Q: I completed my library degree in the UK and I’m looking for jobs in the US. How do I best represent myself on paper?

Q: First of all, thank you both for your blog and the thoughtful responses to Library career questions. I am finding it very useful and practical in my hunt for employment in the library field. I was wondering if you could give me any advice about my current situation.

While living in the UK, I have completed a CILIP qualified Masters of Information and Library Management at a UK University. I am living in a rural area of England, and there are very few library jobs. I have been volunteering at a local library and archive for the last few months. I have interviewed for about 4 positions in the last 9 months, but I have not been successful. I got positive feedback for all of the positions, but they decided other candidates were more suitable. Due to not being able to get employment in the UK, I have decided to move back to the US, and am starting to look for library positions in the Greater Philadelphia area.

I am not sure what I am qualified to apply for, and how to best represent myself on paper. A CILIP qualified library master’s degree is recognized as equivalent to an ALA qualified MLS or MLIS, but I am not sure if employers will recognize this. I have been putting information in my materials about the CILIP degree being equivalent to an ALA degree by pointing to the ALA website,  as well as providing a link to a great article comparing graduates from library schools in the US and UK. I also have a previous Masters degree in Urban Affairs and Public Policy, two and a half years as a research assistant at a large university, some supervisory experience, two years library assistant experience at an academic library, and archival/digital collections experience.  And, do you have any suggestions for ways to break into entry-level academic library roles?

SM: I wouldn’t go too far to point out the fact that your degree is “different.” You don’t want it to stand out as a red flag and you don’t want to make it seem questionable, because it isn’t. The American Library Association states that the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand” have been identified as having “formal” accreditation processes and an individual who has received his/her degree from an institution in one of these countries is considered acceptable for employment in the United States.” [Library programs in Canada are accredited by the American Library Association.]

It can be a bit tricky, figuring out what you should include in your application materials and how much explanation is necessary, because you want to educate those who may not know that other countries have equivalent degrees to the ALA-accredited MLS, but you don’t want to push tons of information at them which could be both distracting (since it doesn’t pertain to the job at hand) and demeaning (because they may already know about foreign library school credentials, or they can easily look up the information on their own). So, I would suggest to err on the subtle side and go with minimal information on the degree and focus on how your background and your experience and your skills relate to the job you are applying for. If you are a finalist for the position, the search committee (director, HR, etc.) will have plenty of time to seek out the history of your degree and ask you questions about it during the interview.

All you really need to do when you apply for jobs are two simple things:

  • In your resume, list your degree, as you normally would. For example:

2011 – MA, Library Science, City University London

  • In your cover letter, write a sentence or two about getting your degree abroad and mention that the degree is an equivalent degree and you can (if you are so inclined) provide a link to ALA’s page on Library Employment and Foreign Credentials.  And, you might also want to mention that you are a U.S. citizen.

As for breaking into entry-level academic library jobs in the U.S. — just apply for ones that you are qualified for and ones that interest you… and play up your strengths. You have library experience, research experience, supervisory experience, and a second masters, and you’ve lived and worked (volunteered, but that counts!) abroad which may be appealing to some search committees and some academic cultures. Keep an open mind and a positive attitude, seek out library organizations and groups in specific cities you are targeting, network online, and look for more than just entry-level positions (which you may be qualified for).  Good luck!

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