Q: Is there something else I should do to improve my skills and marketability? At what point do I throw in the towel and seek another career path?

Q: Is there something else I should do to improve my skills and marketability? At what point do I throw in the towel and seek another career path?

Q: I recently discovered your site and have found it very helpful.  My situation is identical to many recent library school graduates.  I have had my MLS for nearly three years. Since I graduated, I have worked part-time in an after school program, as a media specialist, and currently, as a substitute teacher.  I have been unemployed for over a year.  I understand that it’s the economy and that there are many people in similar positions.  I also know that I am doing everything I can to improve both my skills and my marketability.

I worked an internship in a public library youth services department while a student, so I had four years of library experience before graduation.  I also have experience in museum and resource center settings.  I have an e-portfolio and social networking presence.  I subscribe to library, education job-hunting list-serves and follow related Twitter accounts.  I customize each cover letter and resume, carefully prepare for interviews, and craft customized thank you emails.  I am currently pursuing certification in educational technology.  I plan to volunteer in a local elementary school media center and local university library.  Since I am a student, I also plan to look into student library positions at my university.  I have also broadened my geographical search parameters, but I am limited to two regions in my state.

If my job search is too narrow, I’d be considered too picky.  Too broad, and I’d be considered either too desperate or someone who doesn’t do my research.  I am able to communicate how my library skills will be an asset to paraprofessional, retail, and other positions for which I am overqualified.  I have received mixed views about applying for paraprofessional positions.  The positives: it will get my foot in the door, I’d be getting the experience, and I’d be working in a library.  The negatives: why should the library waste time and resources on someone who might leave as soon as something better comes along?  For jobs that I am under-qualified for or don’t have enough experience in that particular field, it’s a catch-22.  I need experience to get a job, a job to get experience, and so on.

I’m trying not to be discouraged, but it’s not easy.  I keep telling myself I’m doing the best that I can, that there are so many librarians in my position, and that there are people far worse off.  I am trying to look up alternative careers for librarians and related search terms.  Is there something else I should do to improve my skills and marketability?  At what point do I throw in the towel and seek another career path?  My intention for this letter is not to complain (I’ve landed interviews, so I know I’m doing at least something right).  I just figure that I might not be doing enough and wanted to get professional advice.

TA: Well, this is a tough one.  From what you describe above, it sounds like you’ve covered all your bases and done a lot of work.  I am really impressed with all the attention you’ve paid to different work experiences, creating and maintaining an e-portfolio and social media presence, and your additional coursework on the educational technology certification.  Having limited geographic mobility can impose some limits on the job search, but you’ve done a lot to compensate for that limitation.

Your question about paraprofessional work is one that is greatly debated and I’m not sure there’s ever one answer that’s right for everyone.  In today’s economy, people realize that choices are made that might have been different under different circumstances.  As the employer, yes, it’s likely my question would be “Why here? Why now? How long will you stay?”  As the candidate, it’s your job to allay some of these concerns by expressing genuine interest in the position and the knowledge you can gain from the experience.  You might also want to express some commitment to the position and the institution, and offer your experience and hard work in exchange for a chance to work in the position.

Another employment option to consider is a temp librarian position.  There are placement and staffing agencies out there that specialize in placing librarians (MLS required) in temp positions all over the country, with positions that range from part time to full time, on-site to remote work locations.  Take a look at this list of placement agencies: http://www.lisjobs.com/jobseekers/agencies.asp

Finally, you mention leaving librarianship altogether and seeking employment in another career track.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Occupational Outlook Handbook:

“Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations.  There will continue to be a need for librarians to manage libraries and staff and help patrons find information. As electronic resources become more common, patrons and support staff will be more comfortable using them, so fewer librarians will be needed for assistance. However, the increased availability of electronic information is also expected to increase the demand for librarians in research and special libraries, where they will be needed to help sort through the large amount of available information.  Budget limitations, especially in local government and educational services, may slow demand for librarians. Some libraries may close, reduce the size of their staff, or focus on hiring library technicians and assistants, who can fulfill some librarian duties at a lower cost.  Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.  Even though people with a master’s in library science may have trouble finding a job as a librarian, their research and analytical skills are valuable for jobs in a variety of other fields, such as market researchers or computer and information systems managers.”


