welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching
& Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.
Happy new year, everyone!
During the ACRL Webcast that I presented, titled “Making Yourself
Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” (12 November 2019), many attendees
asked questions about transitions. In particular, they asked whether it’s
possible to transfer from one type of library to another, or from one type of
librarian position to another. The webcast organizers and I felt that those
questions deserved thorough answers, along with some resources. Thus, here we
are in the new year, ready to talk about creating change and working toward
your goals. Let’s discuss the two questions one at a time.
between Types of Libraries
Imagine that you’re working in one type of library – let’s say
it’s your city’s public library. You’ve been there for a few years, and you
realize that you want to find a job at another type of library. We’ll say that
your new dream is to work at an academic library. Could you realistically make
this transition happen?
The answer is yes – plenty of librarians have made this sort of
change in the past. However, it does require careful preparation, and may not
occur in a single move.
The most important aspect in making this sort of a shift is finding
opportunities that align as closely as possible with your experience. Have you
gathered experience in all of the required qualifications, and in some or all
of the preferred qualifications for the position? If you begin searching for
positions at a different type of institution from the one where you work, and you
find that there are qualifications that you like, make a plan for developing
that experience. You may need to get creative. Seek out experience at your own
library. If you cannot develop the skills or experience that you need there,
search for opportunities, or for professional development, elsewhere.
When you’re applying, highlight your experience honestly, echoing
the language of the position posting. Different types of libraries may describe
similar types of duties differently; make sure that your description will
resonate with search committee members who will read your application. Your
application will of course come across as “different” from those written by
librarians whose experience comes closer to the job for which you are applying.
Highlight the strengths that you have built which will set you apart. You would
bring unusual positive qualities to the job.
Show that you truly understand what it would be like to work in
the type of library where you wish to work. Talk with librarians who work in
that type of library. Use the preferred language of that type of library in
your application – and make sure to run your cover letter and CV or resume by
librarians who work in that type of library. If you’re chosen for an in-person
interview, research the library and the community it serves in great detail.
Being able to discuss the context is important in rising to the top of the
Remember that different libraries and different positions will
have different levels of competition. You could be one of three candidates for
one position, and one of 200 candidates for another. That means that it may
take several tries to make the leap from one type of library to another. Or
that you may require a couple of leaps before you reach your dream job (which
is true for most of us anyway). With careful planning and application, you can
make the move from one type of library to another happen.
between Types of Library Positions
Typically when librarians shape their career paths, they move from
one position to another, built on a related set of skills and qualities. However,
occasionally a librarian wishes to follow a career path that uses a
dramatically new set of skills—moving from instruction to technical services,
Building skills and experience are of course key to switching
tracks within librarianship. If you already have your MLIS or similar degree
and some experience, you’ve got an advantage. You just need to build
credentials and experience specific to your new goals. Once you’ve decided to make
the switch, it’s time to research the skills that you’ll need to build. Talk
with professionals who already do the work that interests you. Read position
postings and look for trends in required and preferred skills.
Once you’ve identified skills and experience that you need to
build, think about what you could learn through on-the-job experience and what
requires coursework or professional development. A lot of that is up to your
judgment; you may want to seek out thoughts from professionals who already do
that work. For example, you might decide that you’d learn skills for
instruction most effectively through on-the-job practice at your institution.
However, you’d probably learn the details of working with MARC records most
efficiently through a course.
If you’re already working full- or part-time as a librarian, it’s
well worth inquiring as to whether you can gain experience through making
special arrangements in your own library. Interestingly, you may find that it’s
easier to make this sort of arrangement in a smaller library, where each
individual tends to have a broader range of duties. Think carefully about
whether you can build this into your job, whether you can do the work as part
of a full-time work schedule, or whether you may need to make adjustments to
your arrangements in order to find time to support your goals.
It probably doesn’t need to be said, but you can likely be open
with your colleagues regarding your changing intentions. New aspects of
librarianship have sparked your interest. As long as you’re continuing to work
hard at your current job, good colleagues tend to be supportive of your
evolving dreams. Be open with your supervisor as well. Just like your other colleagues,
your supervisor will likely be supportive as long as you continue to work hard.
You may find that you need to request support, or to discuss the possibility of
shifting some arrangements at work. Keeping your supervisor involved from early
stages will only make this part easier.
I wish you the best in working toward your goals! Feel free to reach out to librarians in your network, including me, as you move forward: firstname.lastname@example.org.
for Changing Your Career Path within Librarianship:
“Adaptable Applicants: Preparing to Change Your Library Path,” by
Lindsey Homol for the American Library Association New Members’ Round Table: http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/news/footnotes/february2014/adaptable-applicants-preparing-change-your-library-path
The richest source of information on how to prepare for a “big
transition” (from one type of library to another, or between roles in
libraries) is articles from scholarly and professional library publications. If
you have access to LISTA, LISA, Library and Information Science Source, or
other library and information science databases through your library, you may
want to explore those. Google Scholar will also point you toward many of those
Effective Library Resumes/CVs and Cover Letters:
“Common Library/Info Science Action Verbs,” courtesy of the
Massachusetts Library System: https://www.masslibsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/LIS-action-verbs.pdf Terms on this sheet are commonly used to
describe librarians’ work. Read through the list & consider incorporating
some of these words into your next cover letter, CV, or resume.