by Amy Steinbauer, Senior Assistant, INALJ California
“You want to work, but where?”
I know you want a job, badly. You’ve applied for what feels like millions and millions of jobs. You’ve chatted awkwardly with alumni from your program, trying not to ask for leads, and smiling when they describe how much they love their job. You’ve spent hours on social media or listservs or Linkedin trying to connect with the world of librarians, like a Muggle would approach Hogwarts! You’ve taken extra steps and sharpened your skills with self-taught or volunteer work. It seems like jobs are eluding you. You’re getting desperate- you’ve been looking for weeks, months, and years. At this point, you would take anything, as long as it had the world library in it.
Try to relax. Take a moment, and take a deep breath! Whew.
Let’s chat instead about these library environments that you desperately want to find yourself in.
In grad school I had the opportunity to host a reception for students with a representative from a major database company, who was on campus to give a presentation to my database searching class. I saw it as a great opportunity to present a nontraditional library job, especially because she had gotten her MS in Information Science and then went to work in the private sector. Her job search story sounded similar to many people- tons of job applications, very little feedback, and a few interviews and offers. She said that it came down to three choices for her. One was in a traditional library setting, one was her current work place, and I forget the other option. She had always seen herself go the more traditional route, but when she went in for the interview, something seemed off at the place. She didn’t spend a long time there, but she could sense some hostility between two of the workers that she would come into a lot of contact with. When it was time to make a decision, environment became a huge decider for her. She could tell if she worked there she would get caught up in the problems. At the time, I thought that that was a trivial factor in deciding which job to take. I was in my last semester of grad school, and I just wanted a job!
However, she was correct. Environment is a highly underrated factor in our job searches. Which seems silly considering we will be spending about 40 hours a week at a place, and most likely way more when you factor in your commute, and any extra hours that librarians tend to pick up.
Where you work should matter to you as much as what you are going to be doing there. You can’t do your best work when you work in a negative work environment. And we aren’t in the kind of field that pays so well that you can ignore a tyrannical director or sabotaging coworkers.
It’s easy to think of job searching like trying to find the golden ticket to the chocolate factory, but it’s important to reverse that thinking and realize that you are the golden ticket– you are talented, skilled, motivated, friendly, helpful, etc. Any library or organization would be lucky to have you!
While your job-searching think about the kind of worker you are. In what environments do you work best? Can you work in shared spaces? How much interaction do you want or need with your supervisor/ director? Do you see coworkers as new potential friends, or would you rather just focus on your work? Do you like sharing ideas with others or do you prefer to work alone? I’m sure you can think of additional questions of your own to consider. Talk to your friends for more ideas, or think about past work environments where you flourished.
Here are some random job style quizzes I found and took. These are all factors to consider as you examine potential work environments.
(I’ll share my results with you on twitter!)
We would like to think that we could work anywhere or do anything in any kind of environment. But we all have idiosyncrasies that influence our work style. When we know what they are ahead of time, it can help us make the best choices for ourselves. I know your Desperation says “Just hire me, I’ll take anything”, but I think ultimately we don’t want just any job. We want a job in which we can do good work at, explore our interests, build up our skills, etc. And we all deserve that.
It may still seem like a trivial decider to you, but I am implore you to consider it. The libraries or instuitions that you may work for have been operating for years with people in charge who have been there for most likely decades. It already runs a certain way, and it’s hard to come in as the new person and try to change it. Most people like to keep working the same way that they have been working; you will be expected to blend in- to a degree.
Libraries and other organizations are looking for people who fit their work style. They need to impress you and show you that your needs are going to be met, just as you should be doing with them. Ideally, you will work there for a few years, maybe even the rest of your employed life. So maybe 40 hours a week seems like nothing… but let’s do some math (don’t worry I’m using a calculator): 40 hours a week for a year is 2,080 hours in the year. If you work there for three years that’s 6,240 hours of your life. That’s a lot of time.
My advice? Pick a place that fits you. One of the biggest selling points for my job was that it was advertised as being 75% outside the physical library. I loved that. I am not a traditional librarian type. I’m loud, outspoken, and don’t love sitting behind a desk for hours. In that 75% I drive the bookmobile, I directly connect with childcare providers and businesses, I spend hours reorganizing the shelves in the van (I love spending time in the stacks!), and I do storytimes on the road! Not every person would like my job. Before I came around, they had trained a few librarians for the job, but no one liked the constant commuting and pressures of on the road literacy and reader’s advisory. It is what works for me, and has attributed to both my success and happiness here.
So, job seekers. Add one more task to your endless list for career fulfillment, task yourself with looking for places that you can do your best work in, with people that you can count on and work with. Put being happy on your list for job requirements. It should be there already, but take a moment to recheck. It’s just as important as all your other wishes and requirements. You won’t be able to get your goals met and dreams achieved if you settle for any space that wants you.
You are talented, you are skilled, and you will succeed! Let me know if I can help!
Early Childhood Outreach Librarian &
Mostly Satisfied Employee
Amy Steinbauer is the Early Childhood Outreach Librarian at Beaumont Library District in Beaumont, CA. It took her six months to find a job. She drives a bookmobile; which is one of her favorite things! Amy has a B.A. in English from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, PA and an MLISc from the University of Hawaii. She loves mermaids, and advocating for libraries; and will one day combine them both to take over the world! Until then, follow her on twitter @merbrarian.