Tag Archives: American Library Association

Author’s Corner: Launching Your Career through Professional Service

After so much recently for new graduates, I’m pleased to present today’s post by Linda Crook and Dawn Lowe Wincentsen.  They are the editors of Mid-Career Library and Information Professionals: A Leadership Primer, a resource which might be of interest to those of you who have established a toehold, and want to know how to get even further up LIS mountain.  In this post, Crook and Wincentsen each share a personal anecdote, which should give you a feel for the style of their book: personal and easy-to-read.

Mid Career Library and Information Professionals


Linda Crook: My Time as NMRT President

As I prepared to write about my involvement with NMRT, my first thought was “I’m getting tired of telling this story.” Upon reflection, however, I realized that it’s the story itself that is the key. By launching my career through professional service, I have given a shape to my career. I have created a narrative that illustrates my growth and accomplishments.
Although I earned my MLIS in 2000, my career didn’t start until 2007, when I went to ALA Midwinter. I shyly attended the New Members Round Table informal “meet and greet,” and it was love at first sight. I participated in two committees my first year in NMRT, and chaired a committee the following year. I was elected NMRT Networking Director, a 2-year board position, which was one of the ways I made a connection with Dawn. As I completed that term, I was elected to a three-year NMRT Presidential term (one year each as Vice President, President, and Past President). As my past-presidential year winds down, my NMRT service demonstrates my development in the profession, and it’s a great stepping-off place for the next adventure.

Around the central narrative of my career are the hundreds or thousands of connections I’ve made with library workers and library students. Any of those relationships could become a bigger part of the story as I continue on my way. I met Dawn through NMRT service, and that connection and our conversations created the opportunity to co-edit a book together. All of the NMRT Board members for the past several years have had the opportunity to work closely with Courtney Young, who launched her career with professional service in an epic way. We all have the opportunity to shape the narrative of our career through professional service, whether we want to go straight up the ladder, specialize in one area, or explore a range of options. I am proud of the career I have shaped with NMRT, and I know that relationship will continue to nourish my soul long after my term in NMRT has ended.

Dawn Lowe Wincentsen:What I Have Learned by Saying Yes

It was a sunny day in Louisiana (as many days are,) and I said yes. No, it was not a proposal, it was a volunteer opportunity.  That first time was to be part of the Graduate Information Science Student Association (GLISSA) in the School of Library and Information Science (SLIS) at Louisiana State University (LSU). The next time was a to a colleague who suggested I volunteer for an NMRT committee.  It all began to snowball after that. I would see an opportunity on a listserve and I would say yes. A colleague would mention a committee in need and I would say yes. I have gotten better, and more selective since then, but along the way I have learned quite a lot.

It was a warm summer day in Chicago a few years later. I was at the American Library Association Annual conference. Linda and I were having a conversation that led to a twitter discussion on a book idea. In that case we both said yes, and co-edited, “Mid-Career Library and Information Professionals: A Leadership Primer.” The connections made through saying yes are just as important as the skills developed, if not more so.

Earlier this year I put together my promotion portfolio, basically a review of everything I have done over the last five years. In this review included all of my committees, from those on campus to national organizations, each one doing something a bit different. This review reminded me that I have worked on many different projects from developing policy to allocating funds to event planning. Each of these builds a bit different of a skill set. Each of these skill sets is then something I can come to when needed, either in my professional life, or my volunteer life.

I no longer wait for opportunity to come knocking. I go out to find it. I look on listserves and web pages of associations. I send letters to people putting together committees, I show up to meetings and events – even if only virtually when travel is a barrier. I put myself out there. This is something that employers look for, people who are willing to come to them, and put themselves out there, to develop new skills, and adapt to new situations. All of this makes me more marketable as a librarian.

So, don’t wait for sunny days, and opportunity to come to you, go find it, and say yes.  Build new skills, and make new connections.


