So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist: 2012 edition

Dear Internet,

In 2008 or so, I started writing columns on “So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist”, which ended up becoming pretty popular. With as many domain shuffles I’ve had in the last four years, the content is archived but has not been put back on this current domain as of yet.

A few days ago, my friend Kate said, “Hey! There is a thread on Ravelry about wanting to become a librarian. I think you should chime in.” And I agreed. Below is my original post with some slight editing. Once I stop getting lazy, I’ll put up the older posts, but the below pretty much is succintly how I feel today.

Please, please, please use this to pass around to anyone who is thinking of becoming a librarian, please add in your own comments about your experiences with library school, education, job hunt, anything. I don’t know where the misconceptions are coming from, but if watching #libchat is any indication, a lot of n00bs out there still can’t shake the myths. I no longer care WHY the myths exist, I just want to break them.

—-

First, if you can’t find what you’re looking for via Google or any search engines, then you’re going to be a terrible librarian. Here is my point: I searched for “online library science programs accredited” in Google and the VERY FIRST item is a link to ALA (American Library Association – our professions largest professional organization) listing of accredited schools, which includes online programs. I know of four you can do entirely online:

There is probably others that do entirely online degrees, but those are the big ones. The number of library schools in the US is tiny (like 50?), so it averages one per state. Most, if not all schools, offer a blended degree of online/in classroom.

There ARE schools that offer library science or library tech degrees in bachelors or as certification programs. These are not the same thing as getting a MLIS. I want to make this clear because this is commonly misunderstood.

So WHY do you want to be a librarian? You only say, I think I would be good at this. But you don’t really clarify WHY you think you would be good at this. Here is a major site aggregator for library jobs that is compiled by ALA. Even if you see the same job title twice, you will hardly see the same job responsibilities, duties, or description. If you think the job is going to be standing around all day handling and reading books: Let me burst that bubble for you right quick. I barely have time to keep up with my professional reading, let alone personal reading. I was more cultured in topics and titles when I slung books at a bookstore then working in a library system.

At this point, you’re probably wondering: Who the hell is this person?

  • I’m a systems and web librarian at a community college
  • I have a GED, BA, MA, and now my MLIS
  • I graduated from Wayne State in 2010 with my MLIS and archival certification
  • I’m not going to be overly humble here: I was the golden child of my class. I worked through school at the campus library as a reference librarian, I was on many professional committees on and off campus, I started a new organization ON campus, I was active within the community, and I had a 3.85 GPA. It took a year and 114 job applications before I landed a job. I applied for EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE.

(Also, I would highly advise you NOT to go to Wayne for your online program. This is the worst run school ever, the director is douchebag delight who is out of touch with the needs of the students — we tried to get him removed as head when I was there.  His main residence is in the southern states. Yes, he’s a director of a program in MI, but lives in the south. The programs are poorly coordinated and run. Stay the fuck away from Wayne.)

Let’s move on to your education: A lot of people say that having a degree in history, or English, or similar is extremely helpful in having a MLIS. This is true and this is bullshit. It’s bullshit because EVERYTHING you do outside of library school will be extremely beneficial to your career path. Those customer service skills you learned in retail? You will be a prince(ss) among the people for deft handling of difficult patrons. You’re interest in comics and gaming? You will soon be scheduling programming and events for teens and adults when new releases come out. Worked in housekeeping or similar detail while going to school? You will be the MASTER of unclogging toilets. There will not be one skill you have not acquired in your personal or previous professional life that you will not call upon at some point in your library career.

Also, having a degree in the humanities such as English or History does not give you a leg up in getting a MLIS or working in a library. It is relevant if you want to specialize but if you are going to work somewhere and a specialization is not required, your degree in underwater basket weaving is just as useful as the one in physics. I am also going to strongly suggest you get, if you do not already have, heavy tech skills. I worked in the IT industry for nearly a decade before going back to finish my undergrad and then on my two masters degrees and having my background in IT  has been a boon to my job search and interviews

Next is job descriptions. My title is “systems and web librarian.” What does this mean? At my institution, it means that I am responsible for:

  • Maintaining our online catalog system (OPAC) in all capacities
  • I manage, update, create content for our library’s website and all social media accounts
  • I am a liaison to six departments on campus so I keep up to trends and info on all those fields
  • I do collection development for my departments
  • I teach information literacy classes 85 hours a semester
  • I am on the reference desk 10-15 hours a week
  • I am on numerous committees on campus
  • I participate heavily with the state wide library organization
  • I am the liaison to the institutions IT department and I work with them on many tech projects

Now I have a colleague who works at a local college here who does nothing but web development for the library. It was required he had his MLIS. Not that he does 1/6th of what I do, but that his job is 1/6 of what I do. Some librarians on this list may recognize that what I’ve listed is similar to their own lists of what is expected of them.

So the job market. Yes, it’s brutal. But so is it everywhere, it is NOT just in library world. I’ll reference my point above of 114 job applications and year before I landed my gig, but I want to stress I did NOT apply for positions only at libraries, I applied for any and all positions that I was qualified for in librarianship or as an archivist regardless of the sector. Just because you have an MLIS and/or you’re a certified archivist doesn’t mean you have to work at a library or at an archives. This seems to be a popular misconception that all n00b librarians/archivist seem to think is true. For example, Blizzard Entertainment is looking for an Associate Librarian & Archivist. I have many friends who have never set foot, professionally, in what is considered to be traditional librarian/archivist jobs. Other options are: Knowledge management, information architecture, UX designer, content producer, and about two dozen other fields you can go in with a MLIS.

So let’s talk cash. Yes, librarians are underpaid, I will not disagree with this. But the amount of cash you make is solely relevant to the type of job and where you live. I have friends in Chicago who work in public libraries who think $45K starting out is terrible, WHEREAS in Michigan (anywhere in the state really), that’s hooker and blow money right thar. I’ve applied for jobs, many with the same titles/qualifications/etc that ranged as divergent as $30-100K. It’s crazy with the lack of consistency, but I get super frustrated when people do not take cost of living and high cost areas into faction here. Another friend of mine, who is looking to move into becoming a director at a small college, found a gig in Maine that paid $32K. For a director’s job.

If you think librarianship is where the big rollers are, you are sorely mistaken. You can wage your MLIS into a field that pays you big money, but as a whole, librarians do NOT work for the benefits of fame and fortune.

We’ve talked school choice, getting an education, kind of jobs you can get, and your potential big bank.
Let’s talk about paying for this education.

I had $100K in student loan debt when I came out of my MLIS. (Had because it’s now down to $69K.) That money funded most of my BA and both of my masters. Knowing me, I knew that I needed to not work 40 hours a week while going to school because it would not work for me. I had tried that before many times and always ended up dropping out of classes (this is part of the reason it took me so long before heading back to finish my undergrad. I have transcripts in at least 6 colleges before I sucked it up and knew I had to put school as a priority). I knew that coming out of this, I was going to be heavily in debt and I was totally okay with that. Could I have made better choices with the funds? Sure. I could have done a lot more to save/grants/scholarships. But I do not regret getting my degrees. Not all people are like me. I have a friend who is doing her MLIS degree two classes at a time. I have another friend who did the program in 18 months (traditionally, it takes 2 years). Some are paying for it by themselves and others are getting loans. You need to do what’s best FOR YOU. Everyone’s experiences and expectations are different. There are a lot of options to finance/save/pay for classes. Research them. I was also lucky to land a job that pays me enough for hookers and blow, so I’m fast tracking my student loan payments and the entire debt will be paid off in 10 years.

Lastly, let’s talk about job titles. The field of thought is to be called a librarian is to have a MLIS. But, a lot of rural/small libraries are getting away with volunteers and/or long term employees who call themselves “librarians” (withOUT a MLIS) because they worked at that particular location for 900 years so they are the best choice. I do get that train of thought, I do. But it’s like calling ones self a doctor after reading WebMD. There is a lot more to the word “librarian” then just working in a library and I wish more people would see that.

