How to transition from research librarian to public librarian?
August 8, 2018 7:44 AM   Subscribe

Any librarians out there who can weigh in on this?

For the last 10 years, I've worked as a special librarian / researcher in the corporate sector (government and private sector), doing business and legal research. For a variety of reasons, I'm contemplating a change.

I'm currently working (very) part-time in a public library and I'm really enjoying it. However, when I look at job postings for full-time public librarian positions around where I live (Greater Toronto Area), I find that I'm lacking a lot of the required experience (e.g. creating library programs, collection development, instruction).

I would be willing to take a library assistant position in a public library to develop some of these skills, but I'm not getting interviews for any of the assistant positions I apply for.

I feel like I'm under qualified for public librarian positions (due to lacking certain professional experience) and over qualified for library assistant positions (due to having a Masters in Library and Information Science).

Has anyone made the transition from special libraries to public libraries? Do you have any suggestions about how I can develop skills that would place me in a better position to successfully make this transition, through classes, volunteering etc.?

I know how few and far between public librarian jobs are, as well as librarian jobs in general! I'm considering a change of profession altogether, but given how much I'm enjoying working at a public library, I think it's worth considering this option as well.
posted by PrincessCrouton to Work & Money (3 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
GTA is a great place to be a public librarian! But also challenging because there are good schools nearby and people like to stay put I would think your research background would be helpful. As for the other stuff, is it possible you can stretch either a little with what you are doing at your current job (offering tutorials on something, even if few people show up you can get some teaching under your belt) or doing something that would look like programming? You may be a weird combination of overqualified and underqualified to make a lateral move. Which is ok but the trick will be to fill in the gaps so that you can take on a better-than-assistant job. Toronto Public does have a lot of librarians who are a bit more research-oriented. Do you have contacts there? I'd be happy to connect you with my friend who works at the main downtown branch, feel free to DM me.
posted by jessamyn at 8:13 AM on August 8, 2018

I'm a public librarian who sometimes serves on hiring panels, and we have definitely recommended candidates who don't have public library experience if we think they have the right abilities/outlook to do the job. (for example, I look for someone who truly loves people, demonstrates flexibility and critical thinking, can work within a bureaucracy, and is excited to take on a new challenge rather than just trying to get away from a crappy job)

However, in order to even get to the interview stage, at least in our system, you have to get a high score on your application, which means you have to meet the criteria set out in the job description. If you can find something in your work experience that fits each thing, even if it's a bit tangential, use it. The person scoring the application is basically just checking off yes/no, not necessarily evaluating how well each thing fits.

Volunteering is a really good way to get to know what a public library is like, and to get people to know you--it's going to take a long time to get hired, probably, so it's a good thing to do in the meantime.
Oops, I just saw you're working part-time, even better! But I'll leave that in case someone else is in a similar position.
So in that case, can you talk with your supervisor at the library about getting some more experience with programming, etc.? Most times we're SUPER happy to have extra help!

Feel free to message me if you have other questions.
posted by exceptinsects at 3:01 PM on August 8, 2018

I went from a kind of special library (technically it was a public library, but was really more of a tourist destination + research library) to public libraries a few years ago. I think you are on the right track with your part time work, as working with the general public and having good customer service skills is really one of the most important things.

However, increasingly public libraries are looking for people who bring something else to the mix rather than just traditional library skills/experience. As you mention, teaching and programming are two areas (and need multiple staff to contribute to these things, whereas collection development tends to involve fewer staff, so there are probably fewer opportunities there). Other areas that are increasingly in demand are technology and STEM/STEAM programs. If you have any tech skills you can bring, or experience with STEM areas, that will probably also help greatly.

I don't know what the culture of your particular library is like, but at the one where I work, staff who are not permanent or full time have avenues for making suggestions about improvements - better way of conveying membership info, an idea for a new kind of program or book club or other activity, that kind of thing. We are always looking to attract new audiences as well as keeping our existing borrowers happy. So if your library doesn't currently offer any STEAM programs for kids, and that's something that interests you, could you suggest one and offer to run it? They tend to be quick wins and don't necessarily require a huge amount of prep and planning, just a bit of extra publicity. You can often link it in with a science week/maths week/similar. That way you could get more experience in an area that enhances your employability, the library gets a nifty program, the kids get something interesting to do - everyone wins!

That's just one example - it doesn't have to be that kind of activity. It could be your extra skills at web design, or marketing, or developing partnerships with local businesses, or fundraising skills - you get the idea. Basically, you have a big advantage in already having some kind of library work. You can see how much more you can use that for mutual advantage, by developing your skills and helping your current employer. It may even be that a permanent full time position comes up with your current employer, in which case they have lots of evidence that you are keen, forward thinking and have great ideas!

Happy to answer other questions, shoot me a MeMail.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:39 PM on August 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

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