Credentials, Credentials!: Demonstrating Your Potential Value in Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.

The ACRL Webcast that I presented last fall, “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” had a particularly lively Q&A session. Attendees shared detailed questions about how different types of credentials and work experience will support their case as they apply for academic librarian positions. In this post, I will respond to eight of the most common questions, moving from easiest to trickiest.

Special shout-out to Rachel Minkin of Michigan State University. In addition to being a wonderful moderator, Rachel managed to copy down and categorize the questions most important to attendees while keeping the presentation running smoothly. Thank you!

And now for the questions:

Does a library school “field experience” that I performed for credit count as work experience?

  • Absolutely! Work is work, no matter whether you received pay, course credit, or simply gratitude for doing it.

Does GPA count for anything?

  • Honestly? Potential employers typically don’t ask for your GPA. I don’t recall ever sharing my library school GPA, except for when I applied to my doctoral program. That said, making a positive impression of your work ethic within your program is important. So are your skills in respectful communication and collaboration, as well as insight and creativity. Your professors may be the ones to recommend you for work experiences that you want to have during library school. They may also serve as references for professional positions. But no, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever ask you to state your GPA. You don’t have to focus on that goal of earning a 4.0.

CV and cover letter: I have a gap in my library work history, how do I talk about it? (In this case, it was to work in K-12 education)

  • This situation is easy to “spin” in a positive way. You chose to spend several years working in a profession that librarians value highly. Depending on the area of academic libraries that you want to work in, you probably built many skills that will support your librarianship—perhaps teaching skills, curriculum building, and so on. You’ll only need to discuss this in a sentence or two in your cover letters. Be sure to phrase it positively: You chose to pursue your interests in K-12 education through studies and work. Now you look forward to returning to academic libraries and applying skills that you’ve developed in multiple settings. You’ll have the chance to discuss this in more detail when you interview.
  • If there’s a period of time where you were not formally employed, whether you were caring for a family member, dealing with medical concerns, searching for work after a lay-off, or another scenario, that gap will show up on your CV or resume. Make sure that you address it in a sentence or two in your cover letters. You can mention your situation in more detail at interviews—but make sure to stick to a level of detail that you and your interviewer will both feel comfortable with. Stay as positive as you reasonably can.

Second master’s degree: Necessary? Not really necessary? Does this mean I’m overqualified? Should I emphasize my second degree?

  • Oh, my goodness—one of the trickiest ongoing debates in academic libraries. Let’s address the easier parts first. I’m going to assume that we’re discussing positions where a second master’s is either preferred or not required. (If it is required, then it’s probably only worth applying if you do have that second master’s—though you can take a chance.)
  • Don’t worry about seeming overqualified due to a second master’s. If no second master’s is required but you have one, it will typically be seen as value added. You have extra expertise in a subject area, PLUS you have additional experience with graduate-level studies and research. Those experiences are worth emphasizing in an interview. Discuss the ways in which your research in the other field would help you to better support faculty and students. This will be true even if you’re interested in a subject specialist position in another field.
  • If you’ve earned your MLIS degree but don’t have another master’s degree, the choice is up to you. Whether candidates with an additional master’s degree are placed above you in a candidate pool depends on the nature of the jobs, as well as on that institution’s values.
  • Many articles and blog posting on this topic exist online. Try searching for “second master’s degree librarians” to find articles with a variety of perspectives. You may want to get more specific with your searching if you’re interested in a type of position that sometimes does require a second master’s.

Can one create their own internship, (i.e. get meaningful experience outside of library school program) and still call it an internship on one’s resume/ cv?

  • Many MLIS students create their own work experiences in one way or another. I did this myself—when I realized that I wanted to gain experience in collection development, I inquired in that department at the library where I was working. A librarian generously offered to train and supervise me in a project that we designed together. My advisor and I were able to arrange for me to receive course credit. Work experiences that you co-design can be incredibly valuable. And yes, you can often call them “internships.” One word of advice is that you should agree with your supervisor on exactly what you will call this work experience on your resume or CV. Regardless of what the two of you decide to call it, you don’t want someone who is serving as a reference for you to sound surprised at the beginning of a reference call.

How I can I use my background in teaching online to market myself for “in-person” instruction positions?

  • When academic libraries hire for instruction positions, they’re looking for a number of qualities and specific areas of experience. These vary, depending on the nature of the position. As colleges and universities offer more and more courses and degrees online, there is increasing demand for instructors who can teach online. If you have experience teaching asynchronously, you already have very marketable skills for those positions: for example, choosing content and creating online teaching materials, and interacting with students online.
  • If you’re looking to move from teaching online (synchronously or asynchronously) to teaching in person, yes, you do have marketable experience with some of the necessary skills. You understand selecting content, creating lesson plans and curricula, and interacting with students. To make yourself more marketable, it’s worth trying to build experience and confidence with day-to-day interactions in the classroom. Find opportunities to work on your teaching confidence, as well as your skills with classroom management. Think broadly: Can you volunteer to teach workshops at your local public library? Could you practice teaching in another group that you’re involved with, such as your child’s scout troop, your church, or another community organization?
  • Different library instruction positions will have different levels of competition. Some may have three applicants; others may have a hundred. You may need to keep trying before you get your first opportunity – but once you have an instruction position, you can build from there.

How can I start building a scholarly record if my MLIS program and/or my current job don’t give me opportunities to do so?

  • Getting started building a scholarly record can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have opportunities from your degree program or workplace. It can still feel overwhelming if you do—I’ve been there! (You can learn more about what a scholarly record is beginning on slide 19 of the November 12, 2019 webcast.)
  • I’ll reiterate a couple of points from the webcast for readers who are still enrolled in an MLIS program.
    • It’s unusual that your professors offer writing a manuscript for a scholarly paper as an option for an assignment. However, they’re often open to this as a course final project if you ask well in advance.
    • You may have opportunities to gather data, perform cutting-edge work in informatics or many other subspecialties, or simply to spend significant time thinking about theory and praxis. The data you gather, and the thoughts you put together, can form the basis of articles, presentations, and blog posts when you write them, or later.
    • Speaking of “later”—you can absolutely revisit the work you did during your MLIS and write about or transform it later.
    • Speaking of articles, presentations, and blog posts—remember that a scholarly record usually *doesn’t* begin with peer-reviewed articles. Rather, it often begins with a few thoughtful professional blog posts, a presentation at a local or student-oriented conference, or an article for a professional magazine (“non-peer-reviewed publication”). Look creatively for opportunities to show off your writing and analytical skills. (Check out the slideshow linked above for suggestions on finding opportunities.)
  • If you’re working in the field, you can almost certainly write and create professional or scholarly materials on your own time. That isn’t as great as having work time set aside—but it’s how many librarians start building a scholarly record.
    • Ask your employer if you may write about innovative work that you and your colleague have done. Aim for a professional publication—or for a scholarly one, if you feel that you have the information needed to meet that publication’s requirements. Or present locally—that’s a great way to build recognition for your library as well.
    • Talk with your employer about whether you may analyze data that you have available to serve as the basis for a scholarly manuscript. Or consider designing a project that will ethically gather data about your work. You will need to investigate policies at your institution to make sure that you are following all of their ethical regulations related to patrons and patron data, if applicable. That said, once you’ve made sure that you are following regulations, you’re set for meaningful and productive work.

As always, I look forward to hearing additional questions, as well as insights based on your experiences. Please feel free to comment, or to contact me.

Best of luck to you with your career goals for 2020!

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