Linda CrookLinda Crook is Reference Team Leader & Science Librarian at Washington State University in Pullman, WA. She earned her MLIS at the University of Washington in 2000, and earned a Certificate of Advanced Studies in Health Sciences Librarianship at the University of Pittsburgh in 2011. She is current Past President of the ALA New Members Round Table, and co-editor of, “Mid-career library and information professionals: a leadership primer.” She has recently started job hunting in Eugene, OR

Dawn Lowe WincentsenDawn Lowe Wincentsen is the Wilsonville Campus Librarian at Oregon Institute of Technology. She graduated with her MLIS from Louisiana State university in 2003, has previously worked at Florida State University, and Louisiana State University, and is the co-author of “A Leadership Primer for New Librarians“ (2008) and co-editor of, “Mid-career library and information professionals: a leadership primer.”

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Job Hunter’s Web Guide: ACRL Residency Interest Group

It seems that each year, the number of LIS graduates increases, and the number of entry-level jobs decreases.  And the bar for those jobs is set higher and higher.  It is difficult for new grads to get their feet on the path to becoming future library leaders.  I’m interested in what we, as a profession, are doing about this problem.  

So I’m glad to present a resource which may really help new grads: the ACRL Residency Interest group.  Residencies provide a structured entrance into the profession, and the ACRL group, along with it’s associated website, provides some good insight into how you can obtain such an entrance.  Hannah K. Lee, who is the Outgoing Convener of the ACRL Residency Interest Group as well as Assistant Librarian, University of Delaware Library, Student Multimedia Design Center, was kind enough to answer my questions about the site and the group.


ACRL Residency Interest Group

What is it? Please give us your elevator speech!

The Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) Residency Interest Group (RIG) is a group of library residents (both current and former), residency program coordinators, library administrators, diversity officers, and human resources professionals from across the country. A residency is post-degree work experience, often from one to three years, designed as an entry level program for recent graduates of library and information science programs. The aim of this group is to encourage interested parties to more broadly share their expertise regarding residency programs and to make it both available and accessible for future residents and coordinators. It was also founded as a resource for newer members, particularly library school students, who may be considering a residency program upon graduation.

When was it started? Why was it started?

In 2008, ACRL amended their bylaws allowing for communities to be created within ACRL that had a specific area of focus but that weren’t represented by Discussion Groups or Sections. They called these Interest Groups. An interest group is a network of individuals who have come together to share their knowledge and expertise with one another, and to help solve problems across organizational boundaries with those who may face similar challenges. The Residency Interest Group was the very first Interest Group to be formed by ACRL.

We have several goals:

  • To centralize information regarding residency program availability
  • To maintain a directory of past and present program participants
  • To garner interest and support for the group’s activities through the production of research projects related to residency programs
  • To serve as an information clearinghouse and resource for institutions planning, managing, or researching residency programs
  • To support potential residents, new graduates, and early career librarians in their professional development through a variety of resources including guest writers, podcasts, and downloadable documentation

Who runs it?

RIG is completely volunteer-based and is part of ACRL’s committee structure. ACRL, in turn, is a division within the American Library Association (ALA). RIG’s leadership includes the incoming convener, convener, outgoing convener, and web editors.

Are you a “career expert”? What are your qualifications?

I wouldn’t consider myself a career “expert,” and librarianship isn’t my first career. But I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’m always happy to give advice to new graduates and job seekers. As a college student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I dabbled in every possible field you can image– psychology, French, architecture, chemistry, history, photography– before eventually graduating with a B.A. in English Literature and a minor in Education. I started my professional career as a high school English teacher in Chicago, where I taught British Literature and Film Studies. I then set my sights abroad, and ended up teaching in the Paris, France region for a couple of years at the junior high level. I returned to the States—and to my alma mater– to continue my studies at the graduate level. While at the U of I, I taught various rhetoric and composition courses, including ART 250: Writing with Video. I received my M.A in English with a specialization in Writing Studies in 2008 and my M.S. in Library and Information Science in 2009. I have worked as a Substitute Adult Services Reference Librarian at the Urbana Free Library, as a Librarian Intern at Harper College Library in Palatine, IL, and as an Affiliate Assistant Librarian and Pauline A. Young Resident at the Student Multimedia Design Center at the University of Delaware Library. I’m currently an Assistant Librarian in the Student Multimedia Design Center. The Center is a one of the largest multimedia facilities in an academic library in the nation. During my residency, my responsibilities included assisting students in creating multimedia content, collaborating on interdepartmental library projects such as videos and interactive tutorials, digital literacy instruction, and staff and student training, among others. In my permanent position, I began a program for multimedia literacy instruction that was launched in Fall 2012. I work collaboratively with faculty across departments, consulting with them on assignment design and teaching class sessions on digital storytelling, production basics, video editing, etc.

