Q: I’m currently working in a non-library field. How can I gain the skills and experience needed to get a librarian job?

Q: I’m currently working in a non-library field. How can I gain the skills and experience needed to get a librarian job?

Q: I have a background in public library assistant work, and graduated with an LIS degree in 2012, but have been working in a non-library field since then (academic administration).

I’ve been applying since graduation for entry-level librarian positions, and have interviewed for a number of posts, but with no success. The feedback I receive is that another candidate with more specialized experience has been hired.

I’m not in a position to give up my present job to take on temporary or part-time work for the sake of the CV, and I’m finding it really difficult to obtain any kind of volunteering opportunities which would work around a full-time job. (I also don’t have the option to change my present working hours.)

If you have any advice on how to gain more specialized library skills in the above situation, and/or how to make non-library experience sound relevant and transferable to a library context, I would really appreciate it!

Many thanks for your time and consideration.

SM: The best way to get a job is to have (or have had) a job. This is the classic dilemma: You can’t get a job without experience, and you can’t get experience without a job. Most job ads say “experience required” or “experience preferred.” It’s no secret, employers prefer candidates with prior library experience, even for entry-level positions. They also want to hire candidates whose skills are up-to-date and who are aware of recent trends and issues in the profession.

Normally we would suggest that you get any kind of library experience you can: internships, part-time positions, paraprofessional jobs, volunteering, etc. But we also understand that there are many people, like you, who cannot seek out these opportunities (if they can even find them). And keep in mind that most people don’t find their dream job right away. The path to your dream job will most likely involve several roles, levels, and locations.

Here are some tips to help make you a more competitive job applicant in order to get your foot in the (library) door:

  • Draw on transferable skills. From previous careers to current positions, everything you do and learn will prepare you for your next job — even in a different field. Think in broad categories: communication, technology, committee work, project management, public service (working with college students or faculty!), writing, analyzing, budgeting, etc.
  • Keep current. Read, a lot. It’s helpful to learn from the experiences of others, and to keep current on what’s going on in the profession. If possible, enroll in an online course or workshop that interests you and can enhance your knowledge on a specific topic.
  • Talk with others about their experiences. A good mentor, and/or network of colleagues, can teach you a lot, and help you figure out the best direction to set your sights. Join local library associations and take advantage of their meetings, events, and conferences.
  • Consider alternative jobs and roles. You may have your heart set on an academic librarian position (for example), but perhaps you, and your current skill set, may be better suited for a special librarian position.
  • Rework your materials. Since you don’t have a lot of library experience, you may want to use a functional resume, or a combination of a chronological and functional resume. Group similar skills together under broad categories such as public services, technology, and management. This can work well for highlighting transferable skills. And use your cover letter to tie your current position and skills to the requirements of the job.
  • Don’t ignore your online identity. Make sure you have a professional online identity (LinkedIn, online portfolio, blog, etc.) that is current and reflects your professional interests, skills, and goals. And include the link in your application materials.

Keep applying for jobs, and try not to get discouraged! Job hunting, and finding the right job, can be a lengthy — but hopefully rewarding — process.

Additional resources:

Alternative Careers:
Infonista: On Being an Information Entrepreneur | Kim Dority

What Can I Do With a Degree in Library Science? | Simmons College

Online Identities:
Ten simple steps to create and manage your professional online identityHow to use portfolios and profiles” | Susanne Markgren

Using E-Portfolios to Showcase Your Work, Experience, and Skills | Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas

Susan Ireland’s Resume Site

How to Use a Combination Resume when Job Searching

Transferable Skills:
Examples of Transferable Skills

Thinking about making a career transition? Highlight your transferable skills” | Rachael Altman, INALJ

The majority of the material for this answer came directly from our book: Career Q&A: A Librarian’s Real-Life Practical Guide to Managing a Successful Career.