ALA pre-conference: Careers in Federal Libraries

By Robert Compton

The 2009 ALA pre-conference called Careers in Federal Libraries held in Chicago was a rather enlightening experience. Federal Librarians and Information professionals shared their knowledge about federal librarianship with over 300+ library students and job seekers. Presenters discussed what they do as federal librarians and gave excellent tips about mentoring, resumes, interviews, scholarships, awards, internships, practicums, and fellowships to help the attendees pursue and to help achieve their goal of becoming federal librarians.

I went both as a volunteer and as a library science graduate student wanting to learn more about what it would take to become a federal librarian. As a volunteer I was able to see some of the behind the scenes work of what it takes to run a library conference. It was interesting to see how many people were involved to have the conference run smoothly. As someone who has done and thoroughly enjoyed library event planning, I thought it would have been cool to see or be involved in the actual planning of the conference. As a volunteer, I got to meet and talk with a number of other volunteers from Dominican. It was interesting to hear where the various students are in school and if they knew what they wanted to do after graduating. Many of the students that I talked to really had not made up their minds about what type of librarianship they wanted to pursue.

As a library grad student, I learned much from the conference. In the past I have looked and occasionally applied for employment on USA Jobs but I was amazed about how much I did not know about the hiring process. I had no idea what it actually takes to get employed by the federal government. It was intriguing to hear that some of the jobs could take up to two years before officially getting hired. The Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group was one of the resources discussed as a part of helping the attendees. The Google group has mentoring, resume reviews, Q&A with federal librarians, and the opportunity to gain field experiences among other things. The Google Group website is

As someone who is very interested in becoming a Health Sciences Librarian, I was particularly interested in hearing what Kathel Dunn, the Associate Fellowship Coordinator at the National Library of Medicine, had to say about medical librarianship and the National Library of Medicine. The information she provided during her talk was quite informative. It gave me some places that I could start looking to pursue my goals and learn more about the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health. I talked with her after the conference, and she was very supportive and encouraging about looking into being a federal librarian at the National Library of Medicine. She gave me a number of suggestions and places to search in my pursuit of becoming a Health Sciences Librarian.

I also briefly talked to the emcee, Roberta Shaffer, after the conference about the Library of Congress and about my particular focus within Health Sciences Librarianship. As soon as I told her about my education and passions in history and the Asian healing arts, she immediately suggested that I look into being an embedded librarian at the National Institutes of Health Library. I had to ask what an embedded librarian was because I had never heard the term. After she explained it, I was surprised to say the least. I have been trying to figure out how to combine my education and passions with library work. The suggestion she made was the first time I saw a real possibility that my goal could be achievable.

The speaker I enjoyed the most was Blane Dessy. After a long day of hearing and learning much about various aspects of federal librarianship, his humor was greatly appreciated. I wanted to talk to him briefly after the conference, but I did not get a chance. I wanted to thank him for the information he presented and for his humor.

The 2009 ALA Careers in Federal Libraries was sponsored by the ALA Federal and Armed Forces Libraries Round Table (FAFLRT and a number of other groups that should be thanked for their time and effort to support in this conference. It is much appreciated.

The conference was definitely a good investment of my time. I got to meet and learn from a variety of people. The information presented at the conference taught me quite a bit I just did not know. I would say that the biggest thing the conference did for me was to show me that it is time to wholeheartedly pursue a career as a Health Sciences Librarian.