Which brings me up to my last point: If you decide to go this route and you want to do this for a living, be prepared to defend what you do ALL THE TIME. Example: When I saw my orthopedic surgeon for the first time earlier this year, and he asked me what I did and I told him I was a librarian, he said, “I thought libraries are dead? Everything is on Google.” Uh, what? My retort was, “Do you stop using stairs because elevators come into existence? Do you no longer have an accountant because TurboTax exists?” He got my point real quick. People are often careless and dumb, but when it comes to the life of libraries, they are downright stupid.

This has been a production of “Lisa’s Quick Guide to Becoming a Librarian” in 10 easy steps. No warranties implied or assumed. Money back not guaranteed. Act now as this is a limited time offer.

So, why do you want to be a librarian again?

-Lisa

P.S. Every other Wednesday or so, there is a great chat on Twitter called #libchat, that starts at 8PM Eastern. You may want to check that out and consequently, you can find me on Twitter as @pnkrcklibrarian if you have any questions. Lastly, you can also email me if you have questions about Wayne, library school, or why the sky is blue!

P.P. S. Another niblet about Wayne:  I landed a job on campus as a reference librarian in one of their libraries in my second semester, which I worked at until I graduated 18 months later. As I was doing a dual degree of sorts (librarian AND archivist), I also won a scholarship that same semester. My final semester, I had a bill for the same amount of the scholarship. When I contacted the school’s office, I found out they revoked my scholarship 18 months later, because they felt it was “unfair” as I had the job on campus. The job paid me, but did not give me any tuition breaks. If my partner (now husband) at the time did not have a good job, I’d be up shit’s creek without a damn paddle.

So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist: 2012 edition

Dear Internet,
In 2008 or so, I started writing columns on “So, You Want to Become a Librarian/Archivist”, which ended up becoming pretty popular. With as many domain shuffles I’ve had in the last four years, the content is archived but has not been put back on this current domain as of yet.
A few days ago, my friend Kate said, “Hey! There is a thread on Ravelry about wanting to become a librarian. I think you should chime in.” And I agreed. Below is my original post with some slight editing. Once I stop getting lazy, I’ll put up the older posts, but the below pretty much is succintly how I feel today.
Please, please, please use this to pass around to anyone who is thinking of becoming a librarian, please add in your own comments about your experiences with library school, education, job hunt, anything. I don’t know where the misconceptions are coming from, but if watching #libchat is any indication, a lot of n00bs out there still can’t shake the myths. I no longer care WHY the myths exist, I just want to break them.
—-
First, if you can’t find what you’re looking for via Google or any search engines, then you’re going to be a terrible librarian. Here is my point: I searched for “online library science programs accredited” in Google and the VERY FIRST item is a link to ALA (American Library Association – our professions largest professional organization) listing of accredited schools, which includes online programs. I know of four you can do entirely online:

There is probably others that do entirely online degrees, but those are the big ones. The number of library schools in the US is tiny (like 50?), so it averages one per state. Most, if not all schools, offer a blended degree of online/in classroom.
There ARE schools that offer library science or library tech degrees in bachelors or as certification programs. These are not the same thing as getting a MLIS. I want to make this clear because this is commonly misunderstood.
So WHY do you want to be a librarian? You only say, I think I would be good at this. But you don’t really clarify WHY you think you would be good at this. Here is a major site aggregator for library jobs that is compiled by ALA. Even if you see the same job title twice, you will hardly see the same job responsibilities, duties, or description. If you think the job is going to be standing around all day handling and reading books: Let me burst that bubble for you right quick. I barely have time to keep up with my professional reading, let alone personal reading. I was more cultured in topics and titles when I slung books at a bookstore then working in a library system.
At this point, you’re probably wondering: Who the hell is this person?

  • I’m a systems and web librarian at a community college
  • I have a GED, BA, MA, and now my MLIS
  • I graduated from Wayne State in 2010 with my MLIS and archival certification
  • I’m not going to be overly humble here: I was the golden child of my class. I worked through school at the campus library as a reference librarian, I was on many professional committees on and off campus, I started a new organization ON campus, I was active within the community, and I had a 3.85 GPA. It took a year and 114 job applications before I landed a job. I applied for EVERYTHING and EVERYWHERE.

(Also, I would highly advise you NOT to go to Wayne for your online program. This is the worst run school ever, the director is douchebag delight who is out of touch with the needs of the students — we tried to get him removed as head when I was there.  His main residence is in the southern states. Yes, he’s a director of a program in MI, but lives in the south. The programs are poorly coordinated and run. Stay the fuck away from Wayne.)
Let’s move on to your education: A lot of people say that having a degree in history, or English, or similar is extremely helpful in having a MLIS. This is true and this is bullshit. It’s bullshit because EVERYTHING you do outside of library school will be extremely beneficial to your career path. Those customer service skills you learned in retail? You will be a prince(ss) among the people for deft handling of difficult patrons. You’re interest in comics and gaming? You will soon be scheduling programming and events for teens and adults when new releases come out. Worked in housekeeping or similar detail while going to school? You will be the MASTER of unclogging toilets. There will not be one skill you have not acquired in your personal or previous professional life that you will not call upon at some point in your library career.
Also, having a degree in the humanities such as English or History does not give you a leg up in getting a MLIS or working in a library. It is relevant if you want to specialize but if you are going to work somewhere and a specialization is not required, your degree in underwater basket weaving is just as useful as the one in physics. I am also going to strongly suggest you get, if you do not already have, heavy tech skills. I worked in the IT industry for nearly a decade before going back to finish my undergrad and then on my two masters degrees and having my background in IT  has been a boon to my job search and interviews
Next is job descriptions. My title is “systems and web librarian.” What does this mean? At my institution, it means that I am responsible for:

  • Maintaining our online catalog system (OPAC) in all capacities
  • I manage, update, create content for our library’s website and all social media accounts
  • I am a liaison to six departments on campus so I keep up to trends and info on all those fields
  • I do collection development for my departments
  • I teach information literacy classes 85 hours a semester
  • I am on the reference desk 10-15 hours a week
  • I am on numerous committees on campus
  • I participate heavily with the state wide library organization
  • I am the liaison to the institutions IT department and I work with them on many tech projects

