Further Answers: What did you do to stay professionally relevant during your leave?

This is a companion post to this week’s Further Questions. Here is what happened: a reader who is about to leave work due to the incipient arrival of twin babies wrote in to ask if people who hire librarians could give some advice to people in her situation.  I thought that this was the sort of thing where the experiences of people who had been in similar situations might be even more helpful, so I collected some respondents from various listservs and the ALA Think Tank Facebook group, and am now presenting them for your edification.

This week I asked people who had returned to work after a multi-year absence:

What did you do to stay professionally relevant during your leave?

Kathy JarombekI was fortunate in that, being a children’s librarian, I had a ready-made excuse to visit places where I could “network” since I had a child (and then two) of my own. I signed my children up for storytimes, I kept up with the new picture books, I talked to the librarians. I already was good friends with the children’s librarian in Old Greenwich and I asked her to feed me books for older readers so that I could “keep up” with the latest in children’s literature. I always made sure that I read the Newbery winner and honor books each year. I introduced myself to the new head of Youth Services at the Ferguson Library, with my children in tow – and since I knew that the Ferguson often hired subs, I told her that I was available during the winter months if she needed someone to come in and work (my husband has a landscape design business and winter is a slow time for him here in the Northeast). In this way, I was able to keep my hand in working the children’s reference desk once in a while and, more importantly, keeping my name and face out there. I was very active in the storytelling community here in Connecticut before kids and I so I did a little freelance storytelling as well – and got a babysitter for a couple of hours when I had a job. Then, in 1999 when my youngest was 4 and in preschool five mornings a week, I let it be known to my library friends that I was willing to do toddler and preschool storytimes during the morning hours, as long as I could be done to pick my son up at noon. The Perrot Library in Old Greenwich immediately hired me to do Two Year Old Storytime two mornings a week and the Ferguson Library hired me to do a morning of storytimes in one of their branches.

- Kathy Jarombek, Leave of six years.
Prior title: Department Head for Children’s Services, New Canaan;
Current title: Director of Youth Services and Member of the 2014 Newbery Committee, Perrot Memorial Library

Veronica Arellano DouglasTo stay connected to librarianship during my leave from professional practice, I worked a few hours over the weekend at a college library circulation desk and did one evening reference shift each week during the academic school year. I also volunteered at my local public library and a charter school media center. I didn’t do all of these things at once! I realize that not everyone on leave has time to do this, especially those at home with infants or small children, or those who are caretakers for relatives, but if you have just a few hours in the evening or on a weekend you might want to consider a very part-time gig or volunteering.

I renewed my ALA membership and continued serving on various ACRL committees, which I felt was crucial for maintaining ties to the profession.

I also started my own blog about librarianship to help motivate me to stay up-to-date on trends and research in libraries and librarianship. Because I was no longer a practicing librarian I didn’t have professional experiences to draw upon for my blog. So I focused on reading the library-related literature (journals, blogs, books, etc.) and making connections between my part-time work and what I’d previously experienced as a professional librarian. I would highly recommend writing or starting a blog to anyone taking some time off.
- Veronica Arellano Douglas, Leave of two years.
Prior title: Psychology & Social Work Librarian at the University of Houston;
Current title: Reference & Instruction Librarian at St. Mary’s College of Maryland

The first year, I didn’t do very much. My husband took a job that moved us out of state when I was halfway through my pregnancy. Between the move and the new baby it was a bit overwhelming to say the least. Gradually I started attending training classes, joined the state chapter’s library association, and kept up my ALA membership. The ALA offers a good rate for librarians that are not currently employed. Joining the local state’s listserv provided insight into the local job climate.
- Aimee Haley, Leave of three and a half years.
Prior title: Librarian (Public Library);
Current title: Librarian (Public Library)

Miriam Lang BudinI am sure it was helpful in terms of my re-employment prospects that I’ve always been a children’s librarian. My first child was born in 1983 and my third in 1989.

To stay relevant professionally during my maternity leave I reviewed children’s books for School Library Journal and Kirkus (as I’d been doing before I had children.)

I also devised a program for parents (which they attended with their babies) called “Baby Booktalks” during which I introduced a substantial number of books which my own baby (later babies, plural) enjoyed having read to them. This was beginning in 1983 when it was not so widely acknowledged that babies loved to be read to. It was even before the explosion of board book publication, so there were fewer books for very young babies available. I took this program to many libraries in Westchester County and New York City over the next five years or so.

I was lucky enough to be asked to serve on the Caldecott Calendar Committee of ALSC in 1983-84 and then later the Caldecott Award Committee itself (1989) and both those opportunities were exciting and rewarding professionally.

