Half-way between calm analysis and outright panic mode
September 13, 2011 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I'll be graduating with my Master of Library Science in the spring of 2012. My focus has been with diverse populations and technology training. I want to work in a public library when I graduate, but I'm a little daunted by the public sector job market (and just the general job market). What should I be doing to increase my chances for employment as much as possible, and what can I do to make possible unemployed job searching as painless as possible.

Here are some details.
  • I'd been working in public libraries for about 4 years before I decided to attend grad school full time. I already have a large amount of work experience in public libraries, specifically with technology training.
  • My current work history is split between two jobs. One is in food service, and I'd prefer not to put that on my resume (but I think I could use it for applicable experience). My other job isn't exactly a research assistant, but I am assisting with research. This is also in the field of technology training.
  • My student loan debt is going to be less than 40 grand (I hope!) and is being assisted by a scholarship for my current, and final year. I know about the program that lets government workers erase their debt after 10 years of working within a government agency, but is there anything else I can consider to defer or ease my loan situation, just in case I'm unemployed in the long term?
My specific questions are:

1) Should I be sending out resumes right now, even without my MLS? If so, then what are good job boards for public library positions (I know about ALA and my college's listserv, but I'm curious about resources I may be missing)?
2) Are there private sector positions that are only looking for an MLS, and might be relatively sheltered from the current job market doom and gloom?
3) I've heard people talk about informational interviews, but I know that public institutions are cash and time-strapped, so I'm not sure how this would fly.
4) I plan on learning Spanish this year. Is there anything else I could do on my own free time (hah) that will look good on my resume?

posted by codacorolla to Work & Money (21 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
You're right to be daunted by the public sector job market. Libraries especially.
1) Yes, send them out. Subscribe to publib-l for job openings if you're sure you want to stay in publics.
2) Yes, "special" or "corporate" libraries, or records managers. I'm not saying these jobs are sheltered, but they are sometimes private sector. Also, law firms. These jobs are likey to pay better than public libraries too.
3) Sure, librarians tend to be giving of our time for stuff like this. Ask around, you'll find one easy.
4) Write. Make a web site. Write more. Volunteer/internship. Network. Your #3 idea is good way to work on your resume. Find ways to open doors!

It will help you GREATLY if you are mobile and are willing to move anywhere, and don't expect your first job to pay much or be the perfect job. Your "technology training" experience is likely to help. Work on improving that.
posted by Blake at 7:39 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

You can work in Canada thanks to NAFTA. I look at the Partnership Job Board and FIS personally.
posted by saucysault at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) Yes. Many jobs have a long wait between posting and start date. Even if you don't get a call for that position, you'll be getting experience writing cover letters for the kind of jobs you want, and if you're lucky even some interview experience.
2) Lots of non-typical organizations hire librarians. If you're interested in this, the jobs should be posted on usual library job boards.
3) Do you still know people at the public library you used to work at? Call them up for a chat.
4) This is a great question to ask in informational interviews. It will depend a lot on the community you want to work in. Get to know librarians you admire, in person or online - they can let you know about jobs, talk you up to other people who may be hiring, help with your applications, etc. And yes, be prepared to pack up your life and move anywhere in the spring.
posted by kyla at 7:48 AM on September 13, 2011

I've mostly worked in academic libraries, so I can't speak to all of your questions, but....

3.) Informational interviews - yes! Even if they are strapped for time, librarians generally love to talk about their work with interested people. And you will likely get some good information about your number 4).
posted by pantarei70 at 7:49 AM on September 13, 2011

1. Yeah, I would start sending out resumes right now; hiring can (potentially) take a long, long time, and many places are willing to hire you provisionally or contingent on finishing your degree. I wish I had started earlier. LISjobs.com is a good place to look. Also, check the state library associations in any state in which you're willing to work; they all have job boards.

2. Can't speak to this one...

3. I think this would be well worth doing. If they don't have time for you, they'll say 'no', but there are a lot of librarians eager to talk about this stuff.

