To co-op or not to co-op?

by Sarah Dashow, Senior Assistant, INALJ Newfoundland, Northwest Territories, Nunavet & Yukon

To co-op or not to co-op?

Sarah DashowI can’t say I know any statistics on how many people go through library school with little to no professional or working background in libraries or information science, but I do know that I am one of those people.


I knew when picking schools that the availability of a co-op program was very important to me, because I feel like a lot of employers follow the trend that recent graduates are not valuable (not true, but you can’t argue reality). At least, that was my experience job hunting post-undergrad, and it was not fun. Maybe this isn’t the case for master’s degree holders, but I knew I didn’t want to go through that again.


Sure, my work experience in retail, residence halls, and a dog kennel could be tailored to fit certain positions, but customer service, multi-tasking and attention to detail can only get you so far.

So when I got accepted into a program that included a co-op, and then actually nailed the co-op interview and got my placement, I was ecstatic. I would finally be able to put my skills to the test, gain a better understanding of the information science field, and get some solid work experience under my belt.


I’m working in knowledge management, and as such, I am using databases and HTML and strengthening my communication, information architecture, metadata, and writing skills within a professional environment. It feels different to put something to work instead of just writing a paper or having a class discussion.


I now feel like I can put something on my resume that I can be proud of, and that I can talk about, and I’ll no longer struggle trying to answer questions like, “When did you have to handle a difficult situation in the work place?” or “When did you go above and beyond on a project?” Before, I would have to stretch for answers, now I’m being given opportunities every day to learn new things, grow my skill base, and challenge myself.


I am sure it helps that where I am working has been doing this co-op position for a few years and a handful of my current team did this co-op themselves and ended up working here, so they know how to work with students to make the best of their time. However, I think any of the available co-op positions would have proved useful and valuable.


So now it comes down to the question – should you do a co-op?


As a student, especially if you’ve never worked in the field before, I say absolutely yes. Even if your school does not have a program, find places near you and try to make your own co-op, even if it’s unpaid. Your school will probably work with you. It may add some extra time to your degree, but it would be worth it. As a job seeker, a co-op position could be just as valuable as a contract.


No matter what position you are in, the most important thing I am getting from working here is the network. I am working with fellow librarians who have been all over the field, who are members of SLA, and who know people who know people. I will be leaving here at the end of my term with my foot in door with some great people, and that alone should be enough to show the merits of a co-op.


Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of, a crowdfunding platform focused on African patrimony, heritage and cultural projects. INALJ was founded in October 2010 with the assistance of her fellow Rutgers classmate, Elizabeth Leonard. Its 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. INALJ has had over 21 Million page hits and helped many, many thousands of librarians 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 one month. Naomi believes that well-sourced quantity is quality in this narrow job market and INALJ reflects this with many new jobs published daily. She has also written for the 2011, 2012 and 2013 LexisNexis Government Info Pro and many other publications in the past decade. She presents whenever she can, including serving on three panels at the American Library Association's Annual Conference in Las Vegas; as breakout presenter at OCLC EMEA in Cape Town, South Africa; as a keynote speaker at the Virginia Library Association annual meeting; at the National Press Club in Washington DC; McGill University in Montreal, Canada; the University of the Emirates, Dubai, MLIS program and the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Naomi was a Reference, Marketing and Acquisitions Librarian for a contractor at a federal library outside Washington, DC, and has been living and working in Budapest, Hungary and Western New York State. She spent years running her husband’s moving labor website, fixed and sold old houses and assisted her husband cooking delicious Pakistani food. She is preparing to re-enter the workforce and is job hunting. Her husband is now the co-editor of INALJ, a true support!  She has heard of spare time but hasn’t encountered it lately. She pronounces INALJ as eye-na-elle-jay. 


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