April 6, 2010 8:57 PM   Subscribe

Straight to the next leg of the librarian rat race?

I'm in my last semester of an MLS. degree, full time, and also working 30 hours a week as a school librarian. I would like to become an academic librarian, mainly because I have a Ph.D. in another humanities field, but I am not entirely in love with the idea and I am willing to look for work in other libraries.

I have done well in my courses and have forced the pace (I enrolled in fall 2008 and have been taking courses continuously). By this point (with two term papers yet to be written) I feel stressed out and exhausted.

Emotionally I can't tackle applying for academic library positions while finishing up my coursework, even though this is when the positions are being advertised. The applications would be pro forma and would be treated as such.

I'm willing to work "full time" on the job applications after I finish school in May. Since I already am employed and am able to save money, I am not in a hurry but I am worried that I might have to commit to another year at my present workplace. I took the job to put myself through library school and do not want to make a career of it; it is a stressful place on its own, as the school takes inner-city students with special needs.

I am fantasizing about taking time off to travel, though this is not in the cards because I will need the money if I have to quit my present job before I find another. Short of travel, I want a vacation of the sort that normal working people have but professionals are expected not to have -- that is, to come home from work, turn on the TV (or open a book, since I'm not a TV person) and do NOTHING, same on weekends, or spend the time getting back into physical shape. Is this a bad idea or can I stop beating myself up?
posted by bad grammar to Education (16 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Honestly, if your ultimate goal is a job in academic librarianship you are putting yourself at a disadvantage by not applying now. Having a phd is great, but any open academic librarian job (unless it is horribly specialized like Turkish Cataloging) is going to have dozens if not close to a hundred or more people applying for it. If you have a decent resume and can put together a coherent sounding cover letter it is worth it to take the time (even if it is one afternoon every other weekend) to put together some applications and send them out. Getting an academic librarian job is as much luck as anything else and by skipping the current cycle you will be doing yourself a disservice. Also, having the bright shiny glow of being a current LIS student can be a good thing when applying for jobs.
posted by gnat at 9:44 PM on April 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Can you look for 9-month academic positions? Might be heartening, at least. I know that Evergreen State posted a few recently.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:56 PM on April 6, 2010

I understand you feeling overwhelmed. What about outsourcing to someone with experience that can take the resumes/CV/cover letters you have on file, update them, and send them off to appropriate schools?
posted by saucysault at 9:59 PM on April 6, 2010

Are you somehow thinking being an academic librarian necessarily means being tenure track? Because this isn't the case at all. I wouldn't let this issue dissuade you at all from academic librarianship. Being an academic librarian is like having a normal job, in many situations. Look for jobs that aren't tenure-track, or that have only perfunctory requirements for librarians to get tenure. Honestly, many librarians prefer jobs that don't have tenure issues at all. I don't think there are prestige issues linked to tenure, at least not for most librarians I know (some at ARL libraries).

Some non-tt librarians do publish, but it's hardly a requirement for all academic librarians.

As for other issues you raised: positions get advertised year-round--academic libraries don't necessarily hire on an academic calendar. But you're right that a few months before you graduate is the time to start applying.

It took me a long time to really finesse my cover letter writing skills. Start now, when you can depend on your classmates and profs for feedback. It may be a while before you really get in a groove. And it may take dozens of letters before you get an interview.

The job market is pretty flooded right now. I wouldn't wait. Your fastest path to relaxation is to get that job which will give you more money, less stress, and lots of free time after work and on the weekends.

It does sound like you are asking permission for delay your job search. Of course you can give that to yourself, but I'd really advise working on at least one job application to get you started. Use it as a break from your papers.

School will be over soon--the end is in sight! Good luck.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:13 PM on April 6, 2010

One more comment: I know you are stressed, but are you really feeling like librarianship is a rat race? Because it really shouldn't feel that way.

Feel free to MeMail me if you want to chat more.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:14 PM on April 6, 2010

Having a PhD is key for academia and gives you a gigantic leg-up, that combined with any library experience, which you have, should really shine.

2nding saucysault to outsource if you need to, and is there anyway you can schedule yourself to just work an hour or so later one nite to at least have a little downtime the next night?