And, of course, I used public libraries unceasingly the entire time I was home with the kids.
- Miriam Lang Budin, Leave of eleven years.
Prior title: Children’s Librarian, Larchmont Public Library;
Current title: Head of Children’s Services, Chappaqua Library

Cen CampbellBy the time my son was 3 months old I had a serious case of cabin fever, and I really missed being a children’s librarian. I had been attending prenatal and then post-natal classes at a local non-profit organization called Blossom Birth Services and I had gotten to know the director and the organization pretty well. I approached them with an idea for a weekly Book Babies storytime that I could lead on a volunteer basis and keep my little boy with me while I did it. The program is still going; I lead it for 3 years and it has now been taken over by one of my regulars now that I’m busier. Volunteering gave me positive references, a fresh resume, new storytelling tricks and the confidence that came from knowing that my professional skills were not getting rusty.

- Cen Campbell, Leave of two years, and gradually adding more part-time projects bit by bit.
Prior title: Teen Services Coordinator/Youth Services Librarian, Stanislaus County Library;
Current title: Children’s Librarian/Digital Services Consultant, LittleeLit.com, Mountain View Library, Santa Clara County Library District

I was fortunate to live in Chicago and to have worked for five years for the Chicago Public Library. I had made some good relationships, so when there was consulting work to do (like make presentations in library branches about their “preschool boxes” or to come up with booklists for a particular project) they called on me. It made me feel better about myself, and it also forced me to keep up with the field.

I also did some networking so that companies like Scott Foresman knew I was available to do consulting work, so I had a number of projects with them. The pace of work was extremely uneven, but it all helped me stay relevant. As a result of the writing jobs I had done, I was contacted by the editor of the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books when they needed a reviewer, and I have continued to work as a children’s book reviewer ever since. These days, you can do some of the same things by blogging regularly—look at Betsy Bird (Fuse 8)—but it does take a lot of commitment to build a voice.

I also volunteered in my sons’ school in their library—I helped them weed their collection (“Someday, man may land on the moon!”) and helped them with automation. It’s great real-world experience, and helps keep you up to date with kids and with teachers.

- Susan Dove Lempke, Leave of ten years.
Prior title: Children’s Librarian I, Chicago Public Library
Current title: Assistant Library Director for Youth, Programming and Technology, Niles, IL

Jeanette LundgrenAny experience that can be used for a resume is valuable.  I volunteered in my children’s school library, helped run the book fair and became the webmaster for the PTO website.  I also kept my association membership active, that way I could kept abreast of what was happening in the field and stay connected.  There are some great professional blogs out there as well.

- Jeanette Lundgren, Leave of nine years from LIS (five spent working in the tech industry)
Prior to leaving LIS: Information Center Specialist, American Society of Training & Development (ASTD) 
Re-Entry position: Reference Librarian, Hudson public library
Current title: Systems Librarian, Becker College

Theresa AgostinelliProfessional Associations: You may want to consider continuing or adding professional memberships. Sections and committees are always looking for people to help out. If you cannot attend physical meetings, some groups conduct virtual meetings. Look for newsletters that you can contribute articles to. Maybe you can help by making phone calls or updating the website or wiki? There is always work to be done you just need to let people know that you are willing to help. Keep you eye out for conference submission dates. You may want to share your knowledge by presenting as part of a panel or poster session.  Staying involved will keep you happy and allow you to maintain and grow your professional network.

Online Classes: Since I have an interest in web design, I enrolled in online courses through my local community college, including CSS and PHP. I had to pay to take these classes but there are tons of free learning opportunities out there.  Take a look at offerings from your local public library. My county library system offers access to Lynda.com for blocks of time. This resource offers video tutorials for technical topics including programming, image editing, and web design. My place of work and local library offer free online adult education courses through Universal Class. If you have access to this site, check it out. Course offerings range from Feng Shui to Basic Parenting 101. Free training can be found on sites such as GLC Learn Free or even You Tube.

Facebook: I joined WordPress and Librarians, a Facebook group, a little over a year ago and have been blown away by the level of support provided by its members. It is so helpful to go back into the archives and locate information in any WordPress question I can think of. I have also asked questions of the group and received responses within seconds. My experience with WordPress & Librarians led me to form Technology Training & Librarians. The group has members from across the country, sharing skills and resources. Asking questions of the group will help you to expand your knowledge, while answering questions is a great way to help others while enhancing your professional reputation.

Online Magazines and Websites: Many magazines offer free access to articles through their websites. Current articles on a variety of topics are always available through EbscoHost and other online subscriptions. One great resource is the American Libraries website at http://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/. Click on “Archives” to view articles from past and present issues.