4. Web development was really helpful for me to know. Nothing too in depth, but understanding how websites, HTML, CSS work has been invaluable. Basic networking troubleshooting also. This will especially be helpful in smaller institutions - at our library we have ONE network person for three buildings, and she can't be everywhere at once. The ability to fix our own tech problems is key. Anything you can do to increase your skills in this area, and to show concretely that you can do it, would probably give you a bit of a leg up.

Strongly agree on the need for flexibility in terms of location and willingness to take a job that's not a 'perfect fit' at the outset. Also, can't stress this enough, DO YOUR RESEARCH BEFORE YOU APPLY. Public libraries are amazingly diverse and the more you can tailor your resumes and cover letters to the institution, the better.
posted by Knicke at 7:50 AM on September 13, 2011

And I was sending out resumes (and getting responses) halfway through my MLIS programme.
posted by saucysault at 7:50 AM on September 13, 2011

I graduated with an MLS last year. The public sector is .... awful, at least in my area. I can't get a job as page, even with a ton of library experience. I looked for months before I started applying to different types of jobs.

I now work for a tech start-up that valued my information technology background and attention to detail. I am very happy here and although I miss library work, I do not miss being unemployed.
posted by amicamentis at 7:54 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

1) Send our resumes the sooner, the better.
2) There are private sector positions but no one is sheltered from the doom and gloom of the job market. Sometimes they want a few years of experience in their industry though. I am a special librarian--was laid off in 2009, now working as a contractor from home.
3) Go ahead and try to arrange a couple of these interviews
4) Does your state have public library certification? Do you have yours?
posted by sandra194 at 7:56 AM on September 13, 2011

Like Blake said, your chances will improve greatly if you're willing to move anywhere and take any professional full-time librarian position. Don't try to specialize at this point.

Many states have online library job boards (example), often hosted by state libraries or state branches of the ALA.

Sign up for a slew of listservs. I'm in two (Web4lib and ili-l), and there are at least two new jobs posted every day.
posted by John Farrier at 8:11 AM on September 13, 2011

Yes, send out your resumes. The hiring process can be painfully slow in some organizations (I had been working six months for a non profit when the academics started calling for interviews, back when the market was booming). Give yourself as much lead time as possible.

Are you willing to relocate? That will be a factor in the private sector - noting that you're in MD, you're dealing with competition from the DC area as well - so relocation would be helpful if possible. (You can always boomerang back when you've got a resume with more depth.) You may want to investigate attending a Maryland or DC chapter SLA event and doing some networking. Ask how the members feel about the jobs in the area. I keep an eye on the jobs posted within 4 hours of my city (which includes your area) and DC seems to be posting the most.

Also, if you're interested in private sector, go for it concerning informational interviews. I think even corporate/special "non traditional" librarians are happy to talk about their jobs. Our local SLA chapter often sets up "mentoring lunches" where members offer to take students out to lunch and do the interviews there. If DC/Maryland chapters have a student liaison, reach out to them and see if they do something similar.
posted by librarianamy at 8:11 AM on September 13, 2011

Another thing you can be doing is to make contacts and improve your network. Go to association meetings and serve on committees if you can. Experience, contacts and the ability to relocate will improve your chances. Good luck and/or break a leg!
posted by haunted by Leonard Cohen at 8:27 AM on September 13, 2011

Before going after 3), be sure you have some understanding of the library's workflows. I had a MLIS student show up at my (academic) library last week wanting to arrange for an informational interview with me - all the while me and my staff are running around like chickens with our heads cut off because it was the first week of classes. Definitely email ahead of time, first to gauge interest then to set up a time.

Contacts really help in this market, so be sure not to boggle setting them up to start with!
posted by robocop is bleeding at 8:57 AM on September 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Be ready to relocate.
Start networking now. Identify places you might want to work, and cultivate relationships with important people there. Committees and regional associations are great for this.
That said, it's tough out there right now. Keep trying, but have a plan B. Like maybe this.
posted by willpie at 8:59 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh hey welcome to the profession, though I'd already marked you as a colleague in the "Mark librarian contributions" script [you can run greasemonkey and install it and see the other library people on MetaFilter]. It's a tough market, true. So it's not so much that you want to find the perfect job as much as convince a job that you like that you are the best person for it. It's good that you have technology training experience, there are libraries around lately where I am [New England-ish] that have ARRA money that they are using to beef up people's technology skills.

