Learn From My Mistakes

by Diana La Femina, Head Editor, INALJ South Carolina

Learn From My Mistakes

0508081839aI figured this first blog post was a good time to introduce myself and my employment journey so far. I realized, however, that a lot of what I had to say was cautionary, so I’ve decided to tell you about myself while also imparting the advice I’ve learned so far (sometimes the hard way). Some of these mistakes weren’t mistakes per se, but circumstances beyond my control or knowledge. Regardless, you can still learn from them.

1. Volunteer as much as you can, and then volunteer some more. 

I finished my MLS program in December 2007. (Worst. Timing. Ever.) I thought I was doing enough during my MLS program; I had two jobs in the libraries at school and even completed a double internship. I was so, so confident.

And then November 2007 struck and everything went downhill. 

I thought I was doing enough; in fact, I thought I was overachieving. Oh, how wrong I was. If I knew then what I know now, then I would have volunteered until I was blue in the face. I would have fought to get a position of some sort, whether paid or not, at the rare books library. I would have found another job in the libraries. I would have volunteered my butt off at the public library in town. I also would have postponed getting my degree until May 2008, which would have been more money and more credits, but might have saved me years of job searching. So instead I moved back in with my parents on Long Island at the beginning of the recession, still hopeful that I could find something at the local public library (I couldn’t afford to travel into NYC to volunteer just yet).

Problem: apparently Long Island public libraries are under a union, and they don’t take volunteers. Actually, you can’t get a position there unless you take the civil service exam offered every other year. Actually, there are some libraries that aren’t civil service, and you can get a part-time job without taking the test at any library.

Confusing? This is what I pieced together over three years stuck in a vicious cycle of temporary jobs and unemployment. No one was ever forthcoming with information or help. (I might be a bit bitter, but I’m pretty sure it has to do with librarians worried about job security and me not knowing the right people [see #2 below].)

 My point is, volunteer. Do whatever you can to gain more experience, right now. If you’re job searching then you should also be volunteering. I’m in danger of falling back into that temporary job/unemployment cycle (I have a contingency plan, don’t you worry) and I still can’t afford to travel into NYC to volunteer just now. 

Can’t travel? Find virtual opportunities. I assure you, someone on INALJ could use another assistant for their jobs page. And don’t wait for volunteer postings. Go places near you and ask if they need help. Historical societies, private schools, etc. Anyplace that has information needs help disseminating that information. You can help them. Go forth, and if you come up with any good ideas let me know.

2. It’s true: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Remember that confusing bit about libraries on Long Island above? I didn’t fully understand it until someone helped me out. This person happened to be the director of one of the local public libraries, whom someone else introduced me to. While at a winery I started speaking to a friend of a friend, telling her about my experiences and the challenges I was facing trying to find a job. This person happened to be friends with the library director mentioned above. She gave me contact information, I got an introduction, and later got an informational interview. It was there that I found out details that were being kept from me about public library jobs. I also got a lot of really great advice, which later led to an interview. 

My point here? Talk to people and be nice. You never know who someone else knows.

But this goes further. Every opportunity is a networking opportunity in disguise. I recently got a job lead by submitting my resume to a completely different institution. Yes, that’s right; I submitted my resume to institution A and was asked (very politely) if they might give my contact information to institution B.

Having trouble figuring out how to network? Use LinkedIn. (If you’re not already on LinkedIn, stop reading this now and go create an account this instant.) Join groups, join in conversations, connect with people, converse. It’s not scary, and a lot of the more-experienced people are very willing to lend advice. Seriously, it’s a beautiful world. I still haven’t gotten networking under my belt, but I’m working on it and you should be, too.

3. Take a risk.

If you don’t take a chance, everything will remain the same. It could be going to a networking event alone, sending an introductory email, setting up an informational interview, applying to a job you’d have to relocate for. Or, perhaps, leaving the country for a year to get a second degree (*waves*). No experience is a bad experience if you look at it in the right light. Do stuff, try it out. What’s the worst that could happen? Figure out what you’re afraid of, and then figure out whether that’s a good enough reason to hold yourself back. Chances are, it’s not.

