Where the &*!@*%;*%$#* are all the Library Jobs? Advice on what to do while you are waiting to join the workforce

3 Feb

A friend of mine asked me to call his nephew who graduated six months ago from library school and had yet to find a job. After our conversation, I thought I would put my advice on my blog, hopefully to inspire new graduates who have no job offers yet. If you are unaware of the unemployment plight of librarians, please read Andy Woodworth’s Unemployment in Libraryland response to a reader’s email. He hits the nail on the head for the causes; this blog post, however, is designed to help you get through the drought.

Advice to current graduate students:

  • Do a practical internship where you actually perform the duties of a librarian. Lack of reference experience is usually the number one reason for not making the first round of cuts in the job application process. At academic libraries, taking an information literacy course or having teaching experience is definitely a must.
  • Take as many discipline-specific reference courses as possible. Taking the business reference course at my program was the reason I was hired for two part-time positions when I first graduated.
  • Take the time to learn theory and stay abreast of new trends in the profession. Not being able to answer interview questions in a deep and meaningful way can kill your chances of being hired.
  • Get a mentor who is already in the profession. This can help with navigating the hiring process and finding out what common issues occur in the daily functioning of a library.
  • When you are applying for jobs, spend an insane amount of time on the library website: do a lit review of librarians (for academic positions) and make sure you address the required and desired qualifications of the position, as many libraries rank you based on demonstrating those requirements.

Four things to do to improve your chances of getting a librarian position OR ways to keep yourself occupied while waiting to get hired…

Join a professional association: Take advantage of student pricing and join an association. Getting involved in an association can help jumpstart your job hunt. It can be a way to meet your future employers or learn about job leads before they are advertised. Joining local associations will give you the best results because they are both cheaper than national association memberships and give you more opportunities to volunteer for committees or work on statewide conferences. Volunteering to report on workshops or sessions of a conference can help get your name known and bolster your curriculum vitae.

Consider Alternative Positions: Part-time, temporary contracts and project-based positions are other options to consider. While these are not  full-time jobs, they will assist you in getting practical experience and a chance to develop specific skills that may be useful for full-time positions. Try for the library type where you want to ultimately work at first, but keep in mind that almost any library will help you develop your philosophy of reference, becoming familiar with cataloging, and using library technologies.

Volunteer or apply for a non-librarian position in the library where you want to work: Applying for a paraprofessional position may be the short term way to “break into” the library of your choice. It will allow you to get a feel for the library culture where you want to work and help you become a familiar face for any professional positions that arise. As a graduate student in library school, I got a position working in the reserve area of the university library for the explicit purpose of having an advantage when graduate student positions opened up in the reference area. I got the position because I knew the librarians and my supervisors put in a good word. This experience was vital for getting hired after I graduated.

Get on Twitter: Just as associations can help with networking, Twitter is great way to cast a wider net and “meet” librarians from all over the world. It serves the dual purpose of staying current with library trends and allows you to virtually attend conferences by following conference hashtags (for example #ACRL2011 and #ALAannual). I have had a number of professional opportunities develop by being active on Twitter and partnering with newer and established librarians.

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23 Responses to “Where the &*!@*%;*%$#* are all the Library Jobs? Advice on what to do while you are waiting to join the workforce”

  1. Kate February 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

    One other aspect that’s not addressed (and this is in the profession as a whole) is NOT working in a library with an MLS. It’s not a curse word, it’s not the Evil Empire. You can take your MLS and go work for a vendor (like I do), related positions in other industries (I just interviewed last week with Rainbow Media Holdings as a Metadata Consultant), the “IS” side (user experience, web design, etc.). If you have significant corporate/business experience (like I have), it’s a good way to transfer those skills. There’s so much more you can do with the MLS, and I find it appalling that library schools still push this “go work in a library” when they know the jobs are few and far between.

    Also, don’t cherry pick this advice. You should be doing ALL these things.

    • Emme February 4, 2011 at 9:32 pm #

      Ah, all good advice. I have done each and everything on that list– to no avail. Though I just finished my MLIS in December, I have been searching for a library position for one year. I have interned in two libraries and I have worked for 1.5 years as a reference librarian in the past. I haven’t given up– but I have accepted a fast food, minimum wage job, because I have to go on living in the meantime. This is not a great time to be coming out of library school

  2. ranti February 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    A suggestion re: advice to current students: take a workshop on salary negotiation.

