This is an interview with Jada Jones, a Librarian and Project Management Professional currently working in Germany for the US Air Force, done by Naomi House of INALJ. This is part of INALJ’s 2020 series with librarians abroad, focusing on the work they do and how they got their job.
On Being a Military Librarian Overseas :
an INALJ Librarians Abroad Interview with Jada Jones
(with info on how PMP (Project Management Professional) certification can help your job hunt)
Q1: Thanks so much for taking the time to help us better understand what Librarian work abroad is and how LIS folk can find employment opportunities. First could you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you got your MLIS (or your educational background) and what you do?
I received my MLIS at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. After completing my final year of undergrad (History degree) a trusted mentor/professor suggested that I go to library school. Ashamed to say that I, like so many others, didn’t know that librarian positions required Master’s Degrees. I planned to continue on and receive my PhD In History, but knew I didn’t want to teach. When my professor suggested library school, it seemed to make sense and be the perfect fit for what I was looking for. Of course I thought I would go into archives (history related) and even worked in the University Archives at my school. But as we know things rarely turn out as we plan.
Q2: Now can you tell us how you personally found your overseas job? Can you speak a little about how you got PMP certification and what role you think it played in your hiring?
After grad school I quickly found out that librarian jobs were scarce, and the only available positions that I found at the time were in public libraries, which I didn’t want to do at the time. I was lucky enough to find an assistantship position with the Food and Drug Administration (through a contractor, not a federal position), and applied on a whim. The position entailed data management and other “non-traditional” librarian skills, which seemed far more interesting to me than the alternative. So I moved to Washington, D.C. for what I thought would be a temporary, term position. While there (and with the excellent mentorship of a librarian turned department director) I decided to pursue federal jobs with the FDA in particular. I was already working there and had made some contacts, so I began to apply for positions in which I could utilize my librarian skills in a non-traditional way and assist with data management, database creation, organization, etc. Once hired as a full-time fed, I began to seek out opportunities for growth. The FDA offered an amazing program in which selected employees attended an agency funded training program through George Washington University. After the year-long training program was completed, I had earned a graduate certificate in project management. The PMP exam was not a requirement of the certification, but it was encouraged. I decided to take an additional 40 hour crash course and took the exam, which is how I got my PMP certification.
After another year of working at the FDA, I realized that in the three years post graduation, I had never worked as a librarian. I accepted a part time reference position with the county system to gain experience in the field that I knew I would now have to have qualifications above and beyond other applicants if I was going to break back into the library field. I had some things working in my favor (such as already being a federal employee), but I believe that the PMP and project management training was the thing that set me apart from other applicants. It helped that during interviews I was able to articulate how project management is a key attribute for any librarian, especially in a fast paced overseas environment. I got my first overseas job with the Air Force in Okinawa, Japan, and recently started my second overseas position in Germany.
Q3: What do you think makes an LIS worker a strong candidate for hiring managers in this type of job abroad?
The overseas military library jobs are very unique for several reasons. First, most locations only have one credentialed librarian who also acts as the director. Other staff members are either local nationals of the host country, or family members/spouses of military service members stationed at that location. Busier locations may have up to 3 librarians, but this is rare. Because of this, the “roles” of librarians and library staff are generally more blurred. Everyone does everything. There is no cataloging librarian, children’s librarian, teen librarian, acquisitions librarian, etc. My first job was kind of like a crash course in all things librarian. So I would say that the most important skills for a strong librarian candidate in the overseas military libraries are resiliency, flexibility, eagerness to learn, time management, and multi-tasking.
Q4: What is the best way to get your foot in the door or your first overseas job?
The overseas federal jobs are tricky to land. Federal jobs in general are very tough and the applications can be hard to navigate, but overseas jobs have additional preferences to assist with the employment of active duty military family members while overseas. The best advice that I have is to take a workshop in navigating the federal application process (these are offered through USAjobs and elsewhere) so that you can meet all of the qualifications when applying. After that it is somewhat of a numbers game, so applying for as many positions as possible while being open to any location helps.
Q5: Finally what are some of the most important skills / certifications / etc that LIS folk can do to prepare them? Any last tips?
Having a specialty or skill that sets you apart from other candidates helps. If your application makes it to the hiring manager, they then have to determine what makes you different than everyone else with an MLIS. Project management is a great skill but other ideas would be database management, experience in youth programming and outreach, or expertise in a particular subject or historical time period, etc.
Jada Jones is a Librarian and Project Management Professional originally from Toledo, Ohio. She loves to travel and is a foodie, and has lived in over 20 US states and in 4 countries. She currently lives in Germany and works as a Librarian for the US Air Force.
Pronouns: She, her
Views expressed are those of the interviewee and not INALJ or their employer. Photo provided by the interviewee and permission granted to use it for this interview.