And congrats on your case of senioritis! The end is in sight and will be here before you know it!
posted by cestmoi15 at 2:41 AM on April 7, 2010

First, by the end of my MLS program I *hated* libraries. I wanted to be done with them, forever! I have a friend who put it as "grad school is the only thing that makes you study something you love until you hate it". I had a part-time library job and after graduation spent a few months zoning out with just the part-time job.

That said, it still took me 6 months to find an MLS job, so I ended up going into debt. Only you can decide if you want to risk credit card debt for a little recuperation time. I'd also be afraid it would take even longer to find a library job now.

However, as others have mentioned, the humanities PhD is great for academic libraries. So I'm going to have slightly different advice: do you know what type of academic library job you want? You mention "not being in love with the idea" - do you mean not being in love with working at an academic library?

The reason I ask is: if you know what type of job you really want, and see it come up in the next few months, then *absolutely* buck up and apply for it. Humanities reference/instruction librarian jobs (for which you'd be strongest) don't come up all that often. Library jobs don't come up that often, in this economy. So figure out what your ideal job posting looks like, and keep an eye for at least those few, and absolutely apply.

Sorry. It stinks, applying on top of everything else. If it makes you feel better, I too was ready to run away after grad school, but honestly, since finding a job will likely take 4-6 months or more, you'll probably have plenty of time to relax. (And if you land a job right away, see if you can postpone your start date by a few weeks!)
posted by lillygog at 5:27 AM on April 7, 2010

Assuming you have a particular type of academic librarian job you want (which is not clear from your post -- do you want to work in Reference? Instruction? Technical Services?), creating a "template" cover letter is not too hard.

I took advantage of my school's career service, made a basic cover letter and ran it by a few academic librarians who hired people and made changes. Then for the next six months, every time I saw a job that looked good, I cut and pasted the requirements into my template, removing things that the template already covered, did a very small amount of rewriting to address stuff specific to the job, and sent the package off. After two or three sessions, I could apply to 3-4 jobs in an hour without much stress.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:35 AM on April 7, 2010

Library school is a stupid hassle. Library work is not (well, it could be, depending on the library, but on a whole, it's pretty laid back).

You pushed to work 30 hours a week and go to gradschool fulltime. If you don't keep up with that tempo, a lot of that pushing would be for nothing.

Your work experience makes you a pretty viable candidate. Your PhD could be a double edged sword, though. On one hand, a PhD will make it harder for us snooty academic librarians to poo-poo you for "just" being a school librarian. On the other hand, it may make you appear overqualified. So you need to cast your net wide early and often. I'm pretty sure you can find the right match.

GenjiandProust has it for setting your application pace. Get your resume/CV together, get a rough template cover letter that you can alter to fit the job you're applying to, and then start sending out applications.

Don't forget to reward yourself for all your work! Maybe for every job applied to, you take a day off after graduation? Or perhaps you should apply to some distant jobs in cities you would like to visit, thus combining a vacation and an interview in one trip.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:57 AM on April 7, 2010

I'm not quite sure what you're asking for, but listen to what your stress levels are telling you.

Some of your feelings, I'm willing to bet, will pass. All of the amazing librarians I know felt like they couldn't WAIT to finish their master's degree and many were considering chucking the whole enterprise at the end. But persevere. The right academic library job is the best job you will ever have.

If you can afford (financially) to take some time off, however it works, I wouldn't worry about that looking bad for future job applications. You will have a PhD and MLS in the bank, and if you do something productive, that you can explain well, during that time, I don't think it's a huge deal. Could you do some research or writing while you recharged your batteries? Having a few more publications on the CV is always a leg up in hiring. I think academic libraries are a bit more understanding about an "unconventional" career path than some other settings.

Also, the job market may well have improved by the time you're really ready to look. I don't think that by not keeping up the pace you will have wasted all your hard work -- there are times to push hard, times to wait, times to recharge yourself.

Good luck and welcome to the club!

Full disclosure: while I am a librarian, I last applied for (and got) an academic librarian job in 1996 -- I realize these are different times. I'm currently back in school getting a PhD in information science, which is a whole separate sphere of insanity.
posted by pantarei70 at 6:21 AM on April 7, 2010

Even though I am not a librarian I do work in a library . A lot of time we hire the part time librarians or the ones that are in school when they graduate instead of hiring new ones.