Blogs: Subscribe to library and non-library blogs through Google Reader or other subscription services. With the popularity of Facebook and Twitter, it is easy to forget about blogs, but following your favorites through RSS feeds is a fast and easy way to stay informed. Different sites, including EduBlogs put out a list of the best library blogs each year and can provide some good starting points for you.

Twitter: The first step is to find some librarians to follow that tweet about your interests. Then find a few to follow that tweet about topics beyond your interests. If I cannot attend a conference, I will often locate the hash tag to find out what was discussed, as well as read the reactions of attendees. This is also a great way to find links to conference handouts, presentations, audio, and video. If you are having trouble finding librarians to follow, the section of Library Success: A Best Practices Wiki can help you get started. You can also use the Twitter search feature to find people to follow. Perform a search on a topic that interests you and then start following the person with the most interesting tweets.

Listservs: Listserv memberships are a great way to learn about free webinars and services that other libraries are offering to their users. Members often ask for advice and this is a great opportunity for you to share your knowledge and expand your network. Do not limit your memberships to local organizations. It is always interesting to hear what people are doing in other parts of the country or even the world.

Webinars: The number of free webinars out there is amazing. Nobody has to know that you are home with two babies while you are listening. Webinar archives can often be accessed if you are unable to attend at the time that are originally offered. You may take advantage of webinars through your local consortium but free webinars are also available from other parts of the country or even the world.

Volunteer Work/ Part-Time Employment: After the birth of my first daughter, I became involved in my local Mom’s Club where I volunteered a great deal of my time. Maybe you have a talent that you could apply towards teaching an adult education class or a program once a week at your local library? Maybe you can volunteer your time at your child’s school? You may want to consider something tangible that will eliminate gaps in your resume. There are options out there that do not require a large time commitment.

Conclusion: My intention was not to overwhelm. I have listed several options here but you do not have to do everything all at once. Have fun and keep learning!

- Theresa Agostinelli, Leave from full time work of seven and a half years and counting
Prior title: Electronic Resources Librarian, Monroe Township Public Library 
Current title: Instructional/Educational Services Librarian, Monroe Township Public Library

cara barlowI left the full-time library world for 16 years, so there was a lot of time for me to do things. < g >.
When I first left work it was to take care of my infant daughter. I knew that I needed to have some professional activities to put on my resume for the time I was home with her. I wanted to keep building skills that would be useful in my professional life, but didn’t want to be committed to a rigid or full-time schedule – my baby was my priority, not work. I decided to search out volunteer opportunities and part time employment that would fit around my family commitments.When Anna was about 1.5 years old I ran for and was elected to my town library’s board or trustees. I served for six years, five of them as chair. During that time I also I wrote for my local paper as a part -time reporter and columnist, and ran for and was elected to the school board. Through these volunteer positions and part-time work I kept my hand in the library world, gained experience with boards, budgets, politics, and learned how to write clearly and on a deadline.
When my daughters were ages 6 and 8, they were increasingly unhappy with school and given my knowledge of child development and how schools worked (from serving on the board for four years at that time) I knew that things were not going to get better. My husband and I decided to pull Anna and Molly from school to homeschool them. My library experience proved invaluable to me as a homeschooling parent.  I was already was confident that people could learn independently, outside of school, and I understood how to use the resources a library offered.
When Molly and Anna were 9 and 11 years old I began working as a reference librarian part-time. I took jobs that had evening and weekend hours so that my husband could be home with the girls. I did that for approximately five years.

- Cara Barlow, Leave of sixteen years

Prior title: State Aid Specialist, Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners
Current title: Supervisor, Music, Art & Media Department, Nashua Public Library
Kept up library association memberships–for me, ALA and NCLA (North Carolina Library Association), and some years, YALSA; volunteered for 1 2-hour shift each week for NCknows, an NC virtual reference collaboration (I did this while employed, so it was easy to keep doing it from home); reading library blogs and magazines; submitted and had accepted one chapter to a library book publication
-Anonymous, leave of eighteen months and counting
Prior title: Evening Services Coordinator at a University Library

I’d like to say thank you again to everyone above for sharing their stories, time, and insight.  If you’d like to share your own experience in the comments below, or your questions, they are open and waiting for you.

Thank YOU for reading!  

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Filed under Academic, Extended Leaves of Absence, Further Answers, Public Services/Reference, Topical Series, Youth Services

3 responses to “Further Answers: What did you do to stay professionally relevant during your leave?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions: How Can Someone on an Extended Leave of Absence Stay Professionally Relevant? | Hiring Librarians

  2. Pingback: Further Questions: How Can Someone on an Extended Leave of Absence Stay Professionally Relevant? | Hiring Librarians

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