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.

Q: Are there work-from-home opportunities for copy catalogers?

Q: Are there work-from-home opportunities for copy catalogers?

Q: I have worked in libraries for 30 years. I have worked as a copy cataloger for about 20 years at a university. Are there any work at home jobs in that area?

CNW: The short answer is yes: there are many kinds of work-from-home opportunities for librarians. Cataloging is an area that can be home-based, especially if you are cataloging digital materials.

To find opportunities, you’ll need to think broadly about alternative ways you might use your copy cataloging skills. You will also have to broaden your search beyond the usual library list serves to include sources like Indeed.com and LinkedIn, as well as any local job sources for your geographic area. Inside Higher Ed and The Chronicle of Higher Ed will be more targeted to your background and experience. Library vendors like OCLC are much more likely to offer work from home options than universities, although every situation is different.

I recommend approaching your current employer about the possibility of working remotely. It can be difficult to approach a supervisor with a request for an arrangement, but there are things you can do to frame your request effectively, including:

    Brush up on your negotiation skills before you make the ask
    Frame your request in terms of benefits to the employer. For example, you can research statistics on employee productivity and satisfaction to show why this could be good for the library. See the Suggested reading below for some articles to get started.
    Listen actively to any concerns your employer may express
    Keep the door open for further discussion, even if the first answer is no
    Suggest a trial period to try out the arrangement before either side commits to a long-term arrangement

Be honest about any personal reasons for making the request. If it is related to a health issue or a need to care for a family member, that can influence how your request is heard and received. It is also worth heeding LCP commenter Renee Young’s helpful advice:

I work for NoveList, an online Readers’ Advisory database primarily marketed to public and school libraries…. Although my position requires me to work on-site, a similar position could easily lend itself to working from home. Some of the considerations that I, as a supervisor, have, when considering requests to work from home, include the employee’s dedicated workspace and internet connection as well as the possible distractions they might face. Not to mention that working from home requires an inordinate amount of concentration and self-discipline and is not for everyone. If you are seeking a position that allows you to work from home, having these issues worked out in advance would make your case much more appealing to your potential employers.

Suggested resources:

Yes, Flexible Hours Ease Stress. But Is Everyone on Board?” Phyllis Korkki, The New York Times, 8/23/2014

Where do I look for home-based cataloging jobs?” Carrie Netzer Wajda, The Library Career People Website, 8/4/2013

Location, Location, Location,” The New York Times, 3/2/2013

Pros and Cons of Working at Home,” CareerBuilder.com, 4/17/2009

Q & A with Tiffany, 10/17/2011

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: Can you help me identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship?

Q: Can you help me identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship?

Q: I have been working in academic libraries since completing my MLIS nine years ago. I have worked in small and large academic libraries, and have gained experience in reference, instruction and access services. This past week, I received an unexpected invitation to interview for a position at a middle/upper school library. Although I really enjoy being around children/teens in my personal life, I have zero experience working with them in my professional life. If I had seen the position posted, I probably would not have considered applying due to this lack of experience.

But now that I’ve accepted the invitation, I’m up for the challenge of interviewing. I am wondering if you might be able to identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship — and also, if you have any suggestions for resources (articles, websites) that might be helpful to me as I attempt a crash course in school librarianship. Thank you in advance for your insights!

SM: An invitation to interview (without having to apply first) is something you cannot pass up, you are correct. In fact, it is something that many people only dream about (myself included). And, as I’ve said before, changing direction can be a rewarding thing — “opportunities will pop up, jobs will present themselves,” and you should have fun learning about, and experiencing different kinds of libraries and patrons and roles as you move forward in your career. And you should feel honored that someone has extended this invitation to you and thought that you could be a good fit for this job, as unexpected as it might be.

Transferable skills are abundant between academic and school librarians. Academic librarians get those same middle/upper school students immediately after they graduate. They see the impact of information literacy (or lack thereof) on the students. They help undergraduates find scholarly articles and create bibliographies. Middle school and high school students use many of the same resources and technologies (or very similar ones) as the college students use, and the library roles and services such as instruction, collection development, administration/supervision, technical services, interlibrary loan, etc., are similar as well. During your interview, you’ll want to highlight your experience with instruction and reference and access services. Basic information literacy skills and good customer service are valued in any library setting.

The differences that you may want to brush up on, include: working closely with teachers and school administrators, understanding and supporting curriculum requirements, getting used to fixed schedules within the schools, envisioning the library itself as a classroom, and the different needs of different ages/grades of the children. School libraries are smaller than academic libraries (for the most part) and probably have smaller staffs, so your role may be more diversified across many different types of jobs, which can be both intimidating and exciting. Best of luck on your interview!

