Mefibrarians! I'm a librarian mom re-entering workforce! Please hope me!
March 3, 2015 7:05 PM   Subscribe

So, I got my MSI from Michigan in 2005. (Bachelor's in English). I worked for 2 years, but then my daughter came along and I've been a full-time parent ever since. I've wanted to go back this past year, but re-entering the workforce has been really difficult! Should I be networking? Having informational interviews? What else? Is it too late to go back?

I'm 35 now, and I'm not even sure where to start. I've had two phone interviews and one in-person for public library jobs, but none that have panned out (they're scarce). Any advice would be really great.
posted by percor to Work & Money (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, hiring prospects are pretty grim at the moment. Depending on where you live, you may have better luck finding a part-time job to start with. Over the years I worked with a number of women who were returning from stay-at-home parentdom, always in PT positions. If you want to work in children's services, they tend in my experience to be more sympathetic to parents...
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:45 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Just to clarify, I am open to non-librarian jobs. I'm in a mid-sized Midwestern capital.
posted by percor at 8:07 PM on March 3, 2015

I agree that things are grim on the library job front. Would being active in the state level library organization where you live likely offer you some opportunities to do some networking, or maybe even build some connections with some lightweight volunteering? One public library system where I live used to have a pool of substitute librarians, do any library systems near you have that type of option available to you where you could start building up your resume in the absence of a full time job?
posted by gnat at 8:17 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Geographically similar midwestern gal with two parents who work mid-level at universities.
I'd make a list of the universities and hospitals (maybe even school districts and municipalities?) around you and find their respective employment databases. Usually you can create a profile, attach your resume, and apply for any open positions. I would plan to take an hour or two a week to go back to these websites weekly and apply for any new postings. Several weeks of this was how my mom got her job.
On the other hand, my dad works at the reference desk at another state university in town. He's been there for 30+ years but he's been relocated twice within the university when his library was closed/reallocated/whatever. I haven't spoken with him about the hiring/layoff implications of the closings or what it indicates about libraries as a whole because well, he's still there! But I would be happy to ask him if you have specific questions.
posted by rubster at 8:19 PM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Goodbyewaffles and gnat, I agree with "grim" as a descriptor for the situation in library hiring... Part-time is a great suggestion, as is becoming active in the state library association. I hadn't investigated that yet. Rubster, I've done what you suggested over the past year or so and will keep at it. Would love to hear more about your folks' experiences.
posted by percor at 8:30 PM on March 3, 2015

Best answer: I went back in part-time. It seemed to be easier to get a PT gig I was slightly over-qualified for.
If I were unemployed now, I would be busy putting together a traveling summer reading-themed program I could advertise. You could hopefully line up gigs at libraries all around the state, meet key people and have lots of great reviews to use in your portfolio.
Have you volunteered at all? If a bona fide librarian came to me wanting to volunteer I would weep with joy. I have a few projects that I don't have time for, but they're too complicated for the bored high school kids we usually get.
If you want to go into youth services, I recommend joining the Storytime Underground facebook group. You will get a real sense of what folks in the field are doing and talking about right now.
Good luck!
posted by Biblio at 8:51 PM on March 3, 2015 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Take some time to assess your skills and refresh if necessary - the field has changed a lot in terms of technology and services in the past few years. I moved out of library service into an association role 6 years ago and if I was to go back I would be reading up on digital and civic literacy skills on one side, and discovery, eBooks, patron driven acquisitions etc on the other. If you are in academic libraries research support and eScholarship, including APCs for Open Access is now a huge area. The reference service I used to provide 6 years ago barely exists now - so many have moved from having a desk to on demand, to chat based service and appointment-based depth outreach especially in academic libraries.

If you work in the public sector read through some back issues of Public Libraries magazine, or if you are academic ACRL make their journal open access these days so you can get a flavour of what issues and services are key now.
posted by wingless_angel at 3:04 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Because you're open to non-library jobs, I suggest librarian at a law firm, or donor/prospect researcher at a college or university - with the right spin, you can make your skills transferable. I also recommend the resume writing kit from Blue Sky Resumes, which helps you show what you did at previous employers as problems solved rather than just a list of skills cribbed from the job description. As someone who has hired and job-searched, IMO showing how you added value will put you head and shoulders above 90 percent of applicants. Good luck!
posted by deliriouscool at 4:37 AM on March 4, 2015 [3 favorites]

If you are looking for part-time work, I'd suggest leaving some of your association activity off your resume. I know there are few professional positions out there to move to, but the whole "This MLS Person Will Only Be Here Until They Find Full Time Work" canard is, unfortunately, alive and well in my experience in hiring part time positions. I had to make a strong case to bring a candidate in for an interview (and eventually hire her) to overcome my director's reluctance to "have to do this hiring all over again in a few months."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:11 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Do your public schools still have librarians/media specialists? It's a great job for parents of young children because of the school year calendar. You will probably need to take a few education classes and do an internship. If money is not a big issue try to get a position as an assistant in a school library. If that doesn't appeal to you start volunteering at your local public library so that you become a known and liked person when jobs do come up.
posted by mareli at 5:14 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Awesome suggestions, every one! Thank you! Any advice on explaining the gap? Should I try to explain cover letters, or work on adding volunteer or temp experience before I apply for full-time roles?
posted by percor at 9:05 AM on March 4, 2015

