Tips for New Students Looking for Library School Jobs [Starter Kit]

29/08/2012 § 31 Comments

As a second-year SLIS student, I’ve talked to quite a few new students in my program who are anxious about securing library jobs. I can understand how they feel; after all, one year ago I was a freshly minted SLIS student. I had never gotten paid to work in a library. I came to library school with the sage advice of my mentor, a very recent library school grad, ringing in my ears. She had conveyed to me in no uncertain terms that I should work as much as I could while going to school to build my resume. Because of her, I came to library school knowing I needed to jump right in—-but that didn’t make the process any easier.

By now I’ve held several jobs and it has led me to realize that my real education happens when I go to work every day. I view my coursework as something to get through; if my classes are enjoyable it’s a plus. I have taken enthralling classes, practical classes, boring classes, and enragingly irrelevant classes. They’ve fallen all over the spectrum. So while I attempt to do well in them, my main priority is working as much as is feasible.  I firmly believe that library jobs should always trump coursework because if you do not work, you will not get a job in a library upon graduating. We could squabble about the particulars (maybe you could get a paraprofessional position without experience) but I don’t think it’s contestable. The library job market is intensely competitive and the more library experience you have, the better off you will be.

With that said, the following are a few tips I have for new students looking to work while in library school.

1. Reconsider “waiting to settle in” before getting a job. I’m not trying to be callous; I understand the hectic nature of moving a few days before classes start, unpacking, dealing with a new living situation, navigating an unknown city and campus. At times, applying for jobs seems like it can hang out on the back burner as you switch to survival mode for the foreseeable future. However, I’m always wary when I hear this because it’s altogether too easy to let a month, then a semester, slip by. By the time you begin applying for student jobs, you may realize that it takes longer to land a student job than you initially thought. If you are pursuing the average MLS-seeking timeline of 2 years–that’s a significant chunk of a fabulous window of opportunity that you end up not working!

2. Be enthusiastic…and not too picky. Especially if you are coming to library school without prior library experience, you’d better plan to bust out the charm. Just like competition for professional positions, competition for student positions is fierce (at least at my university). Personality and enthusiasm means a lot. Also, don’t be too selective in the jobs you are applying to. If you want to be an archivist upon graduation, of course apply for any and all archives jobs that come up… but for your first semester, grab whatever position you can in the library system rather than holding out for the “perfect” job. In my library, the common wisdom is that it is easier to get a job you love after you have another job in the system. You’re seen as less of a wild card that way.

Be aware of the difference between being too picky and settling, though. You very well might need to initially take a non-library job or a less-than-ideal library job (book reshelver, for instance) to pay the rent, but stay actively on the lookout for library jobs. Don’t let a temporary setback become a barrier to building a strong resume that will make you competitive for professional jobs.

3. Have a resume, CV, and sample cover letter on cloud storage. I would recommend Dropbox or Google Docs for this purpose. At the very least, include your resume as an attachment archived on your email account. There is power in having access to this document any time and place you can get on the internet; instead of an arduous process, updating these documents becomes simple and no longer tied to location. At my institution, sometimes supervisors for widely coveted jobs like reference assistant stop accepting applications after a window of only a few hours, so time is of the essence. You don’t want to have to either start from scratch since you’re at school all day or chance it by waiting until you get home to apply. The cover letter will need to be tweaked, but I always find it much easier to adjust one that is already created than to start from scratch on a blank page.

4. Find your balance. Everyone comes into library school with a different set of responsibilities that then affect their classes, work, and life for the duration of their program. Work within your own circumstances to determine the workload you’re comfortable with—-preferably one that allows you to maintain your classes, personal responsibilities, and some semblance of life satisfaction.

A big distraction to finding this balance can be comparing yourself to your peers. Keeping up with what they are doing and taking inspiration from their accomplishments can be a great motivator but it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy, especially during the beginning of your library school career. Challenge yourself without getting bogged down by comparisons.

