This is a companion post to this week’s Further Questions, and the second post in a series of three about extended leaves of absence. 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 happened when you decided to return to the workforce? How did you frame your absence? How long did it take to get rehired? Was the position you found similar to the one you had before you left?
I had always planned to go back to work full time when my youngest entered Kindergarten but, when the time came, neither my husband nor I were quite willing to give up the family time that we enjoyed. But we couldn’t afford the status quo either, so in 2000 I approached the head of Youth Services at the Ferguson and asked if I could work there part-time on a more regular basis. Since by this time she knew my work from the subbing and the storytimes – and since I had left the library on good terms in 1986 – she was able to hire me for 19 hrs/week. I worked at Ferguson 3 days a week from 9 to 2:30 and one evening a week – the other two days I kept my storytelling job at the Perrot. This way, I was able to work and still meet my children’s bus in the afternoon. The Ferguson also agreed to give me the summers off (except for the evenings when my husband could be with the kids), since there are school librarians who are willing to work extra hours in the summer. As far as “framing my absence” – well, they all knew me so they knew why I had been out of the workforce. But they also knew that I was still interested in my library career because I made a real effort to keep up with library friends and with the latest developments and, most importantly, with the books – because knowledge of books is so crucial for a Children’s Librarian. And I could be wrong, but I don’t think librarianship is the kind of career where taking time off to have kids is viewed as a sign of lack of commitment.
In 2004, my husband and I could see that my working part-time wasn’t going to put two kids through college and that we really needed to get some medical benefits – since my husband was self-employed, we had been buying our own and the rates kept going up. But my kids were still in elementary school so I didn’t think I wanted to work year round in a public library. I made the decision to go back to school part-time and get an education degree – keeping my job at the Ferguson, but giving up my job at the Perrot. In 2006, I got my degree and immediately found work with the Greenwich Public Schools as a School Library Media Specialist, which is a shortage area here in Connecticut. Both the head of Youth Services at Perrot and at the Ferguson gave me recommendations. My kids were both now in middle school and we were all on the same schedule. Then in 2009, the Director of Youth Services job at Perrot became vacant and the director here asked me if I would come back and head the department. By now, my kids were in high school and so I said yes. So I am basically back doing the same job I did in New Canaan – heading up a small but vibrant Youth Services Department in Connecticut.
So how long did it take me to get rehired initially? Not long at all – I think because I really made an effort to keep my hand in and to keep up with all my contacts in the library world. I think that the people who hired me felt as if I never really left the field and that I still saw myself as a children’s librarian – just one who was on an extended leave. As for the rest, I kind of made it up as I went along, taking on new opportunities when I felt the time was right for me and for my family. When I applied for the school job, although I was an unknown quantity as a school media specialist, my supervisor at Perrot gave me a reference and she knew the woman who hired me well since the school job was in the same town as the Perrot.
- 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
I left a continuing appointment-track academic librarian job in 2009 and ended up getting a tenure-track academic librarian job again in 2011. The job I ended up getting after my absence was with the same library where I worked part-time in circulation and reference, which I know helped move my application up the pipeline. The people who hired me knew that my work gap was related to my husband’s relocation, my pregnancy, and a period of bereavement leave, so I didn’t have to frame my absence from the profession at all.
It felt good to have a CV that maintained my professional involvement in ALA and ACRL during a period of employment inactivity.
- 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
I had not planned to leave the workforce when I had the baby, so I knew that I wanted to go back eventually. I was happy to spend those years at home, but as my son approached preschool age I began the job search. I returned to work as a part time librarian six months after the search began. I work in a public library and had several years of experience in public libraries before my absence.
- Aimee Haley, Leave of three and a half years.
Prior title: Librarian (Public Library);
Current title: Librarian (Public Library)
I actually was contacted by libraries to come back to work before I’d intended to return. The first attempt (when my oldest was 15 months) was not a success. I was hired for a part-time position, was the only children’s librarian in the library, had no full-time staff devoted to the children’s room and felt that I was doing a half-assed job at work and at home. I resigned after six months (and promptly came down with mono!).
A few years later I worked about one weekend a month as a substitute reference librarian. I think that’s a good tactic for getting back into the workforce, as it updates your familiarity with new technologies and with the collection of wherever you’re working, but doesn’t demand much in the way of program planning and execution, collection maintenance and development and the other day-to-day or long-range duties of a full-time librarian.
When my youngest had just turned five another library asked me to fill in for one of their children’s librarians who had a serious illness. They were so anxious for help that they let me bring my five-year-old with me for two months on the couple of afternoons a week they needed me to work until he could go to a full-day day camp. That was a highly unusual arrangement! I increased my hours when the summer began, but was still part-time with no benefits.
When the youngest started full-day kindergarten I applied for the first full-time children’s librarian position that opened up in our county. I don’t know how many applicants I was up against or anything like that. I got the job. I would say that the position was comparable to the one I’d left when I went into labor with the first baby: the only children’s librarian in the children’s room of a public library.
- Miriam Lang Budin, Leave of eleven years.