4. Listen to other people’s advice, even when you don’t like what they’re saying. 

I love my mother, and I love my best friend. They’re amazing people. Sometimes, though, they give me unsolicited and unwelcomed advice. What makes it worse? They’re almost always right. Drives me crazy. My best friend has been telling me for a few years to stop looking for a job in the library field and to look elsewhere. I’ve fought against this for as long as she’s suggested it. But you know what? It might just be my best choice (see #5 below for more on this).

Sometimes, the people we love and who know us best will tell us not what we want to hear, but what we need to hear. And sometimes it’s not pretty. So anytime you find yourself getting defensive at criticism or advice that goes contrary to your desires, take a deep breath. Listen (really listen) and digest what’s being said. Then, rationally think about the merits of what you’ve heard. You might not be able to be rational right away, and that’s fine. But any advice can help you, even if it just makes you surer of what you want and how you want to get there. 

5. Look outside librarianship.

I know, this isn’t something you want to hear. It’s not something I want to hear. Still, looking outside the field might be necessary, or perhaps even a good choice. When I went to ALA 2011 in New Orleans I made a point to speak with as many people as I could (see #2 above). One thing that honestly surprised me were the amount of people established in the library field who started in other fields after their MLS. They all found a niche and related their outside experience to librarianship in some way.

By now you probably know that life is strange and doesn’t necessarily follow a straight path. Don’t fear leaving librarianship to start your career. The experience you gained during your degree program will serve you well in so many areas, so you won’t be wasting it. I’ve said it many times before (and I’ll likely have to repeat myself many more times): librarians do not lord over books; we organize and provide access to information in a variety of forms. Wherever there’s information, librarians will be needed. Need some ideas for where to start? Look at the sidebar on INALJ. Naomi has provided a bunch of alternative search terms for job titles. Do some research, see what jobs like these entail. Think outside the box and find the perfect job for you right now, don’t wait for that job to find you.

6. Get a hobby.

I’m from Long Island. I have an Irish-Catholic mother. My father’s mother wasn’t Jewish but spoke some Yiddish due to where she grew up and where she raised a family. I mention this so you can understand the culture of guilt that hangs over my head. If I’m doing anything pleasant but could be doing something productive, I feel horrible. Problem is, there’s always something more I could be doing for my job search.

This is a problem. 

I’m sure you’ve been burnt out before. Job searching during all of your free-time is a special kind of burnt out, because you never feel like you’ve made any headway. Seriously, I stopped reading because of it. Stopped. Reading. Do you know what that does to me? I become a horrible person.

So, when I feel myself becoming a grouch I take a step back. Have I been doing anything extracurricular? Job searching or working to the exclusion of anything else? Usually I have, and I need to rectify that. So, I started a book club blog. I make sure to read. I make sure to stay physically active, because that makes a world of difference. My suggestion here is to find something you enjoy and do it. Don’t worry that it’s taking time away from your job search or from other “obligations”. This is for your mental health. Go for a walk, listen to a book on tape, form a double-dutch group, paint pictures of hamsters or anthropomorphic shrubbery. Whatever fits your fancy. You have to find something you can look forward to doing or else you’ll dread everything. 

7. Don’t lose hope.

I fight this constantly. Over five years of job searching will do that to you. It’s so easy to get all gloom-and-doom when you’re not finding anything, or not getting any interviews, or not landing the job. It messes with your mind.

Take a deep breath

Looking outside librarianship is not giving up or losing hope, it’s not settling for a sub-par position that’s beneath you and won’t help you grow (although sometimes a sub-par position will help you get to where you want to go, in which case it’s a win). When you give up hope, however, you’re not looking to grow or better yourself; you’re just giving up. FIGHT AGAINST THIS. Seriously, fight! Get that hobby, surround yourself by supportive people, find people in similar situations on LinkedIn. If all else fails, send me an email and I’ll talk you out of your tree. It’s fine to be in a funk for a short while, but for a short while. Job searching is depressing, but you will find work and you will excel. Trust in that.


 I hope this helps! Feel free to drop me a line with questions or blog posts you’d like to see in the future. I may expand upon some of these ideas in future blog posts, so let me know if there are any you found really compelling.

Naomi House

Naomi House, MLIS, is the founder and publisher of the popular webzine and jobs list INALJ.com (formerly I Need a Library Job) and former CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) of T160K.org, 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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