Q: I started considering a library career about a year ago, but I wasn’t certain enough of my decision to apply to library schools. I decided it would be better for me to get some experience working in a library first. I was lucky enough to get a full-time library assistant position at a public library. In addition to circulation and customer service work, I also do reference, adult programming (mainly in the form of computer classes), and even a bit of outreach and website work. I’m planning on holding onto this job for at least a year or two and then applying to library schools. I’m wondering what types of things I can do now as a paraprofessional that will make me more competitive for library school, grants and scholarships, and eventually a library career. Do you have any suggestions? Thank you!
SM: What a great question! We always love it when people are planning ahead, setting professional goals and getting experience! And, it sounds like you are in a good position to acquire a variety of skills and experience that will help you prepare for the job market after you get your MLS. As one of our readers pointed out in a recent comment, it is a tough job market out there. You need to be strategic and clever in developing your career path, and you need to arm yourself with the right experience, skills, and tools to compete for the job you want.
There are several things you can do to prepare yourself for graduate school, and for a career as a librarian, while working in a library (and working in a library is one of them, but you already have that covered). Here are just a few:
- Talk to your colleagues about their jobs and their career paths. Get information from people who have worked in the field for a long time. See what they did and ask them what they wish they had done or learned, and what skills they think are necessary for today’s librarian.
- Identify your strengths and weaknesses, your likes and dislikes. What are you good at: public service? cataloging? Are you extremely organized, socially-minded, technologically-driven? Do you love teaching others, do you like working with children? Do you want a career in public libraries? A good way to figure out what you want to do, and what you don’t want to do, is to get all the experience you can in all different areas and different types of libraries.
- Create something professional for your job: web sites or tutorials or handouts or guides. This will give you something tangible to show a potential employer. If that isn’t part of your current job, talk to your supervisor and see if you can develop something, or assist others who are creating materials in your library.
- Get involved with local library organizations or associations. Volunteer for committees or join discussion groups. This is a great way to network with people in your community and learn about other libraries and other jobs.
- Create a professional online identity, outside of your job: create profiles on social community sites, blog or tweet or join groups and conversations in LinkedIn. You want to be findable online.
- Identify schools that you would like to attend, look at their course offerings, their specializations, their instructors, their web sites, their tuition and fees, and their career services. Contact them to get more information, and ask about possible grants and scholarships.
More information on scholarships and grants: