NMRT Annual Program: Using Past Lives to Launch Your Library Career

By Holly Wilson

This year's NMRT Annual Program brought a panel of librarians together to discuss their diverse work backgrounds. Each panelist discussed their previous jobs and gave advice as to how one could transfer the skill set from a seemingly different scenario to obtain employment in the library field. This was a popular panel and the small room was full to capacity. Discussion was animated and insightful and concluded with the audience addressing questions to the panel.

Below is a snapshot of the advice given by each panelist:

Aaron Dobbs, Systems Librarian at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania, has had an interesting career path. His previous positions include truck driver, bouncer, and working in different types of libraries. Currently an academic librarian, he cited map reading, customer service skills and an ability to relate to people as key concepts that have carried him to his current livelihood.

Liorah Golomb, Humanities Librarian, Assistant Professor at Wichita State University in Kansas, considers herself a professional student, in addition to that, she has worked as a legal secretary and interned at New York Public Library's research library. Her biggest piece of advice: LIS degrees don't go stale-there are many ways to apply the skills and theories learned in library school to a number of areas and professions.

Maureen Barry, Librarian for First Year and Distance Learning Students at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, began her career in sports marketing. After realizing it was not quite the right place for her to be; her cousin, also a librarian, recruited her into librarianship. Two of the most prevalent skills on her resume are marketing and customer service. She discussed "relationship marketing" which involves reaching out and building relationships. Since libraries are social places, being able to build relationships is a highly desired skill. She advised to always have cover letters and resumes reviewed before you send them out. It never hurts to have a friend or colleague take a quick look to check for typos or other issues.

Bruce Stoffel, Education, Psychology, and TMC Division Librarian at Illinois State University, has worked in city planning, community organizing and public administration. He was geographically tied to a specific area, so that narrowed his options. He understands the importance of presenting his skill set on paper to guarantee better success at getting interviews. Now he has experience in supervision, management, and has served on several search committees. Some of the skills he highlights from his experience include the ability to work well in teams and groups, delivering presentations, budgeting and planning as well as assessment and surveys.

As a result of his experience on search committees, he offers the advice to not assume interviewers understand your past jobs, take the time to explain what you have done and how it applies to the position advertised. Illustrate your experience in the cover letter and try to incorporate the language of the institution (use phrases and words from the job posting in your cover letter and resume where applicable). Always look for personal connections in an institution and be prepared for the fairly standard question: "why did you become a librarian?"

Alanna Aiko Moore is the Sociology, Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies Librarian at University of California, San Diego. She has been a librarian for less than three years; her past experiences have taken her to Chicago and New York, among other places. Some of her past work experience was working for Dole, where her mother and grandmother both worked in the past. She has a number of years waiting tables, which translates well into customer service skills when job seeking. While employed as an administrative assistant for an environmental non-profit, she gained experience in development and community organizing. She also co-directed an organization working with women and children exiting domestic violence situations. While this position exposed her to diverse populations with a variety of viewpoints, the stress of it eventually led to burnout.

She secured an internship at ALA Office for International Relations and advises newcomers to the profession to maintain the connections you make along the way. Find a mentor, too-sometimes they appear when you least expect it. She met the person who became her mentor on one of the ALA conference shuttle buses; so don't be afraid to take the initiative and start a conversation. When preparing for a job search, take a self-inventory and pay attention to how you view yourself and ask others to describe the qualities they see in you too. Focus on your personal uniqueness and determine how you can fit into the organization. As odd as it may seem, remember to smile during phone interviews - it does show through. Also, have some stories prepared about your past experiences so that you have examples readily available on interviews. Look at your past accomplishments to build your resume. Also, when interviewing, if you have tangible evidence of your work, (i.e. brochures or handouts) bring them along to show your interviewers.

All in all, this panel was very well received and the panelists did a terrific job inspiring the audience members with ideas and concepts they may not have considered.