Librarian/Career Resources

Salvete, omnes!

Lately, I’ve been listening to some of my peers bemoan their insecurities and concerns about how prepared they are (not) for the job market. This is a valid concern for the our second out of a two-year degree program, and even more valid if you have fewer direct library experiences to dress up the old C.V.

Black and white photo of the Classics Library bookstacks at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign Library

“I want to touch your books. I mean, I want you to pay me to touch your books. No, that’s not right either.” “… No, no, it’s not.”

So, this post is dedicated to a few blogs and resources that I’ve been exploring (feel free to add your own).

Where do we find those jobs anyway? 

While it’s very tempting to stick to the most prominent organizations (like the American Library Association’s Job list, or the Society of American Archivists’ job list, or USA Jobs, or even general sites like Indeed.), smaller institutions can’t always afford to put up advertisements on those sites. I Need a Library Job (INALJ) proclaims to be “the most extensive online resource for jobs for information professionals, librarians, knowledge managers and those in related fields.”

One way to do this search is to go at it from the location. If you can focus on a particular part of the world, and even part of the country, you can search for regional and local organizations for librarians, curators, and archivists. For example, the Northwest Archivists, or the Seattle Area Archivists (who are a branch of the SAA but have posts that the SAA does not have), and so on.

Another is to use specialized aggregate sites. Because librarianship is a hydra, if you refine down to a more specific genre, you can often find great sites that have already mined the jobs from other sites– specifically, ArchivesGig is an amazing resource, the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section of the ACRL (Association of College and Research Libraries) is a good one too. If it isn’t obvious, I’m very much leaning toward a career in archives, special collections, and/or rare books. However, I’m trying to keep my options open, given the state of the job market.

Hercules and the Hydra mosaic from Llíria (Spain), 3rd century CE.

“We’re looking for a reference slash instructional slash archivist for our digital repository and please also prepare some lectures for children ages 2-78. Also, this is an entry-level position with entry-level pay, but please have 5-7 years of experience with multi-lingual instruction in spinning straw into gold.”

What are people talking about? 

I’ve been looking into different blogs that are directed toward new/early career librarians. Mostly, librarians seem to post cat (or yarn or book) blogs. But occasionally, some civic-minded generous soul provides something career-relevant– like those folks at The Librarian Parlor, who are all about research, including some great posts that synthesize and discuss new research, research methods, and personal experiences. I really like their list of resources for researchers, which include a lot of helpful links from grant writing and impostor syndrome to methodology and promotion/tenure.

There are also more general places like Letters to a Young Librarian, which offer some reflections on things people wished they’d known, as well as some Interviews with the Librarian (spookier and possibly more blood– paper cuts are serious business). One of my favorites is “10 Things I Didn’t Learn in Library School as a Then-Future Cataloger,” by Jessica Schomberg.

A more formal, but “current,” site is In The Library With The Lead Pipe (ITLWTLP for shortish), which publishes thought-out, peer-reviewed articles about librarianship in general. Also, the title is not a reference to the sometimes very real equipment you might want on hand when at the reference desk late at night, but refers (one assumes) to the “pipeline problem” that  Nunzia Bettinsoli Giuse, AHIP, FMLA described in her editorial, “The Next Challenge: Where Do We Go From Here?” This problem basically refers to the older generation of librarians aging out and leaving us with the terrible problem of too many jobs and we’d better get on those colleagues who have library experience but no MSLIS and let’s work on recruitment at the high school level! Judging by the 200 other people sitting in the orientation with me at just the online just the MSLIS meeting last year, I think we’ll be alright. Anyway, ITLWTLP is where you can find some cool things like “Vocational and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves.” 

A great resource for current MSLIS students is Hack Library Students, which features articles like, “Make the Most of Your Least Favorite Classes.” All the content is produced by current MSLIS students, for MSLIS students. For those looking for conferences or other avenues to present, A Library Writer’s Blog features frequently-updated CFPs (call for papers), workshop opportunities, conferences, and more.

One last resource is the Hiring Librarians‘ Library Interview Question Database, which consists of over 400 logged interview questions (with relevant information about the position and questions the interviewee asked back). Hiring Librarians also has some good tips and articles as well.

We’re (soon to be) librarians here, what kind of books do I read? 

photo of book over outstretched legs, on a tree limb

Have the above all been electronic resources so far? Yes. But I still read! Sometimes outside, on trees!

Well, aside from my usual recommendations (Ann Leckie, Ilona Andrews, Robin McKinley, Martha Wells, Terry Pratchett, Herodotus), I find that most job-oriented books are written by self-help people who are helping themselves by writing a book about being successful to be successful (a la How to Make Friends and Influence People). The First 90 Days is a general book about how to be the most effective at getting used to a new position– it takes, on average, 90 days to acclimate to a new workplace. Obviously, some of the strategies are more or less applicable to librarianship, and everything should be adapted with common sense. But it gives some surprisingly good insights into the way interpersonal office relationships work.

This book is slightly cheating, because it’s also based on a blog (shocker), but it’s too good to pass up. Ask A Manager is a great resource for all things job-related– I first spotted the article on a real-life cover letter example that not only blew my mind but also caused me to write a cover letter that got me interviews at both places I sent it to.

How do I find a mentor? 

The library world is a big one, but librarians are usually a friendly sort. I’ve managed to reach out and successfully contact a few librarians (and archivists) with just a simple hello, I’m looking at applying to jobs in your field of specialty, loved your paper on x, what’s up? This has worked best with people at UIUC, because they know I can show up in person to annoy them if they ignore me.

But as I said, librarians are a friendly sort. So much so that someone’s already thought of this. If you go out on alimb (archives, library, and information mentor base), you can find a person who is completely willing to talk to you. For free. For fun. For ever (probably not that but you never know what kinds of life-long friendships you can kindle through a mutual love of Steampunk literature).

In sum?

Do something, if only to ease the anxiety. Read something silly, something serious, something borrowed, something blue. Talk to someone who has the job you want at your library– the worst they can do is say they don’t have time. Look at job ads (promise is a strong word so I have great intentions to post more along the lines of my last entry on job opportunities).

Fortuna fortes iuvat (Aeneid 10.284) more literally means, “Fortune helps the brave,” not Fortune “favors” the brave (that translation has that consonance that is lost in the English otherwise– f, f).

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About Melissa Huang

Hi! I'm Melissa Huang, a second-year M.S. Library & Information Science student at the iSchool of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. In 2017, I had a M.A. in Classics (UIUC 2015), a job that required little thought, and a desire to be a librarian. I saw the writing on the wall for myself-- that every job I was excited to apply for required a library degree, that it made the most sense to combine my passions of learning and helping others learn, and that going back to school would be my way into a career I would enjoy. Now, I have positions with three on-campus libraries, doing everything from archiving and creating digital displays to copy-cataloging and processing Google books for shipment to designing and modifying LibGuides for students, faculty, and independent researchers. I'm working through my final semesters at UIUC and hoping to work just a single job by the end of next year.
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