Four questions to ask before applying to a for-profit university library job
by Rebekah Kati, Senior Assistant, INALJ North Carolina
Libraries at for-profit universities are pretty mysterious. For-profit universities have libraries and some employ MLS-holding librarians, but accounts of for-profit librarianship are scarce. I spent four years working as a librarian at a large, primarily graduate degree granting online for-profit university. My experience as a whole was positive and I gained job knowledge as an early career employee that I would not have received elsewhere. During my four years, I worked in reference, instruction, electronic resources, systems and web librarianship. This diversity of experience served me well during my job search in a tough economy and in a crowded area of the country.
This article poses questions that applicants should consider before submitting an application, not to debate the merits of non-profit versus for-profit librarianship as that is best left up to the applicant. Hopefully, my observations will help illuminate the little talked about world of for-profit librarianship.
Are you open to working at a for profit?
Before you apply for a for-profit, think hard about whether you are truly open to the experience. Are you just applying to get a library job? Does the idea of profit in higher education make your stomach churn? If so, for-profit librarianship may not be for you.
If you are open to the experience, you may find that a for-profit is a good place to start your career. As I mentioned earlier, I gained a lot of experience in many areas of librarianship by working in a for-profit library. At the time I joined, the library was very small and staff members needed to lend a hand in other departments. Later, I was able to specialize. Some for-profit libraries employ solo librarians, which is a great opportunity for a new graduate to experience all aspects of librarianship up close.
What type of for-profit university interests you?
It may be useful to consider the type of for-profit university to which you are applying, such as vocational and trade schools and undergraduate and graduate degree granting institutions also exist. These schools may use a traditional curriculum, or specialize in fields such as art, graphic design or culinary arts. The school that I worked at was a primarily graduate degree granting institution and requires an undergraduate degree for admission to these programs. The United States Senate released a report which profiles several prominent for-profit education companies. This report is a good resource to use when evaluating specific for-profits, especially the “Outcomes” and “Instruction and Academics” section. It may also help you think about which type of university most closely aligns with your career goals.
How much does the university administration support the library? Is the library valued?
It is good to get a sense of how the university sees the library, as this can give you insight into its priorities and values. Does the library seem like an afterthought, or is the university invested in its success? Is the library filled with paraprofessionals in positions which should be staffed by an MLS-holding librarian? The aforementioned Senate report contains a section on staffing for each school profiled, which can give applicants an idea of the school’s priorities. You will likely get a better sense of the administration’s priorities during the campus visit portion of the interview. Be sure to ask questions about the administration’s support of the library during the interview. The overall library budget, staffing levels and materials will all be key indicators which you should ask about.
How do you feel about working with non-traditional students?
Many of the students that I worked with were categorized as non-traditional. They were on average mid-career professionals who were not able to take time off from work to participate in a traditional graduate program. Some students lived in rural areas and could not travel to an in-person class regularly and did not have enough vacation time to participate in a hybrid program. They valued the flexibility that a fully online program provided. While the distance education offerings at state and private universities have improved somewhat over the past few years, they still do not meet the needs of all working students. Meanwhile, the for-profit library that I worked at adapted its services. Many of the public-facing librarians worked late night and weekend hours in order to accommodate student needs. The library also provided instruction sessions during typical lunch hours and at night in order to be available for working students. A challenge of working with non-traditional students is that many were coming back to school after a long absence from academia and weren’t familiar with online databases or research tools. If the for-profit has online or asynchronous programs, the level of difficulty of these interactions increases.
If you are still intrigued by the position after considering your answers to these questions, go ahead and submit your application. Good luck!