Tag Archives: Public Service

Researcher’s Corner: Art Librarians’ Professional Paths

I’m excited to be able to give you another guest post by Eamon Tewell, who shared the results of his research on entry level positions for Academic librarians with us back in late November.  This post presents research which is reported more formally in:

Tewell, E. (2012). Art librarians’ professional paths: A careers survey with implications for prospective librarians. Art Libraries Journal, 37(1), 41-45.

Although this work deals specifically with art librarianship, his methods should be of interest to anyone beginning a library career – it strikes me as a good way of exploring potential trajectories, and the advice given by the subjects has broader applications.  I also find it an interesting look into librarians’ additional qualifications: what do we need in addition to the MLIS in order to find work?


I have always been intrigued by stories of how people chose librarianship as their career. A couple of years ago as a recent MLIS graduate with an interest in art libraries, I decided to ask professionals in this field about their career paths and any recommendations they had for those new to the profession. Additionally, I was curious to see what characteristics distinguished art librarianship from other specializations. I conducted a survey to attempt to answer these questions about how and why people selected art libraries as their workplace, as well as to solicit job search advice for prospective librarians.


I developed and sent an online survey to six email discussion lists related to art librarianship that represented several different areas of the world. For readers interested in art librarianship, I highly recommend subscribing to the listservs of the Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS-L) and the Association of College & Research Libraries’ Arts Section (ARTS-LIB). The survey had 33 questions that addressed professional art librarians’ education, current and previous positions, career goals, and advice for future art librarians. In particular, I sought insight into the following questions:

● Was art librarianship a career goal for most professionals currently in the field?
● Why do individuals choose a career in art librarianship?
● What factors contributed to current professionals successfully obtaining a position as an art librarian?


Summary: I received a total of 280 completed responses to the survey. The results show that art librarians most commonly work in academic settings (followed by museums), chose art librarianship while already employed in a library, have an educational background in the arts at the undergraduate or graduate level, and selected librarianship primarily because they were attracted to the duties of the job. Unexpectedly, in a field that’s highly concerned about the graying of the profession, there was a relatively even distribution among age groups between 27 and 62.

Job Duties: One-third of the survey respondents felt their job duties most closely resembled a combination of Public Services, Technical Services, and/or Digital Services, while one-quarter selected Public Services as their primary responsibility. This indicates that employment opportunities in art librarianship are more likely to require a rounded background combining multiple skillsets, and that Public Services is a particularly common job responsibility.

Education: 35 percent of the respondents received a degree in Art History and 12 percent in Art/Studio Art. A wide variety of subjects were represented, which suggests that an undergraduate-level education in the arts would enhance one’s success in becoming an art librarian, but is not necessarily required. Slightly more than half had obtained a second Master’s degree or its equivalent, with the most frequent areas of study being Art History (52 percent), Fine Arts (16 percent), or Architecture (11 percent).

Advice for Prospective Librarians

The survey respondents said that “Background in the arts” and “Experience” were the most significant factors towards obtaining their first position in an art library. Interestingly, 20 professionals mentioned “Luck” as a factor in finding a job. On the topic of how graduate students should best prepare themselves for today’s job market, the following key themes surfaced:

● Gain as much experience as possible. Many respondents mentioned internships as a good way to get practical experience while in school.
● Be willing to relocate if possible. This theme was summed up in one librarian’s advice to “be prepared to move for your first professional post – once you’ve got that experience you stand a much better chance of getting jobs you really want.”
● Networking is essential. One respondent recommended networking both in person and online, while another pointed out that “Networking might not secure you a job directly, but [it] will increase your confidence in the field.”

Most significantly, respondents urged those new to the profession to manage their career expectations, which may include settling for a less than perfect position initially and working towards opportunities better suited to long-term goals. While a small number of art librarians advised current graduate students not to pursue a specialty in art librarianship or a career in librarianship in general, a more widely-held view acknowledges that competition is fierce, and one must put in major effort to make their achievements stand out to potential employers.


Hearing about other professionals’ career paths, whether in art libraries or another specialization, can be very informative in terms of learning how others successfully found a position that suits their interests and needs. Much of the advice for prospective art librarians is applicable to prospective librarians as a whole. Gaining experience while in school, being open to relocation, and networking are all familiar but significant recommendations for recent graduates. Remaining flexible regarding initial job expectations may be the most important piece of advice to keep in mind. As one respondent encouraged, “Keep an open mind. Show willingness and enthusiasm. Don’t give up!”

Eamon Tewell is Reference Librarian at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, where he provides research, instruction, and outreach services. He earned his MLIS from Drexel University in 2008 and his BA from the University of Colorado at Denver. Eamon has published and presented on the topics of emerging technologies and popular media. He tweets at @eamontewell and can also be reached via eamontewell.comAcademia.edu, orLinkedIn.

