Q: What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

Q: What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

Q: I’m an MLIS student and my concentration is digital librarianship. Online databases and helping individuals retrieve information off of them is the largest interest to me. I’d enjoy helping students, professors, lawyers, or doctors. What type of Information Studies job would suit me?

TA: Now is the time to seize the opportunity. Once you leave graduate school, the ease of free exploration of different areas of librarianship grows exponentially more difficult. It’s an accepted practice to try different things when you’re in graduate school. You’re still learning and in many cases still trying things on for size. In graduate school, you can take classes across the curriculum and you can try different (paid or unpaid) working experiences, all in the effort to identify your area of specialization in the field. It sounds like you’ve narrowed your concentration to digital librarianship, but you’re still working on what type of library might suit you best. I would encourage you to use this time in school to try different working environments to see which challenge and engage you the most. You may also be able to earn course credit for some of your employment through field experiences or volunteer placements through your academic program, which might help balance the work hours with your course load.

Additionally, you should also consider other avenues of learning about areas of specialization, such as informational interviews and networking with colleagues through professional associations. I would also encourage you to join several listservs and follow the conversation. Are you interested in what they’re talking about? Do you have ideas to share regarding their topics of discussion? Do you want to learn more? Job announcements, which are often shared via listservs, are also a great source of information. Pay attention to the way positions are described, to the job responsibilities outlined in the announcement, and to the required and preferred qualifications, and use this information to shape your academic and professional pursuits.

Q: Am I overqualified for library positions?

Q: Am I overqualified for library positions?

Q: I am a 40-something communications/PR professional with a degree from a well-known university. I am embarking on a mid-life career change and applying to MLS programs with the hopes of starting school in January. The problem is that I have never worked in a library and would like to work part-time as I get my degree. I’ve applied for about 20 different positions in the last two months that don’t require an MLS and have received no interviews. I’m applying for jobs in the $8-$15 hour range, which is a big pay cut for me, but I’m more than willing to start at the bottom. I know that some may feel that I’m overqualified, but I clearly explain my motivations in my cover letter. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated!

SM: I applaud your efforts to get a taste of the profession and its day-to-day work before you begin library school, and admire your willingness to take a pay cut to get (much needed) experience. Many people are unable to do just that. We have stated many times in this column that any library experience you get before or during your time in library school can be crucial to finding a job once you get your degree. Also, working in the profession while getting your library degree will only enhance your studies and help you to decide on an area of specialization.

Since I do not know what kind of positions you are applying for, and I have not read your cover letters, I can only guess as to the reasons why you are not getting interviews. As you mentioned, potential employers probably do see you as overqualified for the position because of your extensive work experience and knowing that you would be taking a severe pay cut (e.g., does this make you seem desperate?). However, other applicants may have previous library experience, which (in some cases) would make them more qualified for that particular position.

Also, potential employers, knowing that you are going to start library school, might see you as a transitory — as someone who is not all that serious about the position at hand, seeking any experience in order to bide time while getting a degree. Employers don’t like to fill positions with people they know are going to leave quickly, and they often do not like to fill paraprofessional positions with professionals. Even though you do not have the degree, they might view you as a “librarian,” since you are on your way to becoming one.

To get past these obstacles, write your cover letter carefully. Stating that you are interested in the profession and plan on getting your library degree is not enough to get you the job — or even an interview (as you’re finding out). I wouldn’t take that out of your cover letter; it is important to your motivation and addresses the larger context of the position, but doesn’t hold as much weight as you may think. Focus more heavily on the job description and your transferable skills. For example, if the position is in public services, your communications background will come in handy. Use concrete examples of how you might excel at a given position because of your prior work experience. This helps potential employers see you as the right person for the position and your interest in the profession then becomes an added bonus.

If you’re focusing on one type of position (reference, circulation), or one type of library (academic), maybe you need to widen your search. Even if you know you want to be an academic librarian, it won’t hurt you at this point to work in a public library, or a special library. Any experience will be beneficial to you as you begin library school, and any library job will be a stepping stone to that next position, and the next, and so on.

Many library positions in both academic libraries and public libraries require you to fill out applications (some online) and/or take civil service exams. Find out if this is the case with positions you are interested in. If you want to work in an academic library, you might want to wait until you are enrolled in classes, so that you can apply for student jobs at your school. Also, think about volunteering at a library, which could lead to a job; or doing an internship, which could be arranged through your library school. If you haven’t done so yet, talk to someone at the career development office at your school. They might be able to help you find something, or provide you with job leads in your area.

Don’t give up hope, you will find a position. I started from the bottom up, and my diverse experiences along the way have provided me with invaluable skills and knowledge. I have become a better, and more well-rounded, librarian than if I would have started somewhere in the middle.

Helpful Articles

“Getting Started: Employment Opportunities for Graduate Students in Library and Information Programs” by Charlie Potter and Shelly Franklin

“Reasons Why People Don’t Get the Job” by Sean Duffy

“Making Your Cover Letter Work For You” by Tiffany Eatman Allen and Richard A. Murray

Q: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

Q: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

Q: Recently, we’ve received a number of questions with a similar theme, a little like we’ve seen before, but with a new twist: How do I get a library job before I go to library school? Two of those seeking advice have been accepted to library schools in the fall, and want to know how to get a position in a library to gain a little experience before classes start. The question is: How do I get a job with little (or no) experience AND no degree?

TA: First, let me just say kudos to you for giving this some thought before you enter school. Not only will you get a jump on your fellow classmates in terms of job opportunities, but you will start building the experience section of your post-MLS resume. Additionally, working before and during school can really enhance the classroom experience by providing real life context and examples.

I am still astonished by the number of resumes I see with a degree and no experience – or the posts I see on lists of new-to-the- profession librarians who lament the fact that they can’t get a job, but who have no library experience at all. Your time during school should be spent, not only learning in the classroom, but also exploring the profession through work experience (paid or unpaid, for credit or not). It’s much better to learn in school what you really like to do (and perhaps even more importantly, what you really don’t enjoy doing) than to learn that lesson in your first professional position.

So, how do you convince hiring authorities that you’re worth the risk before you have any experience, a degree – or even coursework? First, look for transferable experience. If you have any previous work experience or educational qualifications that may be valuable, play those up as strengths. One person who wrote to us had a background in the Marine Corps aviation unit, as well as ten years of experience as a chef. That individual may want to emphasize the ability to work effectively with others, lead a team, or manage resources, all of which are incredibly relevant in today’s libraries.

Another person wrote to us with the experience of being “an avid user” of libraries. He or she may want to draw upon those experiences as a user to talk about familiarity with print and electronic resources, experience navigating the library’s web site and online catalog, or positive reference interactions and what made the exchanges successful. As an applicant, you’re going to need more than “I love books” or “I love libraries,” but this can be as simple as analyzing everyday events and previous experiences to make them relevant to today’s job search.

Secondly, you’re going to need a good cover letter and resume. Your resume should outline your job history, and your cover letter should explain it. Your cover letter should also draw parallels between your experience and what the hiring institution is looking for. And finally, your cover letter should be a genuine introduction of yourself and your interest in the position and the profession. Enthusiasm is endearing; if you can express your interest and passion for library work in your cover letter genuinely and without sounding forced (or desperate) they’re going to want to talk to you. Once they want to talk to you, it’s up to you to convince them you’re the best candidate for the job… but that’s another column!

For additional tips, see the articles and sites Susanne listed previously on job hunting, resumes, and cover letters.