Career Strategies for Librarians
In Library School or Job Hunting? Tips to Build Up Your Professional Career
by Lisa Chow and Sandra Sajonas
It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. How can a new librarian hope to compete with more experienced
counterparts? Like us, you have probably discovered that library school does not fully prepare you for the
post-graduation job hunt. You have probably found that entry level library jobs are far and few between.
How does a new librarian get a foot in the door?
Don’t despair. Whether you're in library school or job hunting, listen in on our “conversation” to learn five
tips to build up your professional LIS career.
It's All About People
1. Find a mentor (or two).
Lisa Chow (LC) - Find a mentor through a mentoring program. I have both informal and formal mentors.
We share our experiences and ideas and we learn from each other. Mentoring is definitely a two-way
street. Basically, it's all about people; connect with the people you meet, the people you sit in class with,
and the people with whom you work.
Sandra Sajonas (SS) – It’s all about networking, networking, networking. Networking can feel awkward,
but embrace it and go introduce yourself. I recently contacted a former employee in my library and we
met for coffee. She had great career tips and words of encouragement for me. Also, don't forget that you
too can be a mentor, no matter your age or your experience or your time spent in the profession.
LC - Yes, it definitely feels awkward to talk to someone you don't know. Sometimes it helps to have an
introduction. You can also buddy up with a colleague and go to networking events together.
2. Find colleagues to discuss ideas.
LC - Find professional colleagues to talk and share with. These people could be your mentors,
colleagues or classmates.
SS - Just talking can actually lead to some great and innovative ideas. For example, one day a colleague
came to me at the reference desk and asked if I had any ideas for a PLA 2012 proposal. I didn't at first,
but the more we talked the more ideas we came up with and now we are going to submit a proposal.
3. Get to know your fellow library students.
SS - Getting to know your classmates is beneficial for everyone involved. You and your classmates are
not all going to end up in the same library or even the same type of library or even the same city. Having
friends in different libraries keeps you abreast of trends in the profession. Just the other day I met some
former classmates for coffee and it pulled me out of the public library world and into law, finance,
librarianship, music, copyright issues and taxonomy, things I don’t encounter in my regular day–to-day
LC - I've found that there are many similar topics and issues that affect all types of libraries, so it's
interesting to hear about other areas and see how it could apply to my work.
Get Your Name Out There
1. Publish, publish, publish … no matter how small.
LC – Write and get published,whether you’re writing articles, in your library school newsletter, or in your
own blog. Get your thoughts and ideas out there.
SS - Initially, it may be helpful to publish together with someone else. Publishing is a great professional
booster and resume builder.
LC - And I have to say.it's great to see your name "in print".
2. Update your resume regularly.
LC - Always have your resume up to date. You never know when a great opportunity will turn up.
SS - Update your resume every year. A lot happens in one year and updating your resume regularly
saves work later on. Also, make a "master resume" that includes everything. That way, later on you can
pull what you need from the master resume to create a job-specific, tailored resume.
3. Have a web presence and utilize LinkedIn.
LC - Use LinkedIn. I recommend it as a great way to enhance your professional network, keep in touch
with your contacts, and connect with people with similar professional interests. It's also another place to
search for jobs, and you can follow companies and organizations that are of interest to you. After a
conference, I go through the business cards of people that I've met and I search for them on LinkedIn.
I've found that it's a good way to keep track of my contacts. It's like a virtual rolodex. Using LinkedIn gives
you a web presence. You could also consider an online portfolio.
SS - The internet is a wonderful tool for self-promotion and LinkedIn is a sure way to get your name in
Google (because let's be honest, we've all Googled ourselves and so will potential employers). Also,
having a web presence is easy and cheap self-promotion and it allows you to create an online
4. Find opportunities to present your projects at conferences (poster sessions, ALA Grassroots, ALA
LC - Have you recently completed a project for class or work and would now like to share it with the wider
LIS community? Be on the lookout for a call for proposals. Even if your proposal doesn't get accepted, it's
good experience and might be a good starting point as a draft for a future article. Plus, it gets your name
out there and shows that you're active in the profession.
SS - Many conferences have special sessions for students or new librarians to present papers. This is
a good starting point. Also, the more you submit proposals the more you learn and refine the process.
Eventually you will get to the magic formula of a great proposal/grant etc.
Participate and Get Involved
1. Get involved with library associations and groups (national, local, student chapters, etc.)
LC - Get involved any way you can. My experience as webmaster for the Pratt student chapter of SLA was
a great learning experience, not to mention a networking opportunity with those group events and
SS - Take advantage of student membership rates. Some associations let you continue at the student
rate even after graduation. If you are not a member of a professional group, you may still be able to
attend some of their events as a student. Attend events and introduce yourself to people. A great way to
be more involved with library associations is to volunteer for a committee. Usually ALA will put out a call
for committee volunteers, which can be a perfect opportunity to participate.
