Career Searching in the New Market
Where have all the library jobs gone? Between hiring freezes, outsourcing, and librarians retiring later than anticipated or never, new graduates and other job-seekers are hitting dead ends in the library market. Libraries frequently have multiple applicants for each job; sometimes dozens. Searchers need to stand out from the crowd now more than ever, and as the crowd grows, standing out becomes more difficult.
While lurking in chat rooms, board rooms, and lunch rooms, I gathered the following advice for career-seekers:
First, get the degree. For a career in libraries, the ALA-accredited Master's degree is worth the investment. It offers flexibility, choice, and almost always more pay. Although someone without a degree can still get a good position in a small library, if he/she moves to a larger city, the job opportunities drop significantly. Even worse, in a good library system, degreed librarians hoping to get into the door compete for clerk and tech positions. At one point, I had five circulation clerks who either had a degree or were in library school. I turned down college graduates for entry-level positions. A degree improves your odds for success.
Get library experience. Although the degree opens doors, employers want real-world experience. Volunteering, unpaid internships, and entry-level positions provide valuable experience dealing with people, translating classroom learning into reality, and filling in skills. A resume should show someone's experience, not how that person made a living. Therefore, an applicant should include unpaid experience as work history and show how that experience applies to the available job.
Show interest in the profession and network locally. A job-seeker should Join his/her state organization and volunteer for everything by watching listservs and other publications for opportunities. Getting up at 7 to stuff registration packets doesn't sound glamorous enough? Some of the least appealing tasks come with the greatest opportunities. Potential future employers will recognize that envelope-stuffers don't mind the mundane parts of a job, and the job seeker likely will not have to compete with other job seekers struggling to get noticed. For someone open to relocating, national organizations such as ALA provide opportunities for job seeking, primarily during conferences. If money and time are limited, being active in a local organization impresses employers more than simply paying the annual dues in a national organization.
Don't burn bridges, especially before crossing them. Every library has difficult patrons--those people who want special exceptions all the time, who gripe about everything, who lie or yell to avoid fines, or who complain to the mayor when their children come late to events and don't get the front row. It's shocking how many of our most abusive patrons applied for jobs, fully expecting to get them. Difficult patrons will become difficult employees. It's a bad employment sign when employees scream in horror or burst into tears as a patron turns in a resume.
Don't limit yourself. Many people find rewarding and profitable jobs outside of public, academic, or school libraries. Special libraries, corporate libraries, law firms, library vendors, and publishers often offer better hours, more opportunity for advancement, and good pay. Depending on the position and company, some corporate jobs provide more "librarian work" than libraries. For example, I spend about 95% of my work day on collection development. I have administrators who handle all non-librarian and non-manager tasks; I don't even know where to find copier paper.
Finally, keep listening. Many job seekers grow discouraged as they hear the same rejections over and over. We cannot change everything; cannot magically gain 3-5 years of library experience overnight. We can, however, consider feedback and change what we can control. For example, we can attend workshops on the newest trends, can stay current in professional reading, and can create and maintain a library-related website. By listening, we can learn as much during a job search as we learn during a job.
Ann Clapp is Manager of Collection Development Programs, Ingram Content Group .firstname.lastname@example.org