[Series] Hack ALA: The Librarian Wardrobe

Hello, newly minted and soon-to-be librarians! I’m visiting today from Librarian Wardrobe to give you some ideas on how to dress like a successful librarian without having to spend the large amounts of money that librarians tend to make (joke, of course). I was in your shoes recently, wondering how librarians dress for interviews and a first professional position, so I started Librarian Wardrobe as a fun reference point for LIS students, early career librarians, and anyone else wanting to see examples and share what they wear to work.

Let’s look at a few different scenarios:

Job interview

In my experience, the most important part of your outfit in an interview is your confidence; and if you’re uncomfortable, you won’t be as confident to do your best. I’m not saying wearing a onesie and Chucks will guarantee a job offer. Just be comfortable enough so that you don’t have to think about what you’re wearing after you put it on. The whole point of looking great at an interview is so you don’t have to keep worrying about how you look.

Some tips:

  • Investigate the dress code of the library before the interview. Check out the library website for staff photos and look for Facebook pictures if the library has an account. Typically, you can base your outfit on this, but take it up one notch. You should always look just a little dressier than your hopefully soon-to-be coworkers at an interview. (And typically, the East Coast and Midwest will be more formal than the West Coast, but this also depends on the type of library.)
  • Err on the more boring side of clothing and colors; you probably want the search committee thinking about your responses rather than if you’re dressed appropriately. Don’t feel like you can’t show your personality at all, just be on the cautious side.
  • If you’re a nervous sweater (one who sweats when nervous, rather than a knitted garment that might be anxious) or are going to an interview in a hot place, consider wearing a performance top — exercise-style — as an undershirt to wick away sweat and keep you cool.
  • I don’t know about you, but I’m still not entirely sure how to iron properly, plus who wants to worry about that on top of an interview? Some suggestions to avoid wrinkles when packing for a long-distance interview:
    • Bring clothes that don’t wrinkle! That’s kind of obvious, sorry.
    • When you pack, roll your clothes [http://www.wikihow.com/Roll-Clothes] instead of fold. This is usually pretty handy for keeping wrinkles away and also saves space.
    • You’ve probably heard this one before, but if wearing a suit jacket/blazer, don’t sit in it a bunch before your interview because you’ll get rear-end wrinkles, and those never look good.
    • A portable garment steamer is another option, which does not require an ironing board and travels well; they run around $40-70 and can de-wrinkle clothes right on the hanger.


You never know who is going to be at a meeting. Sometimes, a dean or chancellor could show up unexpectedly, or that faculty member or trustee you’ve been trying to contact. Dress up just a little nicer for meetings so you are prepared for surprise guests. It reflects well on you and the library.

Typical day at work

This all depends on what kind of library you work at. Once you start your job, you’ll get the hang of the dress code and culture of the library, but get some staples in the mean time. Find some pants that you could wear with almost anything. I wound up getting a variety of dark-colored pants (and skirts) and then was able to mix those with more interesting tops. Finding items that you can layer is great for seasonal changes and keeping things interesting. I usually will get my pants new so they fit well, but then will get a lot of tops from thrift stores. You can wear almost any kind of somewhat nice-looking top so long as you have a more conservative cardigan or blazer to go with it.

Most libraries blast the air conditioning, and this is why I stand strong by the cardigan (or having an extra sweater or blazer around). I’m almost always freezing at work, so I make sure I have a neutral colored cardigan nearby so I can just throw it over whatever I’m wearing. Sorry to feed that stereotype, but in this case, it’s a stereotype for a reason!

If you want to save more money, aside from thrift stores, you could also focus more on your accessories if you want to throw some style in there. As an example, you could wear a scarf as an extra layer over your top and it almost makes it a whole new outfit. Getting more ties than shirts is another example. Back to thrift stores: they have a lot of both scarves and ties.


It’s really a good idea to bring a variety of outfits to a conference. You will likely be attending many different kinds of events, so being able to either dress up or be casual gives you more options. Since I’m a light packer and hate checking luggage, I’ll usually base my conference outfits all around one idea so I can layer and swap pieces in and out. An example: I will bring a dress that can be more casual with leggings, and then gussied up with a nice cardigan (of which I bring a couple different colors) and flats. I could also wear a shirt over the dress for a more casual shirt/skirt outfit with sneakers. If I just want to go out and spend time with librarian friends, I’ll also have a pair of jeans to wear with that t-shirt. I’ll bring a couple more things too, but I base it off of layers for easy packing and outfit-making.

