by Josh Rimmer, Head Editor, INALJ West Virginia
Closing the Digital Educational Divide
Whether your degree is obtained through online schooling, or acquired the traditional route in person is irrelevant in the end after you graduate –academic pitchforks up. What matters is being active in the professional librarian conversation. What do I mean by being active? Local conferences, national meetings, webinars, discussion boards, maybe continuing education classes sponsored by ALA, or a professional development website like Library Juice Academy-free pens for a plug? If you are still looking on the job market, the absolute worst possible thing to do would be to remain sedentary. Einstein defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results. Still have yet to hear back about an employment opportunity after four months? Unless it is a civil service librarian post, it may be time to move one.
As someone who is still currently searching, it definitively stinks waiting for an opportunity for starters, I like; secondly, an opportunity that can match my skillset. Sorry folks, I have no desire to perform reference work and teach information literacy courses while students look at food porn on instagram #yum Just kidding, everyone knows instagram is the about the selfies.
However, to be serious, even when things are bleak; you are out of school, not currently volunteering or working in a library. Resources on the internet still provide a viable opportunity to remain engaged with trends, professional skills, and current events within the profession. Better to do something than nothing at all, right?
For those of us looking to get your foot in the door –raises hand-, there are a plethora of resources available online to build upon your skillset. At this point in time, adding new skills to differentiate your resume from other candidates, can be one of the easiest tasks you can do to improve your chances. This was suggested to me in a rejection letter –finally, a meaningful rejection letter. For example, I made it a goal of mine over the fall to build my Technical Services skills. Where did I turn to read/learn more about metadata for cataloging? Coursera! How can I freshen up on collection development, to make sure I am able to recall the basics?
- The Arizona State Library, assembled an online, e-resource training guide that is free to view. Did your graduate school not cover RDA in your cataloging course, or want to know a little about more?
- ALA’s Library Collections & Technical Services Continuing Education YouTube channel has a free webinar series that is available for viewing.
Now a YouTube informational series is no silver bullet for gaining experience. It can, however, be useful in explaining to a potential employer, what you have been doing while seeking employment. Remember stay active in the conversation within the profession, as it will help you along the way prep for potential interviews. An emerging trends question should not be the downfall of your employment candidacy. However, experience is still essential to explain how you have put your skills and knowledge into use. For future and aspiring librarians, most positions are looking for one to two years of experience for an entry level position. Get your experience in now! If I could go back and do anything again, I would have established a volunteer opportunity or looked for a part-time library job at the end of my first quarter. Luckily I do have some experience, but it never hurts to have more, so learn from my mistake and get a jump from the get-go!
Some assignments for an Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, ask students to “cold call” local libraries to write analysis papers. Use this as an opportunity to find out about what positions you might be interested in, or if potential volunteer/intern opportunities are down the horizon for the library system. Obviously be tactful and use your best judgment prior to asking. “Hey that person looks old, are they retiring soon? Need a replacement?” As someone who attended the Institution-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, when a local graduate library program was within the area –long story. It proved to be quite a challenge finding local area schools who could host a volunteer. Do not fret if you have difficulty, but prepare yourself for the reality that you may need to expand your commute. I ended up traveling an hour to intern/volunteer at a private institution. The commute stunk, I cannot lie, but I had a terrific experience where I had the freedom to explore new ideas, contribute to meetings and make recommendations. More importantly I got to work alongside individuals who truly care about providing library services to students. The human and experience factor always wins out in my book!
If your ISchool has a Listserv –how 90s- subscribe. A lot of relevant information is disseminated through emails. Sure you may not be able to attend the graduate holiday party, or partake in an organized field trip. However, Listserv’s promote conferences, conference discounts, job opportunities, internships, jobs at the school, free e-courses, etc. This information is free and why not take advantage! Learn about events transpiring in your iSchool’s area, as well as around the country.
My final bit of advice and this was mentioned in a INALJ Twitter chat not too long ago, but network, network, and network some more. I’ll spare everyone of the business savvy, self-promotion rant of networking in person and digitally online. I will say that the internet provides a tremendous opportunity to ask questions, learn from others and gain new insight. Personally, I use Twitter –one day, I’ll fully complete my LinkedIn profile, eeyore sigh- and just reading the posts from librarians, whether it is articles, or the story-telling of personal experiences. I have picked up new ideas, reexamined my resume structure, and simply learned something new and what resources are available online. In some instances, posts and responses can be emotionally reassuring, and help reaffirm one’s commitment to a plan and keep trying. Not everyone lands employment on the first try and some of us remain in limbo on the job market for a variety of reasons; support from peers, fellow library students, or new found digital friends can help pick up spirits when times can be trying, or provide a laugh to alleviate stress. Networking can also provide a valuable foundation in building lasting relationships within the profession that can potentially extend to your personal life.
For those of you who read INALJ, and are a current iSchool student, or considering a distance education, do not fret, or get caught up in the hub-flub argument over traditional education vs. the digital degree. Please though, do your due diligence and homework first. Understand the job prospects of the profession, cost of an education, affordability and how you will tailor your schedule to balance whatever may be going on in your life. Be committed to your decision and stay the course! As an iStudent, you will need to put in time not only for your studies, but cultivating relationships and reaching out on your own to find opportunities. Best wishes to everyone, new students, current students, newly minted librarian, both digital and traditional. I hope you are able to find entry position of your dreams!