2. Attend cheap/free local librarian events (METRO, SLA-NY, Meetup group, Desk Set, unconferences.)
LC - Unconferences are some of the best events that I've attended. They are usually local and low cost
(sometimes free). My first unconference was LibraryCampNYC in 2007 at Baruch College; since then,
I've attended three other unconferences and organized two. If you're in the NYC area, be sure to also
check out METRO's Annual Meeting which usually takes place in October. There's usually a guest
speaker and a closing networking reception - a great way to meet colleagues in the NYC area.
SS - There are tons of informal library groups holding events that you can attend or you can even create
your own professional development event. Also, local libraries often hold professional development
events and trainings for staff which are sometimes open to outsiders, so be sure to inquire if you’re
3. Apply for various library programs & initiatives (ARL Diversity Scholars, ALA Emerging Leaders,
ALA Spectrum Scholars, etc.)
LC - There are a lot of library programs and initiatives out there,. Many are for incoming or current
students, while others are for graduates. I've participated in ARL Diversity Scholars (for students) and
ALA Emerging Leaders (for recent graduates).
SS - Some of these programs and initiatives require nominations or recommendations. Don’t be shy;
ask someone to nominate you. There are also programs and fellowships that exist outside of the
traditional library world. For example, Fulbright has programs for information professionals and library
4. Keep up with library land (listservs, blogs, library association websites.)
LC - There are numerous associations and groups out there. Find some of interest and subscribe to
their listservs, RSS feeds, etc.
SS - I lurk on many listservs and email groups. Make sure you are on your library school's discussion
list. Two years after graduating, I'm still on my library school's list because so much information comes
out on it. If you don't want to get an email everytime someone responds to the listserv, subscribe in
digest form. Also, some local libraries get library-related publications for their staff that may be available
to the public.
5. Attend national and local conferences (student rates, travel stipends, scholarships, etc.)
LC - If you're a student, take advantage of the student rates for membership and conference registration
fees. Conferences are good opportunities for networking.
SS - Many associations offer grants or awards to library students interested in attending their first
conference. You can also see if you can attend as a representative for your school or job to by
volunteering to work an informational table at the exhibits. Many conferences also offer separate and
cheaper fees for the exhibit halls only.
LC - Don’t forget to apply for stipends and scholarships. My first library conference attendance was
funded by a conference scholarship. I've also received partial or full stipends to attend many other library
conferences. It takes a little bit of time and effort to work on the applications, but it's worth it.
Don't Just Think Outside the Box … Act
1. Propose ideas, start projects and see what happens.
LC - If you have an idea, run with it. In my experience, it has been easier to apologize than to ask for
SS - My mantra is more action, less talk. Take Google for example. They are constantly running beta
programs, like Google Wave. They attempted it, then pulled the plug when it was unsuccessful.
LC - In many cases, you can fine-tune as you go along.
2. Tell people you're a library student and set up informational meetings.
LC - Even if you are done with school, there's no reason why you can't still set up informational meetings.
If you are interested in a particular topic or library, go ahead and contact them for a chat or tour.
SS - I am always surprised by the positive responses that I get from people when I ask to set up
informational meetings. For one library class, I contacted a director of a renowned museum library and
my classmates were amazed that he agreed to an informational interview. One thing I love about the
profession is that people are always willing to help each other succeed and thus far I have never had
anyone say no.
Go Beyond Your Job Title
LC - A job title is a job title. Some sound fancy, some are plain and simple. What you do is more
important than what you're called.
SS - Job titles tend to pigeonhole people. I often tell people I am a librarian or information professional
rather than my job title at my organization. Sticking to a job title can also be tricky in professional
associations because some people feel obligated to be a member of whatever group, committee or
association their job title best fits into. For myself, I join listservs, associations, committees etc. related
to whatever happens to interest me at the moment. I think pulling yourself out of a specific library or area
and being aware of the profession as a whole makes you an all-around better librarian.
LC - Being aware of the profession as a whole is important. That's why even though I'm working in a
public library, I'm a member of a few non-public library associations and groups. And we know we said
five tips, but here's a bonus. It's all about...
Quality, Not Quantity
LC - You can work on a lot of things and only do a decent job or you can choose to focus on a few things
and do an amazing job.
SS - Beware of spreading yourself thin when it comes to joining committees/associations and picking
up projects. Be careful of making promises you cannot deliver. Also, part of delivering quality is
following through till the end.
These six tips are good ways to jump start your library career. It may seem overwhelming but you can
start with one at a time or a couple simultaneously. The hardest part is starting. But once you get the
ball rolling, everything else will follow. We hope that these tips will be as useful to your careers as they
have (and still continue to be) for us.
About the Author
Sandra Sajonas (https://sites.google.com/site/sandrasajonas/) is a new librarian who has already been
both an ALA Emerging Leader and a Library Journal Mover and Shaker since earning her MLS in 2008.
Since receiving her MLIS in 2009, Lisa Chow (http://sites.google.com/site/lisachow23/) is an ALA
Emerging Leader and a Library Journal Mover & Shaker. Together, they hope to help new librarians, like
Article published November 2010
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.