This Librarian’s Blog Name Says It All

In a recent Sudden Thoughts and Second Thoughts I asked – in a not so direct way – what ACRLog readers wanted us to write about – and a few of you shared your thoughts – though I really didn’t expect that. One comment in particular stood out and I wanted to share it with ACRLog readers. This one comes from Elizabeth, who writes:

I’m a newly graduated LIS student trying to break into the world of academic librarianship. I’m having an extremely hard time getting interviews, so I would love a little real-world advice. Most of my classmates are still unemployed, so I know there are many of us out there who love some first-hand advice on getting a job and what being an academic librarian is really like.

What made me most want to mention Elizabeth’s comment was the name of her blog, which tells you everything you need to know about her situation and her interest in the topic: The Adventures of an Unemployed Librarian.

Just the fact that we have a new-to-the-profession colleague coming up with a blog name like that should somehow concern us. It’s encouraging to know we have enthusiastic folks who want to break into our world of academic librarianship, but it’s disappointing that we have so little to offer them. Let’s see if we can help Elizabeth and her classmates by responding to her two questions: (1) advice on how to get a job and (2) what it’s like to be an academic librarian.

My not-so-original primary piece of advice is to start getting library experience early and often in your developing career. Take advantage of every opportunity to land an internship (in the Philadelphia region several academic libraries offer them) or possibly a part-time position. It may offer only limited professional experience, but more importantly you’ll be getting exposure to the environment and people. You need to start building your network early. If your region has any sort of local library association for academic librarians (in the past the Philadelphia region has had a number of informal groups that were not affiliated with ACRL) try to get involved – or at least attend meetings. It’s a good way to start connecting with other academic librarians who can provide advice and support. In my academic libraries course (which I’m unfortunately not teaching for the first time in seven years – being replaced by a full-time faculty member – for now) my project assignment requires the students to get out to academic libraries to interview librarians. If Elizabeth had an assignment like that at some point in her LIS education I don’t think she’d be asking, post-graduation, what it’s like to be an academic librarian. Our future professionals should be finding out the answer to that question while they’re in the LIS program. Meredith gave some advice that could help with respect to positioning yourself for letting potential employers know who you are and what you’ve accomplished in your career path to date. I advocate starting a portfolio of your work early on in graduate school, and keeping it up to date and accessible to potential employers.

Elizabeth, if you and your fellow unemployed students have heard all that advice before, you have my apologies for my failure to provide enlightenment. Let me see if I can do better on your second question. I could go on for several thousand words on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. In fact, I have. My first piece of advice is to take a look at an article I wrote a few years ago titled “Passion For Academic Librarianship: Find It, Keep It, Sustain It–A Reflective Inquiry”. PORTAL: LIBRARIES AND THE ACADEMY 3(4):633-642, October 2003. I think it will give you my perspective on what it’s like to be an academic librarian. But there are many perspectives, which is why you can help yourself by using time you may have now to go to academic libraries in your area to meet and talk with academic librarians. I know this sounds like an awkward thing to do, but I’m sure most academic librarians would be glad to have a cup of coffee with you and tell you about their job and their take on the profession. Try not to be totally random though; try to get recommendations from an experience colleague. So if you have any contacts in your area (if you don’t get in touch and perhaps I can find a good one for you) ask that person for some advice on good folks with which to chat.

A final thought about Elizabeth’s blog. I think it can help to have a thoughtful blog. As a potential employer I might like to see if someone is intellectually curious, and what sort of issues they are thinking about through the posts they write. If a potential job candidate is expressing an interest in academic librarianship, how is that reflected in their blog posts? I’d consider re-thinking the title of the blog. It might be better to have something with a more positive spin that reflects an interest in academic librarianship. What about “The Adventures of a Future Academic Librarian”? Or if you are really interested in what it’s like to be an academic librarian, start writing some profiles of academic librarians and what they do. Call the blog something like “What it Means to be an Academic Librarian”, and use it to learn about the profession as you explore the issues of the day.

What other advice do ACRLog readers have for Elizabeth and her classmates?

31 thoughts on “This Librarian’s Blog Name Says It All

  1. Leave the profession. There are other opportunities out there. The basic fact is that there are just not nearly enough full time jobs to go around for every qualified new LS grad who wants to work at an academic library, even if you do everything you are supposed to. You have marketable skills, and will do yourself a favor if you broaden your search to consider other roles/organizations where you can use them and be appreciated and appropriately compensated.
    It is appalling that instead of addressing this problems with the library schools, academic library leaders continue to foster the delusion among young grads that they have a future in libraries. Most will not have that future. Let’s cut the pretense and be honest. To do anything else is dishonest, unethical, and irresponsible.

  2. I really feel for Elizabeth. I’m in a similar boat. After getting my MLIS and a second master’s degree with hopes of a full-time academic position, I feel lucky just to be working four hours per week in a local library — four hours per WEEK! The debt that has accumulated over the years is astounding. I can anticipate paying off my loans in 30 years. That means I’ll be debt-free for one or two years before I retire. That is, if I ever find a full-time job to retire from. . .

  3. So, you all might hate me, but I am a recent graduate with the holy grail of library jobs – full time academic on the tenure track. I’m going to tell you what I did with the caveat that everyone is different.

    1) Get as much experience as humanly possible – before/after school/work, whenever it fits. You just won’t be worth the risk to an employer if you don’t have any background showing that you are reliable and won’t just quit in two months when you realize that the job isn’t for you. Most importantly get as much different types of experience as possible. I currently work in government documents, but I’ve previously worked with circulation and reserve, reference, and cataloging. This makes me valuable because I can in theory step in anywhere I’m needed.

    2) Don’t be picky. Apply EVERYWHERE including places you don’t necessarily want to work. You just can’t afford to be picky or inflexible when you are trying to get your first job. Again, I am incredibly lucky and was able to get a job at an institution I love, in an area that I am pretty ok with. Sure, I’d rather be closer to family and friends or in an area that has demographics a little closer to where I’m from, but I can’t complain.

    3) Get your resume and cover letters critiqued. Many library schools have alumnae that will help out with this. It’s important to get a librarian’s point of view vs. just a career center’s.

    4) Set up an RSS feed with job websites. Check it every day and apply for anything you’re sort of qualified for.

    5) Don’t take it personally. I know this is impossible, but it’s true. There are at least 60 and closer to 100 candidates for every job posted.

    6) Don’t give up. The only way I can guarantee that you won’t get a job is if you stop applying.

    7) Find a way to differentiate yourself. Did you have an unusual undergraduate major (e.g. not english or creative writing)? Did you study abroad in a country that doesn’t speak English? (You probably understand how international students feel when they’re too self conscious about their language skills to ask for help.) Are you passionate about a library issue? (I see you posted about intellectual freedom – use that passion. Tie it into something the school is doing or use it as a way to say that you bring something important to the table.)

    Most importantly – don’t become too negative or let the people who are negative get to you. I avoid most of the young librarian mailing lists and forums simply because they are full of people who are angry and bitter about being unemployed. Yes, the job search is terrible. We all know that. And no, not everyone who graduates with an MLIS will get a job in libraries, but the same could be said about any degree.

    I don’t know if any of this is helpful for you, but it’s how I navigated the system. Your mileage may vary, but it isn’t impossible.

  4. Commenter Andy says that recent, unemployed grads should move on to other fields and make use of all the marketable skills we have, but even that is easier said than done. When your entire resume is filled with library jobs (as mine is, before, during and after my graduation), that’s all anyone will see. And despite the frequent claims from all directions that librarians have many marketable skills (and we do), it is a real challenge to convince people in another field of that.
    I’ve been applying to any library position that comes about that I’m remotely qualified for, and putting in for positions in a variety of seemingly unrelated jobs by tailoring my resume and putting real effort into selling myself in cover letters, and nobody seems to be interested.

  5. Andy, really? She’s newly-graduated and it’s time to give up? I’d agree with “think wider than the traditional profession,” but your advice is callous and counter-productive.

    Emily, come join us at the Library Society of the World! It’s free, it’s friendly, and while we may not help you find a job, you can build a professional network, ask questions, and have a good time while you look for a job. Most of the action is on FriendFeed: http://friendfeed.com/lsw and there’s some more info/history at http://thelsw.org/ Just show up and introduce yourself.

