Will I wreck my career if I don't apply for this job? (Library Edition)
April 12, 2018 7:11 PM   Subscribe

I feel like I should apply for this job, but I don't really want to. I'm a grad student in an MLIS program and there were a bunch of student jobs posted at the institution I'm studying at. I think it's probably better for me to stay at my current job, but I'm worried that if I don't apply for this job (and get it), I'll wreck any chance of having a career in this field. Details inside, of course.

So, I work as a school library technician (I've been there 3.5 years) and I've been getting really, really anxious as of late that none of that experience will count in any way, shape, or form, when I'm applying to real librarian jobs in the future. Recently, my university is looking for student employees from my program. I'm worried that one of these positions is my only chance to get experience in a "real" library before I finish my program.

However, I think the downsides of leaving my current position outweigh the benefits of applying (possibly) getting that job. The principal of the school I work at has been very accommodating with my schedule. I'm able to work full time at the school when I'm not attending university. I'm able to work more hours at my current job (about 0.7 FTE/28 hrs per week while I'm in school), whereas the student positions are up to 15 hours per week). Currently, I don't work weekends and I get paid overtime when I work evenings (rarely). I also get paid (a bit) more at the school and with my current hours, I make "significantly" more than I would at the student job. I'm pretty autonomous in my current position and do a little bit of everything from collection development, purchasing, I guess reference, etc. And... I actually really enjoy the connections I've made with the staff/students. I will also be able to work at the school after I graduate during my job search for a "real" librarian position.

The only thing that makes me worried is that my current experience won't be acknowledged at all and I'll never find a "real" library job, all because I didn't apply for (and get) a student position at my university library. Am I making a mistake if I stay where I am?

I am planning on taking a practicum course next fall or spring, to get other experience in the field.
posted by modesty.blaise to Work & Money (19 answers total)
What kind of "real" library job do you want in the future? If you want to work in an educational or public setting, the experience you're getting sounds relevant and valuable and real enough to me.

You don't say much about the duties of the potential job, or what kind of experience it would give you. I think a wide range of experience in different types of libraries is probably beneficial, but just as one data point: I had zero professional or paraprofessional library experience when I graduated, other than internships. I got my current position through working at a medical receptionist job and meeting a now-current colleague.

No one job is going to make or break your career at this early point, I promise. Be flexible and keep your options open, but don't discount the useful and broad experience you've already gained. In fact, the better you can value and sell that experience, the better your chances will be in your professional job search.
posted by Knicke at 7:20 PM on April 12, 2018

School libraries are real libraries! It sounds like you are already doing more 'real' librarian work than you would be as student employee. Most of those jobs that I've seen are either students just staffing an info desk and answering very basic questions (where is the bathroom, etc.) or pulling pages for requested books. You're doing collection development and reference and proving every day that you are capable of working in a professional library environment.
Even if you choose to leave that position once you graduate, you'll find a job, and you'll be taken seriously.
There is no one true and narrow path to Librarianship™ that you are in danger of straying from - you'll figure it out as you go, just like the rest of your classmates!
posted by PaulaSchultz at 7:25 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Kinke, I guess my problem is that I don't have a specific place where I want to end up. Getting my current position taught me to keep my mind open, because I thought I would have hated my current job. I mean, I think working either in public or academic libraries would be nice. I can't really stay with school libraries because they don't require you to have an MLIS here. I guess I've sort of ingested so much negativity about the job prospects... so any job in a library would be nice.

The duties of the potential job include reference, borrower services, tech-trouble shooting, and work on special projects if there are any. I guess, when I think about it... I sort of already do that "type" of work (albeit in an elementary school setting), already.
posted by modesty.blaise at 7:28 PM on April 12, 2018

Yes, you should stay at your current job! Why are you concerned that your current experience "won't count"? I don't know what your school library is like, but libraries are incredibly diverse and I'd bet your workplace qualifies as a "real library," even if it's small and quirky. 3+ years of meaningful paraprofessional experience will look great on the resume of a newly minted MLS.

