Further Questions: What would transferable skills look like from an individual transitioning into librarianship from an unrelated job field?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

This week’s question is inspired by a recent reader question: What would transferable skills look like from an individual transitioning into librarianship from an unrelated job field? This job field could be anything from working in a daycare, to sales, to nonprofit management, etc. Any advice you could provide to adults seeking a career change by going back to school to get their MLS/MLIS/MIS would be appreciated.

angelynn kingCustomer service experience is always a plus, as is any kind of technical or expository writing. Experience teaching or training is also extremely helpful. Presented with equally qualified candidates with no library experience, I would definitely lean toward someone with one or more of these skills.

Having said that, I would not recommend going back to school for a library degree unless you are in a position to be very flexible about type of library, area of specialization, geographic location, or, ideally, some combination of those. If you are place-bound, think twice. If you are place-bound and only want to work in a certain department in a certain kind of library, think of another plan.

-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

I would highlight transferable skills in your cover letter. Working in public services, we frequently get applicants with no library experience but with a great deal of customer service so if the person was applying for a position working at our service desk they could highlight that they worked in retail for the last five years in the highest selling store in the sales district in a large metropolitan area (just as an example to show the person has experience working in customer service in a faced paced environment).

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

J. McRee Elrod


There is no skill or knowledge which will not be useful sooner or later as a cataloguer or reference librarian.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Marleah AugustineI come from a clinical psychology background myself, and I think that you can definitely make a case for all kinds of transferable skills from different careers. I’ve had colleagues who started out as teachers, newspaper reporters, and case workers before they entered the library world and I think that there are any number of benefits to that. Librarians joke about “things we didn’t learn in library school” — a day at the library may require plumbing, mediation, education, etc. If someone has the passion required to work in a field like librarianship (and it’s true, it does require a certain amount of passion), then they can make their previously acquired skills to their (and their organization’s) benefit.

As for career advice, I’d offer the usual suspects — volunteer or intern in a library or (even better) work in one part-time while you’re attending school. Join local / state / regional / national associations. Sign up for listservs that post job listings (get an idea for what kind of salary you’d get in different places) and issues that librarians deal with regularly to get an idea of what goes on behind the curtain. Be prepared to commute or re-locate.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Laurie Phillips

I would say excellent communication skills (written and interpersonal), problem-solving, comfort speaking in front of a group, comfort/ease with learning and using new technologies, customer service training (retail experience is great!), supervision/training/mentoring skills or experience, project planning and implementation.

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

Celia RabinowitzI think a creative individual could probably find something in almost any job that could be considered transferable to libraries especially when thinking about an application to library school or a first job.  Customer service, work that requires good organization skills, the ability to work independently and with precision, creativity, patience, flexibility, etc.  Someone looking for a career change should think about what they bring as they enter an MLS program or how they, as individuals with a work history, are going to be really good librarians because of their previous experiences.  Sometimes that doesn’t become clear to career-changers until they begin graduate studies.  One other suggestion would be to get to know the librarians at a local public or academic library and to talk with others who entered the field after doing other work.

– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH

Jacob BergWhat I look for:
Retail experience. Customer service skills are very useful in many library positions.
Project management. If you’ve seen something through from start to finish, designed, implemented, tweaked, and completed, whether by yourself or part of a team, that’s a very useful skill in libraries. Michael Perry’s libraryproject.info has some useful information on project management in libraries.
-Jacob Berg, Director of Library Services,  Trinity Washington University
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 us at hiringlibrariansquestionsATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

3 responses to “Further Questions: What would transferable skills look like from an individual transitioning into librarianship from an unrelated job field?

  1. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  2. I’ve been made redundant, and want to keep working in libraries if possible, but I need to think outside the square as well. All of my professional life has been spent working in tertiary education libraries. I’m going to apply for a Moodle administration role at a tertiary education institution, because for the past five years, I’ve done some Moodle administration work as part of my current role. Do you have any advice for me about how to tweak my CV and wording of my cover letter to emphasize my transferable skills so that those who make the hiring decision don’t pigeon hole me as librarian?


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

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