This is part two in a multi-part series about my job hunt. Read part one here.
I almost didn’t write this post – and in fact had other posts queued up and ready to go – but something was bothering me. I wrote about my library school jobs and classes, yes, but that tells such an incomplete story of the things that I did in library school that affected my job hunt. Here are a few of the things that I so often hear referred to as extras – but I don’t think they’re extras at all. Lemme bring back a throwback phrase from my younger days: “Let’s be real – extras are everything.” (And when you get to your job hunt, they pay dividends.)
For better or worse, libraryland is a place with a lot of events happening on a local, regional, national, and international level. On one hand, it can be overwhelming because it’s easy to feel like you’re always missing out on something. On the other hand, if the student registration rates are affordable, it’s a great time to dabble. I used my time in grad school to try out different things: presentation formats, topics, areas of the field. I got to know the culture of the communities.
Of course there are conferences, but there are also brown bag talks, visiting speakers, symposiums, workshops, and more. Attend them and present if you can. If nothing else, you can meet people and listen to the way people present their ideas – that will go a long way toward making you more comfortable presenting yourself. (Though you’ll never feel ready, so just jump in.) When I look back on the events I attended and the presentations I gave, it felt random but I had a lot of varying interests. The thread that tied most together was they involved tech in some way.
In truth I was very intentional with how I spent my conferencing energy. Bloomington is very centrally located, which allowed me to attend things in the midwest and upper south with no problem. I knew I was very lucky and chose to take advantage accordingly.
In retrospect, being online was tremendously important. I started my blog and got a twitter account in 2010 when I had decided to go to library school. Particularly with twitter, it was a slow start. I found it awkward to use and didn’t really get how it worked, but I was able to follow people in the field. I was a classic lurker… and it was fine! I was exposed to resources and ideas that I never would have gotten elsewhere. By the time I joined Hack Library School in early 2012, I was using twitter to help promote HLS posts. Slowly I just grew more comfortable. It helped to get to know people through conferences as well; it became less nervewracking to engage with them online.
My suggestion is to have twitter if nothing else. In my opinion, it is the most powerful social tool in this field. And it’s okay to feel awkward about it at first. Lurk shamelessly. Give it time. But then start retweeting, commenting, discussing. It can be really fun.
One of the top questions I get from prospective or new students is about student orgs. Should I be involved? What do I do? Does having a leadership position matter? I have mixed feelings on this. I’m also unsure of how much of my perspective is generalizable, so take this with a grain of salt (just like everything I write, obviously).
When you first start library school, ATTEND ALL THE EVENTS LED BY YOUR STUDENT CHAPTERS. These bar crawls and happy hours are an excellent way to meet people that will likely go away after a few weeks. I hugely regret not really engaging in that first month of social opportunities. You’ll get to know people, both officers involved in student orgs and other students. Odds are you’ll flock to the group you feel most comfortable.
Student orgs are the classic “it is what you make of it” scenario. If you get a motivated and fun group of people, you’ll get things done. However, you also probably won’t have anyone holding you to get things done nor will there be a template for what you have to do. Basically, you can have the greatest, most involved student chapter one year and then transition to a lackluster chapter that does nothing. I understand the difficulty of keeping the energy up – sometimes you pull together awesome events, market it widely, send excited reminder emails, and then have three people show up. If you’re the event organizer, it can kill your spirit for sure.
Given the nature of student orgs, having a position as an officer can be a great training ground for leadership. For sure. Suddenly you are the reason why things happen or don’t happen. If you don’t make them happen, you’re the one enabling the lackluster vibe! Still, it was a little startling to me how few people seemed to want leadership positions. They were nervous about being a president or vice president. It was hard to get commitments.
The organizational aspects of being the SAA-SC president gave me a lot of positive experiences. I learned how to plan and coordinate events. I honed my mass email marketing and promotion skills. I led efforts to organize SAA-SC’s annual conference that drew students and young professionals from around the country. I felt more connected to my program. These things were all helpful, but at the same time they weren’t the skills listed on the job descriptions I knew I’d be looking at – meaning it would always be a secondary priority.
Decide what you want to get out of it. This is the most important part. Again, your mindset should be toward personal and professional growth broadly, but specifically things that will get you a job. There’s no way in this job seeking environment to be anything but focused, with cost-benefit analysis whirring constantly in your brain. And so…
Weigh what it’s worth to you. What could you be doing with your time if not doing x? Consider the pros and cons of collaborating with a group to pull together a conference proposal vs. working another job vs. having a student chapter leadership position. Nobody can or should try to do it all, so tough choices have to be made.
Think broadly about your interests. How can you create connections between your skills and interests and the opportunities out there? Figure out how the extras can give you an unexpected edge in the job hunt. For instance, I knew I wanted a role working in library tech in some murky corner related to digital collections/preservation/archives. I did not, however, know if I would end up in a library setting or an archival setting and it was challenging to know how to adequately prepare myself. There weren’t enough hours in the day to work in digital collections and the archives, so I knew to stay well-rounded I would need to get some archival experience in another way. My solution was to become the SAA student chapter president, present at events like the Society of Indiana Archivists conference and the Midwest Archives conference, and engage with archivists online.
What library school extras paid off the most for you?