Further Questions: Is becoming a librarian still a reasonable dream?

If Yahoo can write article based on Reddit, I suppose I can use it for this week’s question.  It comes from this Reddit post, written by a librarian who graduated two years ago.
This week I asked people who hire librarians:
What advice would you give to someone who’s been searching for a librarian job for two years?  Is it still a reasonable dream?   
Marleah AugustineI think anything that you feel passionately about and truly want to spend your life (or even just a portion of it) doing is a reasonable dream. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time for my position, but I do have a few pieces of advice:

Be willing to compromise – whether it’s by relocating or by taking a position in reference even if you really want to be a children’s librarian. Sometimes you aren’t in the right area. I’m in Kansas, and I’ve seen several job postings come across our listserv. I’m also on the PubLib listserv, and I’ve seen several job postings there as well. Maybe you’ll need to take a lower-paying job to get started, but it still gets you out there and your foot in the door. Even volunteering at a library where you may want to work can be beneficial. You’ll already know the folks there, and you may hear the inside scoop about people leaving sooner.

About those listservs – find the ones that are relevant to your area (both location and job specialization) and GET ON THEM! Maybe join your local/state/regional/national library associations too. I’m an introvert, and networking does not come naturally to me, but it is something that needs to be done if you’re looking for the “ins” to getting a job.

Make yourself more marketable – maybe taking a class to further build your resume would be helpful. Canvas.net has free online courses that are very applicable to librarianship – and they’re fun, too. A few months back, I took one that looked at social psychology and social issues in The Walking Dead. Looks like they’re offering a course on language learning using technology (very relevant right now), as well as one on social issues in comic books (fun! and still relevant!). Build a LinkedIn profile and learn more about how to use it to maximize potential.

Read blogs. Get to know current issues in librarianship. Get to know some of the big names. Start a blog. Keep your Goodreads profile up to date. These things may not help directly, but they keep you in the field, they can give potential employers something to look at when they Google your name, and they can help you keep the passion alive for what you really want to do. You’ll also learn about great things that those big names are doing and see what the cool trends are – definitely something for when you have an interview, or even send in a cover letter that will make you stand out. Maybe these things will lead to you further honing your specialty area (I used to think I wanted to work in an academic library, but I fell in love with public libraries and changed my track).

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Laurie PhillipsWow, this is rough.  I’d love to be able to give hope but we recently had to choose not to fill our open tenure track position in order to save our operating budget and our staff during lean times. Universities are going leaner because the population of 18 year olds entering college will not rebound until about 2016. I would say a couple of things – as a lot of the people who responded said, make sure you are completely prepared in a very competitive market. Make sure your resume and cover letters are impeccable and positive. Don’t just apply to hundreds of jobs. Tailor each letter carefully to match the job qualifications. Make sure you address each qualification – don’t make the committee hunt for your qualifications. Apply for jobs that you really want. It sounds like you have varied experience, but they may be working against you a bit. If you have archival experience, is that what you really want? Are you applying for other jobs just because you want a job? Careers in archives are really hot right now and I feel like we get a lot of applications for people who really want archival jobs but are settling because they need a job. If that’s coming through in your applications, make sure you can defend it or get rid of it. I am very impressed by people who can take seemingly unrelated experience and make it fit well with the job we’re advertising. Sell yourself for THAT job. Not just A job. I know that’s hard when you’ve been looking for so long, but it’s what you need to do to get a job. Another thing that someone else who responded mentioned is to take temporary jobs that keep you in the field. Get your foot in the door and keep your experience relevant. Good luck! And try to stay positive – I hope it is still a reasonable dream. I have been a librarian for 24 years and still love what I do.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

I think it is time to see a career counselor, sign up for  a librarian temp agency or part-time as needed positions. Clearly there is something out of line with the positions for which the person has been applying. S/he may be applying too high and not have enough experience. As a law librarian, I won’t hire someone with a degree if they have no experience for a librarian job. I will hire them for a library assistant job, so they can get to know the publications and the structure of the law.

S/he should also be active in local library associations – volunteer for a committee and attend meetings. If people know you, they will consider hiring you. Other, more experienced members will also be happy to have an informational interview with another member. They might know someone looking for a temp or about a job that has not been announced.

S/he should also have a professional look over his/her resume with an eye towards redoing it. S/he should also do interview practice with a professional. S/he should look over clothing, hygiene and makeup. The profession does not need another dowdy entrant. Get a new haircut, current, hipper clothes.

The bottom line is that there are too many people graduating from library school and not enough jobs. What can the candidate do to make herself/himself a star?

– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP

I do have some general advice I can offer without knowing a job seekers history. The short answer to the question, “is it still a reasonable dream?” is that it depends.

It depends on if you can or are willing to move. Many times people are stuck with a geographic area due to family or other commitments.

It depends on if you can take a reduction in salary. If your career before librarianship pays a lot more, you have to decide if you can take the pay cut to get your foot in the door.

It depends on if you have library experience. Most entry level positions are asking for library experience and a practicum usually isn’t enough. You have the option to take a support staff position to get your foot in the door. If you cannot afford to do that financially, then you will need to find a library to volunteer at that is in your chosen area.

It depends on networking. If you aren’t already involved in your state library association, you need to start. Go to the next annual conference and show up at round table meetings to meet people and volunteer to serve on committees.

So really it depends on if you can make one or all of these sacrifices. I can say these things from experience. I could not move for family reasons when I got my MLS in 2006 so I stayed in a support staff position until I was offered a professional position in 2010. All the while I was very active in my state library association on committees and giving presentations. It was difficult and sometimes I was a little hard on myself but in the end it paid off and was a reasonable dream, just not in the timing I had originally anticipated.

