Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Is now the time for librarians?

The graduate.New librarians are entering the job market fresh from receiving their master's degree (MLIS).  The months and years spent in the classroom are behind them and they are anxious for the next chapter of their lives to begin.  Some have already found job opportunities.  Others are still in the job hunt and wondering when a job offer will appear.  For them, this is a time of doubt.  Was getting an MLIS the right thing to do?  Weren't a ton of librarians suppose to be retiring?  Is this the right time to be a librarian?

Because of the committees that I serve on, the people I meet with, and the consulting work that I do, I see the profession from a different point of view than most.  With those points of view in mind, let me tell you why this is the time for librarians.

The Graying of the Profession - We have been talking for years about the number of librarians that would be retiring.  However, the economic downturn that begin in 2008 delayed retirements.  Those librarians who have stayed - instead of retiring - will retire.  Some might even work in organizations that have a mandatory retirement date.  All of those retiring librarians will need to be replaced.  Will they be replaced with a new graduate?  In some cases, yes.  In many cases, they will be replaced with someone else, who will then could be replaced with a new graduate. 

In addition, when people did retire, they were often not replaced.  The need for them didn't go away because their work didn't go away.  As our economy improves, those vacancies will be filled.

Chris Turner, Daniel Enders, Jane Appiah Okyere and Rachael Altman gathered around  poster for ProspectUs, a project by Chris Turner, Daniel Enders, Daniel Perez and Robert SchrierNeed for New Ideas - Every information organization (and not just libraries) need new ideas to move them forward.  Graduates enter the workforce fresh with new ideas and a willingness to put those ideas into motion.  I have seen graduates hired because they are willing to demonstrate a desire to make a difference and to help an organization dream big. 

Librarians Inside and Outside of Libraries - Just last night, I spoke with someone who noted that library and information science graduates are a desirable group because of their ability to gather information and do analysis. Working in non-traditional settings is an area that graduates need to tap into because it is a growth area.  This means looking at business job ads for those that require information gathering, organization and analysis skills.  This also means promoting, both through your resume and cover letter, what you are capable of doing for them.  That may mean describing your library skills in non-library terms. 

Among the businesses/industries/areas - including some that are library related - that I think graduates should look at are:
  • Publishing industry - This is an industry that is going through massive changes.  It needs help in understand how people want to access information as well as how to market its works to new and existing channels (including libraries). 
  • Pharmaceutical industry - This industry has a continuous need for information gathering and analysis, including working with big data.  (There are many other industries that need LIS skills, so this is really just one example.)
  • Government agencies - They - national, state and local - are awash in information and need help.  Among the help that they need is assistance in capturing/preserving information that is being acquired and created. 
  • National security - Any organization that is involved in national security needs people to organize and analyze data.  They may not be actively recruiting, but that doesn't mean that they aren't hiring.  These organizations often take months (yes, even close to a year) to work through the interview/hiring process, so applicants need to be patient.  
  • Non-governmental organizations - Whether in the U.S. or overseas, these organizations have the same information needs as other businesses or agencies.  For those interested in traveling the world, an NGO - or a State Department or Military library - can give you that opportunity.
  • K-12 schools - Reportedly, some school districts do not have as many teacher librarians (also called school media specialists or school librarians) as they are mandated to have.  While school districts are worried about their funding, they are also worried about meeting the federal requirements and improving student education.  Teacher librarians are an important component and there will be openings.
  • Library trainers - Information and digital literacy are areas that are growing in importance.  Many public and academic libraries are focusing resources (and people) on these.  While a new graduate may not feel as if he has ability to walk right into a training position, I encourage graduates to talk about those activities and assignments where you have used skills similar to those used by a trainer.  (This could be an area where a YouTube video of you giving a 5 minute training session could be helpful or even the inclusion of lesson plans in your portfolio.)
  • Institutional repositories - I spoke with someone recently about the needs of for-profit organizations and government agencies in terms of help with digital data/information.  It occurred to me that students who have worked in or studied institutional repositories likely have skills that other organizations want, but that how each talks about the "job" is quite different.  If you have institutional repository experience, are you willing to look for a position outside of academia that uses those same skills?
  • Search engine development - Companies in this area need help with information retrieval and information organization.  They need people that are willing to work with programmers and development staff to create Google's successor or better search on mobile devices or.... 
  • Software development - Librarians understand users and software developers need to understand users (but often don't).  LIS graduates can act as a bridge between the two.
  • Independent information professionals - In other professions (e.g., medical and legal) graduates often see building their own business as what they want to do.  Among LIS graduates, this isn't on everyone's lips, yet it is a viable career choice.  There are a growing number of librarians who create their own businesses.  Some do it to carry them over between employment opportunities, while others see it as their career choice for them.  Likely among the librarians that you admire are people who make a living as consultants.  These people work on wide variety of different projects for every type of organization imaginable.  Yes, people are starting their own consulting practices right out of grad school.
Carnegie Library Building in downtown SyracuseWhat about traditional jobs?  Yes, they are out there, although some have morphed due to changing needs.  While there are still cataloguers, there are also people creating metadata and doing text encoding.  While there are still librarians working in traditional collection development, there are also people helping to acquire, organize and preserve digital content.  While there are librarians staffing in-library services, there are others who are working out in their respective communities and moving library services outside of the building.  If you are looking for a traditional job, recognize that they may not be what you think.

