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!