Gaining Practical Experience (Without a Library Job)

You’ve done it! You’ve begun library school and are well on your way to earning your MLIS and  reaching your goal of becoming a full-fledged librarian. In your excitement, you start browsing job postings and fantasizing about your dream job. Then gradually, your heart sinks as you repeatedly come across variations of the same phrase: “1 year library experience required.” You don’t have a library job and, for whatever reason, won’t be able to accept one until after you complete your degree. Do you limit yourself to only the positions that don’t mention previous experience? Or do you apply anyway and hope for the best?

These are the questions I found myself asking shortly after I started my second semester of graduate school. I had just accepted an assistantship in the LSU Graduate School and knew I couldn’t add a second job to my workload. My assistantship pays my tuition plus a salary, so leaving would mean dropping out of graduate school altogether. The solution? I found ways to get that experience that didn’t require a library job, and you can do the same. The following activities will allow you to demonstrate practical application of library skills without ever becoming a library employee:

Become an intern. This suggestion may not seem much different than getting a job in a library. In fact, it could seem worse because you usually won’t even get paid. However, the right internship can offer you benefits that a traditional job may not. Internships are usually designed for students, so employers fully expect to work around an academic schedule. Internships also often require less of a time commitment than other positions. I’m currently interning at a public library and I’m only required to work ten hours a week, which is not overwhelming to add to my course load and twenty hour per week assistantship. As an added bonus, my program also accepts internships for course credit. Don’t know how to find an internship? Check out this recent advice from HLS guest author Rachel Friedman and this post from Christina Czuhajewski.

Volunteer. If you can’t integrate the time commitment of an internship into your schedule, you may want to consider volunteer work as an alternative. Not only will volunteer work place you in a library setting, but it also demonstrates a community-minded attitude that potential employers will view favorably. A couple hours a week over an extended period of time will indicate that you are familiar with the day-to-day operations of a library beyond what you were taught in the classroom, and as Guest Author Katie Westlake points out, librarians need and appreciate the help.

Get involved in student organizations. It could possibly be HLS writers’ most frequent suggestion, but there’s a reason for that. Student organization involvement has a plethora of benefits, including building community and creating networking opportunities. In this case, though, you’ll want to be active in your student organizations to gain experience planning and implementing programs and events. Work with student organizations can provide you with opportunities to form community partnerships, as well. If you can work in a leadership position, you can also demonstrate your ability to delegate and supervise others. While you won’t necessarily be in a library building while working with your student organization, the skills you develop will be directly transferable to a library setting.

Present at a conference. I haven’t personally presented at a conference, but other HLS writers have. Conference presentations demonstrate that you are actively engaged in topics and issues affecting the library community beyond your coursework. It also shows that you are comfortable speaking to groups of people and can communicate your ideas clearly. In addition, it connects you to other library professionals, some of whom may be reviewing your application one day.

One aspect of library school that I truly love is that all of us have such different backgrounds.The library school experience is certainly not one size fits all, so why should our practical experiences be? Whether you have an assistantship like me, or have your hands full with raising a family and completing school, or already have a full-time job you can’t give up without the right replacement, or have any other circumstance that prevents you from getting a job at a library while you’re in school, you don’t have to limit yourself when job-hunting season rolls around.

Will you graduate without working in a library? Tell us about your experience and ideas in the comments!

5 replies

  1. I’m in my second semester of library school and I’m also a volunteer at my public library. The librarians there know know I’m also a student so, I tend to get jobs and assignments that vary from the mix of shelving or taking the new stickers off of books. I’m currently also the Volunteer, Volunteer Coordinator and tentatively going to be helping the Friends of this branch put on their book sale.

    My takeaway: Definitely volunteer if you don’t have the time for an internship, but still want some experience!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Increasingly jobs are asking for management and/or teaching experience. This is very hard to get even for people working in libraries already. Any tips on how to get these? Specifically the management one, I’ve noticed this on a lot of role specifications for academic librarian positions.


    • Good question. My MLIS program requires 4 weeks of management-related internship experience so we’ve been discussing with our class advisor on how to arrange this. She suggested that if you have or can arrange a more general internship or library job, you can ask to add a component in which you work with management responsibilities for part of your time there and learn how they do their job. For example, that you shadow them a few hours a day for a month. Also, piggybacking on @simply0strange’s comment – perhaps you can become a Volunteer Coordinator. At my old work, this job was done by a entry-level library assistant – me!

      Liked by 1 person

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