Don’t get locked into a self-defeatist rut while searching for your first job

aaron dobbs
Aaron W Dobbs is the Scholarly Communications, eResource Development, & Web Librarian at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania, a library with 10-50 staff members in a rural area in the Northeastern US. In addition to librarianating, he was elected to two consecutive years as University Curriculum Committee Chair, facilitating development and approval processes supporting the Shippensburg University curriculum. He has served on or led 11 hiring committees over 20 years in academic libraries and has presented on leveraging prior experiences when launching a library career. He hires the following types of LIS professionals:

Instruction and Reference Librarians (with an extra specialty or two). Everyone at MPOW is Instruction and Reference first, plus extra responsibilities as library needs change.

Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?

√ Depends on the school/Depends on the candidate

Should library students focus on learning theory or gaining practical skills? (Where 1 means Theory, 5 means practice, and 3 means both equally)


What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?

√ Cataloging
√ Budgeting/Accounting
√ Grant Writing
√Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Web Design/Usability
√History of Books/Libraries
√ Research Methods
√ Programming (Events)
√ Reference
√ Readers’ Advisory
√Field Work/Internships
√ Outreach
√ Marketing
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)
√ Other: The remaining category choices are also good, if one can fit them in somehow

Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?

For straight through school (UG straight to MLIS) grads, there seems to be some lack of perspective. Perspective meaning experience working a full-time, 35+ hour per week job. To anyone anywhere I would say work a job doing anything manual labor or customer service oriented. Work a crappy job and learn just how crappy it can be – and learn how to succeed on that job. It will suck, but that experience will help when you go for a library job.

When deciding who to hire out of a pool of candidates, do you value skills gained through coursework and skills gained through practice differently?

√ No preference–as long as the applicant has the skill, and the drive to improve at it, I don’t care how they got it

Which skills (or types of skills) do you expect a new hire to learn on the job (as opposed to at library school)?

Customer service, treating people well, professional demeanor (not worried about looks so much, but hygiene and respectful/respectable public persona count for a lot). We will be happy to sharpen people skills, but the applicant also needs to bring some basic humanity to the position.

Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?

√ Internship or practicum
√ Other presentation
√ Other publication
√ Student organization involvement
√ Professional organization involvement
√ Other: library experience and teaching experience (for academics) is a major bonus

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?

It’s not so much the school as what the student can demonstrate understanding about and/or experience with through coursework and related experience. There are LIS school rankings available (take them with a grain of salt; “top 10” is more indicative than “number 5” for example). Ditto on coursework delivery mode (f2f vs online); it’s more about the understanding than the delivery mode. The student who is wildly successful at any library school will likely be wildly successful on the job, too.

Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

I’ve met a billionty graduates from most (if not all) the LIS schools. Those from the “top 10” or upper half have generally been impressive, those from the middle and lower end of the pack have generally been quite good, too. There are exceptions in both directions – duds from top 10 schools and stars from the bottom of the pack. I believe it depends more the individual than the school.

What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?

Take time to relax and socialize with your peers. Use the local public and your academic library. Join the student ALA chapter and the state library association. Go to the local conferences and the local extracurricular educational trips. Apply for the ALA Student to Staff program which gets you to an ALA Annual in exchange for 10-20 hours of conference-related work. Apply for travel grants from vendors. Work in a library somehow, if you can – internships, practicums, volunteering, job shadowing. Keep track of your class projects and see if they can become something publishable. Anything helps.

Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?

“Librarian” jobs are increasingly hard to find. It’s easier if you can relocate (often to very “out of the way” places or to large urban areas) a couple times. “Librarian” skills are not limited to working in actual libraries – the skill sets are compatible with all sorts of information-industry jobs (which often pay more than library jobs). Don’t get locked into a self-defeatist rut while searching for your first job (I did this and it was really all from my perception of failure from not getting interviews nor offers – it certainly did not help me) the library job market is brutal – more brutal than it was in the mid-1990s which was bad enough.

For some context, take a look at the most recently published summary of responses to this survey, or specific analysis of the responses discussing online school, the amount of coursework students should take, and preferences/reluctance for candidates from certain schools.

Do you hire librarians? Tell us your answer to, “What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School?”:

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!

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Filed under 10-50 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Rural area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

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