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 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: How can I get my foot in the door of a law library with no formal coursework or experience in such a library?

Q: How can I get my foot in the door of a law library with no formal coursework or experience in such a library?

Q: I have spent 14 years at home with my kids who are now going off to college. I would like to find a full-time librarian job, but the MLS I earned in the 1980’s seems really out-of-date in today’s job market. Also, having been a special librarian, I am now drawn to law libraries. How can I get my foot in the door of a law library with no formal coursework or experience in such a library? I have considered getting a Paralegal degree to compliment my MLS, do you think this would be an advantage? Thanks!


TA: First things first, you need to do something to get your MLS up to date.  I would suggest you look into library science programs (online or in person) that offer the Certificate of Advanced Study.  Something like that will give you the opportunity to explore current topics and technologies in the profession today. You may also have an internship or field experience requirement as part of the certificate program, which will allow you to step into a place of employment and gain some valuable experience while building professional contacts and a network of colleagues.  If you would like to specialize in law libraries, you could consider a field experience or internship at a law library to give it a try.  If it remains of interest, you may want to consider pursuing the paralegal degree.

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: How do I switch to being a catalog librarian without having any real formal cataloging experience?

Q: How do I switch to being a catalog librarian without having any real formal cataloging experience?

Q: I have been a librarian for over 20 years, mainly working in archives and small special libraries.  My question is, how do I switch to being a catalog librarian without having any real formal cataloging experience?  I considered looking for a copy catalog position, but have not found any openings.  I think people look at my resume and see archives and reference work, and never consider me for a cataloging position.  Also, I have only worked part-time during the last 10 years while raising my kids, mostly in para-professional positions, so I feel almost like I should start all over and go back to library school (although I can’t afford to)!

TA:  There are a number of areas that need to be addressed here: switching specializations from archives to cataloging; moving from part time to full time; and moving from a paraprofessional to professional position after 10 years.

My first suggestion is to dust off the old cover letter and resume and make sure it’s up to date in terms of both your experience and in formatting.  Styles change over a decade, so make sure you put some work into your application materials.  Make them look and feel polished and up to date.

Your cover letter will be especially important because it will be how you address all three questions (specialization, part time/ full time, para- to professional).  We’ve talked many times about the value of transferable skills, so you may want to refer to some of our other articles from the “Career Change” category of the column: http://www.lisjobs.com/CareerQA_blog/?cat=23

You should make a compelling case in your cover letter (supported by the work listed on your resume) about the parallels between your experience and the position for which you’ve applied.  For example, if you have experience processing archival collections and applying descriptive metadata using a standardized, controlled vocabulary, these are pretty similar in nature to traditional cataloging.  Describe how your experience will be an asset to the position.  Also include descriptive words that will appeal to the hiring supervisor, such as “detail oriented”, “works well independently as well as collaboratively”, or “self motivated and eager to learn”.  You’ll also need to explain in your letter that you’re in a position now to seek a full time, professional position, and that you’re eager to apply your knowledge, skills, and talents in that level of position.

In addition to your updating your application materials, if possible, you may want to seek opportunities to volunteer.  It’s a great way to gain experience, build skills, and add to a resume.  You will also build contacts in the profession, some of whom may serve as references for future cataloging positions.

A final idea to consider would be exploring the Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) at Library and Information Science programs.  Wikipedia defines the Certificate of Advanced Study as:

A Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS), also called a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) or a Certificate of Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), is a post-Master’s academic certificate designed for practitioners who seek a continuing education program to enhance their professional development in areas such as education and library science.

Many library schools, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offer the CAS, and it might be a way for you to develop or further enhance your cataloging expertise.  Drexel University offers an online CAS program for Information Studies and Technology.  Many of the CAS programs are self-directed and allow you to select courses with a faculty advisor to customize your experience.  If you have the time and desire to supplement your educational background, the CAS may be the additional support you need to switch specializations within the profession.

In closing, I wish you the best.  Start with your application materials and put your time and energy there.  Move next to the volunteer experience, and down the road, if you’re so inclined, think about additional educational opportunities that may help you secure the position you’re seeking.

Q: I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring…

Q: I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring…

Q:  I am considering whether or not to attend an LIS program beginning in the Spring. Until recently I worked with the developmentally challenged in a residence as a Case Coordinator but became burnt out. I went to a career counselor several weeks ago who administered several tests and after talking with me suggested that I consider learning Library Sciences either to be a librarian or a non traditional path. I am having trouble making up my mind if this the right career for me. Unfortunately, I have only 6 weeks to decide before I will need to submit an application! Is this enough time to make a good decision and if so, what should I be doing to in the meantime to aid that decision?

TA: Wow, this is an interesting, and extraordinarily time-sensitive, question.  I know that we’re all required at some point in our life to make quick decisions, but this feels a little pressured in terms of the short period of time and the large impact of this decision.  My advice would be to slow things down a little.  Meeting with the career counselor was a great first step, and it’s indicative of a level of intellectual curiosity and self awareness.  On the other hand, you shouldn’t pursue a graduate degree just because someone told you to, or because you tested that way.  I would strongly recommend that you get some kind of library experience first, and then pursue the degree if it’s a career of interest.  Try to find a job or even a volunteer experience in a library.  And explore different types of work experience and environments—public services, technical services, public library, academic library, school library.  There are so many choices.  You’ve done the initial work of identifying a new field of potential employment.  Take some time to do the in-the-trenches work to see if actually fits.

Q: What are my future career options?

Q: What are my future career options?

Q: [Question edited for length] I am a displaced worker [living in a major US city] who has work experience in both graphic design and records management. I also have an English degree. I think I am pretty good at doing research and locating information, although I have never spent any time on specialized databases like Factiva and LexisNexis, etc. I have just begun the certificate program of Library and Information Technology at my local community college, and am hoping to have some exposure and/or further develop my research and information retrieval skills through these classes. My questions concern future employment issues. Am I strictly limited to corporate libraries and/or any positions involving research? Are there any good web sites/links that might point me in the right direction?

TA: Your initiative in taking classes at your community college to re-tool yourself for new career opportunities is to be commended. And I especially like that you are interested in applying both your diverse work experience and your interests in research to a career in library and information technology. Your questions are good ones: What do I do with this certificate? What are my career options? And where can I find more information?

Most professional librarian positions require an advanced degree, usually the MLS. However, the community college certificate program may land you an advanced support staff position and will certainly be an excellent introduction into the field of librarianship and library-related technologies. One of my local community colleges has a Library and Information Technology certificate program and their website states:

If you enjoy working in a library setting and have an interest in technology, you should consider enrolling in the Library and Information Technology (LIT) program. Students in this program tend to be detail oriented. They enjoy assisting others and utilizing computer technology. The LIT program is suitable for persons seeking entry-level employment in either public or private libraries. The curriculum is also ideal for current paraprofessional and professional library employees who seek specialized training in new technologies… Graduates are employed in libraries, media areas, learning resources, information and instructional materials centers and with other organizations engaged in library-related activities. They are prepared for jobs with any organization that use technology to process, manage, and communicate information [http://www.cccc.edu/curriculum/majors/library/].

So essentially, the certificate will introduce you to library and information technologies, vocabularies and cultures, and will prepare you for a job working with data and managing information (which is broadly applicable in workplaces these days). Also, I would suggest that your diverse work experience, coupled with demonstrated initiative and the educational credentials, make you more marketable in a competitive workforce.To learn more about library support staff positions, I would explore the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-2009 edition, which is available online: [http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos113.htm]. The Handbook provides information on training qualifications, earnings, work environment, and related occupations, as well as many other topics that may be of interest to you as you pursue your certificate.