If there is a different kind of experience that you are hoping to get, you can get it during your practicum. Don't take a paycut and set yourself up to be potentially unemployed after graduation.
posted by toastedcheese at 7:30 PM on April 12, 2018

The student library jobs I had mostly boiled down to customer service, data entry and shelving. To be fair, we did a lot of sitting on our butts and talking/studying. And hiding in the shelves to read. Your job sounds far more like "serious library work."

Can you talk to a prof/mentor in your program about how to maximize your future job prospects? Maybe having a sense of your options will help allay your concerns.
posted by bunderful at 7:33 PM on April 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

"I can't really stay with school libraries because they don't require you to have an MLIS here." Hey, if you've found your calling, you can always figure out whether it's feasible to get the credentials you need to be a school librarian in your area. Your MLIS will likely still look good on your resume.

It also sounds like you'd be happy as a children's or public services librarian, and again, your current gig is great experience.

The ease of finding a library job varies widely by region and specialization, and the market has gotten a lot less brutal in the past 5 years. Stay optimistic, and best of luck!
posted by toastedcheese at 7:36 PM on April 12, 2018

Dude definitely stay at your current job. I am a public-librarian-turned-school-librarian (with an MLS), so I know exactly how hard school library techs work, and lots of other folks will too. Your job is ABSOLUTELY a real library job, and you are getting tons of great experience. I know very few people who worked at their institution's library while getting their MLS, it is absolutely 100% not a requirement for anything.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 7:41 PM on April 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

I would only take the university job if you were dead-set on working in an academic library over everything else, and even then I would make sure that it was the specific type of academic librarianship you wanted to work in. I've been on enough academic library search committees to know that it can be difficult to break into hyper-specialized kinds of academic librarianship, like preservation or scholarly communications, and you should take whatever opportunities come your way if you want to pursue a speciality such as those. There are certain librarian positions where entry-level work can be hard to find.

If you're not picky about where your MLS will eventually lead you, you like your job, and it pays well, I would stay.
posted by kingoftonga86 at 8:04 PM on April 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

The way I've seen hirings for librarians go, there are two key steps to getting your foot in the door for an interview - 1. a good cover letter articulating why you are a good candidate for that particular position, and 2. a resume using a lot of keywords/terminology that can make it easily found in a database of resumes and/or will stand out when scanned by human eyes.

As a new MLIS grad they will be expecting you to have a technician or associate title, so if the school library setting is what concerns you, focus on how you can write up the things you do in a way that shows its about the process and not the customer base. Collection development and purchasing are huge things to have under your belt (especially as library budgets get smaller and physical space becomes more constrained) and any 1:1 with students is reference or training & outreach.

Stay where you are, strategize your resume and how to speak to your experiences in the most sector-agnostic way you can, and you'll be in good shape. They will also be looking to speak with your references as well, and if you have a good relationship with your current employer that will speak volumes. (hahahaha a library pun I am so sorry I will show myself out now)
posted by wheek wheek wheek at 2:54 AM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think kingoftonga86 nailed it - if you want to go into academic librarianship, this is a great opportunity to break into what can be a really difficult field to get into, but if you aren't dead set on that, then don't sweat it at all. Stay at the job you like.

In general, any library experience before you get your MLIS is helpful! I don't think you should discount the experience you're getting at your current job at all, and only leave it if you really want to. I worked in public library circulation for 10 years before I went back to school for my MLIS, and that experience was much more useful for answering interview questions/getting librarian jobs than the 2 internships I did while in library school that were arguably more relevant to reference desk work.
posted by odd ghost at 5:13 AM on April 13, 2018

Nthing everyone's advice to stay in the current job! You didn't mention it outright in your post, but I'm assuming the student position at your university would end when you finish the program, right? That would be enough to scare me away if I already had a great job in the field that I could stick with if/when I looked for something requiring my new degree!

