or, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Fear and Loathing at a Public Library Reference Desk

Networking Tips for New Librarians

   September 12th, 2012

Hello my name is EXPERT badgeI thought this fit nicely with the job ad post from last week. A little while ago, a reader emailed me with this question:

I'm a recent MLIS graduate, and just moved to a new state. I was wondering if you could give me some job hunting tips? It's such a specific area, and well... there are really no jobs available that I'm qualified for (manager, coordinator, etc). How do I start the hunt and get my name out there? Do I visit libraries and drop off a resume? I know networking is huge in the library wold, I just don't know how to start.

I am certainly no expert, but I did come up with some ideas:

  • definitely find your state's online job boards and watch those. Also, if you're in a region or consortium or something, get signed up for their email listservs, as jobs are often posted on those too
  • I don't think it's a bad idea to drop your resume off to local libraries, but most of them probably can't hire anyone until there is an opening - so a lot of it might be a waiting game. But introducing yourself, telling them what you're interested in, certainly can't hurt - so long as you know there's not much they can do until a position opens up
  • Sometimes libraries will hire you just as a sub, and will call when they need someone to fill in for the regular staff. It's not steady in the least, but is a way to get your foot in the door and build your reputation
  • In the meantime, I would highly suggest volunteering at libraries - it's a good way to meet people and show them what you can do, as well as stay involved in the field. Volunteers are kind of a double-edged sword for libraries - on the one hand it's free labor which is great, but on the other hand it usually takes twice (or more) as much work to supervise volunteers as it does staff. So sometimes, libraries are reluctant to take on new volunteers (or just might not have anything for you to do), but it's good to let them know you can handle more sophisticated special projects (leading a book group or storytime, recataloging a section, working on the website) - but shelf-reading is always beneficial too
    • You can also suggest projects more in the community than in the library - like setting up a community events calendar, volunteer opportunities website, community Facebook page, local information wiki, or something like that - a role the library can play in the community, but might not already be doing. Just make sure something like this is sustainable after you leave, otherwise they might be reluctant to start it
    • Another volunteer opportunity is with other local groups doing things similar to the library - the local historical society, town hall, museum, whatever - if you can volunteer there and spin that into some kind of liaison-with-the-library or library-related project, it could bring you into contact with the right people. Also, push yourself outside your comfort zone - if you're a public librarian, remember to look at school libraries, universities, special libraries, corporate libraries, etc, for volunteer opportunities
  • Part-time or assistant jobs aren't bad while you're waiting for something more permanent to open up. Be honest with them in that you're looking for more, because it can be a pain to hire someone, train them, and then they leave a few months later for a better job
  • If you can, go to regional or national library conferences. Probably the more local the better when it comes to networking, and they'll also be cheaper too
  • Check out what the state library offers as far as training classes, and if you have any special skills (like really good with WordPress or Facebook or something), offer to give classes of your own (either to local libraries or through the state, or at the library for patrons to attend)
  • You could also always try to become a library trustee - that could be interesting

Taking that first step is tough. If anyone has any advice I missed, please post in the comments - thanks. And good luck to all the job seekers out there.

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9 Responses to “Networking Tips for New Librarians”

  1. Swiss Army Librarian Fan Says:

    Hi Brian,
    I’m a big fan of yours ! I’m always eager to read your posts ! It is so inspiring to see how much passion you have for our profession, and how we can help our patrons by staying open minded and adventurous librarians as you are !

    In regards to today’s post, I was wondering if LinkedIn wouldn’t be a good tip…? I personnaly have never gotten a job through LinkedIn, but I thought I’d mention it.
    What do you think ? Can LinkedIn be helpful for librarians ?

    Greetings from Switzerland !

  2. Cheryl Says:

    For getting a job in a public library I found that subbing was a great way to meet other librarians, gain experience, and get my foot in many doors. I had to work as a sub for two years after grad school before I was finally hired in a permanent position, and towards the end I was subbing at five different libraries! But the hectic schedule paid off because the reason I got that permanent position was because I had been subbing for the library and they knew me and my work. Plus that particular recruitment was in-house only, so I wouldn’t have even been able to apply for it if not for the subbing gig I had with them.