Now I have a colleague who works at a local college here who does nothing but web development for the library. It was required he had his MLIS. Not that he does 1/6th of what I do, but that his job is 1/6 of what I do. Some librarians on this list may recognize that what I’ve listed is similar to their own lists of what is expected of them.
So the job market. Yes, it’s brutal. But so is it everywhere, it is NOT just in library world. I’ll reference my point above of 114 job applications and year before I landed my gig, but I want to stress I did NOT apply for positions only at libraries, I applied for any and all positions that I was qualified for in librarianship or as an archivist regardless of the sector. Just because you have an MLIS and/or you’re a certified archivist doesn’t mean you have to work at a library or at an archives. This seems to be a popular misconception that all n00b librarians/archivist seem to think is true. For example, Blizzard Entertainment is looking for an Associate Librarian & Archivist. I have many friends who have never set foot, professionally, in what is considered to be traditional librarian/archivist jobs. Other options are: Knowledge management, information architecture, UX designer, content producer, and about two dozen other fields you can go in with a MLIS.
So let’s talk cash. Yes, librarians are underpaid, I will not disagree with this. But the amount of cash you make is solely relevant to the type of job and where you live. I have friends in Chicago who work in public libraries who think $45K starting out is terrible, WHEREAS in Michigan (anywhere in the state really), that’s hooker and blow money right thar. I’ve applied for jobs, many with the same titles/qualifications/etc that ranged as divergent as $30-100K. It’s crazy with the lack of consistency, but I get super frustrated when people do not take cost of living and high cost areas into faction here. Another friend of mine, who is looking to move into becoming a director at a small college, found a gig in Maine that paid $32K. For a director’s job.
If you think librarianship is where the big rollers are, you are sorely mistaken. You can wage your MLIS into a field that pays you big money, but as a whole, librarians do NOT work for the benefits of fame and fortune.
We’ve talked school choice, getting an education, kind of jobs you can get, and your potential big bank.
Let’s talk about paying for this education.
I had $100K in student loan debt when I came out of my MLIS. (Had because it’s now down to $69K.) That money funded most of my BA and both of my masters. Knowing me, I knew that I needed to not work 40 hours a week while going to school because it would not work for me. I had tried that before many times and always ended up dropping out of classes (this is part of the reason it took me so long before heading back to finish my undergrad. I have transcripts in at least 6 colleges before I sucked it up and knew I had to put school as a priority). I knew that coming out of this, I was going to be heavily in debt and I was totally okay with that. Could I have made better choices with the funds? Sure. I could have done a lot more to save/grants/scholarships. But I do not regret getting my degrees. Not all people are like me. I have a friend who is doing her MLIS degree two classes at a time. I have another friend who did the program in 18 months (traditionally, it takes 2 years). Some are paying for it by themselves and others are getting loans. You need to do what’s best FOR YOU. Everyone’s experiences and expectations are different. There are a lot of options to finance/save/pay for classes. Research them. I was also lucky to land a job that pays me enough for hookers and blow, so I’m fast tracking my student loan payments and the entire debt will be paid off in 10 years.
Lastly, let’s talk about job titles. The field of thought is to be called a librarian is to have a MLIS. But, a lot of rural/small libraries are getting away with volunteers and/or long term employees who call themselves “librarians” (withOUT a MLIS) because they worked at that particular location for 900 years so they are the best choice. I do get that train of thought, I do. But it’s like calling ones self a doctor after reading WebMD. There is a lot more to the word “librarian” then just working in a library and I wish more people would see that.
Which brings me up to my last point: If you decide to go this route and you want to do this for a living, be prepared to defend what you do ALL THE TIME. Example: When I saw my orthopedic surgeon for the first time earlier this year, and he asked me what I did and I told him I was a librarian, he said, “I thought libraries are dead? Everything is on Google.” Uh, what? My retort was, “Do you stop using stairs because elevators come into existence? Do you no longer have an accountant because TurboTax exists?” He got my point real quick. People are often careless and dumb, but when it comes to the life of libraries, they are downright stupid.
This has been a production of “Lisa’s Quick Guide to Becoming a Librarian” in 10 easy steps. No warranties implied or assumed. Money back not guaranteed. Act now as this is a limited time offer.
So, why do you want to be a librarian again?
-Lisa
P.S. Every other Wednesday or so, there is a great chat on Twitter called #libchat, that starts at 8PM Eastern. You may want to check that out and consequently, you can find me on Twitter as @pnkrcklibrarian if you have any questions. Lastly, you can also email me if you have questions about Wayne, library school, or why the sky is blue!
P.P. S. Another niblet about Wayne:  I landed a job on campus as a reference librarian in one of their libraries in my second semester, which I worked at until I graduated 18 months later. As I was doing a dual degree of sorts (librarian AND archivist), I also won a scholarship that same semester. My final semester, I had a bill for the same amount of the scholarship. When I contacted the school’s office, I found out they revoked my scholarship 18 months later, because they felt it was “unfair” as I had the job on campus. The job paid me, but did not give me any tuition breaks. If my partner (now husband) at the time did not have a good job, I’d be up shit’s creek without a damn paddle.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: A Portrait of the Librarian as a Young(ish) Woman #libday7

When I applied to library school several years ago, it was not because I specifically wanted to work in a library or that I had dreamt of becoming a librarian since I was a wee lass, or that I had to work with books in some capacity and becoming a librarian would fulfill that and other bookish desires.

In truth, I applied to library school because a lot of jobs I wanted to apply to when I was finishing my first masters were requiring a MLIS or equivalent and they were not in the traditional library setting. I saw obtaining my MLIS as a means to an end, not to fulfill long held craving.

Now, if you talk to my mother, she will tell you a different story. She will weave you a tale of my interest in libraries and books stems back to when I was knee high to a grasshopper, when during the summers I would pack my lunch, hop on my bike and ride to our local library, get my books for the day(s) and spend most of my time reading/writing on the banks of St. Clair River before coming back home in the early evening.

She will probably then go on how when I was footless and floundering about in my 20s that she knew I needed to go to library school and begged me to go because it was my destiny. During these stories, she will interject that my love affair with reading is generational and ordained and if my brother is there, he will pipe in that my world has always been in ink and vellum, never of this current plane.

In the ways of Rashomon, all of these stories are true. Reading and books, were (and on some levels, still are) these ultra sacred spaces for me and me alone. I’ve built up a pretty turret with my fine cavalcade of books and who are you to traspass, uninvited, onto my sacred space? I was deathly afraid that I might lose my passion for books and reading if I were to make a living from it in some capacity.

This seems to be the opposite advice of what most will tell you when they start sprouting those pithy, borrowed unoriginal commentary of “DO WHAT YOU LOVE!” when it comes to job advice. I didn’t necessarily want to share my passion with the world, when along with my Ted E. Bear, had been my sole companion and comforter since I was young. 1 On some levels, these are lines of bullshit. I did toy with going to library school several times during my undergrad and during my first masters, but it was not at the top of my list of future career prospects.

I did not find, as I may have previously suggested, that working in a bookstore for four years to diminish my love of books and reading. It, in fact, enhanced it significantly, more specifically when my employee discount was applicable to bargin and used books. Connecting people with new authors, new ways of doing things was terribly exciting. I loved doing Reader’s Advisory on the book floor because I often got an education myself from my customers, which in turn allowed me to enhance the stores fiction collection with titles that were previously not stocked. I met a lot of amazing people. I was able to create programming that was geared for our community and those programs were well attended. And lastly, working in a bookstore (sans all the bullshit body politic) was fun and on a lot of levels, I miss it greatly. So when people come to me and ask me about whether or not they should attend library school, I get this awkward feeling inside. Who am I to dispense myths and wonder when my own myriad of job career paths was hardly the place for attribution. I love the idea of library school as a figurehead but the actual going to and ultimately obtaining the MLIS degree?

It’s a joke and here’s why:

  • As academia moves slow, so too does library school with their course structures – therefore many of what is being offered is either no longer relevant or is losing relevancy to the real world; education is fast tracked on the job or in addition to it
    Almost every librarian I have talked to on this subject over the years has said that most of their education was done on the job or in relation to their job in some capacity, and was not necessarily obtained in the library school environment. Several had said privately to me that their own degrees were, on the education received, worthless. These same individuals also conferred that they only reason why they had attended, and eventually graduated from, their institutions was because having MLIS after their name gave them better recognition professionally and a pay boost to do essentially the same job they were doing before.This is of course not to say that this affects ALL programs, but it is to say that there is much to be said for the splitting of library programs from the traditional to iSchools. In my experience where iSchools tend to concentrate more on theory and research, traditional library schools are still lagging in the days of card catalogs, paper indices and manual typewriters. There does not seem to be a program, that I have found at a least, that offers a blend of the cutting edge with relevant theory and practical application.My alma mater attempted this blend, as they needed to stay relevant to compete with a huge iSchool located on the same side of the state. But wehre as the iSchool might teach human interaction and computational behaviors in relation to user searching behaviors, we got classes that taught Silverlight and using Microsoft Office. On several mailing lists I’m on, a recent conversation took place on Lita-L within the last year, there is loads of posts on this topic as more and more hiring managers and directors were getting frustrated with the lack of quality students being churned out – namely because what libraries seek (across the board) for new employees is NOT being produced by these programs. This does not mean that students, new graduates and the currently employed should not be doing professional development – far from it, but it DOES mean that library schools needs to start taking responsibility for what they are producing in terms of graduates, concentrate more on quality over quantity and putting together comprehensive programs that blend theory with relevant course applications that can be applied to the real world.
  • Chances are the professors who are teaching you the ways of the library have probably never worked in a library themselves 
    Now I will freely admit this may be something that is more of a Lisa-quirk rather then a legitimate complaint, but I don’t really think so. When I started looking for mentors within my program, with my particular interest in technologies, the advisor I was assigned to was absolutely nice guy. Very lovely man – but his interest and expertise was specifically with Microsoft Development software. He had never worked in a library, had no (to my knowledge) interest in working in a library but yet he was teaching at a library school. Hired, I would assume, for his technical expertise in a specific subject rather than that expertise as applied to libraries. Nice man, very lovely but had no clue about what libraries were dealing with in terms of technology needs or requirements.2


