The new school year has started, and with just two semesters left of my MLIS program, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what practical skills I want have by the time I start looking for a job. In one of my classes last year, the instructor asked us to spend a class period looking at current job listings to see what qualifications we would need, and I decided it was time to repeat that exercise.
My process was this: find current postings for jobs I like, make a list of both the required and preferred skills and qualifications, figure out which ones I already feel confident in, and make a plan for developing the rest.
I already knew that my ideal job would involve instruction and reference, so when looking at job listings, I searched specifically for instruction librarian positions. Once my list was made, I took some time to self-reflect on what my current skill levels are, taking into consideration not just my MLIS classes and current library work, but also skills learned through undergrad, volunteer work, and non-library jobs. For example, while I did not have library-specific project management experience, I had served as art director for several student publications during undergrad, and managed a team of lifeguards at my part-time job at an indoor pool.
For the skills I do not already have or do not feel confident in, I made a plan for acquiring them. I have very little instruction experience, so this semester I am taking a class on pedagogy. I am also focusing on instruction in my practicum, and hope to gain experience with both in-person and online instruction.
Here are some of my main takeaways from this exercise.
You don’t have to know what you’re looking for before you start looking
If you are not sure what kind of library job you’re interested in, it is still worth it to look at job listings and highlight which functions stand out as interesting to you. Eventually you might see patterns. When I entered library school last year I never thought I would be interested in teaching, but when I started looking at job listings, I realized a lot of the things that excite me about library work are related to instruction.
Notice which skills show up on multiple listings
As you are taking notes and making your list, emphasize skills you see listed frequently, particularly if they are listed in the required qualifications section. While it would be great to be a jack-of-all-trades, we all have limited time and energy so pick out the ones that seem the most essential to the positions you want. Talking to your professors or your advisor about job posts that interest you can also help you decide what skills you should prioritize.
Sometimes you can’t fit a full-semester class on a specific skill set in. Look for online workshops or seminars. If your program doesn’t offer a class on digitization but that’s something you really want to learn, see if there is a local archive or historical society that will let you volunteer your help with scanning objects.
You do not need to be good at everything.
Particularly with things that fall into the preferred skills category, not having one or several of those skills does not disqualify you from getting a job, and should not deter you from applying for one. I like to use the skill requirements as guideposts to point me in the right direction, not as boxes I’m required to check off. It is also okay if you don’t come out of this exercise with a plan for how to gain every skill on your list. Having made the list means you can reflect back on it in the future when deciding on what classes to register for, or if a workshop seems like it is worth taking.
Robin is the Community Manager of Hack Library School, and a student at University of Wisconsin Madison. They like tea, comics, and making lists. They are on Twitter at @robinmgee