The gap can be simply put as the result of family responsibilities, but others may disagree. I claimed self-employment for some gaps in mine- tutoring, freelance editing. Mostly I just put what I called "relevant" experience. And I put a short list of other experience after that with details/dates omitted.
posted by mareli at 9:22 AM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Michigan's MSI program is very well ranked, and they crank out a lot of great talent. Have you considered getting in touch with the MSI career counselors, or checking out their career website? They should devote just as much effort to helping you get a job as they would to any current student. I know the UNC SILS career counselors are super duper helpful.
posted by cmchap at 2:17 PM on March 4, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Biblio, I haven't volunteered yet- my youngest has just been in preschool for the last few months. Now I have some time! I am definitely aiming to work in a public library, although law or corporate work still interests me. I will absolutely read up on what has changed, and I've already got a response from Michigan's career services at SI. If any of you are Indianapolis, or know folks who are, I'd love to ask you questions about your careers in person or memail.
posted by percor at 4:04 PM on March 4, 2015

Best answer: You should be networking. I am a librarian who had a 15 year "sabbatical" from libraries as a full-time parent starting at 37, too. I got back into being a librarian through networking. I left the library world when we moved to a different part of the country where I did not know the library community at all, so no connections. I thought I was done with libraries. During those 15 years of non-librarian time, I worked freelance as a writer/editor for various non-profits. I found the first gig by going to a women in business networking meeting, making a few connections, and getting a small editing job. From that one connection, I found a great writing/editing gig with a parent education non-profit that let me have control of my schedule. I worked in after school & summer programming for school age kids at my daughter's school as program manager/marketing aide, too, for the scheduling flexibility.

Then one fateful day, I answered an ad & I was hired as a part time librarian at our state library. (I will say I had more than 2 years of experience in libraries, but the experience was pre-Internet(!) in another state. I was like Rip Van Winkle--things were kind of familiar, but way different.) I was laid off from that job in less than a year, which is when I became a freelance librarian. For the next 4-5 years I worked on contract on various grant-funded library projects (usually funded with LSTA) at various library systems. These jobs had no benefits & the pay wasn't great, but I met a lot of people, gained a reputation as a "worker," & learned a lot. The flexibility of the scheduling and/or ability to work at home was great, too. I also presented at & volunteered in the library associations & at library events & conferences. Anything to be visible, so people remembered me when they saw my name on an application.

All of the grant jobs came from the first one--the libraries needed someone reliable who could learn quickly & produce under deadline. There were 6-8 of these projects, with some gaps between. The projects varied from managing a big data collection & research project to developing a series of workshops on customer service to creating 30+ screencasts on library processes. The best was teaching 50+ classes on using the Internet to senior citizens in 14 different sites in a library system 75 miles from where I live. Note that I could do this because mine was the second income; my husband had a job with benefits, etc., plus by then, my kid was in HS or college. During all this contract work, I kept applying for full-time jobs. I am now the director of a small library system that supports libraries & school districts with training & networking. I applied for this job twice with 3 years between times. Persistence matters.

So, the moral of this saga is, it's never too late to go back. While the outlook may seem to be grim, there are ways to re-enter the workforce, but it takes work and creativity and networking. It may also take the will & humility to accept a job that may not be perfect or seem to have a future. It may be, as it turned out in my case, that investments at low-paying, temp library jobs can result in something much better. The sub suggestion above is one way, esp if you can work weekends. Our library systems often have a minimum number of hours that you must work in a year to stay on the sub list, too. I would suggest you see if there are grant-funded projects in libraries near you that need short-term staff. Are you a cataloger? Is there is unit at the state library or somewhere that does contract cataloging? Those types of units often need help for special projects--indexing, adding metadata, or similar are often short term. I looked at the Indiana State Library site and they have volunteer opportunities for a variety of things; that could be a way to get acquainted with what's going on, update some skills, and see what's happening. State library staff have a lot of contacts in libraries around the state.

Most people have gaps of some sort on their resumes whether from unemployment, family responsibilities, or whatever. You can put a one line in a cover letter about re-entering the workforce, but it is not necessary, in my opinion. They can ask in an interview. You can take time now to learn new skills--coding or whatever--which can be added to your resume. I would do some informational interviews, too, but after you focus on what you really want to do--FT or PT, public or corporate, etc.--and what is realistic with your other responsibilities.

It is good to be open to non-library jobs or non-traditional library jobs. I think library skills are an asset in any job, especially if you are a good writer/editor, too. In the state capital, I would think there are many opportunities to freelance/contract those skills. Networking really helps with finding these jobs. Do you know anyone who works in communications or similar at a state agency? Tell everyone you know that you are looking, briefly what your skills are, & ask if they know of anything or anyone you can call. Hard to do, but it can pay off.

I wish you good luck & great success in your search. I did think I was done with library jobs, but once I went back, I realized that I really do love it. Once a librarian, always a librarian.
posted by Nosey Mrs. Rat at 10:44 PM on March 4, 2015 [2 favorites]

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