  6. I am trying to be gentle but honest here.

    My advice to Elizabeth is, frankly, not to mention her blog on her applications. Identifying oneself as an “unemployed librarian” isn’t how she wants to present herself to potential employers. Unless her blog is pseudonymous, but there did seem to be some identifying details there. (I say this despite the fact that her blog is quite charming, and the recipes look very tasty!).

    One thing I do like is when job seekers attempt to keep their personal life at least somewhat separate from their professional identify. In fact, I think it’s a rare librarian who can ever bring the personal too much into their online professional presence. I don’t want to be able to find your personal blog or your Facebook profile or your Twitter stream or know about your roommates.

    It’s a great blog, but I would keep it separate from a professional identity.

    I was sorry to read that Elizabeth didn’t realize how long the job process could take… that suggests, to me, a lack of mentoring and guidance from her school. LIScareer.org is a fantastic resource for all these questions, about how to apply, when to apply, etc.

    Finally, I would suggest no entry level librarian should be turning down any job offer unless the situation seems somehow abusive. It is *much* easier to get a second job than a first job. But having gotten a couple of interviews and at least one offer suggests she’s on the right track.

    My apologies if this came across too harshly.

  7. I feel for all the unemployed and underemployed grads out there – the current climate for jobs is as bad as I’ve seen it – but want to echo what Steve and Elizabeth said.

    There are ways to be professionally involved for free (except for your time and whatever it costs to go online) and any experience you can get that will help you understand what you’re getting into and give help a lot. Going on the job market is hard enough when you’re up against people with years of experience. Also, it helps if you can be open to going to wherever a job that sounds like a match for you is. It may not be where you want to spend the rest of your life, but it may be a place to start.

  8. Elizabeth (not the blogger, but the commenter, above) made excellent points, especially about getting lots of different kinds of job experience while in school.

    I had two great job offers during my final semester of library school, but that was after sending out more than — I can hardly even remember — 30 or 40 applications. Maybe more. One place specifically commented that I had a good amount of experience for an entry-level candidate, and I hadn’t worked in a library before I started school.

    And it really does get easier to get a second or third job. Do your time in a first job you’re not thrilled with (you might be surprised by how much you can learn at any library, and how great some places can be), and get choosier down the road.

  9. I’m an ex-librarian and after two decades, I went into another field. (The last straw was when I had an all-day interview at my alma mater, Drexel U., and they didn’t even bother to send me a rejection letter when I didn’t get the job!) The field is rapidly and constantly shrinking, and there are too many schools that are providing MLS degrees in an online diploma mill scenario. Frankly, the work I did as a librarian didn’t need me to get a MLS. I could have been trained and learned my skills on the job, and a lot of employers are realizing that fact and turning jobs over to paraprofessionals. So goodbye to a miserable and unrewarding field from yours truly.

  10. I am in the same boat as Elizabeth and have found myself completely and utterly frustrated by the following situation: I apply for a job with no posted deadline (“open until filled” seems to be the wording of choice lately) and upon receipt of my application, I am sent an automated email asking that, while they appreciate my interest in the position, I not contact the institution to inquire about the hiring process. So what am I supposed to do?

    I’ve been told time and time again that following up and showing an interest in the position is one of the best ways to stand out in this job market. But blindly applying for academic positions (that I know can take months to fill) has left me unemployed and frustrated. Any advice?!

  11. Katie, my advice is this: be patient. The rules are different in academic libraries–I know this having been on both sides of the hiring process. Following up, except for confirming that they received your application, will not help at all! In fact, the committee members won’t ever even know–unless you are contacting HR so much you become a pest.

    So, yeah, just wait.

    Last summer, I applied for the perfect job. It was posted on a Friday, with an application deadline of the following Monday. I figured there was some internal candidate, but I went ahead and applied anyway. Six or seven weeks later, I got a call for a phone interview. Two months later I was there for an on-campus interview. I started five months after the job was first posted.

    And this was a relatively fast process!

  12. I just want to say wow! I am amazed that Steven read what I said in the comments and took the opportunity to try and help me (and all the other unemployed librarians out there) out. I am so greatful; you have no idea. I have read all of these comments, and I’m really surprised by all the varying ideas on how best to handle these situations. I’ve posted a response to all of this on my blog so please stop by!

    Again, thanks so much for helping me out. I appreciate every bit of advice no matter how harsh. Actually at this point, I don’t think there is such thing as being too harsh. :) Please leave me comments or send me an email if you have anything to share or have any suggestions/contacts/potential jobs for me.

  13. Just in case anyone is interested, the job situation is the same in Canada. I’m a soon-to-be-graduating MLIS student. Most of my year cohort is quite discouraged: very few of us are getting interviews and fewer still are getting jobs. Thanks for the advice above. It’s also nice to know everyone is in the same situation – there’s comfort in numbers I suppose!

  14. I echo all of the comments by JP and Elizabeth (the commenter above, not the blogger). I would also like to share a bit about my search for a position in an academic library, which is currently underway. I have applied for 26 positions in reference/instruction; I’ve had four phone interviews, two on-campus interviews, one offer–and I don’t think it’s over yet! I know waiting to hear from a potential employer can be agony, but patience pays off, as other commenters have indicated. Throughout my job search, I’ve had excellent mentors, particularly from librarians for whom I worked in an academic library during my LIS program. They critiqued my cover letters, CV and presentations, discussed interview questions, and talked about the nuts and bolts of the hiring process. I believe I’m a qualified candidate with great education and experience, but I firmly believe that strong mentorship has helped me find success on the job market. Mentors are more than “contacts,” they are people with whom I have a valued relationship that I will maintain beyond my first job search.

    Some other things I’ve done during this process include: sending my resume to the New Member’s Round Table’s resume review service; reading a lot of excellent publications and blogs posts about the profession and the job search (for example, http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/2009/what-not-to-do-when-applying-for-library-jobs/); and seeking the advice and support of recent LIS graduates who are also engaged in this process to be especially helpful. All of this has been part of a carefully considered strategy to get a job.

  15. Elizabeth, I was in your situation not too long ago and I’d like to first echo one thing that has already been said: don’t be picky. My first job in an academic library was as the administrative assistant for the cataloging department. I ordered coffee and fixed the copier most of time. But I took the time to learn what others were doing and how they did it. In short, I surveyed the landscape and memorized the terrain. So when a job opened up (they always do eventually), I was right there with my resume in hand. From the perspective of my employer, it was easier to train me than to bring someone in from the outside even though I had far less experience. I’m still not in the job that I truly and deeply want, but I’m one step closer and, in the least, I’m working for an academic library and this makes all the difference in my job satisfaction. =)

    Also, do you subscribe to any listservs? Job postings come up there at least once a week.

  16. As a library director who has completed two search in the past several years, I have read a lot of applications. While it might not be the key to getting a job, I can tell you that, at least for me, cover letters mean a lot. I want to read a letter that tells me why you want the job – that you understand our mission at a small, public, liberal arts institution. If you refer to us as a university, or a coporation in your letter that tells me you aren’t thinking about who we are.

    I need to know you are really interested in what we do, and that you have thought about how you could learn and contribute as part of our library. This all may sound corny to you, but these letters are so few and far between that they really stand out to me. A cover letter which rehashes your resume is one I pass over pretty quickly.

    You can do all this in a page (or 1 1/3 pages) – really. Don’t tell me what I can read in your resume. Tell me why you want THIS job. I know that won’t guarantee anything, and perhaps other directors will tell you something different, but I think a really good letter can make an application really stand out.

  17. I’d like to echo Elizabeth the Commenter’s advice. I received my MLS in May 2007 and began a tenure-track position at an academic library in August 2007.

    I applied for the job I ended up getting in December of 2006 (the first job for which I applied) and was first contacted by the university in early May, so academia takes a long time. I also applied to about 60 jobs, which led to perhaps 8-10 phone interviews and 3 in-person interviews and, finally, one job.

    Geographic flexibility was key for me. I was picky about the type of job I wanted (instruction) but not the location. I ended up moving from the Northeast to the Deep South, and while I was apprehensive about it I took the perspective that if I absolutely hated it, I could at least stick it out for a few years to gain experience. To my surprise, I’ve actually grown quite fond of the area and I absolutely love my job.

  18. Celia, thank you. That is fantastic advice. Straight and to the point. I never thought about it before, but I HAVE been rehashing my CV in my cover letter. All I do is talk about myself. I never even mention the job I’m applying for at all. What was I thinking?!