What about the competition?  Yes, you have competition and some of them are people you just went to school with.  Many employers actually like to have a deep pool of candidates.  Some will even keep a search open until they feel that they have received enough job applications, meaning that they aren't going to make a hiring decision based on a small pool of candidates.  So, yes, you have competition.  While it sounds flippant, the only thing you can do is be consider about yourself.  Present yourself, your skills and capabilities in the best possible light and let the competition worry about itself.

How many job applications do you need to do?   In Advice for The New Archivist, the author recounts information he has received from others.  As I read through the advice, I sense frustration, but also hear people saying to keep applying for positions.  In their advice, people talk about sending out dozens of job applications.  We often think that we should be hired after sending out a few job applications.  If that happens, be thankful.  Most people find that they need to apply for multiple jobs and often in a variety of geographic regions.

One of the benefits of sending out dozens of job applications, that is not mentioned, is that the applicant will refine his/her resume and cover letter during that process.  In other words, how you present yourself in application #30 should be better worded and focused that in application #1.  (Remember that your resume is always a work in progress.  It is never "done.")  In addition, you should have a better idea of what you are really looking for, what you will accept, etc.

Unless you have done multiple mock job interviews, your first telephone and in-person interviews will be learning experiences.  Again, you will get better with practice, no matter if that practice occurs in practice sessions or during real interviews.

What can you do to help land a job?  You already know these tips, but I'll repeat them.
    Pres4Lib at Triumph
  • Network - If you are interested in working in a specific geographic region or type of organization, find a way of networking with people in that area.  You might network through LinkedIn, at face-to-face events or on email discussion lists.
  • Hone your online presence - Look at every place where you have an online presence.  Is it professional looking?  Does it put your best "face" forward?  Will someone look at it and understand what are capable of doing?  You do not want someone to see your resume, then run your name through an Internet search engine and find a person that seems undesirable.    
  • Talk about what you can do for them - In your LinkedIn profile and cover letter - and in conversations as appropriate - talk about how your knowledge and skills will help them (the organization).  How can you help them do "X"?  how can you help them better address a specific need?  How can you help them solve a problem?
  • Craft your resume to fit the opening - I know this is a pain in the butt and time-consuming, but it is also very helpful.  In addition, you should work your resume so it can be understood by people who aren't familiar with the jargon.  The first person to look at your resume may be someone in human resources, rather than someone in the unit that has the job opening.
  • Exude confidence - Have a resume that says you can do "that."  In the interview, say you can do "that." And most important, exude in every cell of your body and in every moment that you can do "that."  You don't have to be arrogant.  You just have to be confident.
Finally, if you haven't yet graduated or perhaps you're going to begin an LIS program in the fall, look at the five tips above and begin to implement them now, especially the first two.  Also begin to read and keep job ads, especially those that fit your career trajectory.  Those will help to guide what you do in and outside of the classroom.  They will help to focus your internship experiences and your networking.  And when you graduate, you will already have a list of place where you will want to send your resume.

Attending school in the fall? Here are more tips.

Looking for a resource to help you prepare for your future? Check out The Information and Knowledge Professional's Career Handbook which is available through many booksellers and through interlibrary loan.


Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

A librarian on Twitter commented, "Eh, not so much - at least if you need to earn a real living after you've graduated."

The pay in public and academic libraries can be low. I've been shocked and saddened to hear what some of my colleagues are making. Yes, there are public and academic libraries that pay well and are good places to work.

The pay in non-traditional settings is a different matter. Here library and information professionals are being paid for the value that they bring to that organization. If you bring value to the table, they will be willing to pay you accordingly.

calimae said...

It absolutely takes a multitude of applications to get a job, and it's particularly difficult when you're limited to a certain geographic area. For my first job hunt just prior to graduating in fall 2007, I started in October and sent applications hither and yon (I didn't care where I ended up) and had a job offer around Thanksgiving. Now I'm trying to get back to the area where I'm from and have been applying to jobs for over a year and have only had one position where I got past the first round of interviews. My resume/cover letter are definitely better now than they were at the beginning, but frustration is also an ever-present reality in my current job search (I am currently in the midst of trying to broaden my options to some of the more non-traditional jobs, but haven't been able to devote as much time as I should to my search).

