Please, Please, Please Get Experience in a Library Before You Graduate From School

Work with schools, Hudson Park Branch : children gathered around librarian who is reading in the park, ca. 1910sThis anonymous post is from a school librarian! S/he has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring committee at a library with 0-10 staff members.

What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

1. Obvious experience with technology and incorporating technology into daily activities.
2. Experience in libraries of some sort.  Yes, we are a school library and it is helpful to have school experience.  But so many of the applicants for our open position last year had no library experience at all, it was discouraging.  I honestly don’t understand how someone can go through a graduate library program and get no library experience.
3. Flexibility, openness to new ideas, willingness to work on projects that benefit the library as a whole.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

Dealbreakers for me are typos in the resume or cover letter.  Another dealbreaker is an obviously “standard” cover letter that shows the applicant has not taken the time to look at our school (i.e. a general “to whom it may concern” type letter).

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

Objectives that state the obvious — “Looking for a challenging school library position that will enable me to….”

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?

Information about how they have actively used technology in the classroom, links to a portfolio, etc.

How many pages should a cover letter be?

√  Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

√  As many as it takes, but keep it short and sweet

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

√ No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

√ No

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

√ As an attachment only

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

Show me that you have looked at our school website and have an idea bout the mission of our school.  Show me that you have ideas on how to collaborate with teachers.  Show me that you are interested in furthering your professional development.

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

Not being prepared to answer the “How would you_____?” questions.

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

Please, please, please get experience in a library before you graduate from school.  Even if it is a part time grad assistant position — it helps.  If you have never worked in a library you really do not know what it is like on a daily basis.  It isn’t all theory, rainbows, and unicorns.  Some days it is hard work.  I am more than willing to hire someone fresh out of school with no full time library experience.  But I will not hire anyone (and mostly likely, will not interview anyone) with no library experience at all.



Filed under 0-10 staff members, Original Survey, School

13 responses to “Please, Please, Please Get Experience in a Library Before You Graduate From School

  1. Interesting. I think there are actually quite a few students in library programs who do not acquire library experience. I entered the program without any, but fortunately got a part-time job as a reference assistant while studying. In fact, a former classmate of mine, who is now pursuing a PhD in library and information science has never worked in a library. It is more common than most would think. I really think programs should step up to address this and make library work experience an essential part of obtaining the degree.


    • An alternative

      I disagree. I think it depends on the career goal of the student. A Ph.D. student in LIS is likely not aiming to work “in the trenches.” Many go on to be CIO’s, start-ups, research and teaching faculty at universities, consultants… it may not matter all that much.

      Furthermore, there are skills that are transferable from other industries. I find that search committees (having served on them) can be narrow-minded in their perspective. Experience in a “traditional” library isn’t the be all-end all. We need more change agents…


  2. Dan Robinson

    I find it hard to believe that someone could get school library certification without at least student teaching in a school library. How else are they going to learn how to answer the question “but don’t you just sit and read all day?”.


    • ha! I suppose if you didn’t have any experience, you might expect TO sit and read all day.

      A friend of mine and I had a nice time on Facebook thinking about what it would be like to be a unicorn librarian. She made the point that there may very well be one in some university folklore department, cataloging all the different unicorn types.


      • Dan Robinson

        The person who sits and reads all day is an Indexer. When I got my job at Wilson as an Indexer, my family all asked… you mean you get to sit and read journals that you would want to read anyway, and they’ll pay you for it????? Yep. Granted, I did have to interrupt my reading to actually do indexing, but it was small price to pay.
        As a school librarian, I never sat down in the library, except for storytime.


      • Ah, so there is something to be said for using your MLIS outside of the library…


  3. Megan

    It is more than a little frustrating to read that someone in a position to hire would assume that people coming out of graduate school are naive enough to think that libraries are all “theory, rainbows and unicorns.” Some people are unable to afford to take on part-time and often lower paying non-professional library related jobs while in school. But I guess working full time anywhere other than a library cannot possibly prepare you for the “harsh” world of working in one. Good grief.


    • Amy

      Exactly. It’s more than a little insulting. Unfortunately it’s the same attitude I saw again and again in the city’s public libraries where I studied for my MLS, and worse, in the university libraries. I understand the need for relevant experience, and I offer the same advice to people I know in MLS programs – but there’s no need to be so dismissive.


    • Lindsay

      I have to agree with you. I had to work full time in the (non-library) job I already had to put myself through LibSchool. I tried to volunteer at our public library, but was not able to during the evenings and weekends (my volunteering availability) because they needed someone during traditional working hours.


  4. I wasn’t required to have library experience for my MLIS. Even internships were suggested, but not strongly encouraged to the point that I realized it was doable for the average person. It was more, “Internships are good; you should do one,” and that was it. I thought internships were only for people who didn’t need to work to pay their bills or who knew all the “right” people – that is, not for someone like me.

    Now, I ended up in library school because I worked in the college library and I went looking for a library position while in grad school, but it wasn’t required. Maybe because many of the students were already in the workforce and were getting the degree because it was required for them to keep their job?


  5. Pingback: Should more LIS programs have a service-learning component? « Hack Library School

  6. If you’d like a little more detail, I asked a few people who hire librarians the experience question. Their answers are here:


  7. Joyce

    I am completely disgusted reading this.How about someone who had library experience in high school, two years of working with an archivist in college, an undergrad experience, an internship, working in the library computer section, and having an MLS and certificates in a few states and still not able to get a job…There are too many graduating and too few jobs. That’s the reality..


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