Q: How do I switch to being a catalog librarian without having any real formal cataloging experience?

Q: I have been a librarian for over 20 years, mainly working in archives and small special libraries.  My question is, how do I switch to being a catalog librarian without having any real formal cataloging experience?  I considered looking for a copy catalog position, but have not found any openings.  I think people look at my resume and see archives and reference work, and never consider me for a cataloging position.  Also, I have only worked part-time during the last 10 years while raising my kids, mostly in para-professional positions, so I feel almost like I should start all over and go back to library school (although I can’t afford to)!

TA:  There are a number of areas that need to be addressed here: switching specializations from archives to cataloging; moving from part time to full time; and moving from a paraprofessional to professional position after 10 years.

My first suggestion is to dust off the old cover letter and resume and make sure it’s up to date in terms of both your experience and in formatting.  Styles change over a decade, so make sure you put some work into your application materials.  Make them look and feel polished and up to date.

Your cover letter will be especially important because it will be how you address all three questions (specialization, part time/ full time, para- to professional).  We’ve talked many times about the value of transferable skills, so you may want to refer to some of our other articles from the “Career Change” category of the column: http://www.lisjobs.com/CareerQA_blog/?cat=23

You should make a compelling case in your cover letter (supported by the work listed on your resume) about the parallels between your experience and the position for which you’ve applied.  For example, if you have experience processing archival collections and applying descriptive metadata using a standardized, controlled vocabulary, these are pretty similar in nature to traditional cataloging.  Describe how your experience will be an asset to the position.  Also include descriptive words that will appeal to the hiring supervisor, such as “detail oriented”, “works well independently as well as collaboratively”, or “self motivated and eager to learn”.  You’ll also need to explain in your letter that you’re in a position now to seek a full time, professional position, and that you’re eager to apply your knowledge, skills, and talents in that level of position.

In addition to your updating your application materials, if possible, you may want to seek opportunities to volunteer.  It’s a great way to gain experience, build skills, and add to a resume.  You will also build contacts in the profession, some of whom may serve as references for future cataloging positions.

A final idea to consider would be exploring the Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS) at Library and Information Science programs.  Wikipedia defines the Certificate of Advanced Study as:

A Certificate of Advanced Study (CAS), also called a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study (CAGS) or a Certificate of Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS), is a post-Master’s academic certificate designed for practitioners who seek a continuing education program to enhance their professional development in areas such as education and library science.

Many library schools, including the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, offer the CAS, and it might be a way for you to develop or further enhance your cataloging expertise.  Drexel University offers an online CAS program for Information Studies and Technology.  Many of the CAS programs are self-directed and allow you to select courses with a faculty advisor to customize your experience.  If you have the time and desire to supplement your educational background, the CAS may be the additional support you need to switch specializations within the profession.

In closing, I wish you the best.  Start with your application materials and put your time and energy there.  Move next to the volunteer experience, and down the road, if you’re so inclined, think about additional educational opportunities that may help you secure the position you’re seeking.

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