Q: What are the pros and cons of pursuing a professional certification in an area you may not have much experience in to expand future employment opportunities?

Q: I have been out of library school and working in a non-traditional role for 6 years as of today. Though I am employed (sometimes underemployed, depending on project funding), I am considering whether or not it’s time to try making a career move now that I have some experience under my belt. I have been job hunting as as I will not be able to move upward (or negotiate any sort of raise or additional responsibility) in my current position. After 6 steady months of job hunting (and a highly encouraging interview, though I was not offered the position) I’m beginning to realize the library job market in my area is just plain tough, and it seems likely to remain that way for the next few years. For family-related reasons I’m not able to easily relocate to seek employment and I’ve been wondering, what’s the best way to plan for career advancement if you aren’t able to make an immediate move to a new position? I am considering pursuing either a professional certification in an area such as records or knowledge management or possibly enrolling in some programming classes at a local community college. What are the pros and cons of pursuing a professional certification in an area you may not have much experience in to expand future possible employment opportunities? Would associate-level technology training pair well with an MLIS degree as a segue into systems librarianship?

SM: One might argue that you should always be planning for career advancement, whether or not you are currently job hunting. A career (not a job, necessarily) is something to hone, to mold, to build, to grow. It is continuously in flux and we should be improving our skill sets and pursuing new education all the time.

It can be difficult when you are feeling stuck (for lack of a better word) and are unable to move out to another job or move up to a better one. This is a common dilemma – you are not alone – and there are countless reasons why people stay in places and roles that are not ideal. But as long as you have goals (both short and long term) and continue to pursue new opportunities and explore new professional outlets, then there is hope.

A professional (or advanced) certification can certainly enhance your resume and provide you with new and potentially necessary skills for a job in a particular area. Some libraries/institutions may require a certification or specialization (or prefer one) depending on the area, for example: archives, library media specialist, digital libraries, preservation, law, or museum libraries. Be aware, however, that getting a job in that area without having work experience in that area, may be difficult even with the certification. So you should also look into volunteer work or an internship or hands-on projects at your current workplace, which can all count as experience.

I can’t say that pursuing a professional certification will definitely be worth it for you, but if you’re willing to spend some time and money as you bide your time in your current position, the best things you can do are –

  • advance your education
  • acquire experience
  • build up your resume
  • make new connections

If you are going to specialize, you should feel a strong pull towards working in that particular area, so you may want to try to get some experience first or at the very least talk to specialists and find out what they do, what they needed to do to get a job, and what they love about their job. It is good to specialize, but also good to get experience in different areas because you never know what type of position might come up, and what type of experience you might need to get the job you want.  I like to think that each job or role you have is a segue into your next one, and each skill you acquire and each connection you make can be a segue into new opportunities.

Technology training can be beneficial for any type of library role and will almost always come in handy at some point (think — photo editing, web design, graphic design, digitization, database design, statistics, metadata, and more). I have taken several technology and software specific classes in the course of my career and I have learned from each one. Getting an associate’s degree in a technology field can pair well with a tech-heavy librarian role, such as systems librarianship, and may be required for a small number of those jobs. However, if you have the experience and the skills needed, the advanced certificate or degree usually isn’t a requirement. Finally, seek out classes and events and associations that interest you and keep your job options open (especially since you are limited geographically) by considering non-traditional or alternative librarian roles which can be challenging and rewarding and can help to propel your career upward.

A few certification/specialization program within library schools:

Advanced Certificate Program – LIU Post

Advanced Certificate Programs – Pratt

Advanced Study Certificate – UW-Milwaukee

Certificate of Advanced Studies, iSchool, Syracuse University

Specializations – School of Information, University of Texas at Austin

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