Who is your target audience?

Our target audience is new library and information science graduates as well as people who are interested in starting library residency programs.

What’s the best way to use your site? Should users consult it daily? Or as needed? Should they already know what they need help with, or can they just noodle around?

For recent graduates who are looking for a job, the best way to use the site is to consult it on a regular basis to see if there are any new residency positions that have opened up. They can also subscribe to the Residency Interest Group listserv, because most of the jobs that are posted on the website also get sent out through the listserv. To subscribe to the listserv, go to http://lists.ala.org/sympa. We also have regular posts from current and former residents in our Residency Diaries series, and although we haven’t had a podcast recently, we also have a Newbie Dispatches podcast series on a variety of topics of interest to new librarians.

Does your site provide:

√ Job Listings √ Answers to reader questions √ Interviews
√ Articles/literature √ Links √ Research √ The opportunity for interaction

Should readers also look for you on social media? 

√ Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/ACRL-Residency-Interest-Group/113621396297?fref=ts

Do you charge for anything on your site?

No

Can you share any stories about job hunters that found positions after using your site?

I actually found my residency through the ACRL Residency Interest Group! I hadn’t even heard of residencies when I was in library school, and I stumbled upon a job ad for a residency program when I was searching for jobs. This piqued my interest, and I started looking for other residency programs. I came across the Residency Interest Group website and subscribed to the listserv, and not too long after, there was a posting for a job opening at the University of Delaware for their Pauline A Young Residency program. I applied for the position, and one thing led to another to bring me to where I am today. My residency was for two years, but they ended up offering me a permanent position midway through my residency. I’m still at the University of Delaware, and am very thankful for my experiences as a resident.

Anything else you’d like to share with my readers about your site in particular, or about library hiring/job hunting in general?

Hannah LeeDon’t get discouraged! It might take a few tries to get your dream job, but in the meantime, don’t be afraid of taking on positions to help build up your experience. If you want to work in a university library, you might have to move to a location you’re not familiar with. If you want to develop your career as an academic librarian, it’s something that you’ll have to seriously consider. Good luck!

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Filed under Academic, Entry Level, Job Hunters Web Guide, MLIS Students

Treat both the position and applicants as professionals

digres hunting lodgeThis anonymous interview is with a job hunter who is not currently employed (even if part-time or in an unrelated field), has not been hired within the last two months, and has been looking for a new position for  a year to 18 months. This person is looking in Academic libraries, Archives, Public libraries, and Special libraries, at the following levels: Requiring at least two years of experience, Supervisory, Department Head, Senior Librarian, and Special Librarian.  This job hunter is in an urban area of the Midwestern US, and when asked if willing to move, said:

After relocating for a spouse’s job, relocating for mine would not make sense.

What are the top three things you’re looking for in a job?

Intellectually interesting
A genuine way to make a difference to users
A good place/institution and group of people to work for and with

Where do you look for open positions?

ALA, SAA, SLA, LinkedIn, regional library job boards, INALJ digest, Indeed, Archives Gig, and specific area employers whose jobs don’t make it to any of the above

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

√ Other: I expect it and while its not a red flag, it does give me pause when an employer doesn’t list it, especially if the employer is large.

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

The cover letter (business format) is the piece that takes the longest every time since it is customized. My resume/CV usually stays pretty consistent from packet to packet unless I see the need to alter it to emphasize skills the employer is looking for.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

√ No

When would you like employers to contact you?

√ To acknowledge my application
√ To follow-up after an interview
√ Once the position has been filled, even if it’s not me
√ Other:  I only expect selection-stage contact if the applicant pool is large.

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

√ Other: All of the above is fine; whatever works for the employer.

