Further Questions: How easy is it to switch between different types of librarianship?

This week we have a question from a reader.  She asks:

With the job market being the way it is, I have generally been looking for jobs in both public and academic libraries. How easy is it to switch between different types of librarianship? Do public libraries see an applicant with lots of academic experience and automatically dismiss them, or vice versa?

Laurie Phillips

I have been an academic librarian for 24 years but, before that, I worked in reference at a large public library. Reference was very different in an academic library than in the public library – not nearly as interesting when I first came here, but now I have a lot more opportunities to work with students. The skills are the same but the teaching and relationships that are part of academic librarianship generally aren’t there in public libraries. That said, I think you can apply successfully for both. Just know that you will have to highlight different skills and successfully respond to different environments. One of our most successful hires came from public school teaching and public librarianship. When he applied here, he tailored his letter of application to show how well he fit the qualifications for a job that was just being developed.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans 


Christine Hage - Dark backgroundIt depends on the job pool.  Generally we get enough applicants that is is highly unlikely that we would look an academic librarian for a public library position.  This is not to say that we haven’t had academic librarians with NO public library experience apply for a youth services position.  In fact I just interviewed one today who had lots of sports coaching experience with young kids, but no public library experience.  Even with coaching experience he wasn’t qualified to work with kids in a public library.
If the position were in a large public library and in a subject department there might be more relevance.  In that case a public library might really be looking for a subject specialist, but in the run of the mill public library not so much.
I realize that library education isn’t all that different for public and academic libraries (merely a couple of different courses), but the experience is very different.  If an academic librarian volunteered or worked as a substitute librarian in a public library I might be inclined to consider them.  Other than that I’d stick to people who studied and / or have worked in public libraries.
– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library
Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library SystemMy personal experience has been that after a certain amount of time spent in one type of library one does tend to get pigeon-holed as knowing only about that type of work.
I have made the switch from special library to public library and then into post-secondary library work for a short amount of time and back into public libraries. Speaking from my personal experience, on an administrative/management level, the duties are very similar and transfer easily.
Recently, our regional library system (serving public libraries and school libraries) was going through a hiring process for a technology related management position and we interviewed candidates from academic libraries. We found out during the conversations that to a large extent the duties appeared to be similar: vendor relations, budgeting, ensuring services are relevant to the audience served.
The most important aspect always seems to be how willing the incumbent is to learn about their new environment. This is of course the case even when switching jobs within the same type of library. Be a “sponge” during your first while on the new job: absorb as much about the new environment as you can, learn about how things are done and WHY. Immerse yourself in the culture of the new place of employment, to find out what the priorities of the organization as a whole as well as those of the individual departments are.
The basic principles of excellent customer service and the (relatively) seamless provision of access to relevant resources will likely be the same, no matter which type of library you find yourself in.
I also wanted to mention again that our library system is currently part of a Shared Intern Librarian initiative, in which we share a newly graduated Librarian for a period of 12 months with our local public library as well as our local College Library Services. The Librarian spends equal amounts of time at each institution and thus is provided with experience in three different types of library organizations. Given that new grads often have to choose between types of libraries without actual experience that might tell them which they would prefer (or have an aptitude for), we figured this initiative was a great way to allow new grads to gain experience in different library organizations and then lets them make an educated decision after the 12 months. Plus, it gives them great work experience and they come out of the 12 month period with three “bosses” who are able to provide (so far, glowing) references.
And yes, we do pay our Interns.
– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System
Sarah MorrisonI would consider any library experience as “library experience” when reviewing applicants.  Academic, public, special, corporate, every library requires the same basic skills—order to fit the collection, stay within a budget, work within the hierarchy, work in teams or on committees, work in a hectic environment, deal with technology issues, choose and explain databases, handle problem patrons, etc.  Not having switched between libraries after I began full-time work, I can’t absolutely say, but I know people who have made the switch.  It would be more about finding jobs that meet your skill set and marketing those skills.
– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Washington
I feel that experience is experience-both work with patrons/students. I would be more hesitant to hire someone with only TS experience, for example, to work as a Reference/Public Services librarian.
– Kaye Grabbe, Director, Lake Forest (Public) Library, Lake Forest, IL.
Jason GrubbI don’t think the switch is as difficult as some in our profession would have you believe. I’ve successful transitioned back and forth between both type of libraries throughout my career. I’ve watched friends and colleagues do the same. I currently work in a public library where we have hired several librarians who only had academic library experience. The key is to show with your application and interview how your library experience in any type of library is relevant and transferable to the position you are applying to.
– Jason Grubb, Director, Sweetwater County Library System
Celia RabinowitzAs a profession we seem to have often told new librarians to pick a track and stick with it because switching between types of libraries is difficult, or at least it is hard to convince search committees that it can be done successfully.  The switch might be easier for some subfields than for others, and it is certainly the case there are many differences in the audiences served, resources, and services provided.  That said, I am always looking for someone who can demonstrate in a cover letter that they “get” the job that is open and that they can match their qualifications and approach to the work with the position we have available.  It isn’t always easy.  I think it’s fair to say my library faculty might have a bias toward candidates with academic library experience.  I think this is an example of a situation where the cover letter can be the most important part of an application.  Why do you want to make the switch (if you are already working in the other type of library)?  If you are applying for both simultaneously it is absolutely worth the time it takes to craft cover letters that clearly address the jobs.  The same letter won’t work for different libraries.  Is it a challenge?  I think it still is.  Should academic libraries simply overlook candidates who have most, or all, of their experience in public libraries?  I don’t think so.  I want to be talked into it, so go for it.
– Celia Rabinowitz, Director of the Library, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

I can only speak from an academic perspective to respond to this question. I would say that it very much depends on the hiring manager. I know many academic librarians will not hire librarians out of the public library, but I think it has to do with the differences in administrative structure (City Council verses Higher Education). Also, many academic libraries are tenure track which requires scholarly publishing, presenting, professional service which is not required of public librarians (however many of them do these things).

From my personal perspective as a hiring manager in a public services setting in an academic library, I frequently hire librarians (and support staff) from public libraries because they usually bring with them very strong customer service skills. While many public librarians aren’t publishing, they are frequently involved in community service, service in professional organizations, and are used to giving presentations so I feel they can make the transition easily enough and their stellar customer service skills are worth the extra mentoring I might have to do in the scholarly area.

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

For more on this topic, take a look at How Can Candidates Changing Library Types, or Fields, Best Present Their Skills? from September 2013.

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!  She got sequins in her hair, Like she stepped out off of a Fellini film, She sat in a white straw comment.

1 Comment

Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public

One response to “Further Questions: How easy is it to switch between different types of librarianship?

  1. Pingback: More on Switching between Academic and Public Libraries – Tales of a Librarian

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