Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later.
Michael Grutchfield filled out the original survey in 2013 and his answers appeared as I Want to Put my Training to Use. We followed up with him in 2015 and learned he had found not just one but two jobs! Since then he’s had an interesting path and is currently back on the job hunt. He was kind enough to answer my questions below:
Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?
Right now, I’m actually more or less where I probably was when this survey first came out: living in Portland and looking for a library job. I brought that on myself, however. My path has been a complicated one.
For the past eight years, up until the end of September, I’ve been living in Southern Oregon, working over that time in three different libraries. This began with a job offer from the library at Rogue Community College for a part time reference/instructional position. In order to sweeten the idea of moving for a part time job, the director mentioned that the local public library in Grants Pass was looking to hire a part time collection librarian.
I interviewed for that job in May, 2014 and got the job offer while I was down for a visit. So, I moved to Rogue River with two part time jobs – one in an academic library, one in a public library. The public library, Josephine Community Libraries, was at that time managed by a nonprofit after the voters had voted to shut down the County-run system in 2009. We were also heavily involved in campaigning for a library district, which finally passed in 2017. I was then offered the position of Collection Development Librarian full time, and immediately got to work heavily weeding a collection that had been sustained on donations for eight years and upgrading the collection.
Then, in 2019, I learned that the library in my town was looking for a manager, and the draw of being able to walk to work was too much to resist. In 2019, I got the job of Area Manager for Jackson County Library Services, supervising five of the branches in their 15-branch system and working from an office in the Rogue River branch. They were undergoing a similar transition, as they had been managed by the for-profit library company LS&S since a shutdown, and were just putting their district back in charge during 2020, which happened to be at the height of the pandemic. I got to do a lot of different kinds of management work during my time there, including managing the Sub Pool and being on the team to plan expanding hours across the system.
And then, towards the end of this Summer, I got the bug to move back to Portland, where an old friend had space in her house to rent to me. I made the move about a month ago, and have been actively searching for jobs in libraries since then.
Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?
Most parts! I never thought I would take to Public Libraries, customer-facing jobs, or managing lots of people. But, that’s how it has gone.
Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed?
One thing that pops out is where I said I wanted a job in or near Portland! That hasn’t changed, but I spent 8 years building my resume to make it (hopefully) possible.
One thing that has changed is that I no longer find INALJ (I Need a Library Job) to be the most useful resource. Luckily, there are a lot of resources for finding jobs. In my area, being aware of the local library associations and their job listings and networking with friends are the most useful ways to proceed now. I never seem to lack job openings to apply for!
What I remember from those times is how often I had to re-type every part of my resume into an online application. More and more libraries and hiring institutions have software now that “grabs” the basic info from your resume and plugs it in automatically, which at least reduces this to an editing process, rather than data entry. This is good. It might not be a bad idea for someone to put together tips on how best to format your resume so that the software can recognize the data accurately.
Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?
I’ve been on quite a number of hiring committees, including some for my own direct reports. It does give you some perspective on why the process can take too long, and how hard it is for employers to get a handle on your qualifications, and who you really are, from the typical hiring process. It’s a huge leap of faith to invite someone into your workspace (effectively 1/3 of your life!) when all you have is some paper and a very contrived conversation to base the decision on.
The long process of hunting for work gave me (I hope) a good deal of empathy for the people on the other end of it. I tried to be respectful of their time and the stressful process they were going through.
Do you have any advice for job hunters?
Most of what you have already heard: really do craft your application materials (especially cover letter) to the specific job posting, really do follow all instructions and make sure your application is complete, and really do apply only for one or two jobs per employer at one time – it sends a message of “I’ll take anything!” if your name comes up for every open position.
Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?
Just remember what your applicants are going through. Looking for work is a full time job (and some of them are doing it on top of a full time job), and they will appreciate your consideration, even when you can’t hire them.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Just that I have loved working in libraries ever since I started, and it’s been a pleasure working with very different communities (and in different jobs!) than I expected to.