5 Ways to Get Library Job Experience (When You Don’t Have a Library Job)

by Sean O’Brien, Head Editor, INALJ Colorado

5 Ways to Get Library Job Experience
(When You Don’t Have a Library Job)

seano1So, you want to be a librarian!  You’re acing all of your classes, networking with your classmates and professors, and browsing job listings in order to get a feel for what’s out there.  You’re well on your way to a career, and at this point all that’s left is to finish your degree and pick out your dream job, right?  Well, not exactly.

The truth is that there are far more MLIS graduates than there are available jobs, and the oft-repeated blurb about waves of older library workers retiring (Any day now!  We promise!) isn’t exactly true.  But fear not, we’re here to help by suggesting some ways to get active in the library world and beef up that resume.  Your ultimate goal should still be finding paying library work, but we know circumstances may not always allow for that while you’re going through school.


5. Volunteer at Your Local Library

What’s better than paying someone to work for you?  Having someone work for free!  At least, that’s how employers see it, and this is an idea we want to capitalize on.  Typically volunteer work involves menial (but indispensable!) library maintenance tasks such as sorting and shelving books, you can find yourself assisting with displays, literacy programs, or organizing book donations, all of which is valuable resume fodder.  Plus, working in the library at all can be a great segway to the next paid position that comes up, as employers are always more comfortable hiring someone that they already know.  Bonus points if you can volunteer at a library that you really want to work for after you graduate.

Keep in mind, however, that the volunteer selection process for some libraries is just as formal and competitive as getting hired for a paid position.  The Chicago Public Library, for example, holds interviews, fingerprinting, and even background checks for all of its volunteer applicants.

You will also have to weigh whether or not your schedule will allow for volunteering.  Going through graduate school, especially if you are working and/or have a family, takes up a great deal of your time.  You may not have a few hours a week to spare on more work.  You also want to keep up high levels of energy and enthusiasm at your volunteer gig; this is an opportunity that can cut in either direction.  There aren’t many things more embarrassing than getting fired from a job where they aren’t even paying you in the first place.


4. Serve on a Committee or Task Force

Don’t have the time each week to volunteer?  Maybe you want to get involved on a broader scale?  Sure, sure, that’s fine.  If that’s the case, consider volunteering to serve on a committee for your state library association or even the American Library Association.  The ALA in particular boasts hundreds of committees and round tables, and you can sign up for them here.

Don’t be intimidated just because you feel like you might not have enough experience to be part of one of these committees; ideas and insight can come from anywhere.  Plus, you’re in library school!  Certainly you have some thoughts on current issues?  Even if you end up being less than a perfect fit for a particular committee, simply talking with the people headings them get your name out there, and shows that you want to get involved.

3. Do an Internship

Maybe you’re interested in doing something that will count toward your degree, since you’re putting so much time and effort into it anyway.  Why not do an internship?  Ask your academic advisor or favorite faculty members about it; certainly one of them knows someone who would be willing to set something up for a bright, eager LIS student such as yourself. 

Besides all of the aforementioned “treat it like a real job” advice, you want to make sure you strike while the networking iron is hot.  Internships don’t typically last all that long, so make sure you make a really good impression, and try to snag a letter of reference or two.

2. Become active in Social Networking, LISTSERVS, and Message Boards

An easy (and rewarding) way to get some exposure is to become active in the library social networking community.  Join a couple of discussion boards or listservs at www.ala.org.  Start commenting on your favorite library blog’s posts, such as http://lj.libraryjournal.com/blogs/annoyedlibrarian/ or  http://www.inthelibrarywiththeleadpipe.org/.  Heck, even Reddit has a library subreddit at http://www.reddit.com/r/libraries.  Whatever you pick, just jump in and start talking.  If nothing else, you’ll gain an appreciation of trends and issues in the profession.  Keep in mind, though, that this is still working toward professional goals, so keep your language, typing, and tone appropriate. 

1. Volunteer for INALJ!

inalj sample seanYou didn’t think you were getting out of this without a plug for INALJ, did you?  Seriously, though.  It’s yet another great way to network and get your name out there.  Plus, when the best job openings are posted, you’ll know about them first.  If you are interested in helping out, email ineedalibraryjob@gmail dot com for details.  You can tell her I sent you.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular LIS jobs resource INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job). Founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard, INALJ’s social media presence has grown to include Facebook (retired in 2016), Twitter and a LinkedIn group, in addition to the interviews, articles and jobs found on INALJ.com. INALJ has had over 20 Million page views and helped thousands of librarians and LIS folk find employment! Through grassroots marketing, word of mouth and a real focus on exploring unconventional resources for job leads, INALJ grew from a subscription base of 20 friends to a website with over 500,000 visits in a month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this many new jobs published daily. She was a 2013 Library Journal Mover & Shaker and has served on the University of Maryland iSchool Board from 2014-2017. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and now lives part time in Western NY and Budapest, Hungary. She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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