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.
Maria Lin completed the original survey in 2013 and her answers appeared as Hire for work ethic first, past achievement second. We followed up with her in 2014 and learned she had found a job about a year after she started looking. Then we checked in again in 2016 and learned she was still in that job, with increased responsibilities and having had the chance to do some exciting professional development, such as attending the international antiquarian book fair in Tokyo.
She is still enjoying her career as a bookdealer, in that same job she had just found when we first followed up. She was kind enough to answer my questions below and to offer to answer your questions about the trade if you email her directly. You can also reach her on Tumblr or possibly via her little used Twitter account, @squeerocks.
Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?
I am still working as a bookdealer. I ended up in this position because I was frustrated with the lack of engagement with actual books in my LIS program, and was met with complete silence from all of the libraries that I was applying to in the leadup to my graduation. I had already attended the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) (full disclosure: I now work for the Seminar) and had been doing part-time work in the trade while a student, so when a dealer offered me a job I thought it would be a good fit. I didn’t know if it would be a stop gap into the library world or not, but it turned out to be a great career all its own and I have just passed 9 years with the business.
Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?
I fully intended to be an archivist, but library school beat me down a bit and I realized that I had 0 tolerance for bureaucratic nonsense, which is not a good personal trait if you’re looking to work in institutions! Bookselling was always on my radar, and it became a good fall back for me. I wouldn’t call it unexpected since I was actively looking for options there but it wasn’t plan A. I didn’t expect to stay at the same job for so long though. I got lucky there.
Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed?
If anything I’m more convinced that bookselling is a good career choice for library students who are looking for something different. A lot of booksellers were librarians or academics who wanted more independence or intellectual stimulation. And we need more people in the trade who are interested in many different types of books and collectors. There’s an active effort to make “rare books” more welcoming and a lot of training we get in library school is directly applicable.
Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?
I typically don’t have a say in hiring, which happens rarely and on a temporary basis most of the time. Getting a job with a dealer is pretty hard actually because they are small firms who do not typically post listings.
Do you have any advice for job hunters?
There are a number of orgs, like the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America, the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers, and regional orgs that can help you announce your interest in a job. But rare booksellers generally have narrow margins and few can afford employees. The good news is this is a business that is easy to get into on your own, the bad news is it takes either great persistence or a lot of capital to make a killing at it. I also know of librarians who moonlight with booksellers to do research or cataloging projects. This is a possible avenue for either a side hustle or dipping a toe in for a later career change.
Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?
Post the salary. The degree doesn’t indicate competence one way or the other and I still think work ethic and attitude are the most important things.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
Best of luck to my library land cousins!