1. This also applies to writing, in some capacity. It is not that I do not handle rejection well, but, that perhaps I get defeated far too easily.
2. He was the reason, I believe, behind why Silverlight was being taught in the web development classes geared for libraries.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: Plan

The first thing I’m going to do is warn you that this post is going to be fairly lengthy. I’ve been attempting to outline it in my head for nearly a week now but it is going to be a brain dump; this is not going to be as organized or methodological as the prior pieces in the series.

Second thing I’m going to tell you is that this is going to be probably fairly raw and really personal. Last thing I want to point is that I’m not bitter or cynical.

Really.

I’m just incredibly frustrated.

Based upon my vast academic experiences since obtaining my GED in 1991, I’ve known what works and what doesn’t in order for me to succeed in the academic arena. I knew, for example, when I was attending GRCC in the early ’90s that my heavy involvement on campus with the college newspaper, attempting to start a campus radio station, and other things I threw myself into were great for professional and personal networking but not so great for my academic standing.1

When I went back to finish my undergrad in 2003, I did a 180 by eschewing campus involvement to concentrate on grades. This proved to be successful as I was able to raise my overall GPA from 1.7 to a graduating GPA of a 3.3, but the downfall of that move was that I missed the action of being involved on campus and I hardly knew anyone upon graduation. You cannot reach the age of 36 without knowing a thing or two about yourself.

Thus I knew based upon said stated prior experience that the best way for me to succeed in library school was to do a combination of campus involvement AND concentrate on my grades. I also knew from research and people networking that librarians were incredibly, heavily involved with their profession. In order to succeed after lib school, I’d have to get my little tush involved in everything and anything related to the profession while still maintaining the grades. Not a problem. My resume is a good indicator of how involved I was on campus during my two years at Wayne State and my grades? Overall GPA is a 3.89. Not only was I involved with various associations on campus2, but I was also presenting at professional conferences while still in school and working with senior librarians on a variety of projects. Coupled with my library experience, finding a job should have been a snap.

In the fall of 2009, TheHusband and I sat down and figured out our plans. We knew coupled with my rock star3 status on campus, experience, and the fact we could relocate4 anywhere in the lower 48, we assumed I was a very attractive candidate for positions when I would begin to apply for jobs in spring of 2010. I vainly assumed, “Who wouldn’t want me?” Since May of 2010, I’ve submitted 100+ job applications/resumes and had dozens of interviews: not a single job offer. In that interim, I’ve been given scads of advice from the pithy, “Chin up, it’ll get better” to “It’s not you it’s them” with the reverse, “It’s not them, it’s you” also thrown in anytime I start getting depressed about the job market.

In the rejection department, I’ve been rejected for my writing style in my cover letter to my resume had too much information on it(!) to I was too overly ambitious to I presented myself in a negative light5 on the social media sites I was active on and so forth. I’ve received conflicting advice from librarians AND hiring managers AND HR people in a variety of fields of librarianship. Every time I shucked for one company/institution, my jiving (apparently) irritated another. I wrote about the reality of the situation back in August and now that it is mid-November, everything I mentioned before? Nothing has changed and the market is only getting worse.

In the fall of 2009, TheHusband and I sat down and figured out our plan of attack. We decided (then) that if I did not obtain a position by mid-August 2010, we’d move to Chicago and settle there. We reasoned if we were living in Chicagoland area, I would have greater access to jobs/opportunities than staying in Detroit. This plan was modified by mid-summer of 2010 when it became clear that it would take longer than a few months to obtain a job due to slowness of institutions/etc responding to applications and coupled with the piling rejections. We also realized that living in Chicago was awesome if we both had jobs, but with my almost crippling student loans AND a mortgage, we’d be eating ramen every night.

A new amendment was interred to our plan which then stated after 100 job applications submitted, if no job offer, relocate to a city and start nesting. This would, obviously, limit my opportunities significantly but really? I’m awesome, who wouldn’t want to hire me before then? Right? I hit the 100 mark at the beginning of October. TheHusband and I have both gained at least 15 lbs each since the job hunt started. We have competitions like who can go the longest without bathing to who can wear their pajamas the longest. In the last several months, when it became clearer that I was not going to be working in a big girl job anytime soon, we talked a lot about my options. What the hell can I do to make a living AND contribute to society AND utilize the skills that I have just earned? It became abundantly clear to me that if someone was not going to offer me a job, I was going to have to to create one.

If you’ve been following me via Twitter for the last few months, I’ve been vaguely mentioning this on and off. I’ve got numerous projects that I have seeds planted for that are creating opportunities for myself in this profession but none are outright paying gigs (yet). To build this up, it’s going to take time, coupled with a few consulting gigs here and there, I’ll make something. But here’s a comparison: this year I will make slight more than I did at the age of 14, making $3.35/hr while working at Sbarro’s at the local mall.6 People have read SYWTBALA and have asked, “What’s next? I’ve done everything and then some and I still don’t have a job.” to “Why aren’t you writing more SYWTBALA?” Because I don’t have an answer AND to write SYWTBALA sends me into a crying jag every single time. How can I advise YOU when I myself do not have a job? But I’ll do it anyway:

  • Create a back-up plan. Then create another one. And then one more. And then another. Several positions that were 90% guaranteed for me fell through before graduation. I don’t blame anyone, it’s just the way it worked out.
  • Pay off all your debt. Even if it means creating a budget and it sucks because you have to give up weekly beer. One of the smartest things TheHusband and I did in the course of my lib schooling was to pay off all extraneous debt (except for student loans).
  • Be fucking flexible.
  • Create another back-up plan.
  • Save money. Yes, it sucks and means giving up more beer or a CD or whatever, but create a savings account.
  • Continue to be active in the profession and if this means attending local meetings, virtual meetings, collaborating with colleagues on projects, whatever. Keep your skills fresh. Just because you do not work in a library does not mean you’re not a librarian.
  • Make decisions for your long term goals, not just your short term goals. I had to turn down an interview recently because the institution wanted me to pay out of my own pocket to fly there AND were not willing to do a phone interview before hand. This was too risky for us to consider financially AND the timing was bad since it was almost certain we would not hear back before our lease was up.

Here is our plan of attack:

  • Our lease runs up on December 31, 2010. Therefore, jobs I have interviewed for have until that date to make up their mind on whether or not to hire me.
  • We have decided, based on location, housing inventory and cost, that if no job materializes between now and then, we’re moving back to Grand Rapids and buying a house.
  • I have been applying to positions in the GRR area and will continue to do so upon arrival. I will also volunteer at local libraries to keep my skills fresh.
  • I will use GRR as my home base since I will be doing a bit of traveling across the state for my library related projects. I’m also looking into consulting gigs and other opportunities I can do from home/virtually.