To add to your list of possible areas in which to look, I would comment that many positions like those are available via contractors (at least they are in the Washington, D.C., area, and some of the other large metropolitan areas). Contracting has its positives and negatives, the primary negative being that you can't rely on it to continue long-term, but the positive being that you can end up in a variety of settings that wouldn't have been an option otherwise (since many places get contractors rather than posting actual job openings--contractors are cheaper). Some contracting companies will even pay to get you a security clearance if their contracts require that of the employees (that process took an entire year for a friend of mine).

Beja19046 said...

Thanks for such a thoughtful post on the topic of landing a job post MLS. would also offer that showing your commitment to the profession through active participation (via publishing, online resources, volunteering, association support, etc.) is a very good thing. This helps increase your visibility and provides you with opportunities to network with your soon-to-be colleagues.

Anonymous said...

I know you don't seriously believe half of the crap in this post. Obviously you make money off of suckering people into paying disgusting sums of money to get an MLIS. The truth is that most older people in the profession aren't retiring or dying any time in the next 10 years, nor are they being forced out by their employers. The vast majority of librarians who leave an organization aren't being replaced at all. When they are it's usually by someone who's just as old as the person who left, and that person has probably been laid off for the past 3 years so they aren't leaving any openings for younger people. The jobs that have been eliminated aren't coming back. As long as an organization can streamline it's expenditures by hiring fewer people they will continue to do so.

Jill Hurst-Wahl said...

Dear Anonymous,

Yes, I believe what I have written. I am a practitioner who interacts with many other practitioners and sees our industry from different points of view.

I also know for a fact that our skills are needed and desired in areas where librarians have not normally worked.

Anonymous said...

"Anonymous" is very right in his/her assessment of the field. But, but, but there is hope. The hope lies in being able to transition to other fields showcasing your skills and talents. I've been unemployed for two years and was a librarian/archivist for 15 years. The job market here in Southern California is one of the worst in the nation. Don't come to this part of the world if you're looking for a librarian or archivist position. Extreme competition and qualifications wanted for very few jobs. I have resorted to temporary secretarial work when I can it as I am considered "over-qualified" and "why in the world would I take such low-paying non-professional job?" If things don't improve soon, I along with many of my cohorts, are going to be living on the couches of benevolent relatives and friends. No kidding. Just sign me - Anonymous II - but still hopeful things will turn around.

BrendaR said...

Excellent article for library and information professionals who bring multiple skillsets to the job. Library jobs are not the only workset that need to evolve. Since I came to the academic side of the profession from a corporate, revenue-driven mindset it amazes me how many times I hear "this (process) has always been done this way in all libraries". This is the first job I have ever had, where we must continuously prove that our work is relevant because the masses think the internet has replaced libraries. Why would a young, fresh, creative mind want to be locked into staid routines. Thank goodness for this list of other options to consider. Good job!

Laura Faatz said...

This article was very helpful, although I have seen the information pop up in other places, you have done an excellent job in bringing it all together. I have been out of work since September of last year, and as each week goes by I try to find positions outside traditional librarianship where my skills are needed. Your list provided me with a catalyst for exploring more and other possibilities. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am currently living in Canada and completing a Library Technician diploma. I already have a BA, which means if I really feel like it, I can go on to an MLIS when I'm done. However, I am also seeing large amounts of growth in alternative library situations, as well as other situations where my technological skills have/will help push me forward. Thank you for presenting alternative library employment as being viable and modern. Digitization is going to take a lot of us a long way.

Unknown said...

Jill, thanks so much for writing this article. It really is a tough market, and I sent out dozens of applications after graduation. I agree with the comments that the statement about librarians retiring soon is too optimistic...retiree positions are more likely to not be filled. Or they are filled internally.

I also definitely advise giving non-traditional settings a chance. I was targeting academic positions, but found it so hard to break into considering the volume of applications. Many non-traditional jobs do have a daunting list of requirements, but I found that because they are so specialized, they are more willing to train since there are less candidates who probably have the skills. So it's good to show that you are sharp and a quick learner, and to be very clear on how you can transfer your skills. I also really like what was said about conveying your value and what you can add, especially since many non-traditional settings are profit-driven and are thinking about costs. (Also, if you have experience using SharePoint, that will help a lot ;) )

Someone mentioned that a lot of these positions are in DC. I am a member of the SLA DC Chapter, and we recently launched an Employment Portal, http://dc.sla.org/employment-portal/. It has some great resources, and if you are DC/SLA member, we're starting up a resume review and mentor service.

Just-In-Time-Law-Librarian said...

It would be nice if professors acknowledge the problems in the job market; acknowledge the problems
regarding students taking out too many loans; and warn students against attending without studying the situation carefully. It is ethically questionable to promote programs AND NOT mention the severe problems: those without a vested interest acknowledge the problems and those with a vested interested forget to bring it up.