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


Networking Tips for New Librarians

   September 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog

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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Using The Tools At Hand

   July 15th, 2008 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Volunteers logoA project we've been kicking around at my library for a long time is creating some kind of town-wide centralized volunteer listing. The library is a natural place for such a resource, but it's a big project.

To fill this need, we just launched ChelmsfordVolunteers.org. The end product was not really the goal we set out with - and I don't think it's the last version of the resource, either.

Originally, we wanted a tool that would list groups in the area that need volunteers, and also a calendar of upcoming events with volunteer opportunities. We also wanted the local organizations to be able to update their listing and event information themselves, without any library staff intervention.

As part of a grant, a local high school student explored a few different software options. We started with a WordPress version, then a Drupal version, then a WebCalendar version, but we kept running into the same problem: the tool did either the database part well, or the events calendar part well, but not both. Each solution also had other pros and cons, which is why we kept looking at different options.

The current iteration of volunteer listing actually uses two existing tools, which are combined under one domain name (chelmsfordvolunteers.org). From a single web page, we link to each tool, but tried to make it look like it was all integrated together.

The two tools are the Community Information database, which is run by the consortium and is (supposed to) list all non-profit groups in all communities of the consortium. I edited the records of the Chelmsford organizations to make sure they all had a reference to "volunteers," and these records provide all the contact information for the groups.

The other tool is the Calcium Calendar from Brown Bear. The library has been using this as our main events calendar for years, so it was easy to set up another one just for volunteer events.

Between these two tools, we've got both an events listing and an organizations database, although they are not connected. Using Comm Info is nice in that we don't need to maintain two records for each organizations, but we are limited at the same time to only non-profit groups - which excludes some hospitals and other businesses that offer volunteer opportunities.

Another drawback of the current setup is that the organizations do not have direct access to update their information and events. We set up two web forms to handle submissions and updates, but it's an extra layer and more of a hassle for everyone involved than it needs to be.

But it works, and it's better than nothing until we find the ideal solution. So if anyone knows of a tool that will fill this need, or another library doing something similar, I would appreciate hearing about it.



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Building a Bridge

   April 29th, 2007 Brian Herzog

Chelmsford Conservation Commission trail markerWhen I'm not at the library, I volunteer as a land steward with the Chelmsford Open Spaces Stewardship program. We build and maintain trails on the public lands managed by the Chelmsford Conservation Commission.

Mostly the work is small clean-up projects and just keeping the trails clear of debris. But this morning, we actually built a bridge (see photos).

Over the winter, a new green trail (indicated by the color of the letters on the trail marker signs like the one in the photo) was built at the Lime Quarry. The last step was to build a bridge to span a small stream, so a bunch of us met at 9am on a Sunday morning.

After all the materials were carried the half-mile from the parking area to the stream, it only took us about an hour to actually build the bridge. There ended up being 12 volunteers for maybe a four-person job, but between the extra help and having all the wood pre-cut, the job was a breeze.

If anyone is in Chelmsford and would like to walk these trails, let me know. Or, look around in your own communities for trails and parks, either maintained by the town or city department or by private or volunteer groups. Help maintain and preserve these public lands if you can, but by all means, go out and enjoy them.

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