It's worth keeping in mind that if you get an okay-paying library job that you may be able to supplement it with technology work of a sort. I fll in part time at my local library and the pay is terrible (but I love the work) but I also teach adult education classes of the "meet your mac" variety and the pay for that is great (and I also love the work).

I strongly agree that joining a professional assocaition and attending meetins or going to conferences is a great way to meet people and have them meet you. This is especially important if you don't have the ability to relocate for whatever reason. There's not a lot of turnover in library jobs, so you'd best meet the people you'll be working with for the next 20-30 years. You might have more luck going local like a state or regional group over a national group. Where I am, for example, there's an interest group [the IT section of the New England Library Association] that puts on a lot of great continuing education conferences that are good for keeping your skills sharp but also meeting people. If you're good in front of a group, consider giving presentations at these sorts of things [you might even bring in a little money, but it's also a great way to demonstrate your skills in front of peopel who may be hiring in the future] in areas of your specialty.

As far as other skills, knowing your way around CMSes like WordPress or Drupal will give you a leg up and might fill a need that a library has. Similarly if you have any experience at all with open source online catalog software [Evergreen, Koha, mostly] that will be useful. There are library consortiums that are often looking for people with experience to help them with helping libraries transition. Additionally the support/service companies that libraries do tech contracts for [Equinox and ByWater are the two major ones, I'd stay away from LibLime personally] that hire a lot of librarians. Good jobs if you like travel.

Mainly though you want to stress your experience and your general tech chops, ability to learn and knowledge of systems that libraries will already be using. A lot of communication still happens on mailing lists, so sign up for a few, even if you mostly just shunt them into email folders and dig into them every few days. It's good to know the names of the people in your area.

Above all, try to maintain a decent mindset if you can. It's a tight market, sure, but I've seen a lot of people even recently getting pretty good jobs. They are out there, they're just very competitive, so you need to think about what you can do to set yourself apart from all the competition. Good luck, feel free to email me if there are other thigns I can help with.
posted by jessamyn at 9:10 AM on September 13, 2011 [4 favorites]

A somewhat random collection of job-search and MLIS tips:

If you haven't checked out Hack Library School yet, hop to it - this site is full of useful information for making the most of your MLIS and, increasingly, tips for early-career librarians.

A bit of job-search advice I posted on this thread:

"You would think that librarians would simply kick ass at searching for jobs, given our incredible searching skills...but I haven't found this to be the case. (ETA: Although I'm sure many do thorough searches - not trying to diss librarians here! Just referring to conversations I've had about job searching with other n00brarians.) I've encountered librarians who search 1 or 2 sites and leave it at that! A thorough library job search includes national listings (like LIS Jobs & ALA), at least a few library school-provided job sites (like UTexas & Drexel), state/province/local library association job sites (like the Vermont Library Association site, Bay Area Library & Information Network), and any specialty-related job sites (like the Medical Library Association and Special Library Association sites, as well as their local off-shoots).

At least among many of my friends, motivation is the biggest problem in their job search. If you make a deal with yourself to apply within 24 hours (or whatever short time frame) after seeing a good job opportunity, you'll increase the number of apps you send and the number of chances you have. "


As other folks have said, networking is the other main way to get jobs. Various figures are offered but safe to say that *many* jobs are unadvertised. I've gotten part-time/summer work this way. All networking entails is meeting library folks and being friendly. Some people think of "networking" as something kinda sleazy. If you're one of them, I humbly suggest that you work hard to challenge that image and remove any barriers to getting out there and meeting lots of librarians. An organization I'm really fond of uses the saying "your network is your nest egg," and I've really found this to be the case in librarianship.