  3. Variegated Stacks February 4, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Thanks again for elaborating on what you can do to make yourself employable. Things that I would like to see in the future within or outside of MLS programs is the idea of gaining skills that you can take with you. In my opinion, I feel like the Information/Library industry is moving and changing to become a entrepreneurial/business model. I don’t get scared when I see more libraries embracing the business model. As a library professional, I provide services- people count on me for my ability to provide access to articles/books. I agree 100% with your advice on how to shape one’s resume/experience in order to get full-time employment in the library field. The best advice I can give: If you think that spending 2+ yrs earning your MLS and have NEVER done one of the following things: (1)volunteered, (2)conducted an informational career interview, (3) desire to become mobile, (4) stay knowledgeable about the trends in your field of expertise…the chances of you getting a library-related job are not good.

  4. another recent MSLIS grad February 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    I did all of these things and it doesn’t matter. Unfortunately,I was a career changer when I started grad school. I didn’t have previous library experience other than internships. Due to the terrible economy, I wasn’t able to get one of those entry-level library jobs when I was in school. So, I did unpaid internships, as many as possible. I couldn’t do them full-time because, um, I had to support myself. I networked. I went to conferences. I presented a poster at the ALA Annual conference. None of it mattered. No one even looks at my resume. A degree without the requisite 2 years of *paid* experience just isn’t enough. Oh, and the accepting a para-professional job, like a position as a library assistant? Look, I’d be more than happy to get paid $8 and hour to be a library clerk, but my resume gets passed over for those jobs too. Yeah, they don’t hire you for those jobs if you have a grad degree because they’d have to pay you more. So, now I’m paying off $20,000 in student loans and back to doing exactly the sort of thing I went to grad school to avoid ever having to do again–working in an office. I wish I’d realized before I started grad school that there was a reason everyone else in my classes was already working in a library in some capacity. Because the field is closed to newcomers. My hopes and dreams have basically been crushed.

    • Marta Jones February 13, 2011 at 4:19 pm #

      I know exactly where you are coming from, and to top it off, my temporary library job just ended, (which is of course the very nature of a temp job), leaving me holding the bag of a large-ish student loan, and the lease to a crumby apartment. Don’t give up, we will find our niche in this crap market.

    • Pigbitin Mad May 2, 2011 at 6:03 pm #

      And the comment about working as a paraprofessional may work in public libraries, but in an academic library, you don’t have an ice cube’s chance in hell. You basically need a second master (and somehow 2 years of post graduate library work….but nobody ever explains how to get post grad work before you graduate…the old Catch 22).

      I had FOUR YEARS of support staff experience in an academic library and it didn’t do me a lick of good because the MLS people all walked around with their noses in the air acting like they were brain surgeons. It’s like, I KNOW the degree is a joke and it is nothing to be all that proud of. This is the reason no one can get hired out of school.

  5. Nancy Bleakley February 4, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    Not only do new graduates have trouble getting positions, those of us who re-locate, have an MLS and 10+ years of experience have trouble just finding an opening, especially in the public library world. I’ve recently started working as a reference librarian AFTER 6 months of looking for a position that was not just for internal hires, and TWO YEARS working as a circulation aide. The reference job is only 20 hours per week.

  6. T.Miles February 5, 2011 at 2:32 am #

    I would suggest applying for two year fellowships which are normally reserved for new graduates. This will give you experience as well as a decent salary and the opportunity to find a good job after completing the fellowship. Many of the people that I took classes with were people who already worked in the library for sometime and decided to get the degree or older people who decided to make a career change. I felt like an anomaly, a person with no prior experience that hadn’t done anything before and only wanted to become a librarian. Whether I am “working” in a library or delivering newspapers I am a librarian. I would say to all of my fellow job searchers don’t be discouraged after all we are librarians the most resourceful people on earth who can find the most obscure information for anyone seeking it surely we can find a job!

    • tiffinianne February 5, 2011 at 3:50 am #

      Couldn’t have said it better!
      Ps UC Santa Barbara is recruiting for such a position right now!

  7. Cally February 5, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    This is all really good advice and I can say I’m doing all of the above, that it has all lead me closer to finding a job. The thing is this is all easier said then done. If I wasn’t in the position I am in I wouldn’t be able to do many of what you advise. How can you attend workshops and afford to be members of associations when you don’t have much money, need to live, and you have student loans to pay off? What no one says in these posts is that finding work in this field and any other is mostly luck and knowing the right people at the right time. I’ve networked quite alot in the passed three years trying to find employment, it’s hard when people like you, would like to give you a job, but can’t due to lack of funds.

    • Ellie February 6, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

      Is this comment real? Or is it a subtle joke on the ALA? Or if it is real, is it perhaps the subtlest joke of all?

