Q: How do I go about re-entering the workforce (part time) after taking five years off?

Q: I’m considering re-entering the library/research world after five years off as my children begin school. I was formerly a manager at a major company library, but I’m not ready to go that route again. I want to find a rewarding (as in pretty good pay per hour) part-time job in the reference/research area, but would like to just work about 20 hours a week. I did have an information consulting business for a while, but I’m not ready to take that step again.

I’d like to see what ideas there are for folks like me who are:

  1. qualified and ready to go (even with five years away from it all, I’d be up-to-speed very quickly)
  2. determined to make family my first priority – so not a big commitment in terms of time and responsibility

What sort of libraries or companies does it make sense to approach, and would they consider a well-thought-out offer to do research on a part time basis?

Thanks,
New Mom Returning to the Working World

SN: With your children in school, it sounds like you’ll be restricting your search for work to your immediate geographic area. It would be a good idea to send out resumes to libraries in your local area where you think you might like to work – public, academic, corporate, etc. Explain in your cover letter that you would be interested in speaking with them about a possible part-time position, and ask them to keep you in mind should any opportunities come up. It may be that in the beginning you’ll find that you’re working a small number of hours in more than one location, but this can improve over time. My previous library (a medium-sized college in the Boston area) never had to advertise for part-time librarians, because we already had a small pool of potential hires to draw from. It wasn’t uncommon for us to receive unsolicited resumes from qualified librarians who were interested in part-time work.

RSG: You’re actually also re-entering the job market at an opportune time for part-time job seekers. As library budgets dwindle and institutions employ cost-cutting measures wherever they can, many previously full-time positions have been broken into two or more part-time jobs, saving the library from having to pay out benefits. Hourly pay for part-time jobs may also be higher because the savings on health insurance and other benefits are so great.

You’ll want to be able to explain the gap in your work history to any potential employers. If you ran your consulting business during these last five years, for example, emphasize this on your resume to show that you have kept your hand in during the time you were not in a formal library position. Mention association memberships you have kept up, workshops you may have attended, or anything else that shows you have remained professionally involved and have taken the time to keep your skills up-to-date.

Also, be wary about mentioning in cover letters or interviews that you’re not looking for “a big commitment in terms of time and responsibility” – while you can certainly limit your search to part- time, flexible positions, you will want to avoid giving the impression that you lack commitment. You can be upfront about the hours you are available to work, etc., but be careful to word your comments in a way that shows you are also enthusiastic about the potential position.

SN: Networking with other librarians can help you remain professionally involved, and it may also help you find the type of position you’re looking for. You can make yourself more visible by attending the annual conference of your local/state library association, ACRL chapter, or SLA chapter, as appropriate. Even if you don’t find any relevant jobs listed at their placement centers, you may run into someone who does. Most associations, even smaller ones, have e-mail discussion lists through which you can make some contacts. Call or e-mail other librarians you know, asking them to let you know if they come across any leads.

RSG: You might want to take a look at the Association of Part-Time Librarians’ job hints page, and don’t discount general job banks and local online job-hunting resources. While many posted openings are full-time, there are always a number of part- time openings listed. Check http://www.lisjobs.com or http://www.libraryjobpostings.org for ideas on where to start. Keep an eye on the HR pages of local companies that seem likely to operate an internal library or research facility, as their openings may not necessarily be listed on general sites. Also remain open to less traditional ideas – online “virtual reference” services, for example, occasionally seek part-time personnel and need coverage at all hours of the day.

Lastly, consider going through a local employment agency. If you inform them of your requirements and abilities, they may be able to match you up with an appropriate employer. (Some are listed at http://www.lisjobs.com/temp.htm.) You may be able to do temporary work through an agency while waiting for a more permanent position to open up, which would also give you more material for your resume and help you re-sharpen your skills.

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