The semester is winding down. Some of us are graduating and will be waiting out hiring freezes, and others of us are facing a summer with radically changed plans or no plans at all. With no conferences to go to and most internships cancelled, what can we do besides sit at home, twiddling our thumbs? I’m not a fan of the idea that we have to be productive 24/7 but the reality is that the job market for librarians is about to go from “so-so” to “total collapse”, and this summer needs to be spent building skills that are applicable everywhere, to improve our chances of getting a job. Any job.
This one’s a bit obvious, but everyone needs more computer skills. Here’s the trick, though: don’t go hog-wild and try to learn all of the skills. Pick one that seems like it would be interesting or fun and focus on getting good at it. Python, R, and MySQL are hot right now. Check with your school to see if you can get free access to Tableau. Become a master of Excel. If you have a more artistic bent, learn how to use Adobe Photoshop. If you’re going into Youth Services, pick up a Raspberry Pi and get fancy with it. Tutorials are available for every learning style and are just a browser search away.
If you haven’t given up on a library career just yet, spend some time each day building your network. Networking was important before These Unprecedented Times and it’s even more important now. Set up a LinkedIn profile and make it as professional as possible. If you’re not sure what professional should look like, take a look at the profile of the dean of your academic library and model it after that. Get active on library Twitter. The goal here is to get people familiar with your name, and you’re aiming for the slow build. You don’t need to be best buddies right now, and a friendly post is just as good as a witty one. Check to see if your school has a mentor program, or if your advisor can help you set up some informational interviews. Or get creative! One of my school’s staff members set up a correspondence club for current students and alumni, where interested people can share their addresses and exchange postcards. It’s a nice way to keep in touch and make new friends.
This one keeps me up nights. I feel pretty good about my resume overall, but in every job ad I see “exceptional communication skills” as a requirement and honestly, I’m not even sure what they mean by that. But that won’t stop me from giving you advice! Many librarians give presentations—you could practice by putting together a short webinar about a topic you’re interested in, or you could make a video of you reading a children’s book out loud. It’s okay it it’s terrible! It’s just practice. Read about convincing people with statistics and incorporate it into your presentation. Put together a guide about how to use a library service- start with something basic, like searching the online catalog. Think of the most technology-adverse, cranky person you know and really think about how to get them comfortable with finding their own materials. Look up information about different learning styles or what you can do to make your tutorials and presentations more accessible to people with disabilities. If you finish the summer with something you’d be happy to show a potential employer, great! If you don’t quite get there, you’re still better than when you started, and you’ve got something to talk about at job interviews when they ask you to describe how you overcame an obstacle.
This is another one that can be difficult to quantify—most of us don’t get a lot of opportunities to successfully organize a fundraiser to save the old orphanage, after all, and only one person at a time can be the president of the local ALA student chapter. So start small, and look around for something you can do. In less Unprecedented times I would recommend picking a small local organization and volunteering regularly because if you’re reliable and can use a spreadsheet, you’ll be the director/president/managing editor before twelve months have passed. For now, however, try wrangling your friends into a joint effort. Start and manage a correspondence group. Put together a practice online conference with some people from school where you each present on a topic. Form a virtual study group to provide some external accountability for your learning goals. Create an answer to the interview question “tell us about a time you showed initiative or lead a project.”
Remember, you can still spend most of your vacation lounging and reading YA novels! Set one or two goals for the summer and spend an hour each day working towards them. I like to be productive in the morning so I can spend the rest of the day watching cat videos without guilt, but pick a time that works best for you. If you can’t manage an hour, try starting with five minutes. Five minutes is better than no minutes, and can lead to great results over time. If you start a project and you hate it, switch to something that you like better.
If you’re still at a loss for what to do, pull up a list of common interview questions. Find one that you would have a hard time with and set out to create an answer.
Emily is finishing her second semester of library school at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Her goal for the summer is to learn how to read books again, instead of signing up for every webinar that traipses through her inbox.