Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question.

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question.

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question. All corniness aside, our family is not mobile, and I have been mostly stuck in special libraries since receiving my MLS in 2006 (with academic library work dating back to 1996). I am not necessarily eager to enter a new career, but there seem to be few options in the large city that I live in. Many academic institutions that would have not required a PhD in the past, do now, including community colleges and for-profit schools. Do you think the forecast is positive enough to weather the economic storm where I am, or should I leave the profession entirely? Investment in a PhD to complement my MLS would be a costly gamble from my perspective. Thank you very much for your time.

SM:  Many librarians have asked themselves this same question, and many have left the profession and taken jobs in different areas and different sectors. We need to do what we need to do for our own well-being; and a paycheck (for most of us) is a necessity. If you can get a job that you enjoy, the more power to you. Our profession is constantly in a state of flux, no matter what the economy is like, and librarians need to be able to adapt to different roles, different technologies, different environments, and different clientele.

As for getting a PhD in order to compete for librarian positions… I would hold off. Unless you have a burning desire to get that PhD, and you would like to teach in a University one day or become a library director, I think it would be a waste of time and money and it doesn’t guarantee you a job (my apologies to those currently getting their PhDs to complement their MLSs). I am surprised, and somewhat concerned, that you say many libraries in your area are requiring a PhD for librarian positions. It doesn’t surprise me that some libraries might include it in a list of preferred qualifications, but to make it required seems extremely limiting. What next, five years of experience required for entry-level positions?

Here are a few tips and ideas to assist you as you search for jobs (and none of them involve getting a PhD):

  • Try to stay positive
    It is difficult to stay positive and cheery when you are looking for jobs and not having any luck, but a good attitude (in person and on paper) will reflect confidence, and this is what employers want see in a candidate.
  • Connect with others
    Join local librarian associations/groups, attend meetings and classes and symposia, and network with people. Volunteer for something, use your skills in other ways, in other areas, create and connect at the same time.
  • Reinvigorate your materials
    Perhaps it is time to freshen up your resume and cover letter. Remember to customize your materials (yes, even your resume) for each job application. You can tailor your experience and skills to each specific job. The most important two things you need to convey (without sounding overly confident) is 1.) that you can do the job, and 2.) that you really want the job  — not any job, their job.
  • Build up your online presence
    Do you have a professional online presence? Well, why not? If you are competing for jobs, you need to have one. It can be minimal and low maintenance such as a profile on a professional network, but prospective employers will expect to find you online, so let them.
  • Open your job search
    Stop looking for jobs with librarian in the title. Search with keywords taken from your resume. If you are open to working in other areas (and you might have to be if you are not mobile), you might find a librarian, or librarian-type, position outside of libraries (and there is nothing wrong with that).

In conclusion, don’t give up on the profession — keep an open mind and a positive outlook as you search for jobs. Remember that librarians don’t always work in libraries and other professions often value (and need) our skills and experience. And, if you haven’t discovered them already, check out INALJ (I Need a Library Job).

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