    • Cally February 7, 2011 at 5:57 am #

      I remember this I read about a few months ago when it was called out as a possible hoax. You can read more about it here:

      http://blog.libraryjournal.com/annoyedlibrarian/2010/10/18/library-job-bonanza/

      • tiffinianne February 7, 2011 at 6:57 am #

        I was pretty suspect of that post too- and wasn’t sure if it was legit- thanks for verifying my feeling it was spammy:-) read the annoyed librarian post if you wanna know what I removed

  8. O.C. February 7, 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    Aside from all of this advice, which is very good, I’ve got a crucial suggestion: Be sure that you are writing effective applications for library jobs.

    I’ve been involved in hiring for several academic library positions in the past few years and have been shocked at the consistently poor quality of the resumes and applications we’ve received. I’m talking about spelling and grammatical errors, the failure to describe your skills in terms of this particular position, the failure to present yourself in a positive light. When we’ve received well written, effective cover letters and resumes we have almost always given that candidate an interview. That’s how rare good applications have been.

    I’m not going to go into more specifics here, because as librarians you all have research skills. Research how to write an effective cover letter and resume. Seriously, even if you THINK you’ve been writing high quality materials, please, for your own sake, research this and check them.

    From my perspective this is a much, much, much bigger problem than the specifics of anyone’s professional experience.

    • tiffinianne February 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm #

      Absolutely! I suggest having someone read over your application for errors or missing elements

  9. R. Quick February 23, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    I too was a recent MLIS grad and sent out at least 40 applications in my final semester (with almost no responses). I completed a practicum and contributed online and was trying to do everything the right way. One huge obstacle in my search was the fact that I focused on finding a position in my home state of California (I was living in San Diego), possibly the worst state to try to find a library position. There are so many experienced librarians looking for jobs in CA, why would they hire me? I called on every contact I had to no avail. As soon as I realized that I should start looking in places that 1. didn’t have a million new librarians (ie San Jose) and 2. in areas that not everyone wanted to live (ie LA, SF, NY, Seattle), I found my applications getting more attention and I landed a job before I graduated. I still consider myself lucky, but if you want to work as a librarian sometimes you have to move where the jobs are (just like the early librarians did years ago). I realize that this is hard for some people to do, but if you are mobile and hungry you will find work.

  10. Alisa March 21, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    All great advice, and yes, sometimes it is about knowing the right people at the right time. But have you all considered jobs NOT in a ‘traditional’ library setting? What about corporate information management? Records, archiving and document management? Researcher? Analyst?I’m currently doing my masters in LIS (my undergrad degree is in Business). I work in aviation as a technical library co ordinator in the Engineering and Maintenance department of an airline. All I’m saying is, don’t limit your opportunities.

  11. Mandy June 23, 2011 at 10:31 pm #

    I graduated with my degree this past May and I’m still looking for a job. I performed my practicum with the library where I currently work, although I’m not sure that helped me as much as I thought it would. I work as a library clerk now, but it’s only part-time work. I’ve had some interviews, but am still waiting for that big break. I know, I know…it’s been a month! Still looking for ideas on how to promote myself more effectively. I belong to ALA and the library association for the state where I live, and I’m going to a conference in October. I’m not sure what else I can do. Seek out internships perhaps?

  12. Jonthan September 13, 2011 at 6:06 am #

    This is a great article. I’m frustrated too as like Mandy I too graduated this past May. I’ve been filling out application after application. I really want a museum/archival position but would settle for a library position too. I graduated with a 4.0 grade-point average, I also have a bachelors degree in History and have completed TWO internships, one at a museum during my BA and one at a museum library both with an archival/cataloging focus. So far I’ve only landed two interviews, both for the state prison and I’m waiting to hear back but have a feeling at this point in time I didn’t get them. I mean, I look at my qualifications sometimes and go “what am I, a ham sandwich?” I had one interview set up for a simple library job that I could have easily performed at an elementary school. It wasn’t a job from the state, it was through the PTA or something like that, the principal said she would call me back the following week because interviews were being held on Friday. I waited until that Thursday and when I called, she wasn’t there.

    I left a message, never got a call back and when I called back an hour later she picked up and was like “who are you?” “uh, I just left you a message…” “OH! Well, we had so many applicants that we decided not to interview you.” Of course I had asked if she wanted my resume but she said they weren’t taking them. Maybe if she had seen it it would have been different. I’ve also worked with kids before at my church but she wouldn’t have known that either. What made me really upset wasn’t the fact that I didn’t get the interview, its that the principal said she would call me later that week and never did. Probably decided as soon as they decided not to interview me to not call me which was really rude, she should have at least called me to let me know not to come in…

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