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.