3 Ways to Get Library Experience without a Library Job

by Courtney Baron, former Head Editor, INALJ Georgia
previously published 5/22/13

3 Ways to Get Library Experience without a Library Job

courtney1I just finished my first semester of library school and I don’t have a library job. By the time I realized I wanted to be a librarian and decided to apply to my MLIS program, I had just accepted a job working in student affairs at a university. Library jobs at my university are few and far between and the paraprofessional positions typically pay less than jobs in student affairs. I would look elsewhere, but as a university employee I qualify for tuition assistance, so I’m committed to staying at my job while in school. Of course, job experience matters, and I’m definitely concerned about working outside the field. Nonetheless, I’ve discovered that it’s certainly possible to get library experience even if you don’t have a library job.

1.  Volunteer

Can’t work in a library? No problem – libraries and librarians are always in need of volunteers. It’s possible to do this during the evening or on weekends or even remotely. I love volunteering for I Need a Library Job because I can do it anywhere and anytime as long as I have internet access. If there is a specific kind of LIS job you want to do, then try to find a volunteer gig that fits that. If you want to work in IT, there are places you can volunteer and either teach people how to use computers or refurbish donated computers.  Do you love history and plan to work in archives? Volunteer at your local history center. I love art and I have volunteered as a docent at a museum for nearly two years.
2.  Intern

Another great way to get experience is to intern. Interning is definitely different than volunteering, because you are expected to work on something specific and complete a certain amount of work in a specified timeline. Internships are sometimes advertised, but if you don’t see any postings, don’t be afraid to contact libraries you are interested in and ask about opportunities. I decided to contact one of the librarians at our university who worked in an area that I’m interested in – collection development and art bibliography. I told her that I was in library school and especially interested in art librarianship and she enthusiastically offered to let me intern with her on her latest project. I can do this remotely for the most part or come to the library on the evenings and weekends. Score! Also, many LIS programs offer internship courses, which are a great way to get both credits toward your degree and some library experience.

 3.  Apply for a job

Now that I’m posting library jobs on a daily basis, I’ve noticed several positions that are specifically geared towards library school students.  Normally I would dismiss these for myself, but these positions tend to be part time, sometimes in the evening or on weekends (i.e., they expect you to already have another job). This is something I’m considering. It’s difficult to hold a full time job and go to school, so it might be crazy to think about adding another job into the mix, but if you can’t leave your current job at the moment, this is a great way to get some professional experience. A part time position could lead to a full time position later on plus you get to make contacts.

I highly recommend that you stay active on social media and library websites. That is how you will make contacts and discover opportunities that will allow you to engage in your field even if you don’t have a library job. I do want to stress that it’s certainly OK to have a non-traditional job and be a LIS professional. We know we can do all sorts of things and that’s one of the benefits of being in this field.

Have you been able to get library experience without a library job? Any other suggestions out there?

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. 


  7 comments for “3 Ways to Get Library Experience without a Library Job

  1. September 23, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    In addition it can be difficult to justify volunteering on a resume. I had a hiring manager say to me that he didn’t consider volunteering or even internships as adequate experience. It’s the difficultly on this job market, you have the degree but not the professional experience or vice versa.

    • September 23, 2014 at 8:53 pm

      I couldn’t agree more that hiring managers can be some of the worst about this- I got into a Twitter fight over it. I too have served on search committees where hiring managers wanted to exclude volunteer experience and internships as “not real” – boy did I burn some bridges fighting them, but it is a fight worth having. Hard to change people’s minds until we have a chance to serve on committees- but it is something I feel strongly about!

  2. September 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    I can definitely say that even becoming an intern is difficult, because they might not be looking for “you” specifically for that position. I’ve been turned down, which was difficult to understand because you would think they’d accept a person who has the paperwork and is looking to gain experience.
    Another thing is signing up as a volunteer has actually become a different position with expectations with actual schedules and little flexibility, and then you’re very limited to what you can do. Although that part could be minor, but when you’re a graduated Library Tech, you kind of wish you could do more than just shelf read.
    I hate job hunting 🙁
    – Krys

    • September 23, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      Job hunting is the worst – very frustrating indeed agreed! Naomi

    • September 25, 2014 at 2:13 pm

      Where I live I’ve found that the public library system isn’t keen on having volunteers who aren’t high school students. It’s frustrating. I always thought libraries and non-profit organizations would welcome free help but that isn’t always the case. I did volunteer at a library in a local museum. However, I learned that museum libraries are different in a lot ways from public libraries. I was fortunate in that I was able to get a practicum at a suburban public library before I graduated. I’ve applied to jobs but so far I haven’t gotten an interview yet. I don’t how much my experience is helping me or not. All I can do is keep applying. 🙂

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