The Unexpected Labor of Library Job Applications

It’s that time of the semester, when students finishing their degree in the spring are frantically applying for jobs, and it’s all they seem to talk about. Or at least, that is absolutely the case for me. HLS writers have already written a bit about this process. From things learned during the process, to how to pick your first job, and how to add non-library jobs to your resume, this is not uncharted territory for this blog.

I’ve applied for thirteen jobs already, and have a job application spreadsheet to track the ones I have applied for or want to apply for. I have had one phone interview, one video interview, and one in-person, on-campus interview where I was flown to the academic library. It’s an absolutely exhausting process, draining my time and my emotions. I expected this going in, I had heard it’s basically a part-time job in itself. And it absolutely it. Finding jobs, writing cover letters, tweaking the CV to fit that position, contacting references – there is a lot of work that goes into it. However, it seemed particularly draining and I couldn’t quite put my finger on why, until a friend pointed out she was surprised at how much extra (obviously unpaid) labor goes into library job applications.

Traditionally, in applying for jobs, you write a cover letter, have a resume or CV, then get contacted for a phone interview, and then an in-person interview. There is a certain level of preparation that obviously goes into those things, which is exhausting in itself. However, seeing friends and through my own experiences, there are often many other steps in the process.

For example, one friend has to create a learning object as a part of the qualification process. This is unpaid work, but something that, at an academic library job, you would obviously get paid for. Worse (in my opinion) it was required before the phone interview. Another person I know had to go in to take a written exam for a part-time reference librarian position, with no knowledge of what the test was on before going. And of course, the academic library interview process is incredibly intense. It is a full day, usually with a presentation. If you don’t live in the area, you have to travel. For me, this meant missing two days of work and a full day for working on assignments.

I acknowledge that this happens in other disciplines as well. As I mentioned the job search is a draining, time-consuming process, and librarianship is not unique in this. However, part of the problem for our field in particular, I think was touched on in an article that was going around last year about vocational awe. Often, people become librarians because they are passionate about this work, and about helping people. The library is almost a deified space. But we can’t forget that, as much as we might love it, it is still just our job. Additionally, as current students, there are still commitments that must be completed before a job can even be started.

I don’t have a solution for this, just hopefully some solidarity for others out there who are going through this process. If you have thoughts about this, I’d love to hear them in the comments. These extra steps are mostly something to keep in mind while budgeting time to apply for jobs.

And since this was not the most optimistic point of view on job applications, here are a few ways I’ve learned to deal with them:

  • Take a walk. Sometimes I just need to get out of my own head, get some fresh air.
  • Complete one small thing. Maybe there is a small cataloging assignment you’ve been off, or an email that needs to be sent. I’ve found that getting that one thing done makes me feel like I’ve taken at least a small step forward.
  • Mutual productivity. I like to find a friend who is also applying for jobs, and go to a cafe or the library together to work on it together. Fair warning though, this often just leads to chatting with a friend, but that is also a great break to take.
  • Ask current librarians for advice and help. I have turned to just about every current professional I know for advice on this topic. Former and current supervisors, people I’ve met through associations, I can’t even begin to express how helpful they have been in this process. ALIMB is a great resource to contact professionals in jobs similar to what you’re applying for.

Cover image by rawpixel.com from Pexels. 


Carrie Hanson is a MISt Candidate at McGill University’s School of Information Studies in Montreal. She currently works as a student librarian in a public library and is involved in numerous student associations. Connect with her on Twitter @icarriebooks

3 replies

  1. Thanks for this! I feel less alone. “Complete one small thing” is getting me through right now. I’m also trying to think of it less as a job and more as a game. Sometimes there are exciting boss fights (interviews), but mostly it is just grinding.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good luck with your endeavors! I finished my MLIS degree winter of 2014. I worked full-time throughout the program and happened to be in an entry-level, salaried role, where there was a lot of opportunity. I eventually finished the program in a position where I did not really have the resume of a to-be entry-level librarian, but my professional skills and experience at that point were worth low six-figures in business. I did still try to apply to library roles, but I did feel that so many of the expectations of being a candidate required so much thankless work. (A lot of work without making a living wage.) Obviously you don’t get into librarianship for the money. Still where I was living at the time (major US metropolitan area), entry-level librarian salaries were around $40,000 and required a master’s degree. I didn’t want to take the paycut at that point and was pretty much over it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It absolutely is draining to apply for jobs, and personally, I believe academic library positions have the longest and most intensive processes, for whatever reasons. One aspect is that these are sometimes faculty positions, and faculty jobs have intensive interview processes, so the library faculty job application and interview process often mirrors that for other faculty, with creation of teaching materials, learning objects, lengthy presentations, etc. However, as a longtime library director/dean, I am acutely aware of the work that goes into this, and have taken steps wherever I can to make this more manageable. I refuse to request that anyone do ANYTHING for our job application before even being called for a phone/online interview, beyond the CV and cover letter. That’s just unreasonable, and I would personally not apply to such a job myself – though I absolutely recognize that this comes from a position of currently having a job, and if you don’t, you’re more likely to be willing to do more in advance. But I wish libraries wouldn’t do this – it’s not a reasonable request in my view, and most of the applicants will do this work in vain. To me, it is only reasonable to request additional work of the 3-4 campus finalists, when you are trying to figure out who really would be best at the job in your particular institution – and even there, be reasonable!

    Liked by 2 people

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