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Filed under Academic, Researcher's Corner, Special

Researcher’s Corner: Education, Training and Recruitment of Special Collections Librarians

This post presents research by Kelli Hansen. As in Eamon Tewell’s research on jobs for Academic librarians, you’ll see that she finds that entry-level positions are scarce.  However, she also identifies characteristics and skills that candidates can cultivate to improve their chances, and I’m intrigued by her findings about the increasingly multi-disciplinary nature of these jobs.  I hope you enjoy this post, because I’m very proud to be able to share it with you.

This project started as a student paper in Michael Laird’s class on Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of Texas at Austin in spring 2009.  Some of our readings raised questions about employers’ expectations of new special collections librarians.  I was preparing to start my job search at the time, and I wondered whether some of the answers could be found in position advertisements.  Here’s what I found out.


For the purposes of this study, I was only interested in job ads for entry-level special collections librarians.  It was difficult to define entry-level because very few job advertisements suitable for recent graduates openly represent themselves as such.  Unexpectedly, it was also difficult to define special collections and even librarian.

In the end, my criteria for including advertisements were as follows:

  1. One year of experience or less; or, length of experience not specified; and
  2. No supervisory duties over other professionals; and
  3. Position assigned to special collections or rare books (with at least 50% of job duties in one of those areas); and
  4. Title and requirements that reflect training in librarianship (as opposed to training in archives, conservation, museum studies, or digitization).

I did not keep track of a total population of job advertisements because I did not intend to estimate the percentage of jobs available to new graduates.  I only wanted a snapshot of the skills and experience employers were looking for in entry-level applicants, and the responsibilities and environments recent graduates could expect in their first positions.

I had a hard time locating advertisements, primarily because of the ephemeral nature of online postings. Eighty-eight position announcements, culled from various print and electronic sources from 2004 to 2009, fit my criteria and were included in the study.


After I collected all of the advertisements, I broke down statistics for features like salary, professional status, geographic location, and institution type.  I found that the largest number of positions was in the Northeast.  The median salary was $40,000, and academic or research environments made up the overwhelming majority.  Over 75 percent required a single master’s degree – either the MLS or a master’s degree in a subject area.  About 30 percent of the advertisements specified that another advanced degree, in addition to the library degree, was preferred.  Almost half of the advertisements required the candidate to have some experience (of an unspecified amount), and over seventy percent of the advertisements stated that experience of some sort was preferred.

In order to measure more subjective requirements, I also did some basic text analysis on the qualifications sections for common keywords, which I classified into broad categories based on the white paper Competencies for Special Collections Professionals.   In the qualifications, keywords varied widely.  The most common single keywords were history, cataloging, and technology.  The competencies with the highest frequencies were Teaching and Research and Public Service, followed closely by Cataloging and Processing and Information Technology.

When I analyzed the duties sections of the advertisements in the same way, there was much less variation.  The most frequent single keywords for duties were reference and research.  The category with the highest frequency was Teaching and Research, appearing in 73 percent of advertisements.  However, the following categories all appeared in 72 percent of the advertisements: Management and Administration, Promotion and Outreach, and Public Service.  Cataloging and Processing was represented in 70 percent of advertisements.


To summarize very briefly, I reached some of the following conclusions:

  1.  Entry-level positions in special collections are scarce, and they aren’t so entry-level.  Like many library jobs, there’s an overwhelming preference for candidates with some prior experience.  Nearly a third of hiring institutions also prefer candidates with additional graduate education.  These facts indicate a very competitive job market.
  2. The job advertisements reflect overlap among libraries, archives, and museums.  There has been much talk about library-archive-museum convergence over the past decade, and the job announcements confirm that idea.  It may be useful for job seekers to cultivate skills and experience in all three areas.
  3. Institutions seem to be looking for candidates who are both generalists and specialists.  Most of the skills mentioned in the advertisements – reference, research support, instruction, cataloging – apply to librarians of all stripes.  However, the position responsibilities and requirements suggest that aspiring special collections librarians need to combine comprehensive library skills with specialized knowledge of subject areas and materials.

The Future

The full version of this research was published in RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage in September 2011.  I only touched on the surface with this article, and there’s still a lot to find out about hiring and training librarians in this field.  Feel free to contact me with any comments or questions.

Kelli Bruce Hansen earned her MSIS from the University of Texas at Austin in December 2010, and her MA in art history from the University of Missouri in 2003. Currently, she’s a librarian in the department of Special Collections and Rare Books at the University of Missouri Libraries, where she focuses on instruction, outreach, and reference. She can be contacted at hansenkb@missouri.edu.


Filed under Archives, Northeastern US, Researcher's Corner