Q: Is it ever a good idea to take a library job that doesn’t use any of my new knowledge in hopes that something better will come along?

Q: I recently got my MLS. I also have significant previous experience as a mainframe computer programmer, analyst and project leader. The job market is quite tight in my area, due to a library school in town and the economy. Is it ever a good idea to take a library job that doesn’t use any of my new knowledge in hopes that something better will come along? I am concerned about appearing unsure of my professional abilities and appearing to be a job-hopper should that “perfect job” come along within the first few months of a non-professional position. I am also open to other positions that don’t have the title of “librarian” especially if I can use some of my research skills. How do I find these types of jobs? I appreciate any suggestions that you have. Thank you.

SM: By not taking a job in a library, or at least one that utilizes your librarian skills, you could hamper your future career. Many jobs require some kind of library experience (pre- or post-MLS, or a combination), and if you are not working in a library, or using any of your new skills, you will not be qualified – or even considered – for those jobs. Also, potential employers will wonder why you are not currently working in the field. Unless you can justify this in your cover letter and convince them that your skills are transferable, you are the right candidate for the job, and your enthusiasm for the profession has not been lost, you might find yourself struggling to break into librarianship.

Many people are in similar situations, living in a community saturated with librarians and new grads, but without enough entry-level positions. New librarians will often move to take entry-level jobs in a different state (or even country), usually with the intention of acquiring necessary professional experience before coming home again. Sometimes they end up staying in their new locations (or move somewhere else), but some also make it back home after a few years and take a job in their ideal city. Call it sacrifice, or extreme motivation – it works well for some. Others, for a variety of reasons, are unable or unwilling to move.

If this is you, then taking a job close to home that utilizes at least some of your skills would be the best thing to do. You need to make a living somehow. Broaden your job search by looking for jobs in your local newspaper or news site, or on a large job bank such as Monster or CareerBuilder.com and search for jobs using terms like “librarian,” “library,” or “research.” You should get quite a variety of results. Some corporate positions actually prefer someone who has an MLS, although it might not be a librarian position or have “librarian” in the title. You might also want to look into a library staffing agency such as Library Associates for temporary or direct placement positions.

Some people never intend to go into librarianship after getting their MLS (or equivalent) and find alternative careers in various disciplines. Your MLS might serve you well in the computing industry; however, it sounds like you do really want to be a librarian in a library. This means that yes, you should primarily be looking for librarian positions.

If you do end up taking a non-library job, think about keeping involved in librarianship by volunteering. Contact your local libraries and offer your skills; they might have specific projects for you, and your computing background can be useful here. This is also a good way to make contacts and to keep an eye on job announcements.

TA: Susanne makes some excellent points. Taking a job right out of library school that in no way uses your newly-minted degree could be somewhat damaging. However, we all need to pay the bills. I live in an area that has three ALA-accredited library schools within a 60- mile radius, so I hear this question a lot. Several things come to mind:

In addition to volunteering, as mentioned above, explore the option of working as a temporary librarian. If you are in a situation that allows you to work for a defined duration (and often without benefits), filling in as a temp is a great way to get your foot in the door. You get real-life on-the-job experience, you can build a professional network, and, after proving your value, you may be headed in the direction of temp-to-perm.

You can also do a lot with your resume and cover letter to explain your career choices and current employment to potential employers. Use your cover letter to explain any gaps in employment or to describe how that “non-librarian” position really is a lot like working in a library – using the same skill set or beefing up customer service skills. As we’ve often discussed, be sure to point out transferable skills from your current job (in a library or not) to the job for which you’re applying.

On your resume, be sure to list your primary job duties in relation to the duties you will have in the new position. For example, let’s say you take a job as a project manager, since this is something you’ve done in the past – and then your “perfect job” as a cataloger comes along in your local public library. When you are crafting your resume and describing your duties, try to use words that will appeal to the supervisor of the cataloging position, such as: “managed complicated workflow;” “met deadlines for production in fast-paced environment;” “supervised staff and student interns.” These phrases could apply to a project manager position as well as to many positions in cataloging.

And finally, if you accept a position and have been in it for less than a year when you apply for another job, you will need to explain the short duration in your cover letter. It can be something as simple as: “I am excited to begin my professional career as a librarian…” which alludes to the reason you’re leaving your non- library or paraprofessional job, while also expressing interest and enthusiasm for the new position.

In light of everything we keep hearing about the impending “librarian shortage,” having a library degree and not having a job can be extremely frustrating. Stick with it. Do what you need to do to pay the bills, but never lose sight of why you went to library school. Something in the curriculum drew you in, and it will be that vision, interest, and enthusiasm that will allow you to offer so much more in return. You just need your chance!

See also:

Geography 101: See the World, Get a Job by Richard A. Murray
Librarians in the Information Age: Alternative Uses of MLS Degrees by Darwin McGuire
Relocating: the Beginning of a Great Adventure by Thad Dickinson
Should You Take a Temp Job? by Amy York
Volunteer Match

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