5. Be tenacious. I believe that amazing growth is possible in library school, but it requires toughening up. Learn to get comfortable going through every step in the job application process: the giddiness you feel when you see that job posting, the whirlwind compilation of application materials, the nervewracking interview you leave not knowing if it went well or not. A few days later, if you get the dreaded email that you haven’t been selected for a position, compose a short, gracious response thanking the person for considering you. Then immediately archive that junk! After all, you don’t need it poisoning your inbox and bruising up your ego every time you glance at it. Allow yourself to mourn the loss of that perfect student job that you fell so hard for. Rejection rarely fails to sting (even after you have other successes keeping you buoyant) but keep in mind that everyone, even those library heroes you put up on a pedestal, has experienced it. I try to remind myself that success is often just another word for tenacity. So keep applying… before you know it a job will stick!

How do you approach finding jobs as a library school student? 

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§ 31 Responses to Tips for New Students Looking for Library School Jobs [Starter Kit]

  • Stephanie says:

    I second keeping job things in cloud storage. I also always email myself and have a folder in my gmail for that purpose. Gotta be ready when opportunity strikes!

    Great advice, Brianna.

  • Zack Frazier says:

    I found my first job in my first week at library school. I found it by scheduling an informational meeting with anyone who was listed as a department head at the universities’s library. I second Brianna’s idea of setting your priorities to; first finding a job in a library, and then unpacking your books.

    I found a flash drive that is securely attached to my key chain worked best for keeping a resume handy, especially when I started looking for a job at the end of library school. Here’s a link to the drive I bought: http://amzn.com/B006W8U2WU . I put every job application in it’s own folder and have a .pdf and .doc generic resume in the parent file. It’s been a handy way to reference back to older job applications. Also I didn’t like the idea of logging into my cloud accounts on computers when someone else was logged in.

    Finding a job is important for library school especially if you’ve never worked in a library. There are a lot of skills and best practices you won’t pick up in class. Keep in mind that a GA in the department isn’t the same as working in the library. If you have a GA that prevents you from getting a gig in the library (my school had rules about double dipping and an hours cap), volunteer instead. Often times a volunteer spot, or unpaid internship can give you as much, and sometimes more experience than a paid gig.

  • sehovde says:

    This is all great advice! I especially second the point about not being picky – even if you find yourself in a part of the library you didn’t expect, it can be good to balance out your experience (for instance, working in circulation while aiming long-term for a cataloging position can let you see how patrons use the catalog).

    And thanks for bringing up work/class values – sometimes I worry that I’m not taking my classes seriously enough because I do think that I get more out of work, so I was glad to read your take on it.

  • Andromeda says:

    I’d like to hear some input on this question from people who had to work around childcare responsibilities. I found that, given childcare costs and the incredibly low pay of most part-time library jobs, I would have been *losing* money had I worked in a library while in grad school, so I gave up early on looking for library jobs and spent my energy trying to be awesome in other ways (all the while completely freaked out that I was destroying my chances at getting a job, but I didn’t really see the alternative). I did do an internship — of course that meant paying for childcare just like the rest of my classes, but at least it meant course credit and let me graduate a few months earlier, thereby accelerating the time at which I could apply for jobs that actually *do* cover childcare costs. But mostly this was frustrating and I’m hoping some of the other HLS readers found better solutions.

  • Rachel S says:

    I’m a recent(ish) grad. This is what I would recommend:
    1) Try, if at all possible, to get a lighter schedule your last semester. You will need flexibility for interviews, and applications take a tremendous amount of time. If you can get a credit internship your last semester, you have very current projects to talk about.
    2) Convert all your documents to pdfs. Not all formatting stays the same from PC to Mac. This is also kind to people with open office and it saves time on the HR programs.
    3) Find a mentor to get you through this sometimes agonizing process. Find someone who will do mock interviews with you and read your resume. This can be more than one person if needed.
    4) Be careful with your classmates. Many of you are applying for the same jobs. It’s a tricky balance between sharing your enthusiasm and not hurting someone else who wants the same job. My experience was that it was best to talk about this stuff with non-library school friends–until you’ve accepted an offer.
    5) Keep up your spirits. This is HARD and draining. Find something that makes you happy and schedule in rewards. Maybe this means buying fresh flowers to keep near your computer, ice cream, a hike, whatever. And trust that it WILL end, and your first job does not have to be–and in fact, rarely is–your forever job.
    6) Know that I, and many others who survived this process, are cheering for you and very excited to have your new insights in the field.