Prior title: Children’s Librarian, Larchmont Public Library;
Current title: Head of Children’s Services, Chappaqua Library
I wasn’t even looking for a position when I saw a recruitment for an on-call librarian position open up in my neighborhood library 2 years after I’d quit my full time job, but I thought I’d give it a shot. In the interview I addressed the fact that I hadn’t been working full time since my son was born, but the combination of my strong resume from before I quit, and the initiative I’d shown developing and implementing Book Babies was enough to convince the library to hire me. I was also told later that one of the reasons they hired me was because I’d had experience working with adults and teens as well as kids, and was therefore more flexible when it came to working in different departments within the library.
Just after I started working in my new part time position I began a blog (LittleeLit.com) where I began to document my interest in incorporating digital media into children’s services and programming. Another very part-time position opened up at another local library system, and I was hired to begin piloting some technology-based children’s programs, which I also developed and documented. That work caught the attention of other library systems, library advocacy groups and children’s content developers, and I have been implementing programs, training staff and developing reading platforms ever since. I have since begun serving on the ALSC Children & Technology committee, I’ve presented at a number of different conferences and I’ve been hired by a number of different organizations to develop professional development materials for training children’s libraries in the use of emergent technology.
NEVER in a million years could I have foreseen though that I’d someday be an “expert” in the use of technology with children in public libraries, but the time that I took off gave me some perspective on the nature of my job. When I returned to the workforce, I had a more objective view of the services that libraries offer, and that they need to begin offering. There was no one developing the kind of guidelines and content that I was looking for, so I began to do it myself. Now I enjoy the flexibility of choosing the projects I work on, having a flexible schedule to hang out with my son when he needs it, and knowing that I’m helping to build a community of knowledge that can guide the development of best practices for the future when most of the content we deal with in libraries is digital (yes, even with children). I don’t think I would have started walking this career path had I NOT taken the time off and then had to be creative about getting back in.
- 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 went back to work initially working a couple of evenings a week and every other weekend for a suburban library, and by the time they needed a new head of youth services, I was ready to come back to work part time. It all worked out extremely nicely for me!
- 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
I started to worry about the length of time I had been away from the workforce and knew that the longer I was out, the more difficult it would be to find a full-time job when I wanted one. After being out for about five years I decided to apply for a part-time Reference Librarian position at a public library. I sent out a few applications and did get an interview at about the third job I applied for. I was honest about why I hasn’t been working. I had been working as a software developer and been laid off about the same time we started a family. While I hold my MLS, I hadn’t worked in the library field since graduate school, about 10 years prior. It took a few months to get an interview and I was offered the position. The position was entry-level and very different from where I had been working when I left. I went from there to a part-time Reference Librarian job at Becker College in 2006, a job that could grow with me and offer more hours. This year I accepted a full-time 10 month position as the Systems Librarian.
- 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
I have been working as a librarian for almost seventeen years. Back in 2004, while working full-time as Electronic Resources Librarian at the Monroe Township Public Library and serving as vice president/president elect of the NJLA Reference section, I became pregnant with my first child. After the birth of my daughter, Natalie, I stepped down to part-time employment so I could spend time with my daughter, while keeping my hands in the profession. A few months after my daughter, Natalie was born, I assumed my role as president of Reference Section, emailing my members and potential speakers with a lively baby in the room. I was fortunate to have an incredibly helpful and supportive vice president who I could rely on to pick up the slack when I could not find childcare. I also attended a few meetings and planning sessions with Natalie when she was a few months old. My employer was supportive of my choice to stay home for a few months before returning to work part-time. They allowed me to complete some tasks from home to keep thing running. Since they were so flexible with me, I made sure that I returned every email and completed each assignment as quickly as I could.
- 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
I decided to return full-time to the workforce when my oldest daughter (who was 16 years old at the time) told me that she wanted to graduate high school and get her cosmetology license. I needed to find a full-time job in order to pay for her drivers ed, to help her with a car and to pay the school tuition. I graduated Anna in Spring of 2012 and she’ll start her licensing program in Fall of 2013.
I was truthful with everyone who I interviewed with for the part-time and full-time jobs, though I downplayed or didn’t mention that I homeschooled my daughters – even just a few years ago (it’s better now) there was a stigma surrounding homeschooling your children.
I told interviewers that I made the decision to stay home with my children when they were young, but that (when applying for part-time work) I felt ready to begin re-entering the library profession. When I was searching for my full-time job I told them that I my oldest daughter had graduated from high school early and I was looking for full-time work to help her pay for what she wanted to do next – cosmetology school. I also emphasized that I was looking for new challenges and would love to work for them.
I found a full-time job within weeks. The position I have now was posted a few days after I started searching. I interviewed and was offered it within two weeks. It was at a library where I had filled in for a reference librarian’s maternity leave and medical leave, so they knew me.
My current position isn’t like any other library position I’ve had before, but my time working on boards, in small-town politics, on the newspaper and homeschooling my children along with my BFA in fine art, my MLS and library experience gave me skills that made me a good fit for the position – they needed someone with an arts background, with connections in the local arts community, who had communication skills, people skills, could build community and was comfortable thinking outside of the box.
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
I have applied for jobs periodically in the last year and a half–we toy with me going back to work now and then. In my most recent job applications, I both emphasized the professional experiences I had before my gap, and talked about what I’ve done to stay relevant.-Anonymous, leave of eighteen months and countingPrior 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!