By Harold Rougeux, INALJ Alaska Assistant
What I’ve gained from working as a temp librarian
After what seemed like an endless string of applications and interviews, I finally had a solid job offer on the table. It had come kind of unexpectedly. I had just finished doing a short online presentation as part of the interview, and the Library Director (my current boss) offered me the job on the spot. My mom was in the next room, not actually listening in on the conversation, but not avoiding it either. Though I could not see her, I suspect she downed the last glass of her good local wine in celebration. The only problem was that the job was temporary, in another state, some six hundred miles away. It was a huge change to contemplate, especially for something that wasn’t full-time. But I’d had a rough year. I’d been working in a library in Alaska, but I had chosen not to renew my contract there following my father’s death. I know we all have personal challenges and tragedies to deal with, but it had taken me a long time to deal with that and the job search dragging on and on hadn’t helped. If anyone ever needed a change, I was that person. So I accepted the job and bought a one-way ticket. Looking back, I think I made the right call.
To date, my time as a temp librarian may be one of the most beneficial gambles I’ve ever taken. If you’ve avoided applying for temp jobs because you think they are a waste of time, I’m about to try to convince you that you need to rethink that strategy.
Quick and (relatively) painless
In my case, getting hired for a temporary librarian job was rather quick and painless compared to the full-time position I’d held in Alaska. In place of a large search committee, the library director and the senior reference librarian were simply screening applications and immediately contacting qualified candidates for first round interviews. The candidates chosen from that were interviewed a second time approximately a week later. The interview process was still professional, but the time frame was much shorter and I went from entirely unemployed to being back in the workforce in less than two weeks. Based on another screening for a temporary position I had gone through, I think this is somewhat common. Hiring for short-term employment seems to occasionally be left to the discretion of a few key staff, so depending on the impression you make in the interview, you could be hired pretty quickly. Make sure you know where your suitcase is… you might need it next week.
Not just about the money
In terms of the actual job, my position is turning out to be a gold mine of professional experience. Due to some restructuring, I am responsible for overseeing weekly serials reports, verifying that they are correct with several campuses, and submitting claims for missing items. In addition to the actual tasks associated with this, I have also learned the necessity of standing up for my library and negotiating a fair solution with our vendor when I feel that’s what needs to happen. Finally, I have gained experience in collaborating with professors and teaching information literacy classes. I had never taught before, so this position has revealed my strengths as an educator and has also identified some areas that I need to work on improving. Assisting a wide range of students and staff with different research needs has also instilled confidence in my abilities as a librarian. Had I not taken this job, I likely would not have had these opportunities.
New professional and personal experiences
Movies about undead mummies aside, librarians are not usually stereotyped as being particularly adventurous. I feel that portrayal is unfair, and a temp job can give you the chance to help me prove it. You could end up virtually anywhere. During my job search, I have seen short-term librarian contracts in Colorado, Alaska, South Carolina, California, and several foreign nations. If you have a burning desire to go experience something different, a temporary librarian job could enable you to do that. In addition, it can also provide a great chance to learn some unwritten rules. A lot of being a librarian does not revolve around what you learn in grad school. I cannot speak for all libraries, but I have learned a lot about the relationships between different departments on campus, about interacting with and supporting other library staff, and even about “choosing your battles.” This type of workplace diplomacy will undoubtedly be of use to us in every position we hold from now until retirement.
“Do the right thing or do the wrong thing, but (expletives deleted), do something!”
Applying for and accepting a temp job helped me “get off the X” and regain some forward momentum. I’ll be the first to tell you that making progress in your career, even if it isn’t perfect progress, is definitely preferable to the alternative of being stuck and frustrated. Along those lines, an old drill sergeant back at Fort Leonard Wood once gave me the following advice: “When in doubt, do the right thing or do the wrong thing, but (expletives deleted), do something!” Even if you have never been in the Army, that is great advice! As I’ve already explained, a temporary job is an achievable “something” for an entry-level librarian. Also, there is a chance that you may take a job, then decide that you are a poor fit for the position or organization. It happens, but at the start of your career, you have to worry how that will look to future employers. A temporary job helps alleviate that stress. If you are not a good fit, all you have to do is finish out your three or six month contract and you can move on with no hard feelings. On the other hand, if you take a job and it becomes apparent that you fit your institution like a glove, you are on much more favorable terms for when a permanent position opens up.
In conclusion, I do realize that temporary jobs may not be a workable solution for everyone. Some people have family commitments or other factors in their lives that limit their mobility. But if you’re anything like me, able to hop a plane to somewhere and light out on an adventure with little more than what you can carry on your back, then you should definitely consider adding a temporary job or two to your weekly job application routine.
Harold Rougeux is an INALJ Assistant for the state of Alaska and currently a First Year Experience Librarian at Horry Georgetown Technical College in Conway, South Carolina. Among other things, he is a die-hard believer in the power of libraries to change lives and a 2012 graduate of Clarion University of Pennsylvania’s MSLS program.