Further Questions: When Should Library Students Start Applying?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

When Should Library Students Start Applying? Have you interviewed or hired a candidate who is still in school for a librarian position? How early is too early for a student to start applying? Do you take into consideration the particular school a candidate has attended? Has a candidate’s GPA ever affected your decision to hire or interview a candidate?

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: The answer to this question is relative to your particular library and the local labor market!

Speaking from a public library perspective, especially a small or medium size library in a rural area, it was once rare to have a library school student apply for a job.  If your library is near a library school, you will have students applying for the position to get experience.  An applicant at a small or medium size library with any library training and/or experience was welcomed, with little attention paid to GPA or school. 

The brutal truth is a candidate’s GPA or the “status” of school’s program mean little beyond your first few months in a job.  What matters is the student’s creativity, flexibility, and resourcefulness once hired.  There are graduates from prestigious library schools who are at best an average employee.         

A boon to small and medium size libraries far from a library school has been distance education programs.  There are those who want to attend a library school, but cannot due to their personal and economic situations.  Distance education has made these programs affordable.  A small and medium size library will always be happy to hire a student in what might be thought of as a kind of “work study” arrangement.

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Normally, I would say that someone shouldn’t apply until they are in their last semester. However, we have had someone apply and interview in the fall when they are graduating in May. If they are excellent candidates, we may be willing to wait. However, there is something in the back of our minds that this person may keep looking and we might lose them. That would be awful because it’s time-consuming and expensive to do a faculty search. I would say it can’t hurt to start applying. Academic searches take a long time, so you may as well start early. In general, we haven’t taken into consideration a particular school, although there are some schools where there are specialties that we’re interested in for particular positions. We never look at GPA. 

Ellen Mehling, Job Search Advisor/Instructor: Usually, I advise students to start applying the semester before they graduate. The hiring process for academic library positions can often take longer than for other library jobs, so in that case, as long as they’d have the degree by the start date, I’d advise them to apply when they see the job posting. Students should make it very clear in their application documents when they expect to graduate.

I would interview students who did not yet have their degree, as long as they were well-qualified, had compelling, well-written application documents, and would have the MLS by the start date. “Too early” would be if the applicant would not yet have graduated by the start date.

As long as the school they are getting their MLS from is ALA-accredited, I don’t care which one they attend.

The GPA predicts academic success, not success in the workplace, so it shouldn’t factor into a hiring decision.

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I think part of the answer about when someone still working on their degree should start applying for jobs depends on a few factors. Does the job ad indicate when the position begins? Is it after you expect to complete your degree? If so, then apply! If not, does it entail changing locations and can you do that if you are still taking classes? And, if you can, do you think you can manage the stress of a new job along with the stress of keeping up with course work? Are there other factors, say for example, having a regular salary and benefits will allow you to manage stress levels so you can finish? So many questions!

I have interviewed candidates who were still in school, usually in the last semester (or the end of the penultimate semester). That’s primarily because we are used to having new library faculty join us in the summer, not mid-year. It might be worth contacting a hiring institution to ask about start date if you think that they will want someone to start before you are able or feel ready. We all know the hiring process can take a while so I’d advise against assuming you know when the start date is if it is not included in the ad.

All of that said, I think applying during the first year of graduate study is probably too early. But looking at ads starting the summer between or early fall of your final year is a good idea, especially for those academic positions that might not even start until the following summer. I usually see the GPA but don’t give it a lot of thought, and I don’t think it is necessary to mention it in a cover letter. Anyone completing the graduate program has met a set of assessment standards which meets my expectations. My interest in the library school is primarily these days about diversity. If you are located near a library school, or two, it is hard to get a pool of applicants with some diversity in the the type of library school education they received which I think is helpful.

Kellee Forkenbrock, Public Services Librarian, North Liberty Community Library: As a current MLIS student (University of Iowa ’23), I love to see students apply for our assistant positions. We hired several students and are able to manage their school schedules with our staffing needs. To that end, we don’t consider GPA or any academic factors in our hiring decisions. During the interview, we ask more pointed questions about their scholastic work and their post-graduate plans. This information gives us an idea as to how they can support library functions, providing g additional expertise that they can add to future resumes.  For us, hiring library students is a win-win.

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: In general, it depends on the position, the estimated time until graduation, and on the other information in the candidate’s application. Ideally we would see some library work experience in addition to the partial degree. If a candidate had part of an MLS (or even a completed degree) but no library work experience, I would be very careful to make sure they understood what the position entailed, and the realities of working in a public library. 

On the other hand, having an employee currently in school can be very beneficial to the library! In school they are constantly collaborating with others and encountering new ideas about libraries. That can lead to improvements in services, creative ideas for programs, and other positive changes if the library gives the employee some flexibility and freedom.

As for the school attended and GPA, these are not hugely important factors as long as the program is accredited and the GPA is not alarmingly low. It would give me pause if transcripts showed low grades in some technical areas (for example, a Cataloger with low grades specifically in cataloging courses), but I have not been in that situation.