If you want to diversify your experience before finishing your program, maybe consider doing a remote internship that you could work on on weekends, an occasional evening/weekend volunteer role at a library/library-adjacent place near you, or get involved with a professional library organization in your area? I'm on the archives side, but getting involved with my local archivist's association (especially their students and early professionals group) did a lot to quell my fears of not being "real info professional" enough to do the work I wanted to do.
posted by quatsch at 6:43 AM on April 13, 2018

I was facing a similar choice as yours when I was in college (albeit in different circumstances) - I studied drama, and the school organized a big Scene Night for an invited audience of agents, where pairs of students could work on a scene and then present it in this showcase performance. I was kind of on the fence about whether I wanted to continue acting, though, but was similarly afraid of "what if I turn down this opportunity and it bites me in the ass". I went to talk to the internship coordinator - who was organizing this event - and asked him about whether I would be screwing myself over by turning this chance down.

"Not at all," he reassured me. "This is just one of many opportunities that would come along, and if you don't think this is right for you right now, fair enough. It's not like this is your one and only chance at the title. We present this as a service for students who are more certain, and if you're not certain, then this isn't right for you, and that is totally fine." It was very reassuring.

But then I also went on to add then that "well, actually, stage management is one of the other things I'm interested in, so if you need help with that for the scene night...." and the man nearly jumped over his desk to shake my hand and say "oh my god YES", and I ended up doing that instead, and that experience with that particular person lead him to recommend me for a paid internship position that opened up a month later which then lead to make connections that in turn lead to working as someone's assistant for ten years and across three different companies, which gave me experience in theater, start-ups, writing, and television.

My point being:

On paper, this job you're looking at would be a logical next step for someone else. But it is not necessarily the best next step for you. You have found the place you need to be, and you cannot forsee what opportunities will open up for you down the road in the place where you are.

Do not worry about letting this opportunity go if it doesn't speak to you. Watch for better ones that will seem like better fits. They may even turn up without you having to leave the job you're at right now.

Good luck.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:02 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

if I don't apply for this job (and get it), I'll wreck any chance of having a career in this field
This is rarely true of any job. There might be one career path that is the fastest or most popular, but many people come from a slightly different path because it takes time and experience to know what you really want to do and what you really don't. People have such different life circumstances that not having X job at Y time in your life is not usually seen as a problem. If your degree program requirements didn't include it, you can get a job without it.
posted by soelo at 7:16 AM on April 13, 2018

I'm a librarian and I hire for our library. We would place greater weight on the experience you're getting where you are. The student positions at schools with MLS programs are not very unique, I'm more interested in seeing how candidates meet the challenges of being in jobs that are out in the field, dealing with the [usually] more limited resources in non-academic settings. Your reasons for staying where you are are totally compelling.
posted by banjo_and_the_pork at 7:50 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'm a librarian and I think you should apply for the position and get the experience of interviewing. Ask a lot of questions about the kind of work they would have you do and who you would work with. Then you can make an informed decision. If you get offered the job you can decline if it is not flexible/interesting/or just doesn't pay enough.
posted by onebyone at 8:11 AM on April 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also a librarian, and agree that you should stay in your current gig UNLESS you've decided that academic librarianship is where you want to end up. Yes, there are a lot of horror stories about library hiring but don't psyche yourself out! Sounds to me like you're on the right track.
posted by orrnyereg at 8:14 AM on April 13, 2018

Another librarian chiming in to tell you it's totally OK to stay where you are. Any perceived difference in one vs. the other is probably outweighed by being a longer-term employee at the one library anyway. Unless the new job is way closer to what you want to end up doing, you already are getting library experience and that's great.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 8:32 AM on April 13, 2018

Librarian here. While I agree with the posts above about keeping your current job, I would suggest that you still apply for the job and accept an interview if offered. Connecting with future potential colleagues anywhere in your field can lead to opportunities in the future. You may also learn things you didn’t know about the position, players and institution.
posted by Riverine at 10:05 AM on April 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

My first library job was in a similar school setting and since then I was able to move up into a highly specialized area. It sounds like you’re gaining valuable experience where you are at, but it never hurts to get practice interviewing. One important thing for me, and what I’d stress for all MLS students, is to get professionally active. Don’t just join an organization, but volunteer for sub-committees, attend meetings, and make connections that will serve you well when you are ready to move up.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 2:49 PM on April 14, 2018

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