I will be the most connected, hard-working, project wrangling but unemployed librarianista EVAH. Now if you will excuse me, I have a cake to go bake.


1. I never graduated from GRCC, but I was president/founder/editor of a lot of things. My grades? Yeah – my overall GPA was a 1.7, but what did my 22 year old self care? I got to go to gigs, meet bands, and hang out with celebs! 2. A few of us also founded a campus student chapter of the PLG, which turned out to be the most successful student org on campus for the 2009-10 academic year.
3. I ran into a few of my mentors at a recent (last week) conference for the state library association and was told by a senior librarian I was the sure thing, the “golden child against the recession”, in getting a job. I was extremely touched by her comment but um, yeah.
4. TheHusband telecommutes for his position, which is super awesome.
5. It was suggested that since some of my commentary was risque or that I swore a lot, I was getting rejected from positions. Based upon the responses I’ve heard from HR people, the sheer number of applicants is at LEAST 200:1, that’s a lot of g-d googling for each and every candidate.
6. $3.35/hr was the minimum wage in 1986, when I was 14.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist?: Getting “Developed”

Image used by permission from the lovely John Kirriemuir.
Image used by permission from the lovely John Kirriemuir.

One question I am asked in almost every single interview is how do I keep up with the profession? Recently I started thinking about framing this question back when I started my MLIS in 2008. I remember in those ye olde days I had a very difficult time finding blogs, wikis, podcasts or anything really by library students or librarians themselves on the intertubes that discussed librarianship in any format.

That has changed significantly in the last two years since I started my journey down this rabbit hole so I thought it would be a good idea to put together a thorough resource encompassing how librarianating is done as well as include resources for free or cheap on professional development to develop ones ibrarianating.

Blogs
While plowing through mailing list emails one day, a conversation erupted on the “value” of professional journals and magazines, meaning that what is the point of spending several hundreds of dollars for a personal subscription to LibraryJournal when a print subscription to Wired, which some consider more relevant for librarinating, is only $10? Fair point. Bottom line: what is relevant to one’s profession is dependent on their interests. With that in mind, I created gReader bundles that pulls top libraryesque blogs by the rock stars as well as blogs by friends of mine who are librarians as well as one specifically on social media, web design and other similar flavors.

Journals
There are loads of free-access journals and magazines on the intertubes dedicated to librarians and other information wranglers. Here is a smattering of them.

Podcasts
I really got into podcasts while I was in libschool and if there is a dearth of anything in this profession of ours, it is the lack of librarian produced podcasts. When I lamented about this on Twitter one day, Jason said, “Hey! I have a podcast that you can find in iTunes called Adventures in Library Instruction. And a girlcrush was born.

Webinars

What you learned or will learn in libschool is a drop to what you need to know to or get a big girl/boy job in librarianating. Why? Internships, practicums and volunteering are all well and good, but most of the experience or skills are learned on the job. Learning theory and how to catalog is one thing, actually being able to do it is another. The secondary problem is that if you went to libschool for every skill set needed or required, the degree would take a decade to complete. This is where workshops and webinars come into play. There is a PLETHORA of free or super cheap webinars that cover everything from academic instruction to using Zotero.

  • ALA’s Online Learning: Sorts by topic, subject or ALA unit (LITA, ACRL, RUSA, etc), with many of the offerings reasonably priced or free.
  • Cisco’s WebEx Free Webinars: Done by another tech industry leader, Cisco, these webinars cover management, leadership, information management and additional topics.
  • Emerging Technologies Summer Institute: I was asked by ever awesome Rochelle to participate in a one month only crowd sourced prof development blog. Unfortunately, that one month was in July and I spent most of it driving/flying hither and tither to job interviews and other fun things, so I didn’t get to add to the content. But I love this idea and she’s kept up the site, so while it’s not a webinar exactly there is loads of videos on how to do/use variety of different stuff.
  • InfoPeople: Provides fairly extensive on specialized topics by tons of names I recognize. Many of the webinars I selected to check out were free, so this resource is definitely worth checking out.
  • New Horizons Computer Training Centers Webinars: Concentrates mainly on Office based training, but that can be useful if you’re looking to brush up.
  • North East Florida Library Information Network Webinar Blog : Maintained by NEFLIN for area library professionals and originally intended for the locals, it’s become wildly popular go-to source for webinar roundup.
  • O’Reilly Training: Listing of free or nearly free tech training from the masters.
  • Techsoup For Libraries
  • WebinarListings.com: While some of the calendaring functions are slightly buggy, the “by category” and “search webinar” options are fantastic. Deals mainly with PR, marking, social media, best practices and some technology. Best of all: Most of the webinars are free.

Misc.

Anything that doesn’t fit in the above.

  • To:Librarianate – Amazon WishList This is NOT a ploy for you to buy me something, rather it’s a save-hold for books on topics that I think are important to becoming a librarian. Easier to create an AMZ wishlist than to list them out one by one.
  • The Library Route Project: Interested in medical librarianship? Music librarianship? Librarianship in another country? This project, started in October 2009, has librarians and info professionals from around the globe detailing their experiences. What makes this a great resource is not only to see the paths that others took to get to their career/jobs, but they are also choke full of resources for their particular position.

Please let me know, via comments, email or Twitter, any blogs, podcasts, journals, webinars or misc that I’m missing and should be included here. I’d like to keep this as complete as possible!

Updates:10.15.10 – Updated with two new webinar sites and book list for librarianating.

So, You Want to be a Librarian? To degree or not to degree: Revisited

I was doing some cleaning around ye olde tags and categories last night when I came across an orphan entry, of sorts, that I wrote in the fall of 2008 – just when I started the MLIS program. I say orphan because while it was tagged to death, it was not put into any category (really) so unless someone was tenacious enough to go back several years (granted, there is not much in 2009, but still!), the entry was missed by anyone perusing my site looking for info on the SYWTBAL shenanigans.

The post, “To degree or not to degree: that is the question“, covers a lot of ground. It goes into my educational path (definitely not straight), choices and decisions on how I got to where I am today. But it also looks at, briefly, what a typical week for me was back in that first semester of school and the stress is so palpable in my words, my left eye started twitching in accompaniment as I read. Last, but not least, it discusses my choices for my first MA, my reasoning for getting a GED and outlines why I despise academic snobbery.

It’s a pretty raw but realistic read at some of the decision processes and as we know the outcome, my own predictions two years hence (“All that is going to matter is that I have them and the outstanding GPAs to back them up. (And the networking, professional associations, president of something or another by the time I graduate.)“) are also kind of amusing (since they turned out to be true!).

I’m highlighting this I think it’s a fantastic accent to the SYWTBAL shenanigans (and has been categorized as such so now it appears on the list), as well as I know numerous current MLIS students (really any grad students) now who could/can relate to the sacrifices we make for our education.

There is, though, one sentiment in my line of arguing that I would change and that is my appearing to be FOR online only distance ed. This change stems from bullocks approach of my MLIS alma mater, how they handled online only distance (badly) and also nearly two years of vaguely researching the topic. But that is a post for another day.

Enjoy.

P.S. Yes, comments are closed as all comments are closed on entries older than 14 days, so if you wish to comment on that post, you must do so here.

P.P.S. No, I don’t remember what set me off to write the post nor who the friend I reference in that post either. Drats.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: Job Hunt Part III: 75 and counting

Hire me. / QR tshirts
Hire me./QR code shirt I made for ALA’s annual conference this year. Yes, the QR code DOES work.

Since I’ve got a number of entries in draft format that are more or less about the same topic (various statuses/commentary of The Great Job Hunt, 2010 ™), I thought it would be easier to write one entry in bullet form then pontificate endlessly on. This is how I roll.