  • Haim A Gottschalj says:

    Andromeda, Hi! I understand about childcare issues, having two children (now 7 and 4). My wife worked full-time. What I did was instead of two years, I took three years, plus tow summer sessions to complete my studies. This gave me some time to schedule work hours in and work around my wife’s and children’s schedule. I agree that seems like we are only working to pay childcare and even come up negative, but in the long run, have even a 10 hour job on the resume helps with networking and gaining practical experience.

  • Haim A Gottschalk says:

    I would like to add, that I volunteered for about an hour a week at technical services in between classes for one year. Even though it was an hour, the time spent adds up.

  • Laura Sanders says:

    Great points Brianna! Another suggestion in addition to having your CV on iCloud is to create an e-portfolio for yourself using a site like Google Sites or Weebly. It looks extremely professional and proactive, and it is easy to refer somebody to it! It also has the added advantage of including all of your work experience, rather than a CV in which you are more limited.

  • Neil Ferris says:

    Boosh! Even I could go to library school now with all the good advice listed here!

  • [...] job or internship as soon as possible (I’m still working on that one—Brianna Marshall has great Tips). Get to know people and learn from each other—these are your future [...]

  • Kim Bryant says:

    Don’t forget about your local public library. Many public libraries now have para-professional part-time positions. If your local library doesn’t have any openings, research their volunteer policies. Again, it’s a foot in the door and experience on your resume when the right position does open up. As a library school student, they may be willing to let you do more advanced work than their typical volunteer. And don’t be afraid to suggest a role for yourself there – I was a supervising librarian when a MLIS student approached me about getting some library experience. I hadn’t thought of seeking out library school student volunteers and she turned out to be fantastic– quick to learn, dependable, and with her experience was able to get a job in another library with my hearty recommendation.

  • Elisa says:

    I graduated in December and had started my job search during the summer.
    Do check the starting dates on job announcements though. If it says “must have MLS by [date]” then abide by it.

    I agree with a previous poster about job talk with classmates. I once read an online article on the “Chronicle of Higher Education” 5 years ago about this subject. The main message: keep the job talk down to a minimum! Do what you have to do and it’ll be more meaningful when you announce you have a job.

  • Sue Wozniak says:

    I am just starting library school this fall. My current non-library career just barely provides the income I need to contribute to my family and pay for school. I know library experience is crucial, and I very much want to get a library job, but don’t have many extra hours to contribute at such little pay. I wonder how volunteer experience compares to paid experience on the resume, any thoughts?

    • Haim A Gottschalk says:

      Hi Sue,

      Although unpaid, I believe that volunteer experience is just as valuable as paid jobs. You still make connections and have the chance to network and hone in your skills.

      I have placed my volunteer work in the same area as job experience on my CV, since I feel that I am still working, just not getting paid.

      • Sue Wozniak says:

        Thanks for this. Are there key skills that you target in doing volunteer work? I’m trying to get a broad range of library skills, starting out in the field. Did you find a type of organization more conducive to giving you this skills, such as public versus private?

        • Hi Sue! First of all, I agree with Haim. Volunteer experience can be placed in the same area as paid experience. The heading on my resume reads “library experience” so I place unpaid work that I do within that section as well. In my opinion it doesn’t matter whether it is paid or unpaid, it’s about squeezing the most useful experience from a position.

