Q: I am interviewing for a volunteer position in a public library. How will this benefit me and is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer? I do not have a master’s degree yet but I am considering it.
TA: A volunteer position can be a great way to learn about libraries, especially if you are considering pursuing the MLS. Let’s take a look at your question and break it down:
- How will volunteering in a public library benefit me?
- Is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer?
- I’m thinking about getting my master’s degree…
First, as mentioned earlier, volunteering in a library is a great way to learn about what goes on in a library. It’s basically a behind-the-scenes tour of library operations. Not only are you gaining valuable insights into the inner workings of a library organization, you are also gaining experience in the work of libraries. Additionally, if you’re around long enough, you’ll start to pick up on the vocabulary and meaning of technical terms used in the work, the workflow cycles, and the politics of the workplace. You will also begin to establish a professional network, which, if you prove yourself as a valuable and reliable volunteer, will help you in your job search. Which brings us to question number two…
Is it easier to get a paid position if I volunteer? If you were to take a look back through some of our older posts, you’ll find that we often say it’s easier to find a job when you have a job. What we mean by that is when you’re in the workforce (even as a volunteer) there are certain advantages that help with the job search. First, all the things mentioned above as benefits to a volunteer position (knowledge of the work of libraries, common vocabulary, workflow, politics, etc.) are also benefits when you’re on the job market. When you’re asked questions during an interview (like, Tell us about a time you had to work with a patron…), you will be able to speak from a position of experience, as opposed to theory. Second, the professional network that you’ve established as a volunteer is also very helpful. Librarianship is a small (and close!) profession. Lots of people know lots of other people. Your professional reputation—something else you’re building as a volunteer—is another tool in your toolkit. Working hard pays off; the professional reputation you build will serve you well as apply for jobs. And finally, by volunteering you’re gaining hands-on experience and receiving up-to-date training on information tools and the work of libraries.
And I’ll close with this, a response to the third part of your question. If you’re thinking about going back to school, working experience in a library (paid and unpaid) will help you decide if you’re ready for the investment (of time, attention and money). Finding out what you like about working in libraries is equally as important as finding out what you don’t like. And those experiences will help you shape your academic experience when you do decide to return for the master’s degree. Having some experience under your belt when you enter graduate school will benefit not only you, but your classmates will benefit as well when you’re able to put theory into practice and provide real-world examples.
Whether you’re taking librarianship for a test drive, or getting some experience under your belt before moving into something more permanent, volunteering in a library can provide excellent benefits for you, the library, and the community you serve.