Definitely dig around on the school’s web site and see how much information you can find. Possible questions to ask on your interview:

  • What is the mission and focus of the school?
  • What are the students like (ambitious, athletic, scholarly, creative)?
  • Are you expected to be involved in school/building committees?
  • How many staff will you supervise?
  • Are there funds for professional development activities?
  • Are you expected to oversee computer labs and keep equipment and software up-to-date?
  • Are you expected to teach classes to all grades/levels?
  • How involved are the teachers in information literacy achievement, in the library?
  • What is the budget?
  • What are the upcoming (and ongoing) budgetary priorities, for the administration, for the teachers?
  • How are the electronic resources managed/accessed/promoted?
  • What are the most popular library resources?
  • What type of person are they looking for to fill this role?
  • What about the summer months (expected or anticipated duties)?


American Association of School Librarians

APPR Evaluation, NYS School Library Program Rubric Tool (and goals of the Common Core Standards)

Brace Yourself: SLJ’s school library spending survey shows the hard times aren’t over, and better advocacy is needed By Lesley Farmer, March 1, 2012

The Independent Library, by Sarah Clark, Windward School Library

Introduction to School Librarianship

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement by Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance on March 7, 2013

School Library Impact Reports

What Makes a Good Private School Library? Collegiate School Librarian Maggie Dixon Talks About Her Program

100 Helpful Blogs For School Librarians (And Teachers)

Q: Do you have any suggestions for what to highlight and emphasize in my resume and cover letter to show that I can work just as effectively in adult reference as I can in children’s reference?

Q: Do you have any suggestions for what to highlight and emphasize in my resume and cover letter to show that I can work just as effectively in adult reference as I can in children’s reference?

Q: I am a librarian currently looking for full-time public library work. Although I love working with kids and single-handedly run my library’s children’s department, my current position is only part-time. A full-time position in adult reference has just opened up in my area, and I am interested in applying. I have experience with working at the adult reference desk and took classes in graduate school in working with an adult patron base, but most of my 4 1/2 years of library experience come from working in children’s departments. Do you have any suggestions for what to highlight and emphasize in my resume and cover letter to show that I can work just as effectively in adult reference as I can in children’s reference? Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated.

TA: This can be a tricky transition, moving from the children’s department to adult reference (although I have seen some adults in my lifetime behave much worse than children!).  You’re wise to acknowledge there’s a difference and to think about ways to make the transition, like your previous work experience and coursework—be sure to highlight these in your application materials.   Additionally, think about the transferable skills you’ve gained over the last several years working in the children’s department.  Have you managed a budget?  Supervised employees, students or volunteers?  Created a desk schedule and delegated work? Examined new products and trained others on how to use them?  Have you worked with parents on how to meet the literacy needs of their children?  Make your resume and cover letter an invitation to talk more about your interest in the position and your ability to do the work.  Also know that as an internal candidate, you’ve got a professional network inside the organization.  Be sure to make a positive impression in all of your interactions and have people prepared to speak positively on your behalf.

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: Is there a way to translate my archival skills into the public library/academic library sphere to improve my chances?

Q: Is there a way to translate my archival skills into the public library/academic library sphere to improve my chances?

Q:  Hi. I had a few career related questions. I specialized in archival administration/special collections, and I’ve been struggling for 10 years now to find full time work. I would gladly take a job as a reference librarian or public librarian to at least get some full time experience, and maybe broaden my skill set so that at some point, I could go back into archives. But I’ve tried applying for reference/public librarian positions in the past, without luck. I’m convinced that these places are very, very picky in who they choose. They want someone with public or reference librarian experience. And while I have done reference work as part of my archival duties, I’m guessing they want “public/academic” reference experience? I don’t know, but my point is: is there a way to translate my archival skills into the public library/academic library sphere to improve my chances?

My other question is: I don’t have experience supervising anyone since my archival repository is a one person shop. Yet a lot of archival positions I see require supervisory experience. Likewise, while I’m familiar with different cataloging systems, and mark up languages, the collections in the archives are not integrated into the library’s online catalog, and even if they were, we have cataloging librarians who would handle this. Thus there’s no opportunity for me to get experience cataloging archival collections and using the different mark up languages. What can I do about these seemingly impossible to overcome catch 22’s?


TA: A couple of things to note: first, these places are not necessarily “very, very picky in who they choose”, it’s just that there are probably more qualified candidates with more directly related experience.  Which brings us to your primary question: How can I move from one specialization to another?  This can be tough.  As I’m sure you know, archival experience is very different from public libraries, or even academic libraries.  But there are commonalities among them and it’s your job as the candidate to make that case when applying for positions in libraries different from your own.  (See our previous articles on Transferable
Skills.)  You should also consider taking on volunteer opportunities or other part-time work to supplement your skills in the areas of reference and instruction; supervision, project management, and leadership; and cataloging and online catalogs.