My interview with success story, Mara M J Egherman, MA, MLIS
Mara: I was told about a potential opening at my current place of employment, a small liberal arts college, by a librarian at that college while attending an Iowa ACRL conference hosted at that same college. This tip came about, I surmise, because I had been active in Iowa ACRL while a LIS student by joining a committee, then chairing that committee. The committee chair position made me a member of the Iowa ACRL Executive Board. By the time I interviewed here, I had known all of the other librarians at the college for months through the Board or my committee. I had attended bimonthly Board meetings, at different colleges throughout the state, sometimes sleeping on an air mattress in the back of my car in a campground for lack of hotel funds. Giving committee reports and corresponding with other committee chairs in between live meetings, I was able to demonstrate my reliability, positive attitude, people skills, writing skills, technology skills, and organizational capacity.
While in library school and after, I went to every state conference possible in person, presented papers at national conferences held in my region, and established myself on academia.edu, LinkedIn, facebook, and Twitter. After 18 months or so of job searching, I was asked to co-facilitate a national ACRL OnPoint chat on the topic of job seeking for academic librarians. That happened because I had participated in another OnPoint chat, and at the end of the chat when attendees were asked for suggestions for future topics, I suggested job searching, and boom, I was asked to facilitate the next session. (Are you seeing a trend here? Preview to answer on the “what advice would you give” question: be actively involved in the profession!!) Based on facilitating OnPoint, I was invited to give a talk on the same topic at my library school to up-and-coming graduates: http://central-iowa.academia.edu/MaraEgherman/Papers/1269362/Job_Seeking_Tips_for_Up_and_Coming_Academic_Librarians .
Though building a reputation as being good at telling others about the job search process, I still didn’t have my own permanent, full time job. I had my first interview at ALA 2009, five months before graduation. It took me three full years, about 75 targeted applications, 3 informational interviews, 12 phone interviews, 8 on campus or otherwise live interviews, a gig as an adjunct librarian at a community college, and a year as visiting faculty librarian since then to achieve my goal of becoming a full time, permanently employed academic librarian and I am just thrilled. My colleagues are fabulous.
Naomi: Favorite library you have been to?
Mara: I love funky old libraries and new green-designed libraries. The Newberry Library in Chicago, and New York Public Library on 42nd Street in Manhattan inspire me to study the history of reading. LEED platinum libraries, such as our newly refurbished Des Moines Public Library’s Franklin Avenue branch, give me hope for the future of the planet. I can’t wait to see the new University of Chicago Library. But my all-time favorite is where I had my first library position as an undergrad, The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Memorial Library. I loved how huge it was, and the big reading room you could only get to by walking through the narrow stacks if you knew the way. Strange and wonderful professors, grad students, and librarians were around every turn. There were stories about people living in the basement deep shelf storage areas. When I went through the doors to work in technical services, I was completely amazed at what went on behind the scenes in a large research library. I would love to visit the Library of Congress, and the famous libraries at Harvard and Oxford.
Naomi: Favorite book?
Mara: Is this a trick question? Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire springs to mind, though I also love biographies of women’s lives such as those about Kristina of Sweden and autobiographies like Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings series. The Swedish author Moa Martinson’s autobiographical trilogy starting with My Mother Gets Married holds a special place in my heart as I wrote a thesis about one volume in the series and began a translation of it to English. I hope to continue with the translation in years to come.
Naomi: Favorite thing about libraries/ library technology?
Mara: It is great to see the look of interest or excitement on undergraduates’ faces when they are actively engaged in research they care about, such as on global sustainability issues, or when I can facilitate their comprehension of one part of the research process, like formulating an appropriate research question.
Naomi: Any websites or feeds or blogs we should be following?
Mara: INALJ is quite comprehensive, but also make sure you are on the job lists for your graduate school, your state library association and/or subdivisions, and for ALA and ACRL divisions in your areas of interest. For me those are the ALA Task Force on the Environment (TFOE), ALA/ACRL Western European Studies Section (WESS), ALA/ACRL Women and Gender Studies Section (WGSS). If you have a research interest in common with other members and participate in a listserv dialogue by making a helpful, quality post now and then, it is one more way to get your name in front of employed librarians who may be on search committees. A blog I personally enjoy is In the Library with the Lead Pipe.
Naomi: Best piece of job hunting advice?
Mara: My best advice is to just start acting like the professional librarian you aspire to be. Visit employed librarians you know at their workplaces (by appointment, wearing professional attire), and they will introduce you to other librarians. Don’t try to “network” just by asking others to do things for you. Instead, become a “go-to” person for others in the field by working on a committee, and/or by volunteering in a library. You can get a reference from an employed librarian that way. I was able to get newsletter publication opportunities as a volunteer. List all of those things on your cv or resume. Take care of yourself during what can be a long, grueling process by getting enough sleep, exercise, eating good food, and reading books you enjoy. If you get discouraged, you still need to maintain a positive public attitude in person and online, whatever that takes. Good luck everyone, and I hope to see YOUR name next on this page!
Mara applied to library school right out of college and admits today for the first time in public that she was not accepted. The following 15 years entailed a BA in women’s studies, a year in Sweden, MA in liberal arts with a thesis on a Swedish book by a proletarian feminist author of the 1930s, and two years of doctoral study in Scandinavian languages and literature. She spent a total of about five years as a paraprofessional in academic libraries (usually at universities where she was enrolled) along with other jobs, and started a family. Add to that several years as a public library substitute during library school to which she WAS admitted in 2006. She completed her MLIS at The University of Iowa in December 2009, earning a distinction for her poster presentation on the history of reading in 17thcentury Europe and was inducted into the Beta Phi Mu LIS honor society. Mara spent two semesters as an adjunct librarian at a community college, and has happily just accepted the permanent post of Collection Management Librarian following a year as Visiting Collection Development Librarian for Central College in Pella, Iowa. An active member of her campus’ Sustainability Committee, she advocates for carpooling, unplugging, and the use of Century Gothic font when printing as it uses a third less ink! At home she is currently de-paving her driveway and putting in gravel and native grass to reduce urban heat retention and increase permeation of stormwater from her roof into the ground instead of the street sewer. She also likes to relax on her front porch watching the birds and butterflies that are attracted to her prairie garden. http://central-iowa.academia.edu/MaraEgherman