One caveat: students should also know that some employers have specific requirements about hiring professionals with incomplete degrees. For example, our county has a “trainee appointment” status for anyone hired who has not yet met the position’s education requirement. They have a set amount of time to finish the required degree (usually six months to a year) in order to stay in the position. If they do not complete the degree in that time, they could be demoted or out of the job altogether. Just something to keep in mind.

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

When Should Library Students Start Applying?

I have a few categories for this answer.

For those working in an organization where they hope to continue to work but as a librarian – you should work with your institution to determine what ARE the next steps or what is the career mobility and how can you plan your graduate degree accordingly. That is, a library may allow you to plan for an internship in their space but at another location OR they may have projects they would LOVE to see – tackled in your class time – that would benefit them…this has you communicating to those in charge that you are making great strides to your ultimate career goal which – you hope – will lead to continuing to work but at a different level. These early discussions allow you to ask when CAN you apply? if that is the process so that you can declare as early as possible.

For those with a goal of working where you are not currently working...asking formally when they take applications….do they offer internships or capstone or service learning opportunities …(giving only educational inroads) so that you can apply for those areas.

For those seeking employment in a completely different setting…you might ask anytime during your master’s program if someone can be your mentor or touchstone during the program. Be specific and outline what this might entail and could include projects to complete, using that person as the working librarian you might need to interview, using them as a reference for a paper you are doing when you need real world application, etc. These activities can be anytime within the master’s but introduce you to either a specific organization as well as a specific type of organization.

Speaking generally, for any applications, I would say when you are immediately ending your second-to-the-last semester or beginning your last…essentially it is when you see “light at the end of the tunnel!” and to do so here are the steps you need to take:

  • What does your target organization need for an active application? a diploma in hand? a transcript in hand? a graduation date? (These could be three different things!)
  • Can you submit an application even though there are no positions open at a given time? How does that process work? 
  • Create a plan for updating your applications as you move along so always ask how CAN you keep your application active. 
  • Identify organizations where there might be hourly or part time or short term positions while you are waiting for a full time position to be advertised.

Oddly – I always tell people to begin their master’s program by looking at the want ads and NOT the recruitment information…and we have a great many to not only visit but subscribe to these days so yes – you need the shiny “you could be here” motivation found in recruitment videos and podcasts, but beginning with the want ads and perusing the master’s programs advertising newsletters (if they are available to you) tells you what those in the field are really looking for so you can begin to design a program that carefully leads you into the profession.

Have you interviewed or hired a candidate who is still in school for a librarian position?  Yes! We have done this, but the interview team does not differentiate this in their questions for applicants for equity in the questions and answers sought. We would; however, – prior to choosing the current student for an interview – answer their questions or broach the issue of when we want this position to start – so that an applicant could see whether or not it is within their timeline to continue in this stage. Many institutions – mine for sure – frequently review open positions to see if something has been open for an inordinate amount of time and I never want to run the risk of having a delay placed on hiring because “I am not moving to fill it so I must not need it!”

How early is too early for a student to start applying? I think if they are in the first half of their program, applying is premature, but interest can be communicated as I explained in earlier answers.

Do you take into consideration the particular school a candidate has attended? Yes, I do as I have worked in library education and understand the concept of specificalizations vs. general offerings..what the different core elements of programs offer, etc. And now – given electronic opportunities – the environment of the internship, mentor opportunities, the capstone, etc. has expanded beyond a specific size city or educational community so students have a great expanded educational setting to choose from. 

Has a candidate’s GPA ever affected your decision to hire or interview a candidate? Frankly, no.but the real question here is do you look at the transcript and if so, what for? I look at starting classes, incompletes, false starts on programs of study but not necessarily negatively …you just have to ask someone how they arrived at a specialization area and then possibly a follow up on a primary field of interest or specialization with a secondary question on what is their “next choice.” A cautionary tale here is the resume that matches the transcript where a career focus is prominently displayed but it doesn’t match the position they are applying for…so an entry level general reference – as a manager/to me – doesn’t seem to be the best match to someone who has in their transcript a preservation focus – for example – with a resume that speaks to their love of conservator work and their ultimate goal of working in a museum as a map librarian. And for more of my opinion for this look at past blog postings on resumes, job applications, etc. for great advice on how to move from a narrowly defined specialization to a more general position to begin or enhance a career.

I do want to add in this posting – although I know it IS getting away from a certain theme of “when” someone should apply – an approach that shows my many years in the profession and is related to “Do I take into account the school someone has attended or more specifically for this column “is attending?” And that approach is – professions have leaders within library education and leaders within the profession-at-large who many students “want to study with” so this is a question in and of itself….Do you give preference or look for a student/applicant who has been mentored by or been a student of a specific library and information leader? My answer to this is absolutely…if I see that an applicant has worked with x or studied under Y or been mentored by x group, and especially if they have a reference from those people I am interested in them. I am also very interested in them because they are likely to have a specific ideology or work ethic or commitment to an EDI infrastructure infused into their learning. In addition, for many years pedagogy was the hallmark of many LS or I programs such as case method study (like business schools) and I knew students had, again – very likely – a more critical thinking approach to problem solving. 

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or written as a New Year’s resolution you immediately break. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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