Author’s Corner: A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market, by Jeanette Woodward (2011. Chicago,IL: American Library Association). It’s got some excellent, very specific advice about the work you can do to be an engaged and smart job hunter. I’m happy to be able to share it with you.


For Applications that Make the Cut, Do Your Homework

At some point in the near future, you hope to be sitting opposite a library administrator or search committee convincing them that you are the best applicant for the job. However, that meeting will undoubtedly be preceded by many, many small steps. The secret is preparation and that preparation must begin long before the interview.

Focusing On the Job and the Employer

Actually, it all begins as soon as you discover the job announcement. Once you’ve decided that this is an opening you may want to pursue, immediately begin learning more. You’ll need to investigate not only the job itself but also the library and the people, especially senior staff, who work in that library. All of us, I suppose, tend to focus on ourselves. The people to whom you are sending your application are thinking not about you but about themselves and their library. They have a problem- in other words, there is work that’s not getting done and plans that are not being implemented. They are interested in how someone might solve their problem and how well that someone might fit into their world. Your task is not so much to tell them about yourself as to focus on their need.

What the Ad Really Says

Begin by examining the job ad carefully. Check to see if there are other versions online (the library’s own website may have a much longer and more complete announcement since some job lists charge by the word). You can do this by taking an exact phrase from the announcement, enclosing it in quotes, and pasting it into a search engine. Assemble all the versions you can find and keep your fingers crossed that they were written by a librarian and not a human resource professional. What do they really seem to be looking for? How is this announcement different from others you’ve seen for similar jobs? In one sense, your challenge is to become a mind reader.
The job that’s open in this particular library is unique. In many ways, it’s unlike other jobs with identical job titles in other libraries because this library has evolved differently. It has different goals, different needs, and a different cast of characters. Can you read between the lines to discover what these people are really looking for? Focus on them, not yourself. Don’t begin comparing your skills and experience with their requirements until you really understand what they are looking for.

Obtaining More Information

How can you find out more about this position? What do you already know about the library? Your friends and colleagues usually provide the best insights so ask around. Use your social network to get all the information you can. Is this a new position or is the opening the result of a recent resignation? It’s helpful to know whether you will be following in someone else’s footsteps or will help create a new position. Have two positions been merged and would you be expected to do both? These situations have their advantages and disadvantages but it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into.

a librarian's guide to an uncertain job marketWhen the Library is Far From Home

At the moment, the job market is far from sunny so you may be applying to libraries far distant from home. If this is the case, you’re going to have to do some real detective work and as a librarian, you’re better equipped for the task than job applicants in other fields. Use the Internet to find out all you can about the libraries in which you’re interested, in other words the staff size, names and titles of senior librarians, budget, etc.
If the announcement asks you to reply to someone other than a human resource administrator, find out who that person is. You can probably gather enough information to make some educated guesses about the people who will make the hiring decision. Learning about the human side of libraries will help you better understand what they’re looking for. LIS professionals are so well represented online that you can often learn a lot about them as individuals including their perspectives and preferences. Some of the information will be useful in the cover letter and if you make the cut, it will be invaluable in the interview.

Investigate the Community

Also gather enough information to decide whether this is a place where you’d like to live. Find out about the cost of living, especially the cost of housing, the unemployment rate, the schools if you have children, and other quality of life indicators. As we all know, statistics can be boring and seemingly meaningless. Don’t just look up numbers. What do the numbers really say? Compare them with your home community. Consider whether unemployment numbers are improving or budget cuts have been so draconian that basic services like education and police protection are inadequate. Be sure to bookmark local newspapers to get a feeling for how residents view their area. Though you may be feeling somewhat desperate, you don’t want to have to go through this again. Job hunting takes a lot out of you both financially and psychologically. You’re looking for a stable, supportive environment where you can recharge your batteries and grow professionally. There really and truly are jobs that you should avoid.


Jeannette Woodward is a principal of Wind River Library and Nonprofit Consulting. After a career in academic library administration, most recently as Assistant Director of the David Adamany Library at Wayne State University, she began a second career in public libraries as the Director of the Fremont County Library System in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

Woodward is the author of several books including “The Transformed Library: Ebooks, Expeertise, and Evolution,” “Countdown to a New Library, 2nd Edition” (ALA 2010), “The Customer-Driven Academic Library” (ALA, 2008), “What Every Librarian Should Know about Electronic Privacy” (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), “Creating the Customer Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model” (ALA, 2005). She is also the author of “Writing Research Papers: Investigating Resources in Cyberspace”(McGraw Hill, 1999) and “Finding a Job after 50: Reinvent Yourself for the 21st Century” (Career Press, 2007). She holds a masters degree in library and information science from Rutgers University with doctoral study at the University of Texas at Austin.

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3 Comments

Filed under Author's Corner, MLIS Students

3 responses to “Author’s Corner: A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market

  1. “Job hunting takes a lot out of you both financially and psychologically.”

    Thank you, thank you for recognizing that job hunting is an expensive process! So many time people talk flippantly about job hunting expenses (“decent shoes are only $20″ and comments of similar ilk) and that can add to the discouragement of an un/under-employed person who is living off of little more than peanut butter and crackers in order to save up enough to pay for the gas to get to the interview.

  2. Pingback: Author’s Corner: A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market | Hiring Librarians | The Modern MLIS

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