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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?


Introduction

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.

Methods

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?

Findings

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.

Conclusion

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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Researcher’s Corner: Entry Level Job Opportunities for Academic Librarians

I’m very happy to be able to share Eamon Tewell’s research with you here, not only because I think the subject matter is very relevant for many of you readers, but because he did such a wonderful job of writing this informal summary. If you’d like to read a more formal, thorough account, follow the link to Project Muse, or search for the article cited below:

Tewell, E. (2012). Employment opportunities for new academic librarians: Assessing the availability of entry level jobs. portal: Libraries and the Academy, 12(4), 407-423.

Rather than being disheartened by the rather bleak results, I hope that this research will spur us to continue discussing how we can make more job opportunities for librarians, entry level and otherwise.  Please feel free to add your comments below.


Introduction

As a recent graduate seeking a professional position in an academic library, I spent most of a year looking for a job suitable for someone without a great deal of experience. Anecdotally, it seemed that many postings were for administrative positions that required years of post-MLS experience. Where were the entry level academic library jobs? Further, I wondered, what types of academic settings and which departments offered the most opportunities? These are two questions I attempted to answer by conducting research, of which the full version can be found at Project Muse (institutional subscription required). One goal of the article was to shed light on the reality of the job market for recent graduates–a market which new librarians know to be extremely challenging but for which little data exists to back up this assertion.

Methods

To examine the state of the academic library job market, I went directly to the job listings. Many articles that study job postings fail to take into account the many positions that are now advertised almost exclusively online in a wide variety of places. With this in mind, I used 22 different sources representing national, regional, and local listings to collect a total of 1385 job advertisements over a one year period from 2010-2011. These sources included national job aggregators (such as I Need A Library Job), regional listings (like ACRL/New York’s Job Listings), and human resources departments for individual institutions to make sure the maximum number of postings were found. A listing of the sources used to find job advertisements is included in the full article.

Defining which positions were and were not entry level was key. Using previous articles on similar topics as a basis, I reached the criteria that jobs were to be considered entry level if they required:

1. An ALA-accredited Masters of Library Science degree or its equivalent;

2. One or fewer years of experience;

3. No experience or duties that entry level librarians typically do not possess (supervising other professionals, administrative experience, etc.)

For each advertisement found, the level of position (entry level, non-entry level due to experience requirements, non-entry level due to job duties, and administrative), institution type (university, college, community college, or other), location (state and region), department, and job type were all noted.

Findings

Of the many findings, here are two that I found to be most interesting and relevant to job seekers:

  • Nearly three-quarters of the 1385 positions were non-entry level owing to either experience or duty requirements, confirming what those in the academic library job market already know: finding an entry level job to even apply for can be a challenge.
  • Twenty percent of positions were entry level, and public services (such as reference or instruction) accounted for sixty percent of entry level positions, a significant majority. Administrative and part time/temporary jobs accounted for the remainder of the jobs.

Given the relatively small number of jobs that recent graduates can viably apply for, I looked at what types of institutions and locations are more likely to offer positions.

  • Applicants for entry level jobs will have better chances finding a position in a university, where nearly seventy percent of all postings were found.
  • The distribution of advertisements among the four major U.S. regions was relatively even, though slightly more positions were based in the South and Northeast. The number of jobs in each state corresponded roughly to the state’s population, with New York and California offering the highest number of opportunities.
  • Certain specialties are more likely to offer positions, particularly Administration and Public Services. In terms of entry level work, the data suggested that recent graduates have the most prospects in Public Services and Electronic Services.

To begin to address the major question of whether the candidates being hired for entry level jobs actually had experience that matched those requirements, I emailed the Human Resources departments at 47 institutions to determine the experience backgrounds of successful hires. Through their responses I found that a large majority of the candidates hired for entry level positions had two years or more of professional experience, demonstrating the impact of potentially unexpected competition on the outcome of entry level job searches.

Conclusion

In the current academic library market, entry level positions are greatly outnumbered by jobs requiring years of experience and duties beyond the reach of new librarians. Seeking work in particular settings or within certain specializations is one way to increase your chances of landing your first job, but that may not be enough. Recent graduates lacking practical experience may find securing professional employment to be a huge challenge, which is why I and many others cannot overemphasize the importance of securing internships or pre-professional work prior to graduating with your MLS. Despite these difficulties, it is my hope that with more facts regarding the realities of the job market, everyone involved in or thinking about joining the library field can make more informed decisions regarding their career paths and goals.


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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