  • As I mentioned before, my “So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist?” series is fairly popular. To make it easier to keep track of posts that fall under that heading, there is now a tab at the top of the header bar, SYWTBAL?, that will take you directly to a page with posts in that category that is automatically updated. For everything else relating to the library and archives world, there is a second category, Library*.*, that includes not only all posts on SYWTBAL? but everything else written on the topic.
  • I’ve been asked by a couple of people to share my spreadsheet for The Great Job Hunt, 2010™. Here it is. [JobTracker.xls] Most of the fields are obvious, however, here are the ones that may need a bit of explaining:
    • Job Ad: Location of where I found the job (LibGig, JobList, whatever). 80%+ of places require this information for the web based applications. Also handy to have when writing letters of interest.
    • End Date: Last day to apply for the position. If no date listed, I put in “Until Filled.”
    • Resume Type: How did I apply for the position? Via email/fax/snail or web? If by web, I also include confirmation number. Not all places email receipt that application was received.
  • This next serves more as a PSA: DO NOT EVER APPLY TO A JOB VIA JOBFOX.COM. In an effort to expand my job search, I started using general job search engines to look for jobs outside of the dozen or so specialized websites and mailing lists that I currently pillage. A job for a part-time reference librarian at a small state school on the East Coast popped up via one of those sites and when I clicked to apply, it took me to the Job Fox website. In another tab, I went to the school itself looking for information on the job and even an HR department and found nothing. This is not, necessarily, unusual: A lot of places outsource their application process via a 3rd party software site or post jobs ONLY on HigerEd or other professional websites, not necessarily on their website. In short: I thought nothing was terribly unusual about the job application procedure. I created an account and jumped through their hoops. Upon account completion and notification that my application had been sent to the school, that’s when the funny began:
    • Based upon my answers to their fairly lengthy “questionnaire,” Job Fox claimed to “match me” with other jobs based on my resume and near my zip code. All I received were sales and retail jobs, many from the same hiring company. The interesting part was that there was only 1 job in my last 10 years of work history that had anything remotely to do with retail and that was at $corporate_bookstore. No information professional, librarian, archivist or some mix were even in the listings.
    • Several days after I opened my account, I received an email from one of their “Resume Experts” that gave me a detailed laundry list of why my resume suckss. In fact, it was a word for word analysis IDENTICAL to this one. Swap out “Laura” for “Lisa” and “Mechanical Engineer” for “Librarian” and it was word perfect. As you can see at the bottom, after bashing you in and attempting to make you feel like a worthless human being, Job Fox will, for the low low price of $399 USD, make your resume stand out and shine! Laura, from Word Cynic, wrote a fanfuckingtastic response to her resume wrangler.
    • Having already had my resume poked at vigorously by professional editors and librarians and archivists in a variety of different fields AND based upon the fact that I’ve gotten more interviews then others I know who just got out of school, I KNOW my resume is da bomb shiz. Since I was getting that funny feeling when their bullshit emails started coming through, I started doing research on Job Fox and the results were highly interesting. It turns out Job Fox supposedly acts as an aggregator from other job sites, attempting to make it a one stop shop for job applications. Sounds good in theory, but in reality – it IS a scam. I read, horrified, of what people were saying about their awful experiences with Job Fox and their promises of getting you the job were falling really short and to the point that people were demanding their money back and in some cases, threatening legal action.
    • Further research also indicated that Job Fox is not current enough in that while it supposedly aggregates other job sites, it is NOT removing jobs that are long filled or past their application deadline. Many of the comments I read from other job hunters also discussed that a good portion of the companies and institutions do NOT accept resumes/CVs via job aggregation sites like Job Fox as they treat those application as recruiter applications. Additionally, it was also commented that Job Fox was asked by companies and institutions to remove job listings from their site since they do not accept 3rd party applications and it apparently took legal threats to get it done.
    • Several other jobs I found via one of the aggregate sites also took me to Job Fox. I went directly to the institution and applied through the institution itself. It is also interesting to note that each one of those institutions have wording that specifically states that they do NOT accept recruiter or 3rd party submission/application sites.
    • Moral of the story: If you find an interesting job and the link for the application is via Job Fox, check the institution directly and apply through it. You’ll have a much better chance of your resume going to the right people instead into the bit bin.
  • As of today, I’ve applied for 75 jobs, 50 of which since June 14. There are some days I don’t know why I’m awfully proud of that number or if I want to weep. If I hear one more person tell me how lucky I am that I’m at least getting interviews, I want to punch them in the throat. When I also hear that the average time from ending of school to getting a job is about six months and I’m three months in and GEE, look at how great you’re doing! I want to punch them in the throat. The reality is that despite interviewing numerous times for numerous positions, I’m still passed over. I am three months out of school and still jobless. For positions where I’ve had only a single interview and was rejected, I’ve done postmortems on those interviews in an attempt to figure out WHY I’m not getting additional interviews. For positions where I interviewed multiple times and got rejected, when asked what I could do to better improve myself in the market, all I got was crickets. I’ve revised answers, created interview talking points and practiced speaking. I’ve networked like crazy.  I made god dammed shirts that I wore through ALA10 to get people to notice me. I’ve made sure tattoos and piercings are neatly packed away for face to face interviews. I’ve cut back on saying the word “fuck,” talking about topics that would make a sailor blush on Twitter and any place where my actions are publicly online. None of those things have helped. I have a plan in motion (with Justin’s permission) that begins when I hit the magical number of 100. Some of you are aware of this plan, but I’m keeping it on the down low until 100 applications have been reached.
  • The great “baby boomer librarian myth” told to newbie librarians upon entering library school: That “baby boomers are finally retiring, thus the library market is wide open” is FINALLY happening. This is evident when I was at ALA10 and majority of the recruiters were looking for directors/heads NOT first years out, that looking through ALA JobList and LibGig also shows the same trend that majority of the jobs opening up and posting are also for Librarian III/Director/Head. This should all make me swoon with glee, but it doesn’t. An informal poll on the twitters asking people to PLEASE APPLY FOR PROMOTIONS to open up their positions for first years to get into was met with incredulousness. The responses as to why people were staying put were interesting: Many had the experience but no management responsibility to qualify for some of the positions, others didn’t want the responsibility/stress and lastly, there were those that loved their job security. So yes, jobs ARE opening up for librarians but only those with experience, thus there is a large gap of open jobs for librarians/information professionals with tons of experience, no one to fill them and loads of first years with very little experience and no where to go meaning that the work force is still remaining stagnant. Doesn’t this just seem FUCKED to you? Selfish gits.
  • To add even more salt to the wound, I was reading an article in the NY Times recently that the recession? Not really over. Unemployment is staying put and will more than likely rise before falling and eventually leveling out. In a similar NY Times article that I read, but cannot find online, the prediction was that it would be 2013 before the unemployment will be back to a reasonable levels of 6-7%. The NY Times is not the only place writing about this – Slate wrote a piece detailing why people are not taking crappy, low paying jobs to fill in their gap. It’s not me, then, it’s you. And even knowing that it really is not me, does not erase the fact that this is the first time in my working life (since age 14), I have not been in school or without a job. That the frustration of the lack of landing a job and being rejected over and over again is like living through the worst possible break-up, magnified a thousand times. Repeatedly.
  • To say I’m bitter is putting it mildly.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: Job Hunt Part II: DOs

In my last post, I ranted about the process – which is all fine and dandy because I’m sure more of that type of thing will pour forth from me as I continue on this job hunt. [Repeat after me: Student Loans Will Not Pay For Themselves.] But what I thought about on my way to work this afternoon was HOW I prepared for the job hunt. I got a plethora of ideas from friends who have already been through the process, but a listing of what I did could help someone else.