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

√ Tour of facility
√ Meeting department members/potential co-workers
√ Being able to present

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Be honest and upfront. Say what the salary range is from the get-go. Treat both the position and applicants as professionals. Treating a job as a para-professional position when you clearly require professional (and mid-career professional at that) qualifications is unfair and disrespectful to applicants and the institution in the long run since it won’t be able to attract the top candidates.

If you are an academic institution, don’t automatically discount someone who hasn’t spent their entire career in academia.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

Who knows. If I knew that, I’d be a millionaire.

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one?  Check it out!

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Researcher’s Corner: What are the Qualifications for an Entry-Level Music Librarian?

I’m pleased to introduce another guest post by Joe Clark, who described his research into nine years of job postings on the Music Library Association Job List and identified job trends for us here.

This post delves more deeply into the specific qualifications desired in entry-level positions.  While his research is specific to music librarians, I think there are wider implications for entry-level expectations across disciplines.

Please do click through and read his more formal account of this research, which was published last March in the journal of the Music Library Association. Notes is open access, so the entire article is available online here for free.


So you graduate with your M.L.I.S. degree ready to land your first professional job, but realize that institutions are asking for skills and experiences you didn’t learn in graduate school. Now what?

A firm understanding of the skills, knowledge, and experiences that employers want will give you a leg up in a tight job market. Not only does music librarianship require subject-specific knowledge, but sub-fields within music librarianship differ in required and desired abilities and experiences.

The Study

I examined all of the position announcements on the Music Library Association’s Placement Service Job List from 2008 through 2011 and identified those open to entry-level librarians. I then classed each position into one of five types: 1) public service, 2) cataloging, 3) administrative, 4) hybrid, or 5) archival. Hybrid positions involve work in both public and technical services, while administrative librarians might run a small library as well as catalog, provide reference, and supervise staff and budgets.

I recorded the required and desired traits, abilities, knowledge, and experience for each position by job type, and then compiled the data. I also totaled the numbers for all of the music library positions, which provided a broad picture of what employers wanted in music librarianship entry-level hires. I broke traits sought into the following categories: education, personal attributes, social attributes, experience, general knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs), and technological KSAs.

Results

Most of the entry-level music librarianship positions were in academic librarianship (95%). Twenty-eight percent of the vacancies were in public services, while the remaining four job types comprised between 17 and 19 percent of the advertisements.

As I examined all of the entry-level positions, it became quite clear what employers wanted in terms of education (other than the M.L.I.S. degree, which was a prerequisite for all of the jobs): 72% of positions required or preferred an undergraduate degree in music or the equivalent, and 40% desired a second graduate degree in music. Some public service and archival posts sought completion of music/arts library classes, while 27% of cataloging vacancies required cataloging coursework. A course in archival/preservation techniques was listed in 10% of all vacancies, and this figure was over half for jobs in archival environments.

The most commonly listed personal attributes included organizational skills/ability to prioritize, self-motivation, and flexibility/ability to handle multiple demands. Aptitude for scholarly production and professional development and analytical/problem solving skills appeared less frequently.

Excellent written and oral skills was the most commonly listed trait and the top social attribute. Other required or preferred social attributes included collaborative skills and a strong commitment to public services.

Previous library experience was desired in 42% of the listings, and appeared most commonly in administrative positions and least frequently in public service jobs. Experience with specific skills were also sought; cataloging was required or preferred in 36% of the announcements, and 30% wanted experience in reference and instruction.

The most common general KSA was reading knowledge of foreign languages, required for 25% and preferred for 19% of the jobs. Many of the other general KSAs were specific to the job responsibilities; for example, knowledge of AACR2, LCSH, and MARC21 was needed for positions that involved cataloging (including archive and hybrid posts).

Conclusions

In conclusion, institutions are looking for more than just an M.L.I.S.; they seek well-rounded individuals who can effectively communicate, collaborates, prioritizes, values excellent services, and self-motivates. These skills are in addition to subject expertise, which is highly valued in music librarianship. One should keep in mind that search committee members may want to see other qualifications not mentioned in advertisements.

The entire article, “What Employers Want: Entry-Level Qualifications for Music Librarians,” was published in the March 2013 issue of Notes (69:3), pages 472-493. All preferred and required qualifications for each job type that appeared in more than 8% of the announcements are detailed in the original article.  Feel free to contact me with questions or comments.