          Also, I think it’s great that you’re thinking strategically as you plan on where to volunteer. Let your interests guide you; you can get quality experience in any type of library with a little perseverance. Do you want to end up in a public library or academic library? If you’re not sure, just try to volunteer at one or the other and go with whatever is best for your schedule. Experience is experience. Volunteering in a public library might be a little easier because some units within academic libraries have policies that don’t allow for volunteers. It really just depends on the department. Other things to consider as you seek out volunteer work is whether you eventually want a professional job requiring lots of tech skills, a public services position, etc. That can also help you determine where you want to volunteer. I’d say the most important thing is to just start somewhere, even if it isn’t the perfect volunteer gig right away. Good luck!

          • Haim A Gottschalk says:

            Hi Brianna,

            I like what you said about letting interest be your guide. That is very true. Since my interest was Hebraica/Judaica librarianship, that became my guide as to how I planned my courses (aside from the core), my class projects, and internship.

            I also believe, that with your interest, you can still be a generalist and be skilled in many areas.

        • Haim A Gottschalk says:

          Hi Sue,

          When I decided to volunteer, the one skill I wanted to improve was cataloging, since this is a hands-on skill. I really did not stop to think which was more conducive – public or private/academic library. for me the issue was cataloging Hebrew and Judaica books, and IU had a Hebraica librarian in area studies. The same thought process went into my internship, which I did at the University of Cambridge.

        • Sue Wozniak says:

          Thanks for your reply. Good luck to you.

  • [...] for instance this nugget about working in a library while in library school. Take heed: experience can set you apart in a [...]

  • very useful article.I like your efforts.Thankyou…

    Tricky Hacker

  • [...] believe that gaining work experience, as much as you are capable of, is the single most important aspect of library school. I believe [...]

  • [...] you make the attempt, even if it is an outside chance, you at least have some chance. Sure, you shouldn’t waste [...]

  • [...] a few part-time library jobs and internships before even landing an interview, but my approach to job searching became increasingly proactive with each disappointment and I ended up with part-time work that I [...]

  • Kim Dority says:

    And Hack Library School nails it again….

    As an adjunct faculty member who teaches a course in Alternative LIS Careers in the University of Denver MLIS program, I would like to second (and applaud) everything Brianna has said here. Students need to use every opportunity possible in grad school to focus on and build their post-grad opportunities via jobs, internships, volunteering, publishing their best papers, and participating in activities that demonstrate the skills employers are looking for (teamwork, leadership, initiative, etc. in addition to basic LIS skills).

    Whenever possible, think of how you can be building your professional equity, i.e., what you know (expertise), who you know (network), and who knows about how terrific you are (professional reputation or brand). Generally speaking, the time you invest in building your professional equity in grad school is WAY more important that getting straight A’s.

    And if your life circumstances keep you from doing an internship, you might want to consider whether you can create an alternative option, such as a virtual internship that you conceive, design, and complete. Good luck!

  • Anne Hendricks says:

    I am a bit off topic here, but I have been a librarian for 16 years in schools. I’m actually a “media specialist.” I took a break for my child/husband and now have three businesses. I miss being a librarian and now, trying to return after being out for so long: pulling teeth. But hang in there, guys and dolls. Our ships will come in. Any work is experience. Hard work is respected. And professional development is something not to neglect as you do your day job and wait for the dream job. :D

  • […] that you back up your application materials in some form of cloud storage. As Brianna points out here, you’ll have backup in the event of an emergency and you’ll have quick access to those […]

  • […] Find “my” job: Despite my graduation date in May, I started applying for jobs this November. With a slow job market in public libraries and my limited search area (Chicago/Northern Illinois) I wanted to make sure to be ahead of the curve. Even though I have a couple months before I need to buckle down if I am still without an offer, I have already started thinking about applying to jobs to pay the bill versus jobs to advance my chosen career field. While this may be a possible reality, a recent INALJ article discussed how patience is the best method during the job search — even if it lasts for 11 months. Also check out this HLS post for beginning the library job search. […]

  • […] lot about ways to further our LIS educations outside of the classroom, including pursuing part-time work, completing internships and practicums, joining student and professional organizations, and […]

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