Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question.

Q: To leave the profession, or to not leave the profession, that is the question. All corniness aside, our family is not mobile, and I have been mostly stuck in special libraries since receiving my MLS in 2006 (with academic library work dating back to 1996). I am not necessarily eager to enter a new career, but there seem to be few options in the large city that I live in. Many academic institutions that would have not required a PhD in the past, do now, including community colleges and for-profit schools. Do you think the forecast is positive enough to weather the economic storm where I am, or should I leave the profession entirely? Investment in a PhD to complement my MLS would be a costly gamble from my perspective. Thank you very much for your time.

SM:  Many librarians have asked themselves this same question, and many have left the profession and taken jobs in different areas and different sectors. We need to do what we need to do for our own well-being; and a paycheck (for most of us) is a necessity. If you can get a job that you enjoy, the more power to you. Our profession is constantly in a state of flux, no matter what the economy is like, and librarians need to be able to adapt to different roles, different technologies, different environments, and different clientele.

As for getting a PhD in order to compete for librarian positions… I would hold off. Unless you have a burning desire to get that PhD, and you would like to teach in a University one day or become a library director, I think it would be a waste of time and money and it doesn’t guarantee you a job (my apologies to those currently getting their PhDs to complement their MLSs). I am surprised, and somewhat concerned, that you say many libraries in your area are requiring a PhD for librarian positions. It doesn’t surprise me that some libraries might include it in a list of preferred qualifications, but to make it required seems extremely limiting. What next, five years of experience required for entry-level positions?

Here are a few tips and ideas to assist you as you search for jobs (and none of them involve getting a PhD):

  • Try to stay positive
    It is difficult to stay positive and cheery when you are looking for jobs and not having any luck, but a good attitude (in person and on paper) will reflect confidence, and this is what employers want see in a candidate.
  • Connect with others
    Join local librarian associations/groups, attend meetings and classes and symposia, and network with people. Volunteer for something, use your skills in other ways, in other areas, create and connect at the same time.
  • Reinvigorate your materials
    Perhaps it is time to freshen up your resume and cover letter. Remember to customize your materials (yes, even your resume) for each job application. You can tailor your experience and skills to each specific job. The most important two things you need to convey (without sounding overly confident) is 1.) that you can do the job, and 2.) that you really want the job  — not any job, their job.
  • Build up your online presence
    Do you have a professional online presence? Well, why not? If you are competing for jobs, you need to have one. It can be minimal and low maintenance such as a profile on a professional network, but prospective employers will expect to find you online, so let them.
  • Open your job search
    Stop looking for jobs with librarian in the title. Search with keywords taken from your resume. If you are open to working in other areas (and you might have to be if you are not mobile), you might find a librarian, or librarian-type, position outside of libraries (and there is nothing wrong with that).

In conclusion, don’t give up on the profession — keep an open mind and a positive outlook as you search for jobs. Remember that librarians don’t always work in libraries and other professions often value (and need) our skills and experience. And, if you haven’t discovered them already, check out INALJ (I Need a Library Job).

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