Joe Clark

Joe Clark is the Head of the Performing Arts Library at Kent State University. He has published articles in Notes: Quarterly Journal of the Music Library Association, Fontes Artis Musicae, Serials Review, Journal of Library Innovation and The Journal of Academic Librarianship. His research interests include employment trends in music librarianship, collection management, library administration, and American music. He is currently the Placement Officer for the Music Library Association.

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Rewrite the Job ad for readability and with realistic expectations

A hunter and his dog quail hunting De Funiak Springs, FloridaThis anonymous interview is with a job hunter who is not currently employed (even if part-time or in an unrelated field), has not been hired within the last two months, and has been looking for a new position for Less than six months.This person is looking in Academic libraries, Library vendors/service providers, Public libraries, and Special libraries, at the following levels: Entry level, Requiring at least two years of experience, and Supervisory.

This job hunter is in an urban area in the Northeastern US and is not willing to move.

What are the top three things you’re looking for in a job?

1. A collegial environment where information is shared readily and all stakeholders are included without second thought.
2. A learning environment where professional development activities are encouraged.
3. An environment where taking on increasing levels of responsibility is possible and encouraged.

Where do you look for open positions?

ALA Joblist, INALJ, LinkedIn, LibGIG (on twitter), HigherEdjobs, SLA, LISjobs, #libjobs RSS feed. I also check on job posting pages of specific places I have researched as places I’d like to work.

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

No (even if I might think it *should* be)

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

I first locate the employer. I am bound by location so the job has to be within commuter distance. Then I research the employer to decide if it will be a good fit for me. Then I study the job ad and redraft my resume to highlight those skills that match the job ad. Lastly, I write a cover letter for the job to emphasize how my skills and experience will contribute to the workplace. Lastly, I put all of that information into the job system if necessary. The whole process takes up to 4 to 8 hours.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

No

When would you like employers to contact you?

To acknowledge my application
To tell me if I have or have not been selected to move on to the interview stage
Once the position has been filled, even if it’s not me

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

Phone for good news, email for bad news

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

Meeting department members/potential co-workers
Being able to present

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Rewrite the job ad for readability and with realistic expectations. I find most job ads are dry reads with poorly constructed bullet point lists of qualifications. Many job ads have lists upon lists of qualifications that only someone in the job for 5 years could have. There doesn’t seem to be room for learning and growth on the job anymore.

What should employers do to make the hiring process less painful?

The job systems are so difficult to get through. I wish there was a better way to submit applications.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

Network, network, network. After that, a sparkling cover letter and resume that match the job ad perfectly.

Do you have any comments, or are there any other questions you think we should add to this survey?

Thanks for all you do to help library job hunters!

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one? Check it out!

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Author’s Corner: Jump-Start Your Career as a Digital Librarian

Our friends at the Library and Information Technology Association have published a brand new guide to becoming a digital librarian. I’m very grateful to editor Jane Monson, who has written today’s guest post. Not only will you get a glimpse of some of the topics covered in the book, but she’s put together some great advice for library students and entry level librarians.


During the past decade or so, the job title of “digital librarian” has become increasingly common as more and more libraries move their content and services online. In my recently published book, Jump-Start Your Career as a Digital Librarian: A LITA Guide, the specifics skills needed to position oneself for a job in this brave new world of librarianship – among them, familiarity with metadata, digital preservation, and web development – are explained by a cadre of experienced professionals in the field. Jump start your career as a digital librarianHowever, when it comes to job searching, the would-be digital librarian faces the same challenges as any other new professional: namely, to stand out in an over-crowded field and somehow find a position that balances both desires (to land a dream job) and needs (to pay the bills).

With that in mind, I would like to share a few kernels of wisdom that both the book’s contributors and I have gathered in our own employment searches, as well as our experiences serving on hiring committees. Much of this advice is specific to entry-level librarians, as they are usually the ones with the greatest obstacles to employment.

  1. Lay the groundwork during library school. In their chapter, “Getting the Most Out of Library School,” authors Micah Vandegrift and Annie Pho discuss ways that the savvy student can take optimal advantage of the opportunities available in library school and emerge as a desirable job candidate. They recommend surveying the job landscape early and often (ideally, before you even begin school); being creative with your coursework and fashioning your own specialty if your program doesn’t offer exactly what you want; putting in work through part-time jobs, practicums, internships, and volunteer work; and connecting with others through online and traditional venues. Knowing what skills employers are looking for by scanning job ads is a good way to target courses and part-time jobs that will give you the best experience in your chosen area. Some schools offer specialized tracks (for example, in digital libraries), but if yours doesn’t you can often create a close approximation using the DIY approach, cobbling together courses from other departments and initiating independent studies. Be willing to spend time outside of school teaching yourself relevant technology skills and keeping up on the latest journals and trade publications. Take advantage of any opportunity to attend professional conferences and workshops, and don’t be afraid to jump into online networking to get your face and name out there.
  2. Get as much work experience as you can while in school. Of the items listed above, “putting in work” may well be the most critical. It seems unfair, but the sad truth is that employment begets employment. Many a new librarian, digital or otherwise, has complained that employers seem unwilling to train new hires with little prior experience. Therefore, one of your main jobs while in library school is to train yourself, outside of the classroom. Don’t graduate without at least one volunteer gig, graduate assistantship, or other library-related job on your resume (and ideally several). If this isn’t possible for you to do, think carefully about your decision to enter library school – unless, of course, you already have significant library work experience prior to enrolling, or you don’t plan on using the degree to work in a library. When choosing a graduate program, weigh heavily the opportunities for students to find work in libraries on campus and in the surrounding area. These experiences are often more important than the classes you take.
  3. Be willing to relocate. There may be some fields that will easily allow you to go to school, undertake a career, and retire all in the same place. Librarianship, unfortunately, is not generally one of them. One important point that Elyssa Sanner and Catherine Wagner make in the chapter “Landing Your First Job,” is that unless you are willing to wait around for a relevant position to open up in your geographic area, the surest way to find a job after graduation is to cast your net as widely as possible. This is not to say that no one ever finds jobs within a targeted location, but these jobs are more likely to require a compromise – they may be part-time, or not in the area you trained for. Limiting yourself geographically may not allow you to make the best use of your library degree, and is bound to make the job search that much more difficult and drawn-out. A reality of librarianship today is that you may have to “pay your dues” by taking that all-important first job in a less than desirable location. But once you have those first years under your belt, you will have much more leverage to go after your dream job in your dream place.

The book has many more tips for navigating library school, applying for your first job in the field, transitioning from one area of librarianship to another, and further developing your career (Roy Tennant has some great advice in this chapter). It offers a wealth of information for both digital- and non-digital librarians alike, culled from the collective wisdom of more than twenty contributing authors – many of them hiring librarians themselves. I’m sure I can speak for all of them in wishing you good luck in your job search!


Jane Monson

Jane Monson received her MLS from the University of Iowa, where she was an IMLS Digital Libraries Fellow. She is currently Digital Initiatives Librarian at the University of Northern Colorado; previous to that she was Digital Projects Librarian at Truman State University. She has been published in Computers in Libraries, is a book reviewer for the Journal of Electronic Resources Librarianship, and serves on various ALA editorial committees.

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Filed under Author's Corner, Entry Level, Guest Posts, MLIS Students, Web/Computer Services

Author’s Corner: A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market

Today’s post is an excerpt from A Librarian’s Guide to an Uncertain Job Market, by Jeanette Woodward (2011. Chicago,IL: American Library Association). It’s got some excellent, very specific advice about the work you can do to be an engaged and smart job hunter. I’m happy to be able to share it with you.


For Applications that Make the Cut, Do Your Homework

At some point in the near future, you hope to be sitting opposite a library administrator or search committee convincing them that you are the best applicant for the job. However, that meeting will undoubtedly be preceded by many, many small steps. The secret is preparation and that preparation must begin long before the interview.

