will benefit as well when you’re able to put theory into practice and provide real-world examples.

Whether you’re taking librarianship for a test drive, or getting some experience under your belt before moving into something more permanent, volunteering in a library can provide excellent benefits for you, the library, and the community you serve.