Q: I’m currently working in another profession, but would like to get back into librarianship. How do I stay active in librarianship while not working in the field? How do I get back into working in a library? And how do I upgrade my skills for the current job market?
TA: Perhaps the single most important thing is to STAY ACTIVE. Join professional associations, become active in your local library, and network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back into (or break into) the library field. A friend of a friend of a friend may know of just the right position.
By joining a professional association, and attending their events, you will be able to make professional contacts and keep your skills up to date. You will also be taking a proactive approach by staying active in the field, even while not working in a library. Look into ALA, MLA, PLA, SLA, or any of the state-level professional associations that closely match your professional interests. Additionally, professional associations often offer career assistance, such as on-site placement centers at annual conferences and resume reviewing services. Take advantage of the workshops or online classes offered by these organizations. They are a good way to keep your skills current, and also to meet new people and expand your network of professional contacts.
Secondly, get involved in your local library. Join the Friends of the Library, volunteer for activities, and attend open library events in your region. This goes back to the first point, networking.
Third, consistently review professional journals, publications and web sites. Watch for announcements of new positions and look for transferable skills – supervisory experience gained in another organization would directly translate to supervisory responsibilities in a library position. The same would be true about experience managing a budget or overseeing a project or program. Examine your experience and determine how it would match the needs of the position (and be sure to explain the parallels in your cover letter). You may also want to consider an informational interview with a professional in your area of interest. An informational interview is simply that – an interview to gain information about a profession or a new area. You should make an appointment (don’t just “drop in”), and stay for only 15-20 minutes (unless invited to stay longer). Ask about the field, the person’s area of expertise and how they got where they are today.
Staying active in a profession in which you are not currently working is a lot of work, and requires a great deal of dedication. But in the end, if it scores you the job of your dreams, it’s all worth it.
SM: Tiffany’s ideas are excellent. It is extremely important to network and to get hands-on experience. To supplement, I would say – get online! This is an exciting time to be entering the library profession. With so many online resources (e.g., web sites, articles, job boards, and e-mail lists) freely available, keeping up with the profession and updating your skills are not as difficult as you may think.
Join library-related e-mail discussion lists. Do some lurking and find out what topics, resources, and ideas librarians are currently discussing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice your opinions. These discussion lists exist to support our profession and its members. They are also a great way to find out about new jobs and new opportunities to stay active in the profession. I would recommend NEWLIB-L, which is geared for new librarians, those who are considering becoming librarians and others in the field who are interested in imparting wisdom and advice to the aforementioned groups. LIBJOBS would also be helpful, not just for finding out what jobs are available, but also for looking at job descriptions, requirements, and salaries to get an idea of what is out there and what is expected of librarians in different positions, in different institutions and in different states or countries. There are plenty of other librarian discussion lists that you may want to consider joining, depending on what aspect and/or subject area of librarianship you are interested in. You can search for more lists on the Library-Oriented Lists & Electronic Serials site.
Another option for updating or refreshing your skills is to take classes, either online or in-person. Associations, universities and colleges, and private companies alike are now offering a variety of classes and distance learning opportunities geared for librarians and library students. The Special Libraries Association (SLA) offers a Virtual Seminar Series, and the Simmons College GSLIS holds online workshops as part of their Continuing Education series. Taking a class or two will not only update your skills, but also give a boost to your resume and show a future employer that you are serious about keeping current in the profession.
In addition, look at the Advice section of Lisjobs.com for some helpful articles and information on getting started in librarianship. Check out the LIScareer.com site, and the new book, Jump Start Your Career in Library and Information Science by Priscilla K. Shontz. Good luck!