The job market sucks, how are you supposed to compete?

Imagine my surprise today when I was catching up on my HR blogs when I see a post from Ask A Manager featuring a question from a recent LIS grad. Of course this is a tired topic on library blogs (I know I’ve talked about it a lot from many different angles), but to see it sort of mainstream? Whoa! Here’s the letter:

I have wanted to be a librarian since my senior year of high school, and I recently graduated with a Master’s degree in Library Science. I knew finding a library job would be difficult because of the economy, but my situation is made worse by my lack of geographical mobility and the fact that I live next to one of the largest library schools in the county. I’ve only been looking for a library job for 4 months, but in that time I’ve had only one interview.

I was recently volunteering in a place where I got to do what is basically my dream job, but I had to stop so that I could find a second part time job (outside of the library field). Sometimes I feel like I should have kept volunteering. My supervisor said that she wished she could have hired me, but that they simply don’t have the funds. Although I love this work, I feel like I would have to sacrifice so much and put my life on hold to even have a shot at getting a paid position. For example, I could have continued volunteering, but then I wouldn’t have been able to work enough to afford moving out of my parents’ house.

I beginning to think that continuing to look for a library job is hopeless and irresponsible. Right now I am working two part time jobs while looking for a librarian position. Do you think I should look for a more permanent full time job outside of the library field? Should I give up on a profession that I love, but which doesn’t seem to have any room for me?

There were a lot of good comments from librarians, but the advice seemed to lack direction or action. (I will comment there after I finish this post.)

What would I say to this librarian? Lots of things. (Seriously, if you stop by my reference desk I will talk your ears off about this topic.)
First of all, keep applying. This is really something I’ve picked up from reading blogs like Ask A Manager and Evil HR Lady. It’s also been a theme on listservs like NEWLIB-L. (OK, that list veers to trollish, but there’s some good stuff there.) I know you’re wanted to be a librarian for a long time (long than me for sure), but that doesn’t mean a job’s going to fall out of the sky for you. Hustle and apply to as many jobs as it takes. Yeah, it’ll be work, but it’ll be worth it.

Speaking of hustle, you need to network. Network online. Network in person. Network with people you want to be your future colleagues. Network with people who might be able to refer you to your future colleagues. One thing that really struck me as odd to be missing from all of the suggestions was professional associations. That’s what some of them are great at – I’m talking SLA. Networking is an effective way to find leads for jobs and to make yourself stand out from the pack applying for jobs. A lot of these associations also have job postings on their sites. Really, join your local SLA chapter, get involved, and network. It will help.

Also, and I think you’ve figured this out, you can’t be completely married to any one type of library right now. I’m not suggesting applying for positions you know you’ll hate if you get them, but expand your options by considering more than just your dream job. Are you interested in cataloging? Look into metadata and digital libraries. Again, let me be the SLA champion, and say that non-traditional jobs might be the way to go. I wish library schools raised awareness of these sorts of career paths, but alas..

I know it’s hard. I know that public libraries are getting slammed financially, as are universities. That’s just the nature of the recession – library services are easier to cut than firefighters. It’s also true that corporate libraries are disappearing, as are libraries at lawfirms. All that said, the information professional jobs are still out there, you just need to be more creative and flexible.

Good luck.

5 thoughts on “The job market sucks, how are you supposed to compete?

  1. I have got to tell you… now is a very depressing time to be entering an MLIS program: all of the conversation has revolved around sales pitches about why LIS is so rewarding, lamenting about the lack of available work, lamenting about the lamenting, and more use of the verb-form of ‘network’ than I ever thought possible. To make matters worse, we’re supposed to hit the blogs to find out about relevant topics in the word of information professionals. Is it just that blogs lack content otherwise, and need to rehash the cynicism, or what?

    I searched for blogs from other graduate programs, and found the exact same advice from all of them. Network! Keep your mind open! Should I go network while doing my MBA instead? I don’t know if I’m passionate about LIS yet… that’s why I’m taking the program. Is that a mistake? If you’re passionate about LIS and you can’t (or won’t) ‘hustle’ and jump through the hoops that everyone seems to be talking about, are you up the creek? So many questions, so little opportunity for relief. Help.

  2. If you want a job, go into computer science. All of the LIS jobs basically require CS skills. They will say you can be an information architect, but not unless you did some serious CS work in LIBE school.

  3. I am also interested in this field (I’ve already applied to a school but it doesn’t start until Fall, so I still have time to make up my mind). I have been skeptical about it and these posts confirm some of my doubts. You mentioned metadata, digital libraries, database management, etc. I am actually very interested in those fields. Do you know of any specific places that would hire for that sort of thing? I’m thinking something like a JSTOR. Do you think a general MLIS would prepare me for those fields or would I need to get a Database Management concentration, something to that effect?

  4. Lots of places want people who can handle metadata, digital libraries, database management. JSTOR and other vendors are just a small slice. Academic libraries, public libraries, special and corporate libraries – all of them need people with these skills. I can’t speak to whether or not you need a database management concentration, but if you are interested in those areas you definitely need to make sure you take classes and work on projects that will help you learn and develop those skills. Lots of programs have programs that offer these kinds of courses, you just need to make sure you take advantage of them. Also, keep an open mind as to how you can use those skills in the real world so to speak. Lots of things are digital libraries, though they might not be called that.

  5. hi – is it just me !! can any one explain why when i type in the firefox browser “libraryattack.com” i get a different site yet whe i type it in google its ok? could this be a bug in my system or is any one else having same probs ?
    sadensy

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