Focusing On the Job and the Employer

Actually, it all begins as soon as you discover the job announcement. Once you’ve decided that this is an opening you may want to pursue, immediately begin learning more. You’ll need to investigate not only the job itself but also the library and the people, especially senior staff, who work in that library. All of us, I suppose, tend to focus on ourselves. The people to whom you are sending your application are thinking not about you but about themselves and their library. They have a problem- in other words, there is work that’s not getting done and plans that are not being implemented. They are interested in how someone might solve their problem and how well that someone might fit into their world. Your task is not so much to tell them about yourself as to focus on their need.

What the Ad Really Says

Begin by examining the job ad carefully. Check to see if there are other versions online (the library’s own website may have a much longer and more complete announcement since some job lists charge by the word). You can do this by taking an exact phrase from the announcement, enclosing it in quotes, and pasting it into a search engine. Assemble all the versions you can find and keep your fingers crossed that they were written by a librarian and not a human resource professional. What do they really seem to be looking for? How is this announcement different from others you’ve seen for similar jobs? In one sense, your challenge is to become a mind reader.
The job that’s open in this particular library is unique. In many ways, it’s unlike other jobs with identical job titles in other libraries because this library has evolved differently. It has different goals, different needs, and a different cast of characters. Can you read between the lines to discover what these people are really looking for? Focus on them, not yourself. Don’t begin comparing your skills and experience with their requirements until you really understand what they are looking for.

Obtaining More Information

How can you find out more about this position? What do you already know about the library? Your friends and colleagues usually provide the best insights so ask around. Use your social network to get all the information you can. Is this a new position or is the opening the result of a recent resignation? It’s helpful to know whether you will be following in someone else’s footsteps or will help create a new position. Have two positions been merged and would you be expected to do both? These situations have their advantages and disadvantages but it’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into.

a librarian's guide to an uncertain job marketWhen the Library is Far From Home

At the moment, the job market is far from sunny so you may be applying to libraries far distant from home. If this is the case, you’re going to have to do some real detective work and as a librarian, you’re better equipped for the task than job applicants in other fields. Use the Internet to find out all you can about the libraries in which you’re interested, in other words the staff size, names and titles of senior librarians, budget, etc.
If the announcement asks you to reply to someone other than a human resource administrator, find out who that person is. You can probably gather enough information to make some educated guesses about the people who will make the hiring decision. Learning about the human side of libraries will help you better understand what they’re looking for. LIS professionals are so well represented online that you can often learn a lot about them as individuals including their perspectives and preferences. Some of the information will be useful in the cover letter and if you make the cut, it will be invaluable in the interview.

Investigate the Community

Also gather enough information to decide whether this is a place where you’d like to live. Find out about the cost of living, especially the cost of housing, the unemployment rate, the schools if you have children, and other quality of life indicators. As we all know, statistics can be boring and seemingly meaningless. Don’t just look up numbers. What do the numbers really say? Compare them with your home community. Consider whether unemployment numbers are improving or budget cuts have been so draconian that basic services like education and police protection are inadequate. Be sure to bookmark local newspapers to get a feeling for how residents view their area. Though you may be feeling somewhat desperate, you don’t want to have to go through this again. Job hunting takes a lot out of you both financially and psychologically. You’re looking for a stable, supportive environment where you can recharge your batteries and grow professionally. There really and truly are jobs that you should avoid.


Jeannette Woodward is a principal of Wind River Library and Nonprofit Consulting. After a career in academic library administration, most recently as Assistant Director of the David Adamany Library at Wayne State University, she began a second career in public libraries as the Director of the Fremont County Library System in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains of Wyoming.

Woodward is the author of several books including “The Transformed Library: Ebooks, Expeertise, and Evolution,” “Countdown to a New Library, 2nd Edition” (ALA 2010), “The Customer-Driven Academic Library” (ALA, 2008), “What Every Librarian Should Know about Electronic Privacy” (Libraries Unlimited, 2007), “Creating the Customer Driven Library: Building on the Bookstore Model” (ALA, 2005). She is also the author of “Writing Research Papers: Investigating Resources in Cyberspace”(McGraw Hill, 1999) and “Finding a Job after 50: Reinvent Yourself for the 21st Century” (Career Press, 2007). She holds a masters degree in library and information science from Rutgers University with doctoral study at the University of Texas at Austin.

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