I have been working for almost 13 years, and in those 13 years, I’ve worked many, many, part-time jobs. I’ve been a server at a truck stop diner (oh, how I miss those tips!), processed data for an insurance library, taught special education, worked in inner city schools as an art teacher. I’ve worked three part-time jobs at a time, and I’ve had part-time jobs that made it impossible for me to have any other job because the schedule was so erratic.
Part-time jobs can be hard to manage, and they can be a wonderful way to gain experience. Being in grad school, or graduating with your MLS/MLIS and surveying the job market, chances are part-time jobs are on your radar. When looking at these part-time IS jobs, what are some things you should consider?
What kind of part-time is it?
A part-time position can be wildly different depending on where you’re working. In an archive, you might have the opportunity to process a newly acquired collection, and that could be your sole job responsibility. In an academic library, you might be staffing the reference desk to alleviate the pressure on the full-time staff. In a public library, you might work in a different library in the system every time you work. Examine the job description very carefully, and in your interview or through your network, find out what this PT position means in relation to the mission of the institution, and in relation to the other staff.
What can you contribute? What can you gain?
I’ve known about PT positions in info institutions where some grant funding has come through, allowing students or entry-level MLISers to have an amazing experience working on innovative and meaningful projects. In return for their fresh perspective and skills, they’ve gained a great point on their resume, expanded their network, and added experience they can bring to their next position. Sometimes the PT position leads to a FT position. PT positions can also be a chance to explore, and to decide on what kind of info institution you ultimately want to commit. PT work takes time, sometimes more than a FT position, depending on how the position is structured. To spend time in a job, you should consider not only what you can bring to the position, but what the position can give to you in return.
Whose job was this?
At this point, this phrase is a cliché: “In these difficult economic times.” For information institutions managing their staff, however, it can’t be ignored, and for those of us entering these institutions, we must consider why this PT position exists. Is it a new position for a new aspect of the institution, and they’re experimenting with it before committing the resources to a FT position? Was this a FT position that’s been split between two PT positions after someone retired? Is the PT position the only way an institution can continue to offer services until their funding increases? If possible, try to get this information. Once you have this information, it is up to you to decide how you feel about this position, ethically, professionally, and financially, and to act on that accordingly.
What is the timeline for this position?
A PT position can be sticky in planning for the mid- or long-term. This is another point where it is valuable to know how the institution views the position. Can this PT position lead to a FT position? If a FT position opened up, would you want it? In this case, how long will you be PT before a FT position becomes available? If this is a special project, when is the project scheduled to end? Can you transfer to another position at the conclusion of the project? Can you predict what your options will be once the job has come to an end? Will the market have changed? You don’t want to view a PT position merely as a financial band-aid until you graduate or can find a FT position. Give everything you can, and be open to the experience and the opportunity!
Thanks to Henry Gambill of Los Angeles Public Library for his clarifying discussion on part-time IS positions and the way they fit into the IS profession as a whole as I was working on this post.