The Road Less Traveled (Postcards from a Library Job Seeker)
By Chelsea Jordan-Makely
reposted from 9/26/2012
It has been a busy month. Less than four weeks ago, I resigned from two library jobs I adored, received my MLIS, and moved to Oregon with my husband, who accepted a faculty position at a small university here. Hence, I joined the countless masses of library job seekers.
I would say that I am a qualified and capable candidate for a lot of library jobs: I have worked in a number of library settings, including school, public, and academic libraries, libraries in Tanzania and South Africa, and even the Library Research Service (LRS) at the Colorado State Library. My interests run the gamut, from exploring user perceptions of LibGuides to improving outreach efforts to New American communities. While working at LRS, I conducted research on library salaries, library funding measures, the value of an MLIS, and the health of the library job market. Thus, one would think that 1) I would be pretty well situated to apply to a number of library jobs and 2) my knowledge of the library job market would have steeled me against the painful process of finding a library job. Yet, only several weeks into my job search, I feel discouraged. I have applied for every available library job in the state and received several rejection letters, and new job postings are few and far between. Some days, there are no cover letters to write or applications to fill out, and no interviews to prepare for. What do I do then?
I could wait in the gridlock traffic on the traditional avenues to library employment, hoping for a suitable position to open up. However, I have decided to explore some alternate routes. I am reminded of driving in Dar es Salaam, where impatient drivers will rally their cars on the sidewalks to avoid sitting in traffic. Job seeking is obviously safer than ignoring traffic laws, but there do seem to be some unspoken rules to job hunting, and we librarians are sticklers for rules! I was shocked when a colleague advised me to send my resume to the state librarian even though we had never met, and there were no job openings. Wouldn’t it seem audacious? “Not in the least,” she advised, “You really have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
So, I will continue to apply to look for and apply to library jobs using the conventional methods of perusing job postings, writing cover letters, and tweaking my resume. But I have also begun to explore some less worn paths, applying for positions outside of librarianship, sending “cold” resumes and cover letters to prospective employers, requesting informational interviews and building my network. This week, I am defying traditional job seeking advice, interviewing for a position which is outside of my skill set. I might humiliate myself in taking the requisite cataloging test, but at least I’ll know that I gave it a try.
As I navigate these roads less traveled, I’ll be sharing my experiences and any lessons I learn along the way. I’ll also include other information on these topics, including outside research, as in the case of my forthcoming article on informational interviews. I would like to encourage readers to respond with their own stories or advice, and maybe we can get a forum going. So, look for my first article soon, and in the meantime, wish me luck!
Before becoming a librarian, Chelsea was a lifeguard, server, caterer, line cook, busperson, veterinary assistant, administrative assistant, title researcher, escrow officer and lifelong community activist with a supernatural affection for reading. Then one day, it occurred to her that librarians must possess similarly incongruous skill sets and values: poise with upset clients, attention to detail in some instances and multi-tasking in others, working with diverse people to make sense out of chaos, balancing numbers and maintaining databases, marketing their organizations’ services, helping people, building community, and safeguarding information. Since that epiphany, Chelsea has worked in school, academic, special, and public libraries. She was a LEADers III scholar at the University of Denver and a Research Fellow at the Library Research Service (LRS.org). Chelsea’s ideal library job would include aspects of service, outreach and advocacy, research, planning, and assessment. Follow her on Twitter, @chelsjmakely, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
reposted from 9/26/12