The Embedded Library Grad Student

By Paula Massadas Pereira 

There are excellent reasons to actively engage with librarianship while still a graduate student. First, librarianship is fiercely competitive. A Master’s in Library Science does not guarantee that you will be seen for a librarian position, and an internship or professional association might go a long way toward landing you a coveted interview. Secondly, the day-to-day life of a librarian can be vastly different from what a graduate student might imagine. It is better to put the theories into practice while in library school sooner than later. The tips below aim to help you embrace the librarianship holistically while in library school. 

  1. Work or volunteer at a library before you graduate. A significant number of library grad students have never actually worked at a library. Those same students, upon entering the workforce, may discover – after significant time, energy, and expense – that they actually don’t like working in libraries. The earlier you learn how books are shelved, how different departments operate, how librarians fill their days, the sooner you will know where – and if – you fit into the library world.Plus, it may be harder to get a job without any prior library experience. Typically, librarians start their careers as a library aide, moving up a few positions prior to becoming a librarian. It is a rare graduate that is hired full-time right out of graduate school without previous work experience. 
  2. Study outside of your comfort zone and field of interest. Choose electives that will allow you a well-rounded understanding of library departments and duties. Many students are terrified of the word “cataloging” and only a few decide to work as a cataloger, but it is essential that any librarian understand the basics of material records. The class can be very intense and certainly requires attention to detail while entering information on the MARC fields, but do not skip this class. The same is true of reference work, and collection management, and youth services. You will be thankful you took these classes when you hear librarian jargon at your future workplace.
  3. Intern. Most library grad programs offer internships. The internship is very useful even for those with some library experience. At your internship site, you will be working with other staff members and understand how different libraries handle daily duties. Believe me, each library has its unique way for handling reserves, cataloging materials, teaching classes, purchasing books, and conducting reference interviews. Watch librarians, learn from them, and, most importantly, start acting like them. You have to watch a lot in order to develop your own librarian style. Research internship sites where you can work at different departments and pursue your specialization. Take this opportunity to give your all by working on different projects. If your goal is to work as an academic librarian, seek internship sites that may give you an opportunity to teach or co-teach, because teaching bibliographic instructions may be one of your core duties at an academic library. Although interns are not typically hired on a full-time basis by their internship sites upon graduation, you may certainly be an exception to the rule if you do a remarkable job. If at all possible, you may apply for a part-time position and further your experience. 
  4. Join and actively participate in associations. Your professors can teach you all the theories in the world but you can only put them into practice when interacting with other librarians. Attend symposiums, workshops, additional training, meetings and conferences. You will meet librarians from different types of libraries, some of which you did not even know existed. The more you connect with librarians, the more you will learn about their roles and the more you will understand new library trends. By mingling with librarians, you will gain a better idea of what type of library you will want to work for. If you already have an idea, conversing with librarians will help you solidify your goal. 
  5. Find a mentor. Schools and associations often offer mentorship programs. Mentors can guide you and help you find where you best fit in the librarian profession. S/he can give you specific details on your desired field of work and maybe even take you on library tours.
  6. Showcase ideas. If you work on a special project for your class, your internship, or as a library assistant, share it with others. Submit an article to a professional publication, co-present your work during a conference or even create a blog. The more you expose your idea, the easier it will be for you to find your niche in the profession. Teaching is the best way to internalize an idea.
  7. Apply for scholarships. Strive to obtain good grades. We all know that scholarships are given to those who go the extra mile. Scholarships can confirm that you are on the right track professionally, and future employers look favorably on scholarship recipients. And the extra funding is always welcome to grad students. 

Competition in librarianship is stiff and varies widely by geographic location and specialization. When the economy is bad and the job market is slow, it is essential you have a résumé filled with accomplishments accompanied by stellar letters of recommendation and/or references. A library staff is a library family, and employers, when looking for the best fitted individuals, look for a combination of knowledge and a pleasant personality.

Paula Massadas Pereira is a circulation librarian with over 10 years of library experience. She has contributed to the profession by creating venues that enrich students’ experiences in California and Texas academic libraries. She has created library newsletters, designed new library collections, developed bibliographic instructions, written articles for publications, and co-founded a successful library club.