Ask a Special Librarian – March Edition

Ask a Special Librarian – March Edition
Tracy Z. Maleeff
Library Resources Manager at Duane Morris LLP in Philadelphia
@LibrarySherpa &


Tracy_Z_MaleeffSpring cleaning time is almost upon us. It’s a good way to clear out some cobwebs, air some things out and just prepare for a new season of your life. Yes, I’m talking about professional life and not your attic. Whether or not you are actually job hunting, freshening up your resume and professional online presence should be a priority for you. Why?

You never know when an opportunity may arise to apply for a new, exciting job. Or, your peers might want to nominate you for an award and will stealthily track down a copy of your most recent resume. You could come across a grant or stipend for a professional conference and need an updated resume to apply. The reasons are almost endless. Update your resume periodically.


Take stock of where you are professionally. Is this where you want to be? Are you doing what you need to be doing to get where you want to go? Sprucing up your resume can help you evaluate where have you been professionally and what skills you have learned thus far. Look up jobs/careers/professions that interest you. Try to figure out how to fill in the blanks of the skills you need to accomplish that goal.

As I wrote in my blog post, Cultivate Your Network Like a Garden, you need to pay attention to your professional network. Check in with your network connections to see how they are doing and offer to help them if she/he is job hunting. (Even if that help is just a sympathetic ear.) Update your LinkedIn profile and join some of their professional discussion groups. Do you use a Twitter account professionally? When was the last time you Tweeted? If you’re not going to maintain your online professional presence, then delete it. An abandoned Twitter account doesn’t impress anybody.

So, do you see what I mean? Doing some clean-up of your professional life is good for you.
“Spring is the time of plans and projects.” ― Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Now, on to a reader question! Pam wrote: I am currently studying for my MLIS and I am taking a course on special libraries. I am interested to hear your thoughts about the differences between working at a public or school library versus a special library.

That’s a very good question, Pam. Unfortunately; I have never worked in either a public or school library. The closest I got to that kind of experience were glorious stints as a volunteer in both types of libraries as I was growing up. So, I brought in some professional reinforcements. I asked a colleague of mine to help give you some insight. But, before I share what she told me, I wanted to give my take on your question.

Don’t forget that the term “special library” can mean many different types of workplaces. (Like, what I wrote about in my very first installment of this column in January. Read that post here.) It’s not different in the sense that we all use our library and information science skills to serve all types of users. Some special librarians aren’t even called “librarians” and technically don’t work in a place called a “library.” That doesn’t make them any less of an information professional. As I wrote in my inaugural article, “What the MLIS does give you, said in Liam Neeson’s voice, is a particular set of skills.” Figure out how you best to apply those skills that you are learning in your degree program. Do you have an aptitude for working with children over working with spreadsheets and databases? It’s a perfect time, while you are still in school, to perform one-day shadowing and informational interviews with library and information science professionals in a variety of fields. If possible, do an internship. If that’s not financially viable, start networking and ask people to tell you about their jobs. Maintain a professional demeanor, of course; don’t ever demand that someone help you. Be gracious and be professional, and the information you want to come to you.

My colleague, INALJ Volunteer Coordinator and Library Journal Associate Editor, Stephanie Sendaula had this information for you:

  • Working hours: Public libraries most often have evening and weekend hours. A school library may be mostly just daytime hours. Other special libraries, namely of the corporate variety, could be a “regular” 9 am – 5 pm sort of job. Every situation is unique, but generally speaking working hours can be a difference between types of libraries.
  • Job availability: She pointed out that, at least in New Jersey, she was hard-pressed to think of school libraries that had more than one full time librarian. Based on that, her intention was to encourage you to feel out the opportunities first.
  • Certification: Stephanie pointed out that some states require certification of school and public librarians, whereas special libraries probably do not have that requirement. (Again, depending on the type of library.) But, for example, a corporate librarian does not need a state certification but may find that additional technical or project management certificates can enhance their job prospects.
  • Instructional element: It was pointed out that school libraries often have an emphasis on instruction, especially the Common Core. Stephanie suggested that you follow @pseudandry on Twitter to get more information about the instructional aspect of school library jobs.
  • Patrons: A school library will only service that specific institution. A public library will, of course, serve the general public. A special librarian could serve a variety of patrons, from within one specific company to the general public to a very small interest group.

I hope you found these answers helpful, Pam. Without knowing which specific special library field that interests you, we can only speak to generalizations. Figure out what your interests are and follow up with some fact finding sessions so that you can find your professional bliss.

That’s all we have for the March installment of Ask a Special Librarian. Send your questions or column topic ideas to me on Twitter @LibrarySherpa or via e-mail at