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries

Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library SystemIn a conversation with someone who has been searching for a librarian job for 2 years, I would first want to find out exactly which jobs s/he has been applying for. Perhaps a pattern of applying for jobs not suited for the experience will emerge. I would also want to know how they have been spending their time while searching for a library related position. Are they doing library related volunteer work? Even just a few hours per week would mean having some current library related content on the resume and this might open up doors for paid employment.
I have spoken to folks struggling to find employment who refused to apply for any term/contract positions. After a certain amount of time I do not believe it is smart to limit your choices that way. A few months of employment could lead not only to valuable experience (not to mention income), but would also provide possibilities for professional networking, which could lead to other job opportunities.
There are many free educational opportunities in the form of webinars and MOOCs available online that would allow someone currently looking for work to stay current in the field. Indicating participation in these educational events on your resume (to a reasonable degree) will show potential employers that even though you are not currently working, you are passionate about librarianship and are engaged in the field.
Generally speaking, the biggest issue in not finding employment often appears when someone is limiting their geographic location too much. If you are unable to leave your current location and the library market is saturated, you may not find a job in your field. In that case, landing a meaningful librarian job may not be a reasonable dream until you are able to follow your dream job to its location.
As long as a candidate is flexible about the location of a position and is willing to, at least temporarily, accept term/contract positions I believe that someone making an effort to find a library position stands a good chance. If you have a friend working in the library field, ask them to review your resume and provide feedback to find out what might be holding you back from landing that dream library job.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System
J. McRee ElrodIs it still a reasonable dream?Yes.

Join e-lists in the area of your interest to which jobs are posted.

Keep skils alive, as well as getting experience for your resume and refeences, by volunteering.  Check our hospital and prison libraries for example.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

In true public law librarian reference-response fashion, the answer is: It depends.

Yes! Is becoming and being a librarian your calling? (Read “Sacred Stacks: The Higher Purpose of Libraries and Librarianship,” by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell if you don’t know the answer to that question.)

Yes! But you need to do more research, get some tough advice about the job application process and your application, interview the people who didn’t hire you, network with librarians who might hire you, etc.

Yes! Re-examine and renew your skill sets, volunteer more (in all types of library and “information” jobs), open up vistas, e.g. become even more adventurous – look all over the world for librarian jobs, internships, etc.

No! If you want to give up the dream, then maybe you don’t have the pigheadedness, the stamina, the drive, or big-enough love for the profession. Because if you think Getting the Job is the tough part, just wait until you Have the Job. Yoiks!

Two years goes awfully fast, even looking for the right job. A lot of us have waited longer than that. And while you’re looking and waiting, keep moving, keep learning, keep writing better job applications, and more to the point, keep your sense of humor and perspective on the profession, on life, and on happiness.

– Laura J. Orr, Law Librarian, Washington County Law Library

Colleen HarrisUnfortunately, a two-year job hunt is not rare in our profession, particularly if you are tied to a particular state or region. I do still think it is a reasonable dream, but would implore applicants to also apply for positions where they can use their MLIS skills in ways that they can later highlight for professional librarian position applications. An example – For the first few years after getting my MLS, I actually worked as a Graduate School Admissions Assistant for a large public university. In that time I learned PeopleSoft and finagling with complex student records, developed customer service skills in a higher education environment both in terms of interacting with students and in building relationships with the staff and faculty of various academic departments, and became involved in that university’s fledgling move to make all theses and dissertations digital-only. It may not feel glamorous, but it’s *useful*, and useful is what you want to highlight.

So, the short answer is to keep the dream alive, but be flexible about your route. You’ll be surprised at how many areas can leverage the skills of an eager MLIS-holder.
-Colleen Harris-Keith, Head of Access Services &  Assistant Professor at University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s Lupton Library
Samantha Thompson-FranklinI would advise someone who has been job searching for a librarian position for 2 years that becoming a librarian is still a reasonable dream and ambition to have, and to hang in there and don’t give up. They may have to broaden the scope of their job search to include non-traditional librarian positions as a way to get their foot in the door. Also, look for any volunteer opportunities that relate to the person’s career goals and the area of librarianship that they are most interested in pursuing. Sometimes taking a library assistant position may also help them to gain some experience if they have little library experience, as well as provide some income. From my experience of having been on several search committees, we do not discredit that experience if it fits with the experience we need for the position in question.  Doing what you can within the library community will eventually pay off.
– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading! If you like reading, you might also like commenting.  You’re very welcome to try it out here.


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, Special

5 responses to “Further Questions: Is becoming a librarian still a reasonable dream?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  2. James Cohn

    My impression is if you are a computer programmer or an MBA with lots of corporate experience,who decides to get an MLIS, libraries will welcome you with open arms. However, if you go into librarianship expecting to be hired as a reference, cataloging, or acquisitions librarian, you should plan for a very rough time.


  3. Fiona Jay

    Thanks very much for your comments, they are very helpful. I have recently relocated to Christchurch, NZ, leaving my much loved position as a Senior Service Guide (reference and readers advisory) at Palmerston North City Library, NZ. I have been unsuccessful so far in gaining library work, disappointingly missing out on a cluster of 5 assistants positions in the public system and a cultural librarian’s role. I asked for feedback, and found I was not putting enough detail in my cover letter. So I’m hoping for another round, and seeking out my local branch of LIANZA, Akaroa. I’ve enrolled for early childhood relieving to tide me over, which also keeps my knowledge current, and have of course joined my local library, which is a bit of a mover and shaker – Upper Riccarton Library, which merged the Public branch with the High School. Fiona Jay


  4. Pingback: On Freelancing and Contracting: some conference cogitations | [ArLiSNAP]

  5. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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