Opening Doors: Making the Most of Your Grad School Job

Most of us will work our way through library school. Whether it’s a graduate assistantship, a part-time gig at a public library, or an internship at an archive, we’re all doing something to pay those bills. As we move on to more permanent library positions post-graduation, these jobs will be critical to where we end up working. The experience alone is excellent, but there are ways to get even more out of your library school job.

So far during my time in library school, I’ve had four different jobs/internships/volunteer gigs in academic libraries, a public library, and a museum. Below are the things that I have learned and how they have helped me get ahead.

Take advantage of networking opportunities

Get to know the librarians at your organization! Don’t be afraid to introduce yourself and ask questions. Talk to people in multiple departments to get an idea of what they do – so you can get an idea of what you want to do. If the idea of networking makes you groan, read this for some encouragement. Your place of employment may even be willing to sponsor you to attend a conference. Hey, it never hurts to ask!

How this has helped me: One of the best ways to network I’ve found at my job is to volunteer for committees and task forces. Not only do I get to meet many colleagues this way, but I get a peek at the inner workings of my library.

Photo from My Way Pictures on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Photo from My Way Pictures on Flickr Commons. Licensed under CC 2.0.

Ask to take on a project that interests you

Want to learn web design? Never created a libguide before? Have in interest in making book displays? Offer to do it! Especially if it goes above and beyond your responsibilities. Your supervisors will be impressed with your ambition and you’ll gain one more skill for your resume.

How this has helped me: I learned the basics of bookbinding as a way to keep myself busy during slow periods at my library. I got to learn something fun and new and the library saves money by not having to outsource their bookbinding.

Shadow a librarian

In case you haven’t noticed yet, librarians are some of the kindest and most helpful people on Earth. Ask to shadow a librarian and they will be thrilled! It may be most helpful to shadow them for a specific activity, such as reference desk time or during an instruction session. Make sure you plan ahead so you have lots of questions! And shoot them an email afterwards to say thanks. Oh, and this definitely counts as networking.

How this has helped me: At one of my internships I had the opportunity to sit in on an instruction session led by a librarian. Since I’m most interested in academic libraries, I don’t get a whole lot of opportunities to work with senior citizens. This instruction session was for students in the lifelong learning program, most of whom tend to be 60+. I couldn’t believe all the differences I found between instruction for undergraduates and for lifelong learning students!

Apply your schoolwork to your job

Many of the projects in library school allow you some freedom in how you interpret the assignment. When possible, see if there’s a way to apply the assignment to the library where you work. You may find some ways to improve the library and your employers will be impressed with your gumption.

How this has helped me: In my collection development class we had to do an environmental scan and build a hypothetical collection for a library of our choice. I chose the library where I work and though I’ve been here for over three years, I learned so much not only about my library but about my university in general. I also sought the advice of librarians that I had not had the chance to work with, which helped me build connections and gain a greater understanding of the library as a whole.

If you’re really lucky, your library school job could lead to a full-time job. If not, you’ll have made awesome connections and gained valuable work experience. If you’re still looking for a position, check out this job hunt starter kit or this post with job search advice.


What’s your lib school job like? What ways have you found to make the most of your experience?

Editor’s note: this post was originally published November 23, 2015.

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