    Thank you, thank you for the extremely helpful advice.

  19. Unfortunately the same scarcity of jobs for newly minted PhD academics has apparently caught up to academic librarianship as well. I can only tell Elizabeth that applying for jobs is a full time job…you should keep a running file of all jobs applied for, rejections, etc. Probably it would be good to churn out an application once a day or more frequently if you can manage. I applied to so many positions during my job search; eventually you’ll get a phone interview here and there and not make the next cut, but it’s all valuable practice. I am back to being unemployed but have held 2 professional positions so far in my brief library career. My challenge is that I started out in Cataloging, and try as I might, I just couldn’t ever feel comfortable in the job and the rare chances I got to do some Reference work really lifted me up…I realized I need to be at the Reference Desk and not locked away in Tech Services…but now I have to convince a search committee of that out there somewhere. I’ve phone interviewed for Reference jobs before but the only face-to-face interviews I got were for cataloging positions. I was a finalist (top 4) for a job in South Carolina and had an on-campus interview, but I didn’t make it. No, they didn’t send me a rejection either but I did finally call to get the bad news. They had to go with another candidate with more experience. It happens. One cataloging position I interviewed for in Missouri, also on campus–it was a small community college and they were wanting the successful candidate to take over as director after one year–a suggestion which I balked at, and that eliminated me from further consideration; but in the end probably a good move for both of us. I’m sure they hired someone more confident and ready to take the reins like that rather than a newbie like me fresh out of library school.

    I am trying to focus on Reference jobs now, but I do sometimes send out cover letter/resume to choice cataloging positions that appeal to me. I was lucky during my first two searches to be gainfully employed with a large insurance company that I’d worked for off and on for the better part of 10 years. No such luck this time around, as that company is under a promotion and hiring freeze and can’t take me back even though they want to.
    I’m giving some serious thought to getting into Law Enforcement as an alternative career as I’m not getting any younger, and I could use the steadier (and higher) paycheck and better retirement package. I also think I need a job that’s not bound to a desk all the time (the way cataloging is).

    I’m very fortunate to be able to move back in with my parents after losing my latest Academic library gig. I’d be really screwed without that familial social safety net. I also kick myself for not getting School library certification on my way to earning my MLS, because I’d definitely accept a librarian gig in a High School or Middle School if I had the proper credentials. I have the teacher certification, but not the school library one, and it’d be prohibitively expensive to go back and get it now, unless a school district were willing to hire me with the understanding that I would go back and get it as soon as possible while employing me conditionally as their librarian.

    I’ve applied to public libraries to but those applications go nowhere for me. I’ve never even phone-interviewed for any public library position that I’ve applied to in the past, and only seldom even received any acknowledgment that they received my application. I wonder if I’ve kind of “typecast” myself as an Academic Librarian to the extent that Public Libraries just aren’t interested in what I have to offer. I don’t know. I have a second Masters, but that’s depressingly common now.

    All you can do is keep trying, but in the meantime take any b.s. office job to pay the bills. Keep thinking like an information professional and see if you can contribute to a corporate workplace by offering a better way to organize information, etc.
    You gotta sell yourself at every opportunity.

    It’s tough out there for everybody, even people like me with 2.5 years experience under our belts.

  20. I received my MLS in May 2009 and started a job at an academic library in October (my first offer). Judging from the experiences of myself and my library school friends, who have more or less all found library jobs since then, my number one piece of advice is to be willing to move anywhere for your first job (if you’re able to). I think flexibility and mobility are keys in the academic world. Myself and many of my friends moved to places we weren’t excited about living in, but we’re all dealing with it pretty well and gaining good experience for when we start applying for our “dream jobs” in another year or two. I think they call it “paying your dues”. :)

    I think if you’re tied down to a particular geographic area due to family or other obligations, realistically you just have to be prepared for the job search to take significantly longer.

  21. To add to Celia’s comment:

    I have been on numerous search committees in recent years. Tailor your letter not just to the library, as Celia says, but to the position. Why do you want this particular position? If you’re moving from being a cataloger into technology- why? And for goodness sake, look at the list of required and preferred qualifications; anything listed that isn’t on your resume needs to be addressed in your cover letter.