So if you dont right away apply to a library right now as an intern of sorts you will be at a severe disadvantage.
posted by majortom1981 at 9:59 AM on April 7, 2010

I'm sorry, and I realize that it might hurt my chances but I cannot handle the job applications RIGHT NOW without having a panic attack and making everything much worse. Besides the papers, I have a large number of smaller assignments. I am feeling overwhelmed and cognitively overloaded. I am having attention problems. I have nobody to talk to.

I realize that apart from the Ph.D., my academic library readiness is not strong (lack of experience aside from college work-study), but I might prefer a different work situation even if I don't get to use my subject experience. I am ambivalent about the academic setting and I am having flashbacks to academic interviews that didn't go well. I tried for several years to get an academic teaching position and it didn't work.

If I have to do the applications now they will be scattershot and worthless.

I grok what you are saying about competition, but I am repelled by a society that has a meat-grinder attitude towards all its members except the masters and owners, and I see the results at my workplace daily. I don't like the degree of hierarchy that I see in the traditional college or university. I want to go where I am needed, not use some subordinate's head as a stepladder. I would like to impart my knowledge of classical history, but I have become sickened by what it has come to stand for in the public eye (see Victor Davis Hanson).

In short, if I have to have a nervous breakdown to get an academic library job, I would choose some other job, and I wouldn't mind explaining that my work at the school has shifted my direction; in fact, it might seem more comprehensible.
posted by bad grammar at 5:39 PM on April 7, 2010

Forgive me if this is making an incorrect assumption, and feel free to ignore, but it doesn't sound like you've honed in on the type of library job you'd like. A lot of academic librarian jobs involve teaching and dealing with students, which it sounds like you're a little burnt-out on. But there are a lot of digital projects (text encoding etc.) that might be able to take advantage of a humanities PhD, as long as you're comfortable with the technology. So if I can be really pushy and tell you what to do: if you decide to take some time off, maybe use that time to figure out your dream library job, and even job shadow a few people.

If it helps, the stressful time is almost over -- many librarians I know went through the same thing, as many of us worked while going to grad school, and it can get very unpleasantly busy at the end. So good luck!
posted by lillygog at 6:58 PM on April 7, 2010

Not sure what your question is, then.
posted by unknowncommand at 9:18 PM on April 7, 2010

Not trying to be snarky, though. Maybe you could rephrase?
posted by unknowncommand at 9:21 PM on April 7, 2010 sound like you need to take a break. Whether or not it's "wise" to take one, well, that's life. Just take a vacation, volunteer at an academic library post-MLIS if you can stand the thought, and get a handle on what kind of library you want to work in. You will definitely not be getting a job with the attitude you've expressed in followup comments, I can tell you that much without meaning to knock what you're saying and very much empathizing with you (last year at this time...).

Honestly, most people do tend to know what kind of library they want to work in at this point in their library school career, but that's ok, I understand that you're too overwhelmed to think. That's another very good reason to take a step back and some time off. You really need to figure that out--academic libraries can be *very* snotty and if they think you're interested in public or school libraries as well, you just won't get the same consideration as other candidates. Please note that there are plenty of academic libraries that are not snotty at all, so don't let descriptions send you into a panic attack; you need to actually GO and investigate academic libraries near you. Talk to the librarians there, and not just in reference. That will help your decision.

If this will help your stress level, consider this as a plan: take a break. After/during the break, volunteer at an academic library or try to get a part-time job (not always possible, but there might be a pool reference position or something). In the fall, look at open positions. There will be some--someone ALWAYS quits at an inconvenient time, and there's always something open over fall and winter. Not much, so you're definitely going to have to think about whether you can handle unemployment, but you don't sound like you can handle a job interview right now, so that's that. Really think about what you want to do; do you even want to stay in libraries? Maybe you want to work at a special library (have you even considered that?)? Or in cataloging, with less face to face contact? There's a million different options, and I'm a little worried that you're fixated on one--academic librarian--simply because of your PhD. Break, meditate, volunteer, come back.
posted by librarylis at 12:25 AM on April 8, 2010

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