(Written for the library student.)
Library school is a critical time to gain experience in the library world. In all likelihood, as a library school student you have previous experience working in some capacity in a library—despite the grumblings about SLIS programs accepting too many people and further flooding the job market, it isn’t usually a cakewalk to get into library school. Each program has different acceptance guidelines, but previous experience in a library ranks high. So if you’ve come to library school without working in a library, I’m assuming you possess a terrific ability to sell yourself and your potential—so don’t fret, use those persuasive skills to secure yourself (some sort of, any sort of) library-related employment.
Don’t be skittish about finding library experience; as I said in the title of this post, hoard it. Now that I am paying dearly to be ensconced in the library school world I take it as a serious responsibility to build my resume. My philosophy is simple: the harder I work now, the less I will stress later. The fact is that experience builds upon experience. The more experience you have, the more likely you are to receive a job, internship, or scholarship. Therefore, the more experience you have, the more likely it is that you will have options, a great luxury in this job market. I don’t crave great wealth or recognition, but having more flexibility about my career path would sure be nifty.
I’ve learned to apply for things, because the window of opportunity can close rather quickly and it probably won’t reopen. There will obviously be other opportunities cropping up, but if you’re at all like me you’ll find that a defining moment of your aspiring librarian life will be the rejection you feel when the opportunity of your dreams—the one that would skyrocket your resume into library rockstar territory and boost your potential for getting the real library job of your dreams!—rejects you. It stings, for sure, and you will wonder why you got your hopes up… BUT the only true salve for this sort of barb is to keep going, keep applying. Persistence is key, as is staying in the loop (sigh: listervs). You’ll get something. Move inch by inch—do not expect to be able to just take a mile when you haven’t put in the blood, sweat and tears.
These are the 6 areas where I am consistently critical of myself: I try to evaluate and re-evaluate whether I am filling each to the best of my ability and taking advantage of all opportunities. Instead of making me stressed, overwhelmed or nervous about the future, this makes me feel quite competent, as though I am legitimately taking my education into my own hands and building a place for myself in the library profession.
- Paid work experience – Try to get a library job that pays. Grad school is expensive and your hard work deserves recognition. Currently I have 3 library-related jobs; the way I see it, why not? When else will I be able to divide my work into three chunks of time that each differ vastly from the last? I know that my future likely involves one job, so I consider myself lucky to be able to flit from one job to the next as a library student.
- Volunteer/service experience – Use your volunteering to fill any gaps in your paid work experience. For instance, I want to continue building my archives experience. I could not feasibly take on a fourth job, so I am preparing to volunteer for 3-4 hours a week at the Black Film Center/Archive at IU next semester. And of course, volunteer for any cause that means something to you—for me, that’s the Midwest Pages to Prisoners organization, which I will be volunteering at every other week. My advice for any volunteer position is to decide on a schedule and stick to it—and don’t go over 5 hours a week.
- Professional development – Attend conferences and (especially if you want to go into academic librarianship) plan on presenting at some point yourself.
- Read. Read. Read. – Prowl the Z section of the stacks and snatch up the books about librarianship that interest you. Find others on WorldCat.
- Network – Develop relationships with other library students, professors, professional librarians, and potential future colleagues at conferences. As many professors have said to me: librarianship is a networking profession, so knowing people is critical.