Still Waiting

You battled a tough MLIS program: you brushed off notebooks, suffered through hours of classroom instruction and finally walked across the stage to proudly shake the hand of your library program’s dean. “Here comes the easy part,” you thought to yourself: landing your dream library job. Then as the pages of your calendar peeled away without as much as a return phone call, you began to question the whole thing. What happened to those hoards of jobs left open by retiring librarians?

As a fairly recent MLS graduate, and an experienced member of a highly successful library job development program, I was asked to sit on the recent ALA Conference panel “The Job Hunt: What To Do While You Wait.” I faced a dilemma. What am I going tell a room full of frustrated recent grads who can’t even get an interview? They have grown tired of waiting. They want results. I asked the advice colleagues and classmates, many of whom waited even longer for their jobs than I did for mine. From their wisdom I distilled four proven tactics for job-hunting success.

  1. Don’t Wait.
    New graduates sometimes forget that receiving their degree is not the end of their education. Librarianship is a profession, not a job, and any professional should constantly refine old skills and acquire new ones. NEVER allow your expertise to depreciate while waiting for you dream job to materialize. Even working librarians are constantly engaging in professional development programs and workshops. Use this time to sharpen your tools and gain an edge on the competition. Observe those who hold jobs you envy, analyze what skills put them there and educate yourself accordingly. Library professional organizations offer countless webinars, classes and workshops that teach applicants how to become more employable. If there is one thing I learned from working with Library human resource departments it is that they absolutely love a proactive candidate, and will disregard a stagnant applicant.
  2. Volunteer.
    How do you gain experience to get the job when no one will hire you? The answer is one that job-ready new graduates dread. But volunteering allows you to showcase your passion, enthusiasm and knowledge to your potential employer. Organizations are increasingly asked to do more with less; as a result, many employers ask volunteers to relieve the workload of their overburdened employees. Once the financial situation turns around (and it will), the first people organizations consider hiring are their own volunteers.
  3. Join a professional organization.
    The library world seems immense to new graduates. But that professional world is made up of many niche communities. These communities usually pass information several times amongst themselves before word ever leaks out to the larger library world. Find your niche, align yourself with the committee that shares your passion, and dedicate yourself to service. You will quickly find yourself on the short list of “go-to people.” Believe me – word spreads fast.
    If your passion doesn’t seem to have an organization or subgroup supporting it – create it. The beauty of the information field is that the possibilities are endless. There are numerous accounts of information professionals identifying a need within their community (many times stemming from a library school or extracurricular project), developing a solution, and then turning it into a promising career.

Job searching can be extremely difficult. Experts estimate that an average job search in a good economy can last three to six months. In an economic downturn, search time can double. The New York Times recent reported that the average unemployed person in America has been looking for work for more than nine months. Try not to take the state of your employment personally; remember that this crisis affects all occupations at all hiring levels, and that the economy will eventually improve. In the mean time, continue to develop your professional tool kit so that when the opportunity approaches, you will be in motion ready to catch it.