Q: Shamefully (or possibly beneficially) I have no experience working in a library save for a stint in high school when I was part of the library club. I worked as a library page for two hours a week almost twenty years ago and nothing since. I have, on the other hand, used libraries — especially in college.
On a more positive note, I got accepted into a library and information science program. I’m happy and shocked at the same time because now I need to get my feet wet. I am thinking it would be very nice if I started doing something in a library. I don’t think I should wait until an internship is posted and volunteer library associations are chuck filled with volunteers already.
So, now, my question is: how would someone who is totally new to librarianship get into it?
TA: Congratulations on your acceptance into library school. I’m not sure how no experience could be “possibly beneficial” and I’m a little curious what led you to this point of seeking the LS/IS degree when you admit that you haven’t worked in a library any more than as a page twenty years ago. But whatever your reasons, I hope that your interest, experience, and objectives are further enhanced by obtaining the degree.
You’re smart to begin thinking early about gaining experience. Today’s employers like to see a combination of education and experience in qualified applicants, and building related experience is a lot easier during library school than at the end of it, or when you’re actually on the job market. There are a number of options to consider to gain experience: A volunteer placement, internship (paid or unpaid), practicum for course credit, and paid employment as a library staff member. Any or all of these would provide an opportunity for you to work in an actual library, and to see and build a better understanding of the work of libraries. Additionally, you’ll be able to apply classroom theory to real-world situations, something that will benefit both your classroom and work experience. It’s also a great way to “try on” different types of work to see which you like best and may help you specialize and focus your course selections. And finally, all of these experiences will build a resume with current, relevant experience which will make you marketable to prospective employers at the conclusion of your degree program.
SM: Well, I would say you’ve already gotten yourself into it, mentally anyway, by applying and getting accepted into a library and information science program. You must have thought seriously about your decision to become a librarian, and what you might want to do with the degree.
Even though you don’t have much experience working in libraries, you obviously have a strong pull towards the profession, or you wouldn’t be pursuing it. And, please (please) don’t say that you love to read books. If you haven’t already, do some research into the vast variety of roles librarians can play, and the incredibly diverse institutions in which they can work.
I recommend visiting the placement center, or career services center, of the school you will be attending and see if they have an online or a physical job board. Look for positions in the library or libraries of the university. Look for positions in local public libraries. Search for positions on online job sites, specific to librarianship such as LISjobs.com, or broader such as SimplyHired.com. Visit library web sites and see if they are hiring or if they have procedures you need to complete before they will hire you (civil service exam, typing test, forms to fill out, etc.). Don’t limit yourself to volunteering or wait for the perfect internship – get out there now and start getting experience! Ideally, you should get library experience before and during library school; which, in turn, will help you land a great job after you graduate. And believe me, nothing makes library school classes more relevant and more interesting than concurrently working in a library.
As you apply for positions, let prospective employers know that you are enrolled in library school and mention your past experience as a page in a library. This can help get you in the door, and convey both enthusiasm and commitment. And don’t be afraid to start out small… if you are good at what you do and motivated to learn, you will move up quickly and learn lots along the way.
Take a look at some of our previous postings on getting started: