Keeping your library skills cultivated outside of the library

by Clayton Hayes, Senior Assistant, INALJ North Dakota

Keeping your library skills cultivated outside of the library

clayton.hayesThe job search can be a long and drawn-out process, and for many it begins as soon as they settle into a new position. A large part of the job search process is identifying and maintaining important professional skills. For many of us, though, our current positions may not be the exact position we’d like to be in. It may be close and there may be some overlap, but it is not perfect. The security of having a position is, of course, more important than waiting around for the perfect job. What is to be done, then, when developing and maintaining professional skills for that perfect job is so important?

There are some obvious options, such as training sessions or courses offered both online and in person. Subscribing to relevant listservs, blogs, and newsletters can also keep you up-to-date on new developments and opportunities in the profession. There will always be volunteer positions, true, but all the skills in the world aren’t going to help you if you don’t have any job at all. In the end, nothing quite compares to hands-on professional experience.

One of the great things about being a librarian is that your skill set can be applied pretty widely. It therefore stands to reason that it should be possible to make connections between jobs in other professions and library-related ones. As I mentioned above, the perfect position doesn’t come around every day. Sometimes it can be hard to find a not-so-perfect position, in fact. As a result, many librarians are going to spend some time working in positions outside of the field. That does not mean that they can’t cultivate their librarian skills in those positions, however.

Let’s look at a few examples:

Customer services positions, some of the most common positions available, afford a lot of opportunities to develop library-related skills. Aside from the obvious (dealing with the public in a professional context), many such positions allow you to practice your reference interviewing skills on a fairly regular basis. Each time a customer or patron asks you a question, no matter how simple, you always have the opportunity to reflect on the interaction and critically analyze the part that you played in the process. Similarly, phone calls are great opportunities to practice your virtual reference skills.

Technology is another area in which there may be significant overlap between a non-library position and the library position of your dreams. Obviously, library-specific software may be hard to come by outside of the profession, but there are many different types of software that are used in many different types of positions. Identifying which technologies in your current position are likely to be employed in the library field, or which feature similar skills and thought processes, can go a long way in keeping your technological expertise from getting rusty.

The point being that these sorts of opportunities are out there. It is not hard to imagine working in a non-library job for a spell while open library positions are a bit thin on the ground. Taking a non-library position doesn’t mean you can’t cultivate library-centric skills, though. No one is going to force you to make connections between your position and potential library positions. No one is going to spell those connections out for you. Like so much else in the world of librarianship, it’s just something you need to keep up on.