There will be a special edition Librarian Wardrobe post on packing for ALA 2011, so stay tuned for visuals and more ideas.

Overall, most librarian positions tend to fall somewhere between casual and business-casual. This means you likely can be comfortable while at work and mix in your own style, but will still look professional. Speaking from the viewpoint of an academic librarian, showing some style in what you wear might additionally work to your advantage with students, where it might inspire them to start a conversation. This can break the ice and students might be even more comfortable asking you for help (it’s been known to happen! I even once showed a student some searching techniques when she said she really wanted to find a pair of glasses like mine). At the same time, be careful not to dress too “young,” especially if you are already younger-looking and new to your workplace. Sometimes faculty and staff might mistake you for a student and/or not take you as seriously.

Share any comments, questions, or your own suggestions below, and hope you’ll show what you are wearing at Librarian Wardrobe. Thanks for having me!

Nicole Pagowsky is the creator of Librarian Wardrobe and a reference, instruction, and collection development librarian for a community college in Texas. Follow her on Twitter, @pumpedlibrarian, or read her blog at pumpedlibrarian.blogspot.com.

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As an added bonus, and because we at Hack Library School have had this conversation behind the scenes many times, here’s some pics of us and our typical workwear.

Nicole in her office - typical workwear: dresses and skirts.

Micah attempting to 'be casual' - typical workwear: dark jeans and button down.

Rebecca - typical workwear: professional but casual, with simple dresses, skirts, and flat shoes.

Julia at ALA '10 - typical workwear: knee length skirts and nice t-shirts.

Heidi's casual Friday - typical workwear: not khaki's and not blouses. 😉

Categories: Hack ALA

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18 replies

  1. Love this post! I’m a huge believer that style is a reflection of your personality. And whether we like it or not, people do make judgments based on what you wear.


  2. Here’s a question: what about those guybrarians out there? Where do we fall on the casual/business casual spectrum for dressing in the workplace? I tend to lean casual, and have moral oppositions to the necktie, but probably 70% of my male supervisors and co-workers dress traditionally business – slacks/khakis, dress shirt and tie. Then again, my immediate supervisor wears polos and flip flops… everyday. Guys? How is fashion and style different for us? I don’t even want to bring up the ‘shaving’ argument, as it should be clear that I stand very proudly in the “my facial hair choices do not make me less than all the bald-facers out there” camp.


    • Michael,
      In my last position it was laid back, jeans and nice shoes. Currently I am in a business casual environment and I have gone with dress khakis and polo shirts.
      I always go with suit and tie for interviews.
      For conferences I used to go suit and tie but this year I think I am sticking with my polos. I want to be comfortable.


  3. I tend to dress in very tailored pieces and most of my wardrobe is made up of dress slacks, pencil skirts, sweaters, cardigans, button downs, and dress tees (like the kind from Ann Taylor or Limited).

    As a special librarian, I feel compelled to second Nicole’s comment about dressing according to workplace culture. I work in a hospital library and the hospital’s unofficial dress code (if you don’t wear scrubs that is!) is more business than casual, but not suits. Since most of my users are doctors, I try to dress as professional as possible. I tend to dress fairly conservatively, but play around with fun scarves and jewelery (without going overboard). It’s a little harder to express yourself through fashion in a corporate setting, but people take notice and respect you more when you look the part.

    As far as conferences go, dress comfortably! NOLA is going to be hot and humid so pack lightweight clothing but prepare for cool meeting rooms. Wear comfortable shoes too. I plan on taking a black skirt and black capris with a few basic tops, a few cardigans in case it’s cool in the rooms. Simple and easy. Oh and a huge bag to lug all my junk around in. 🙂


      • Target has a few cute ones for around $30. The one I bought for MLA had a great place for my laptop and was a good size for an airplane carry on as well.

        Just don’t overload it and end up hurting yourself trying to carry it around all day!


  4. I highly recommend the portable steamer idea for interviews! Even after attempting to roll my suit jacket it was wrinkly and the iron in the hotel looked like it had previously been ironing/melting the carpet. My steamer (25$ at target) easily got rid of the wrinkles and I didn’t have to learn how to iron.


  5. I love that you post this… i need help in the dress dept. we have a dress code and i’m a notorious #fail at it. I would actually like to see a pic-a-day of typical librarian wardrobe. /spinnarella


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