  22. I can offer something a bit more than advice…

    I will have a job opening in the Barstow College Library starting in April, pending unfortunate budget-related action by administration, but this position is one I can’t run the library without, so I trust it will be replaced (the incumbent is retiring.)

    It is Library Technician 2, a staff, not faculty, position. It is full-time. Applicants MUST be able to perform MARC cataloging of books, e-materials, and DVDs. The position also involves acquisitions (lots of contact with vendors), supervising a student worker, back-end systems admin work with the OPAC, and some circulation desk work.

    Obviously this is a position that would normally go to someone with experience, but I would consider a recent graduate if you can show me that you can do the cataloging.

    I will also hopefully have a part-time circulation desk staff position opening up soon.

    Other than that, good luck… the economy is terrible and I’m very glad and lucky that I have tenure.

  23. @ Elizabeth.
    Everyone I know who succeeded in getting an academic job did exactly as you suggest. Most experienced 1%-3% response to applications. They just kept at it.

    Another route is one I took. Para-professional. 3 months off every summer. Invest in your life the energy you might have invested in your work.

    There are so many MLIS degrees on the market that at the Univ here 90+% of ref desk hours are done by para-professional staff. This may not be the future at the best places but it may be the future at MOST places.

  24. I’ve found that working as an adult reference librarian in a public library near both a university and community college lets me develop my academic reference skills. I know academic reference from working as a paraprofessional at a university when I was in grad school. I find that I can work in academic information literacy competencies (or motifs) in a public library setting. This academic mode (if you will) also works well with high school students. Thus I think public reference librarians can gain quasi-academic experience, if you work close to universities/colleges and high schools and consciously apply academic reference and instruction competencies and goals (information literacy is my rubric). Taking a paraprofessional academic position, as I did, was also a beneficial move.

    Also stay current with developments and trends in the academic library literature and in academic blogs. Talk the talk and more importantly know the talk. Develop a professional vision and body of tangible achievements/projects or innovations. If you have a non-academic librarian or even academic paraprofessional position: take on and develop projects, join committees and work-groups, advance solutions and innovations up the line, ask to attend conferences, etc. These help budding librarians and future librarians develop their passions, unique talents, and innovations.

    I’ve also been on a hiring committee and a cover letter with a focused, well-made case for why you want and are qualified for a position goes a long way to getting an interview. I could easily detect rote, standardized, fill in the blanks cover letters and resumes that were not tailored for the position or that didn’t make a specific case. These are miles away from cover letters and resumes that show you’ve done your research, thought it through, and make a compelling case.

  25. So many advices I have found here and actually no real stories from your personal experience. Perhaps that is what young people need – not suggestions how to succeed but some kind of encouragement.

  26. What about expereinced librarians looking for work? I was the director of an academic library when my husband lost his job over a year ago. He got a great new job 1,000 miles away in desolate Kansas. I gave up my job, figuring that my education (MLIS plus finishing a doctorate), experience, and strong record of accomplishment along with very impressive references and recommendations would get me something. In a year I have had two interviews, and nothing. We are still struggling because of my unemployment. New grads aren’t the only ones with a problem.

  27. It’s been almost a year since Blazerilla’s comment. Blazerilla, how are you? Have you found a job yet? Have you managed to keep your family together?

    It may soon become more advantageous to end a marriage and split up your family than to sacrifice a job to a spouse who has to move 1,000 miles away. Do you regret your decision to sacrifice your future earning potential instead of sacrificing your family?

  28. I would add, don’t discount your “non-library” network. I got my first library job because the mother of one of my former tutoring students told me about it. It turns out that she was the controller for a vocational college that happened to be looking for a part-time librarian (30 hrs/wk). She had a good impression of my work habits and we’d had conversations about my interest in librarianship while I was still in school, so she asked if I was interested. (Of course!) I had been willing to move, but it turned out I didn’t have to, which was very nice.

    So I guess my advice boils down to: be ready to talk with others about libraries and your interest in librarianship, but don’t necessarily make it your whole life, and don’t discount the knowledge and skills you bring in from other areas of your life. Do well at whatever work you do and be the kind of person people want to help. You really never know who can help you or what random pieces of your life will suddenly fall into place.

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