DOs

  • Get your resume together a month or two before you begin applying and have more than one person review it. In my case, I had two people who have professional editing experience and they were ENORMOUS help making sure my Is were dotted and my Ts were crossed. Regardless of your prep time frame, the idea is that you have enough time to write the resume, submit for editing and work future revisions.
  • Once the resume is more or less together, be aware of the fact you may have to change it as you hunt for jobs. I have caught grammar, spelling and other errors even after the final proofing because sometimes we just simply miss things. I also have updated sections when new things occur (giving a presentation, adding/removing software from my technology list). The .pdf version of my resume was uploaded a month ago and I’ve already made several revisions after that one. The idea in point number 1 is get 90% of it in shape as you will add/remove stuff as necessary. This point it remind you not to get too married to that “supposed” final version.
  • Confirm your references (professionally and personally) and then create a single sheet, separating them by professionally and personally. You should have their name, title (for the professional ones), name of company/library/whatever, work address, work phone number, and preferred email address. For personal, I have name, address, phone number and email. CONFIRM THAT WHO YOU PUT DOWN AS YOUR REFERENCES WILL ACTUALLY DO IT.
  • Use the same letterhead on your resume as you do for your references list. Keep it consistent (i.e. if you change one, change the other).
  • I have a .doc AND a .pdf version of my resume and references list, you should too. Word PC07/Mac08 and Open Office allow you to convert from .doc to .pdf seamlessly. There are also plugins and websites that will do this for you. And remember, if you update your resume/references list, make sure to update the .pdf version as well!
  • Create a digital portfolio that includes your resume, coursework, presentations, and other relevant stuff. (DO NOT PUT YOUR REFERENCES LIST ONLINE AS THAT IS JUST STUPID. ONLY HAND IT OUT TO EMPLOYERS IF/WHEN THEY REQUEST IT.) You can do this using WordPress, Blogger or even Tumblr. I had more than a few friends who utilized Google Sites to create their digital portfolio. This illustrates you know how to use “emerging”1 technologies, HTML (to some degree), and a CMS. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it doesn’t have be perfect. Keep the URL professional (not iizawesomsauce.tumblr.com) and ONLY use it for job hunting/professional stuff. Don’t post “OMG, James McAvoy is HOTTTTT!” on the same space you’re handing to future employers. Be smart.
  • On the digital portfolio versions of my resume, my address/phone are blacked out. Make sure to do the same. If an employer wants/needs that information or you are being headhunted, they can email you to ask for it. Do not be an idiot and willingly publish your home address/phone number online.
  • Also make sure to include your digital portfolio URL in the letterhead of your resume/references and cover letters.
  • Resume is created, you’ve got your online portfolio created, so the next thing you need to do is create a spreadsheet to keep track of where you are applying. This will make it easier to see where you’ve applied, where you need to apply and when to do (if any) follow-ups. I have eight columns on mine in the following order: Company/Library, Position, Salary, Web Address, End Date, Resume Submit Date, Type, Status, Followup. Explanation of some of the ones I am using: Salary is to keep track of who is paying what (when mentioned), also helps me gauge what the market is currently paying out for certain types of jobs. Lots of positions are accepted via corporate HR sites and are assigned a position number – this include this as well in the Position field. Resume Type: Did I apply online, email it, fax it or what?
  • If you’re applying for the same type of jobs, after your first cover letter is written, you should then have a template for the rest of them. Make sure to change the addressee information, job title and do some tailoring to fit the specific job you are looking for. Also make sure to use the same letterhead you created for your resume and references list.
  • Also make sure fonts and stylistics are consistent across your materials. If you’re using Verdana in your resume, don’t use Comic Sans MS in your references list.
  • My reference list (professional and personal) have requested that I email them links to the jobs I’m applying for so if they get called, they can speak more intelligently about recommending me for that particular position. Since I’m applying for jobs in batches, they get regularly updated emails from with job titles and links.

This is enough for now — am I thorough? You bet. I just like making sure my Is are dotted and my Ts are crossed. Justin (TheFiance), however, likes to refer to me as being “anal retentive,” but if I have to get out there and get the ROCKSTAR LIBRARIAN/ARCHIVIST job, the only way to do that (other than with my sparkling wit) is to make sure I’ve got alllllllllll my bases covered.


1. Vague sarcasm here.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian/Archivist: The Job Hunt (Possibly Part I)

In the list of ridiculous things that I consider to be dehumanizing, job hunting is one of them. And by ridiculous I mean that I, myself, find this process ridiculous because the level of bullshit and hoop jumping and dehumanizing because I’m beyond irritated that we, the applicants, get judged by missed punctuation and our activities online. But we, in turn, cannot judge our potential employers (well, at least publicly) for the exact same things for the fear of their potential wraith.

(As an aside, I recently became a member of a kind of small, specific professional organization. Discovered via my website logs that they not only had Goggled me upon receiving my membership form but before cashing my check, they passed along my website to other people in their office since I had log entries form each of their individual work stations. So I, in turn, Googled them. They were silly enough to name their workstations after their personal names, so that made it even easier!)

Don’t totally misunderstand me on this point: I get that employers really do want people who follow directions and that yes, people who send in resumes covered in clip art with a bright pink background should NOT be considered for the job or that people who routinely apply for positions they are certainly not qualified for should be rejected. I get that HR has a lot on their plate and that sometimes it does take the picayune points to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I’m venting because sometimes the ridiculous gets to be so, well, ridiculous! Especially when I’ve spent the last two days applying for positions and I felt like I spent more time jumping through arcane online HR systems, digging for HR contact info than actually spending time working on cover letters or compiling stuff for the application itself. I did a lot of cursing out loud today and vague venting on Twitter because this IS 2010 – shit should just work. What becomes even more stressful is when the employer has a listing for a “emerging/digital/technical technologies/project librarian/archivist/curator” and while one location might define it as X, another place will define it as Y and the requirements are TOTALLY opposite of what the title suggests and this is especially true when the job title is identical at multiple positions.

I realise that this is how the game is played and that while I’ve been out of the #biggirljob loop for nearly a decade, I had not realized that really was as convoluted and as much of a mess before. To help alleviate my stress levels, I’ve started doing the following:

  • Every single domain I own has an invisible counter on each of the landing pages (since sometimes the click-through on a domain is not necessarily accurate), and I just put one on my on resume page. If you’re finding me either directly by site, link, or keyword, I will more than likely know. I will also know if institutions are actually visiting the additional information at my resume page. I also have raw access to the logs if I wish to analyze traffic.
  • I’ve began Googling HR representatives/directors/whomever for each of the positions that I’ve applied for and tailored (when necessary) my cover letter to hit upon specific points of interest that not only reflect the job but also their personal interests (if that particular HR person is the direct contact, etc).

And this is what becomes even more frustrating – I can’t discuss on my own blog what I feel about X because I think X sucks nuts for requesting Y for their application process when Y isn’t really necessary. I can’t discuss why the HR system at S is redundant because it not only asks for upload of CV/Resume but also requires the user to transpose all that information into an online form. (This was even more frustrating when the directions clearly spelt out that uploaded CV/Resume would replace the filling of forms but nope, sure didn’t!) Or that numerous positions online application is nothing more than a PDF file and that they want you to fill it out (but it’s locked) and signed (you can’t sign the file unless you actually have it unlocked and the line available) and have it emailed. (Numerous places use the later technique for “online application” and I was just boggled by this – what’s the bloody point?!).

I don’t get it but I still must continue because the student loans will not pay for themselves.

So, You Want To Be A Librarian? Part I

So, You Want To Be A Librarian? is going to be a continual, on-going series on stuff that I should have known about before I applied for lib school. Stuff that I didn’t find out until AFTER I had applied and the rejections AND acceptances started rolling in. Stuff I generally felt would have been beneficial to me before I made final decisions to what schools and programs to apply to and eventually, what I wanted to do when I graduated (other than get a big girl job and pay off the massive student debt).

