Soon-to-be-grads are starting to look for jobs, and many who’d targeted public or academic jobs are finding few opportunities. They are, however, finding other jobs that could make use of their skills. If they take these non-traditional-library jobs, will they damage their ability to land future jobs in traditional libraries should those jobs open up?
Given the somewhat dicey nature of today’s current job market for new LIS grads, this question is assuming greater relevance for our profession. Several students have mentioned hearing about an unspoken bias among librarians that if you’ve started your post-grad career in a non-library role, it’s much more difficult to be seen as someone dedicated to the profession, and thus you’re less likely to be hired for traditional-library positions when they do become open.
I ran this question by several friends who are public and/or academic librarians, and the consensus seemed to be that while being able to pay your bills pretty much takes precedence over anything else, there are some strategies that will help you position yourself for an eventual transition to the type of work you seek should if you need to make this choice. Those strategies were:
Stay connected. Maintain your library association memberships, stay current with library issues, continue to hang out with your friends in the library community. Assume your current job is a temporary one, and that you need to remain engaged with issues of concern to you chosen professional community even if you’re not presently working within it.
Stay visible. If possible, maintain a blog on LIS topics that interest you, comment on others’ blogs, use social media to maintain an “LIS” presence. Find ways to work with your state library association on committees and roundtables, and participate in professional events.
Volunteer. A great way to demonstrate your continued interest in an LIS opportunity is to volunteer in the type of library you’d like to work in, even if only for a couple of hours a week. This will keep your skills up to date, provide you with an opportunity to build your LIS professional network, and also give you a group of practitioners who (assuming you are a terrific volunteer!) will be happy to 1) keep an eye out for possible openings in the district for you, 2) provide you with glowing references, and 3) grab you in a heartbeat for any openings their own library may have.
Focus on transferable skills. I thought this strategy was particularly smart (and can take no credit for it – it came from friend and colleague Scott Brown). Basically, it involves looking at your non-LIS/pay-the-bills job as an opportunity to develop some transferable skills that will then enable you to stand out to potential employers because of your combination of LIS-applicable skills and a fresh viewpoint.
For example, say your job involves customer service, training, presenting, web development, or perhaps project management. Even though your current use of these skills may not be focused on library patrons, they will certainly be valuable to library employers, especially when you can offer additional insights into how to most effectively use them, based on your previous experience. Your job will be to “sell” the transferability of those skills to potential LIS employers, but this should be fairly easy to do.
Given the outlook for library jobs for the foreseeable future, it’s likely that, at least in the interim, many new grads are going to end up in jobs not in traditional library fields. If work in a public or academic library is your career goal, the tactics outlined above should help keep you headed in that direction.
However, you might also keep in mind that some jobs can open up unforeseen opportunities for you to grow and contribute professionally, and reward you handsomely for doing so. You may want to be open to that possibility as well. In the meantime, I’d love to hear any other ideas others may have for how to handle this decision!
Thank you so much for this excellent post concerning suggestions on how to stay ‘active’ when working in a non-library sector. I am a firm believer that volunteering, staying connected to Local/National organizations, and contributing to LIS blogs were all contributing factors on how I landed my current position. It took me at least one year to obtain full-time status. I will continue to encourage others to seek out opportunities where you can learn from current leaders in the field. If you have already done this…start a LIS project that meets the needs of the industry. A great movement starting now is HackLibSchool
Ge Ge, thank you for this reference to HackLibSchool; I just checked it out and I completely agree, there’s tremendous potential to influence change there. Looking forward to tracking their postings….
Talk about exchanging resources… I’m a contributor to HLS, and I found this post through Hack Library School’s analytics.
Some friends and I were talking about this exact topic on Saturday night. I think location and commitment to a particular institution can really make this decision difficult. I’m flexible about moving to jobs, but I really have my heart set on working for a public library system that is on a hard hiring freeze. There is a tiny glimmer of hope, but how long can I stay in this high-rent area waiting for positions to open? And if I do take a secondary position (fortunately I have skills that shouldn’t make finding other jobs too hard), and then don’t get a position at this library, what then? A really difficult decision. I think I need an if/then flow chart to help out, because, of course, I’m all about the organization of information!
I think you’ve nailed the dilemma, Britt – with the added question of how long should one wait for a position to become available? I’m embarrassed to say I actually DO make up if/then flow charts faced with these kinds of decisions, and find SWOT analyses to be really helpful when considering various career directions…. 🙂
I am a part-time librarian at a community college, and my contract is up in a couple of months. I am wondering how long I am willing to wait for a librarian job before I think about applying for non-LIS positions. I know this is something on the minds of many recent LIS graduates and students.
Reina, this is a tough decision and you’re absolutely right, something on the minds of a lot of recent LIS grads and students.
Although I think the answer depends on all sorts of personal variables, not least of which is each person’s financial situation, it’s also based on how critical the idea of working in a library is to your personal happiness.
I think the way I personally would approach this (which, of course, might not work for anyone else) would be to identify several alternative ways to meet my career goals in case my first choice didn’t work out. So, for instance, if I really wanted to work in a public library but the jobs just weren’t opening up, I’d first try to find a job related to public libraries with the hope that that would keep me “in play” should something open up. (For example, working for a vendor or regional consortium.)
Next alternative would be to take a job that used my information skills (and paid the bills), but try to volunteer in a public library to keep my connections there and also be able to do work that was rewarding to me.
My third alternative would be to seriously reconsider my career options, along the lines of hope for the best, plan for the worst. The reality is that traditional librarianship is a contracting market, yet we continue to graduate thousands of new professionals who are looking for these types of positions. I would start hedging my bets right now if I were you by researching alternative LIS jobs. That way by the time your contract is up, you’ll at least have laid the groundwork for a broader job search.
It would be helpful to know how others would respond to this very timely question.