  3. Winifred Flint Says:

    I seriously don’t have time to even be reading Brian’s blog (my secret pleasure!) let alone comment but I have to add my two cents – I totally empathize with the newbie’s plight. Very briefly:
    1) if the library has a union, there can be issues with having volunteer MLSs …the town can say “if we can get it for free – we must not need all the current staff”…but I think you can get around this if you are offering something that no-one on staff knows how to do.
    2) as head of circ I deal with all the volunteer stuff and I can totally back up Brian about the volunteer needing extra supervison and we are *really* *really* pressed for time. So if you could come in and really make my life easier I would be all ears.
    3) from personal experience I know that some libraries are loathe to hire a part-time MLS becasue they think the hire will jump ship as soon as a full time job comes up
    4) we are always looking for program ideas – monthly events that appeal to that community that happen at the libraries – like author talks etc. libraries have a program budget for this. We of course prefer free…is there something you could talk about/ train that would appeal to the community? Look at a multitude of library websites to get an idea of the offerings
    5) there are now websites that allow people to volunteer via online – if you can’t volunteer in person but still want to contribute. look into this
    6) digitization is a hot thing now – we have on our back burner putting oral histories online – but just don’t have the time or mental bandwidth – i bet we are not the only library in that scenario..
    7) Some of this may sound tough – but knowing the real deal will make you smarter in your job search – and I know you must be smart because you had the brains to ask Brian Herzong advice. Good Luck!

  4. Brian Herzog Says:

    @SAL Fan: thank you very much – you and @Winifred make me blush. As for LinkedIn though, I really don’t know. The only thing I ever, ever do with it is approve connection requests. I never go on otherwise, although I do hear that people use it for job hunting. I think any networking opportunity has potential, but I personally wouldn’t know where to start there.

    @Cheryl: I’m happy to hear it worked out – it does seem like a great path to a full-time job, but very hectic in the meantime.

    @Winifred: great tips. My library is unionized, and our rule for #1 is just that we can’t have volunteers doing work that paid staff also does. So, we could have MLS volunteers, they just couldn’t do anything staff is already doing. I’m sure that varies though, so it’s good to keep in mind. And thanks again for the very kind words – it’s always nice to hear.

  5. Courtney Young Says:

    ALA’s New Members Round Table hosted their Annual Program online: Professional Networking for New Librarians. There were lots of great networking tips. You can view the Adobe Connect recording of the session: http://connect.ala.org/node/175167

  6. Graham Lavender Says:

    Glad you could make use of my photo!

    Here’s my job hunting advice: use your existing connections to get introduced to a librarian in town, and invite that person out for coffee/lunch/drinks. (If you can’t use your connections, just track down someone who looks interesting online and send them a message). Then ask them to put you in touch with two other local professionals, and repeat the process with these new contacts. You’ll probably have some fascinating conversations, while also getting your name out there, so the next time there’s an opening they’ll think of you. This is what I did recently, and it worked for me.

  7. Brian Herzog Says:

    @Graham: I like this photo a lot – thank you for using the CC license, and how perfect that you’re a recently-hired librarian, too. As for your method of networking though, to my anti-social self it sounds more brutal than subbing simultaneously at five libraries. But congratulations – Teaching and Learning Librarian sounds interesting.

  8. Elizabeth Says:

    I got my foot in the door through volunteering. Some of the best advice I got was to be sure to get paid work in libraries while I was in library school. I feel that otherwise I may be without a job. The practical experience is so important–otherwise employers may be reluctant to take a chance on you (despite a solid work history outside the profession).

  9. Amy Says:

    The article on page 3 of this newsletter has some great networking tips for librarians getting started in a new state. http://www.simmons.edu/gslis/docs/February_IL_2.22.12_FINAL.pdf