Q: In December of 2008, I completed an MLIS degree from a fairly well-respected state university. The whole time I was in library school (2.5 years) I worked as a circulation clerk in a medium-sized public library which is part of a three county system. When it came close to graduation, I started applying for professional jobs in that system. I got interviews, but no offers. At least once, I was never extended the courtesy of a phone call to tell me I had not been chosen. I ended up getting a good job with a five county library system in a small town an hour south of where I had been living. Reluctantly, I moved there. I am used to living in a vibrant college town which is full of culture and stimulating activity. I was bored and lonely in the small town. The library’s director was a tyrant who treated her employees in a condescending manner. I quit in three months after an unexpected personal tragedy, and moved back to the town where I went to college. Since, I have been doing some teaching, receptionist work, bartending, and working in a greenhouse. I want to be a public librarian. I wouldn’t mind working in children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference. I am confused as to why the system I worked for during school won’t hire me, and no one else will either. I don’t think it’s my resume, which has been looked over at state conference by a library branch manager and met with approval. Maybe it is my interview skills. Maybe it is the fact that I quit the job in the small town so suddenly and it has affected my reputation negatively. My question is two-fold. What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm
TA: Dear Bummed Bookworm, I am sorry you are feeling dissatisfaction with your current situation. I hope that I will be able to assist you in moving forward with a few thoughts and action items.
First, you need to lose the negative attitude. I can certainly understand your frustration at not having a library position, and having to make ends meet by teaching and bartending. You did have a librarian position, but quit after three months in the position. You described the library director as “condescending” and “a tyrant” and you added that there was also a personal tragedy that influenced your decision. I acknowledge it may not have been perfect, but it’s time to get angry and get over it, because your negative feelings about the past seem to be influencing the present. You need to find a way to describe your previous experience in a concise, honest, positive and professional way. If you disparage one employer to another, their fear is that you’ll do the same to them when you’ve moved on. And it’s just not professional.
You’ve got a lot of things working for you, and that’s what you need to focus on. First, you have a couple of years of solid public library experience. Second, you’ve had your resume reviewed by others and feel pretty good about it. Your interests are also wide (“children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference”), which broadens your opportunities.
Your “To Do List” from me also has a few items to consider. First, look at your cover letter and make sure its tone is positive and professional, and that it ties your experience to the needs of the position. Your cover letter should project enthusiasm and confidence, and should be tailored to each position you apply for. Second, you should consider going back to your supervisors at your first library system and asking them what you can do to make yourself a more competitive applicant for their positions. Do you, for example, need to brush up on technology or repair any relationships from your previous employment? If you ask someone to serve as a reference for you, be sure you ask them if they can be a GOOD reference for you for a SPECIFIC position. Ask them to discuss with you their assessment of your strengths and weaknesses for the position, and ask if there’s anything they need from you to better prepare for the reference. Make it easy for them to talk well about you. Third, work your professional network to see if there are any volunteer positions available. You will need to work carefully to build this into your already-busy schedule, but a volunteer position will allow you to keep your skills current, build a wider professional network, and rebuild a professional reputation. Prove yourself to be trustworthy, reliable, professional and invaluable as a worker and a colleague.