For more information from the BLS on similar occupations, you can visit: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-7.  Just be sure to check the job prospects of these associated fields before you leave librarianship.  We’d hate to lose you.


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: Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

Q: Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

Q:  I’m a recent LIS graduate and have been a reference librarian for two years, but I have long been interested in collection development. Prior to that, I worked as an assistant in a special library doing copy cataloging and collection maintenance, and in a university law library, also doing collection maintenance. Unfortunately, due to limited availability of a collection development class in my program, I never took it and only learned in my last quarter before graduation when I asked to have my practicum in collection development that the class was a prerequisite. Thus I was pushed into reference, and while I’m content in my role, I still often wonder about a career in collection development. I have no clue how I might one day make the transition, especially since it’s such a specialized area of work. Can you suggest any ideas for how a relatively new reference librarian might acquire the experience necessary to cross over into collection development post MLIS?

TA:  Several ideas come to mind when I think about your question of how to get into collection development after a couple of years as a reference librarian.  Here are a few:

  • Seek specialized training through a professional association; attend workshops and professional meetings in the area of collection development.
  • Take a continuing education course in collection development through an ALA-accredited library school.  Or, consider the possibility of a Certificate of Advanced Study (a post-MLS program) and specialize in collection development.
  • Reference librarians know a lot about the collection, so look for ways to build opportunities into your current position.  In many libraries, the lines between reference and collection development are being blurred by the liaison or subject specialist role, where librarians are arranged by subject and not function.  If your current employer doesn’t offer enough opportunity to explore collection development, and you’re willing to dive into the job market, maybe a subject specialist or liaison type position is your bridge to a position that has exclusive responsibility for collection development.
  • Look for a professional mentor who is already a collection development librarian.  And how do you find that kind of mentor?  Well, since you asked…
  • Conduct a few information interviews—Ask others who have the job you want how they got there, what they love about their job, and what they would change.  Be sure to watch your vocabulary when describing your current situation.  What you’ve described above can be heard as a bit negative (I was “pushed” into reference) and perceived as less-than-careful planning in library school (I “only learned in my last quarter before graduation…”).  Focus on the future and your career aspirations.
  • Pursue an additional degree that would support your move into a collection development position.  Many librarians engaged in collection development have an additional degree beyond the MLS that allows them to specialize deeply in a specific subject or discipline.
  • If your current employer offers a sabbatical or research leave, develop a research project around the intersection of reference and collection development.  At the end you’ll know more about your areas of interest and have a deliverable that you can share with others.
Q: I have a professional dilemma…Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?

Q: I have a professional dilemma…Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?

Q: I have a professional dilemma, and I would be so grateful for any insight or encouragement you might be able to offer me.

In June 2011, I completed library school thinking that I wanted to be a public librarian. Actually, I was pretty certain of this, even though I had minimal experience working in public libraries. My background is actually in special (government/law and art) libraries.

Shortly after earning my degree, I was offered a part-time librarian substitute position at a local large urban public library system. I have worked as a public reference librarian for one year now, and I have decided that it’s not for me. In addition to this, I have applied for countless internal job postings within the public library organization and I’ve had no luck. I think someone is trying to tell me something that I’ve ignored for a long time.

I feel like a fool, and like I have to start over. However, I am eager to get my career back on the right path and continue to pursue something more personally fulfilling. For the last four years, I have been employed part-time at a government law library and I absolutely love it. Even though there may not be a full-time or professional position for me there, I want to continue to pursue a career in government librarianship, perhaps in a science or engineering library. Do you have any thoughts on how I might get started?

TA:  Dear “Professional Dilemma”:

Please know that you are not alone when it comes to reassessing a career path.  Some enter library school on one path, and exit on another.  Other times, it takes some experience in the profession to realize your true calling lies elsewhere.  But don’t worry, or criticize yourself.  Just prepare yourself and take the necessary steps to get where you want to go.

First, you’re not starting over.  You might be taking a step back, but you’re not at the very beginning.  Over the course of the last several years, you’ve gained professional experience that will translate from one library to another.  You’ve also learned where your strengths and interests lie, so don’t take that for granted.  Check out the other articles about transferable skills and how to market those on your application materials.

Second, we say all the time that librarianship is a very small profession.  That truth is amplified for special librarianship.  This is a tight group of professional colleagues who know, work with, and recommend others in their professional circles.  Make this work for you in three ways: one, stay close to your colleagues in the government law library where you’ve been working (think: future references and recommendations); two, start creating and working a professional network of other special librarians doing what you want to do (see other articles on informational interviews); and three, find a mentor who can walk with you through all of this and introduce you to others in the profession.

Finally, sit down and do some written exercises to help you identify what you want in the future for your career.  Assess what you have and what you need to achieve these goals, and create an action plan.  Just as you would plan any other event, thoughtful consideration, measurable goals, and an action plan will help you get there.

Q: I am looking to return to the field of librarianship…

Q: I am looking to return to the field of librarianship…

Q: I am looking to return to the field of librarianship. I have worked in non-librarian jobs using the information management skills I developed as a librarian. These skills are very valuable in corporate settings but I would very much like to return to academic librarianship. To complicate matters I have been out of the professional workplace for a couple of years taking care of my ill parents.  I am considering getting a post-master’s certification. I have a ALA MLIS. Do you think this could help me in the job market? I am a very talented individual and think I have a lot to contribute but I am concerned about my time out of work.  Thank you for your input. Any suggestions you have for re-entering the field would be greatly appreciated.


TA: Your research and information management skills in the corporate setting are indeed valuable skills and are likely to transfer nicely into a research-based academic library.  The Certificate of Advanced Study would certainly bring you up to date with a current degree and give you the opportunity to explore today’s industry trends and technologies.  You could also select classes and internships that focus on academic libraries, which would allow you to refocus your experience and career.  Be sure to check out our other articles on Transferable Skills and Getting Started.

Q: Where can I find online library and library-related jobs?

Q: Where can I find online library and library-related jobs?

Q: Where can I find online library and library-related jobs?

TA: Local, national, and international library organizations all post employment opportunities.  Library and information schools also have job boards or listservs.  If all else fails, you can cast a wide net with a Google search: “Library jobs”.  Lots of options out there.

Q: How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?

Q: How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?

Q: I think I would like to get an MLS degree someday but would like to have experience working in a library first. Unfortunately, I’m having difficulty getting a position whether it is paid or volunteer. I think part of this is from appearing overqualified since I have a Bachelor’s degree and about five years of customer service and clerical experience, but the other reason baffles me.

When I can get them, my interviews for paraprofessional positions generally go well until I mention that I would like to get a Master’s degree. At that point, the entire tone changes and my interviewers become very negative and discouraging and end the meeting very quickly. This has been consistent for all of my library interviews in the past four years, which include several public libraries, one public school library, and one academic library.

I always include that I would like to get an MLS degree in my application and interview because it conveys why I want the position as well as that I am serious about the position. Apparently, this is the wrong thing to do. How would you suggest I explain why I want a library paraprofessional position without mentioning that I want to do this professionally?


TA: Here’s the easy answer.  Question: Why would you like to work here in this position?  Answer: Because I’m really interested in getting experience working in a library; I find libraries an integral part of any community; and specifically because the work of this position as described in the job announcement seems interesting, challenging, engaging, and in line with my skills and experience.

If you’re finding that people aren’t responding well to your MLS-ambitions, then stop mentioning it.  By your own statement, this has been something you’ve been considering for at least four years, so do not bring this up until it’s more imminent.  During an interview, the employer wants to know that you are interested in their job, not as a stepping stone to somewhere else. If you’re asked directly about pursuing the MLS, you can always say that it’s something you’re interested in, but that you want to gain some valuable experience in libraries to reaffirm this interest and to supplement the education you’ll be getting in the classroom. During the interview, keep your focus on the job, your ability to do the work, and the skills and experience you’ll bring to the position that make you the best qualified applicant.