Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Alex Harrington.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” may be a bit melodramatic, but “it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness” fits pretty neatly when I try to describe my graduation from library school. See, I didn’t plan ahead, and I had no idea what to expect job-wise when I finished. I thought that having a graduate degree in library science meant I was automatically qualified to be a librarian. But I learned better, and now I have two part-time jobs in libraries (plus one non-library job). This is not what in-library-school me thought that after-library-school me would be doing, but so far it’s working for me. Because some of you might find yourselves in similar situations whether you expect to or not, I hope sharing my story and some advice I’ve learned along the way will help you in your post-graduate job searches.
Story of my life
To understand the advice I want to give you, you first have to hear the story of my post-library-school employment. So gather ’round, and I’ll tell you a tale…
I worked at a non-library-related job throughout grad school. I finally noticed the problem with this in my last semester, the summer of 2010, and did some volunteer work at the public library, shelf-reading my own “adopted” section two or three times a week. (It was too little, too late, as far as my hire-ability was concerned, but I made an effort.)
During that same summer semester, I had an internship with the local community college. I worked with the electronic services librarian. Everyone was very friendly and gave me good advice, and I had a good time in general. Then the semester ended, I graduated, and I started looking for jobs. I did so all fall and winter.
Finally, I figured out that no library work experience meant I really couldn’t get a librarian position, even though I had the degree. (This was news to me… but I was 23; let’s chalk it up to naïveté.) All the librarian postings said they wanted at least a year or two of library work experience. I realized that I would have to take a paraprofessional job to get the experience that, along with my degree, would make me suitable for a librarian position.
In the spring of 2011, I was in the middle of interviewing and waiting to hear back about a clerk position at the public library (the type of position that requires nothing more than a high school diploma, a grasp of the Dewey Decimal System, and the ability to show up) when the electronic services librarian from the community college emailed me. She said they wanted to hire a library specialist in reference; would I be interested? Well, it was part-time and paraprofessional, but it seemed better than shelving books all day. I interviewed and got the job. Fast forward to six months later, in August 2011: the college said they wanted a weekend librarian for the campus closer to my house. I got that position, too. So now, I’m a part-time library specialist at one campus, part-time librarian at another campus, and I still work part-time at the non-library job I had throughout school. (That’s 51 hours, seven days a week, in a 25-mile radius, for those keeping score at home.)
It might sound like I don’t enjoy my current employment situation, but that’s not true. My non-library skills actually come in handy more often in the library than you might expect. I like staying busy, and having three jobs is a great way to stay busy. Plus, as my colleagues remind me, I’m still young. I have the energy to keep up this schedule for a while without risking burnout. However, this type of schedule isn’t for everyone. Ideally, most people want to come out of graduate school looking at a full-time job that calls upon the skills and knowledge they developed while earning their degree. So how do you manage to do that?
My situation isn’t that unusual to hear about nowadays. Many graduates are finding out – a little too late – that they need qualifications other than their degrees in order to get the jobs they thought would be handed to them after graduation. Keep these four things in mind, and maybe you’ll be able to start out higher on the totem pole than I did:
Plan ahead. Get library-related work experience while you’re still in school. Start as early as possible. Volunteer if you can while you search for a paying gig. Start reading job postings for your ideal jobs and learn about the usual requirements for those positions. They may not be what you expect.
Get your foot in the door. You might have to start in a part-time or paraprofessional job, even with the graduate degree. It happens. Don’t let it get to you. Just do your job with pride, and do it well, and before you know it, they’ll be asking you to take on bigger responsibilities and move up in the library world.
Have patience. Work experience takes time. Work hard, and wait patiently as your experience grows. Focus on doing the best work you’re capable of in the meantime and time will fly.
Look for opportunities. Sure, if someone asks you to do an extra task or help them out, that’s a good opportunity to demonstrate your skills and willingness to be helpful. But seek out opportunities, too. If there’s a section that nobody else wants to weed, ask if you could have a shot at it. Maybe your library is completely absent from the world of social media, and you think they could benefit from being on Twitter or having a blog. Try not to step on any toes (there might be a librarian who is extremely proud of that gaudy bulletin board you wanted to change) but get creative and think of ways you can prove to your supervisors that you are a benefit to the library.
For other job search ideas, you may enjoy the resources Preparing to job-search: Some considerations and Job tips for future/recent LIS grads. (They have some really great advice that I wish I had heard two years ago!)
What sorts of things are you doing to plan ahead and be an impressive candidate?
Alex Harrington (@alexampersandra) is from Virginia Beach, VA. Her MLIS, which she completed in August 2010, is from the University of Alabama SLIS online program. She works for Tidewater Community College as a part-time library specialist at the Portsmouth campus and a part-time librarian at the Virginia Beach campus.