One more thing - focusing on your professional development is an excellent thing to do. As you're working to build your experience and your resume, remember that teamwork is highly valued in most workplaces (library and not). Give yourself credit where credit is due, but also remember the people who have contributed to your success. More importantly, be able to discuss how you've worked with them - the "teamwork question" has come up in nearly every job interview I've had.
posted by brackish.line at 10:40 AM on September 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

My library hires through GovernmentJobs.com.
My library is hiring right now through GovernmentJobs.com, Librarian III full-time. Just sayin'.
posted by carsonb at 10:43 AM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh! I almost forgot about this post from last year! Good advice in there.
posted by Blake at 11:57 AM on September 13, 2011

A lot of public libraries have pretty weird ways of hiring so you're going to want to check in with all the systems in your area (or the areas you'd relocate to). For example, here in San Francisco, you submit a resume during certain times of the year and they rank you on a list. If you rank high enough then they send you notices of openings. The openings aren't posted anywhere publicly though. But Berkeley and Oakland do post openings "normally."

So unfortunately you kind of have to cobble together a way of checking a bunch of websites. I use Google Reader for this. If you happen to be interested in the Bay Area memail me, and I'll send you the full rundown of sites I know about.
posted by grapesaresour at 12:10 PM on September 13, 2011

Lots of great advice above, but will add one little thing. While I was finishing up library school, I desperately searched for jobs in libraries, but ended up going with a medical editor job that relied heavily on skills (technical, search, etc.) that are typical of librarians. I thought that meant I would never end up in a library. Happily, I was wrong. Two years later, I ended up in my dream job as a medical librarian, based in no small part to my nonlibrary experience as a medical editor.

There are potentially lots of ways to help the public without working in a public library. Think about nonprofits who work with underrepresented populations, who may need someone to teach computer classes or provide help similar to a reference librarian job. They may want all your skills but have no thought to hiring someone with a MLS.

So don't limit yourself to looking for jobs in libraries. And not to be trite, but think outside the box, especially in this economy. Don't get me wrong - getting a library job is awesome, but so is any job that advances your skills, prospects, and whatnot. You can always move back into a library.

And definitely start sending out your resume now.
posted by southpaw at 1:06 PM on September 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're interested in a particular library, it's totally okay to call up the HR department/City offices/etc to ask them where they advertise their open positions. Some libraries advertise in the strangest places - on the City website, on a government website, maybe even just in the local paper.

nthing what has been said about being willing to move. Cities that have MLIS programs are totally over-saturated with librarians. I got my first library job in the great empty state of Wyoming...I don't look back at those days fondly, but it was an absolutely necessary first step.

Fight tooth and nail. Be the best damned applicant and the best damned interviewee. Find what everyone else hates doing and make it your specialty. Go to conferences and make friends with other folks in the profession. Fight for full-time. It's a cutthroat world out there - I got my MLIS in 2005 and I bet that less than half of the folks I graduated with found full-time work in the profession.

Oh! And as somebody who is now in the position to hire librarians...always write thank-you letters: after interviews, because someone at a conference gave you a really good job search tip, etc. Nobody writes thank you letters anymore. I personally appreciate the thought and will think more favorably on anybody who does it.
posted by Elly Vortex at 5:27 PM on September 13, 2011

If you'd like to stay in the DC metro area, it has traditionally been a strong market for librarians. Do try for public library positions [the suburban systems here are large, well-funded, diverse, and generally well-supported by the community] but also consider community college positions. There are also many national associations headquartered in the DC area and they generally need librarians. I did a google search on 'librarian jobs in dc' and all kinds of possibilities came up.

And there's the federal government, though I don't know if/howit is hiring around here. There are also a number of library services companies in the DC area that do contract work for federal agencies--including in some cases completely running their libraries. I won't list any names here but just exercise due caution if you go that route. They advertise through the usual channels, but sometimes the ads in the Washington Post don't identify (a) the services company doing the hiring, (b) the actual library you will be working at, and (c) the salary. You only find that out at the interview.

You might encounter a company that maintains an internal library ('special libarian' jobs); keep in mind that these are part of corporate overhead, and depending on the company, may be either very secure or a target for cost-cutting. Library services private sector companies, per your question, are not "relatively sheltered from the current job market doom and gloom." If anything, they are more volatile--contract goes away, so usually does the job. However: depending on the position, you may get useful and transferable insight into how the whole contracting process works (estimation / proposals / executing the contract).
posted by apartment dweller at 9:59 AM on September 15, 2011

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