Q: Can you help me identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship?

Q: I have been working in academic libraries since completing my MLIS nine years ago. I have worked in small and large academic libraries, and have gained experience in reference, instruction and access services. This past week, I received an unexpected invitation to interview for a position at a middle/upper school library. Although I really enjoy being around children/teens in my personal life, I have zero experience working with them in my professional life. If I had seen the position posted, I probably would not have considered applying due to this lack of experience.

But now that I’ve accepted the invitation, I’m up for the challenge of interviewing. I am wondering if you might be able to identify transferable skills in transitioning from academic to school librarianship — and also, if you have any suggestions for resources (articles, websites) that might be helpful to me as I attempt a crash course in school librarianship. Thank you in advance for your insights!

SM: An invitation to interview (without having to apply first) is something you cannot pass up, you are correct. In fact, it is something that many people only dream about (myself included). And, as I’ve said before, changing direction can be a rewarding thing — “opportunities will pop up, jobs will present themselves,” and you should have fun learning about, and experiencing different kinds of libraries and patrons and roles as you move forward in your career. And you should feel honored that someone has extended this invitation to you and thought that you could be a good fit for this job, as unexpected as it might be.

Transferable skills are abundant between academic and school librarians. Academic librarians get those same middle/upper school students immediately after they graduate. They see the impact of information literacy (or lack thereof) on the students. They help undergraduates find scholarly articles and create bibliographies. Middle school and high school students use many of the same resources and technologies (or very similar ones) as the college students use, and the library roles and services such as instruction, collection development, administration/supervision, technical services, interlibrary loan, etc., are similar as well. During your interview, you’ll want to highlight your experience with instruction and reference and access services. Basic information literacy skills and good customer service are valued in any library setting.

The differences that you may want to brush up on, include: working closely with teachers and school administrators, understanding and supporting curriculum requirements, getting used to fixed schedules within the schools, envisioning the library itself as a classroom, and the different needs of different ages/grades of the children. School libraries are smaller than academic libraries (for the most part) and probably have smaller staffs, so your role may be more diversified across many different types of jobs, which can be both intimidating and exciting. Best of luck on your interview!

Definitely dig around on the school’s web site and see how much information you can find. Possible questions to ask on your interview:

  • What is the mission and focus of the school?
  • What are the students like (ambitious, athletic, scholarly, creative)?
  • Are you expected to be involved in school/building committees?
  • How many staff will you supervise?
  • Are there funds for professional development activities?
  • Are you expected to oversee computer labs and keep equipment and software up-to-date?
  • Are you expected to teach classes to all grades/levels?
  • How involved are the teachers in information literacy achievement, in the library?
  • What is the budget?
  • What are the upcoming (and ongoing) budgetary priorities, for the administration, for the teachers?
  • How are the electronic resources managed/accessed/promoted?
  • What are the most popular library resources?
  • What type of person are they looking for to fill this role?
  • What about the summer months (expected or anticipated duties)?

Resources:

American Association of School Librarians

APPR Evaluation, NYS School Library Program Rubric Tool (and goals of the Common Core Standards)

Brace Yourself: SLJ’s school library spending survey shows the hard times aren’t over, and better advocacy is needed By Lesley Farmer, March 1, 2012

The Independent Library, by Sarah Clark, Windward School Library

Introduction to School Librarianship

Latest Study: A full-time school librarian makes a critical difference in boosting student achievement by Debra E. Kachel and Keith Curry Lance on March 7, 2013

School Library Impact Reports

What Makes a Good Private School Library? Collegiate School Librarian Maggie Dixon Talks About Her Program

100 Helpful Blogs For School Librarians (And Teachers)

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