So the first question you must ask yourself is, Why? Why do you want to become a librarian? What is it about librarianship that you feel would make you an ideal candidate? Do you dream of working with kids? Working in a corporate setting? Working in a special library or archive? Teaching aspect? Collections? Fondling rare books? If you don’t know off hand, that’s totally okay — a lot of students in my first year program have various ideas of what they want to do but are being persuaded by new interests and technologies that they did not think were available to them or were not feasible with a MLIS degree and even more have no clue.

But that is what the beauty of the MLIS degree — unlike many other graduate programs — is that it is entirely flexible based up your desires and wants. And the other great thing about getting into a MLIS program now? Jobs are booming. The next decade or so is going to see more jobs and opportunities open for those in MLIS degrees not just in traditional settings but every where. The skills learned as a librarian are so completely flexible with the ever changing needs of current and emerging trends and technologies, what company wouldn’t want to hire someone who has this skill set? And oh yeah, most of the jobs that are coming open are not necessarily new jobs but the Boomers are finally beginning to retire, which means a mass exodus of people (who will begin to suck up Social Security, but that is another rant) are opening up existing job markets for new grads. So in short, a MLIS degree can be whatever you want it to be. Now that you have an idea that becoming a librarian isn’t just slinging books to snotty patrons who demand absolvence of 50 cent fines, the next decision is where do you go to school.

Like any other graduate program, where you opt to go to school makes a difference on how you want to jump start your career. BUT, and this is a big but, you could go to the right school and get the right degree and still not end up in your chosen career path or perhaps have difficulty finding a job. Grad school really boils down to what you put into it. While yes, some snobbery is looked upon in certain fields by where you choose to go to school, what really matters at the end of the day is how you choose to use the tools given to you. There are two types of library schools: theory based and practical based. Theory based programs are ones that will train you to work more in the research and academic fields of librarianship. These programs are geared more to the whys and hows over the actually working in the field. In U.S. News and World Reports rankings, a good portion (if not all) of the top 5 lib schools are theory based.

Clearly, not everyone who accepts and attends these schools will all go into academic research or want tenure track jobs in the academic field, but it is something to think about. If you’re not sure what approach to take, that is still totally okay. All of the schools do offer traditional teachings along with the rigorous work needed for the academic track. At this point, if you’re pretty sure you want to go to lib school, but you’re not sure what field yet and you’re even more confused on where to apply. Again, totally okay. Take deep breaths and lets look at some factors that one has to consider.

I knew I wanted to go to lib school for a number of years but wanted to test out the waters in other areas first. While working on my first Masters, I realized that I should have just applied and gone to school. But I don’t regret getting my first Masters because it gave me the self-confidence I needed to realize I could compete successfully in such a rigorous area. When TheEx and I started dating, this was a big topic of discussion between us. TheEx is one of those hyper-intelligent men that knew everything about anything and had started but never finished a grad program when he graduated from undergrad ages ago. At the time we were dating, he was working in the insurance industry and was his talents (and passions) were not being fully utilized. Our plan of attack then was for us to apply to graduate programs in our respective fields but at the same universities. As he was terribly close with his family, we choose programs that were mainly Big 10 and in and around Michigan.

In no particular order:

I did not finish my application to UofI nor my application to SJSU. SJSU was picked AFTER the break-up between TheEx and I because California is a gazillion miles away from Michigan. Also, SJSU is moving to online-only program, which seemed to negate the whole point of moving away from Michigan.

UofM and UofW both rejected me and I was accepted to Kent State and Wayne State. I know why I was rejected from UofM and UofW: I got overly quirky in my SOP’s (Statements of Purpose) and my GRE scores were not the best. I take responsibility for that, wholeheartedly. To be fair, I was working full time AND doing another Masters program when I started working on my applications, so my attention was diverted towards other things. My choices then were based upon locality and where TheEx was applying for his graduate program, not based on what I wanted to do. This is not to lay blame on him or my choices, to be fair, I probably would have picked nearly all the same schools but I was not armed with more information at the time I picked the schools so that is the one regret I DO have. Also, three of my schools (UofI, UofM and UofW) are mainly theory based, not practical based.

Here are things one needs to consider when applying to lib school (again, in no particular order):

  • Location. Most people tend to choose schools either close to where they live OR in the area where they eventually want to work. This is a huge factor when considering schools for any program, so first make a list of areas you want to possibly be in when you graduate.
  • Cost. If you choose an out-of-state school, your first years tuition is going to be significantly higher than if you are an in-state student. This is a given for any program in any discipline. Wayne State will cost me about $10k a year in tuition. UofM would run me about $18k a year in tuition (though both are state schools). If I would have gone out of state, the cost is even higher. More money spent means more loans or other methods of funding your education have to be considered.
  • Type of programs available. Do you want to go to a theory based school or a practical school? Do you plan to specialize? Is there a school that is general enough that you can get what you need without having to transfer? Do you want to enroll full time or part? Do you plan on working while going to school?
  • Lecture delivery. A lot of programs now offer online only or mostly online programs. There has been a lot of discussion whether or not such programs are actually viable and worth the time and energy. There are a lot of pros and cons with this issue and not just in the librarian community. This also comes down to your own learning style: Are you a visual or a lecture type person? Are you self-motivated enough to keep up with the demands of a online only program OR do you prefer to be in a classroom environment? Do you want a mixture of both?
  • Internships/Practicums. Some schools require them, some do not. Some schools will help you find them, others require that you find them yourself. Let me add that in my current experience, if you do NOT have any library experience in any field or setting, internships and practicums are fantastic for gaining the experience.
  • Job Placement. Some schools, like Wayne, have a general discussion list that every lib student is subscribed to and everyday I receive dozens of emails of available jobs ranging from director positions in major library systems to internship and volunteer work. Wayne has career advising appointments available, a career center and they work with you from your first day in the program to making sure you are successful. Wayne is not alone in this, but it is telling to me that they want their students to succeed in every way possible. Just because a college or university boasts a high job placement rate does not necessarily mean they have the tools to do so. I’ve heard from many a librarian via interviews and message boards that have felt their school could have done a better job in preparing them for “real world” and given them more “real world” experience. This may be true (and some of the schools that were rebuffed for this include UofIllinois and UofMichigan), but it all comes down to you. How much are you going to hustle when you’re competing for jobs with dozens of candidates?
  • Application process. A minor yet important part of the search process, the application process. A lot of schools have rolling admissions, some do not. Others only accept applications in the fall/winter while others allow you to enroll for either the fall or spring programs. Some applications may be due as early as December and others as late as March. What this boils down to is how much time (and money) do you have to spare and how prepared can you be to get it all done in time?
  • ALA accreditation. This is the MOST important part of the process — is the school ALA accredited? Nearly every job posting I’ve seen, regardless of where, will require that the applicant either be near completion or have finished their program from an ALA accredited school. The number of ALA accredited schools is seemingly shrinking (there are less than 50 in the U.S.) and many are currently in review or have lost accreditation. Even IF you have a MLIS degree from a university/college, if the school is not ALA accredited, your chances of finding a position will be extremely slim. On many message boards I’ve read, schools that are in ALA review are not worthy of consideration for application. Why? Because if the school loses ALA accreditation, you will NOT have an accredited degree from the university. My understanding is even IF you started the program before the review, the school MUST maintain its accreditation for you to have an accredited degree.

 

This information should give you a good foundation when searching for library schools. Also keep in mind that you will hear wildly disparaging advice from current and post MLIS students on the application process, especially when concerning if the school is “good” or not. What I’ve presented are basics that should help any navigate the world a bit more easily than I did. Next in the series: The application process and the dreaded GRE test.