By Karen Evans
In October of 2008, the economy was grim for the United States and much of the world. In several places employment was scarce; and many with jobs worried about being laid off. How can you become an outstanding candidate in a volatile employment market? What can you do to survive downsizing in your library? Are there steps you can take to help insure your position; or to increase your chances of finding employment in the library field?
Heading Toward Graduation? If you are a graduate student, there are several options available to you to help develop an outstanding resume for your job search. One of the most important steps that you can take is developing experience in a library. Look for an internship in an area of interest; check with your advisor or the graduate school office for information about internships. Consider volunteering at a library; either academic or public. You may not receive academic credit, but you can list the experience on your resume. Don’t forget to ask the internship or volunteer coordinator for a letter of reference.
Another opportunity afforded to you is networking. Internship and volunteer positions are great for networking. Introduce yourself to others in the field. When you attend a presentation or conference, be sure to initiate conversations during the “meet and greet.” Don’t wait for someone to say “hello” to you. Develop relationships with librarians at academic or public libraries. Ask questions about the profession; most of us love to talk about our jobs.
An additional way to network is to become involved in library and community organizations. There are many library organizations, from the local to the international. Think about the type of organization that will best suit your needs -- from personal interests to financial restraints. Contact these organizations (many have websites) and volunteer for committees. Volunteering will give you the chance to be involved in many aspects of an organization, from researching proposals to writing articles to assisting with organizing presentations. Don’t forget to ask committee chairs for a letter of reference.
Read the employment ads for librarians. What are employers looking for? Do you have the skills listed in the job ads? If not, develop the skills. Many academic institutions offer free workshops for students in a variety of technology areas. Some institutions offer free tutorials for download. If there is a public library in the area, check and see what free workshops they offer.
When you have an interview scheduled, take time to get to know the organization. Look at the website for the school and the library. Look for points you can discuss or issues about which you can ask questions. Do a quick check to locate any articles that librarians or staff have written. Try to work one or two articles into your interview. Making knowledgeable comments about the organization shows you have taken the time to learn about the school; this is usually a plus with the committee.
Keeping the Job You Have
Some of the same avenues apply to those that are already employed. You need to network and develop relationships with others in the library field. Become involved with library and community organizations. These are great ways to develop and hone a variety of skills, from leadership to presentation to writing. If the library is short-staffed, consider taking on additional short-term work. Volunteer for an occasional extra duty. If you are asked to perform extra work; try to agree without complaining. BE FLEXIBLE!! Your outlook and willingness to perform extra work can help foster a pleasant work environment; your attitude will probably be noticed.
Consider increasing your skills, from technology to leadership. Are you comfortable with Excel spreadsheets, scanning, USB ports, copyright issues, or merging e-mails? If not, consider learning (or updating) your skills in valuable areas. If you are an academic librarian, are you familiar with WebCT or Blackboard? If you need to update your skills, sign up for workshops or seminars offered by the learning center or the IT office on your campus. Develop your leadership skills by volunteering to lead committees at work or in outside organizations. Check out books on developing or strengthening your skills in leadership areas.
Work on developing programs with little financial cost to your library. Create book readings for holidays or local events; invite local celebrities to read for story time; create displays of books on current topics or featured events in your town. Involve the public; ask for the best (or funniest) picture from their vacation and create a display for patrons to vote for the best photo. Is there a world traveler, an experienced chef, a bird-watching authority in your town? Create a lecture series and ask the local citizens to share their expertise. With a little thought and work (ok, sometimes a lot of work), great programming can be developed for little money.
Although you cannot control the economic situation; you can control your skills and abilities. There are numerous opportunities to enhance or develop your professional talents. Make sure you have the skills to be successful.