When I received my acceptance for my MLIS, I did not have any practical library experience, nor did I have a library job lined up. While I was eventually able to land a graduate assistant position at an academic library, I was worried that my previous experiences would not be useful or appreciated in the library job market. In fact, the first cover letter I drafted for my job search failed to include any of my previous experience outside of libraries. My supervisor read through my draft and assured me that I should include experiences outside of libraries. They were relevant and addressed some of the skills employers were asking for in job posts.
After reading through multiple job posts, I can see that this is true. The skills needed to be successful in the library profession can be found and developed in jobs outside of the library world. It’s a matter of tailoring those outside skills to a library job. I want to discuss some skills that have repeatedly come up in library job posts, but don’t necessarily have to be developed in a library job.
Libraries serve the needs of their communities. Whether that community includes the public, students, or researchers, working in a library means working with people. Customer service experience and interpersonal skills are translatable skills, and can be learned in many jobs outside of libraries. Retail, food, hospitality, and other service industry jobs are great for developing these skills. Active listening, empathy, and a desire to get to the bottom of an issue are present at a cash register and at the circulation desk. If you’ve worked in call centers or helped customers over chat, you’ll be more comfortable staffing virtual reference points in a library. The point is, if you’ve worked in the service industry, or if you’ve been in a position that included frequently communicating and working with other people, you have skills that are important to the library profession. Many people do not have customer service skills on their resume/CV, so you’re in a good position if you do, no matter which job you learned it from.
I used to be afraid of talking to people over the phone, but then I took a job in a call center and got over that fear quickly. Learning how to communicate through different methods such as in-person, over the phone, email, chat, or through video is a valuable skill. We now have the means to connect with people all over the world, and many libraries expect their employees to be comfortable communicating through whatever means necessary. Writing or blogging experience can show you know how to talk to people through writing. If you’ve held a telecommuting position or collaborated on projects virtually, then you’ve been building communication skills that translate to the library. Any position that requires communicating through multiple channels is good experience for libraries.
No matter the library job, it’s inevitable that you will be working with or collaborating on projects with multiple people. This might mean working with donors to create an archival collection, collaborating with faculty for collection development, or partnering with an organization to create a library program. Collaborating with others can also boost productivity and work performance. Working with others who have skills that we do not or having different experiences on a team can provide solutions and results that may not have manifested if the work were done by one person. I consider the years I’ve spent playing softball a good example of my ability to work on a team and there are many other jobs or activities that value teamwork as well. Working on group projects, though sometimes frustrating, provides experience navigating different personalities and working towards a common goal. Teamwork and collaboration experience can be developed in classes, through hobbies, and through many types of jobs.
Not everyone is tech savvy and with new social media platforms, software solutions, apps, and hardware common in our society, libraries are looking for people who are able to navigate the tech world. If you’ve managed social media accounts for a company, are familiar with creating guides and tutorials, or have conducted meetings via online platforms, then you already have some of the skills that libraries are looking for. Coding is also popular in libraries and is useful for library programming, but also for working on library websites and with library systems.
It would be impossible to mention every skill that is relevant to the library world. Considering what skills you may have that others won’t can provide an edge in the job search. Maybe it’s supervisory experience, project management, or marketing, but ultimately, your skills and experience outside of libraries is valuable. Don’t discount it and don’t be afraid to talk about those skills and experiences in job interviews and cover letters.
Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter.