Career Strategies for Librarians
Relocating: the Beginning of a Great Adventure
by Thad Dickinson

It’s getting to be that time again: libraries looking to fill positions before next fall are posting their
vacancies.  As one who’s responsible for managing employment listings for a chapter of SLA, I can
assure you that there are jobs to be had.  However, unless you’re living in a large metropolitan area (and
even that’s no guarantee) chances are you’re looking at relocating.   In “Geography 101: See the World,
Get a Job,” Richard Murray deftly wrote about the advantages of being geographically mobile, and I
couldn’t agree with him more.  Relocating has been a boon to me personally and professionally, but it
hasn’t been without its trials and errors.  I made a number of mistakes in my two most recent relocation
adventures, mistakes that I eventually learned from and built upon; and if you now find yourself potentially
"following the job," then perhaps hearing about some of my own experiences will provide some

First things first

Let’s say you’ve been offered a position in another city.  One of the first things to consider is whether or
not the institution offers a relocation package.  Relocating is expensive, even when you cut corners, and
you don’t want to be saddled with that debt.  Many vacancy announcements don’t include information on
relocation packages, so it’s critical that you ask as early in the interviewing process as possible.  Be
willing to negotiate, keeping in mind that you shouldn’t expect them to cover the entire cost, while at the
same time, most institutions are willing to cover some of the expenses.  If a relocation package isn’t
offered, and you’re the least bit ambivalent about the position, then I would seriously reconsider
accepting the offer.

You also need to be certain that the position is right for you.  This may seem obvious, but you would be
surprised at how many people accept a position without much consideration for their personal and
professional goals.  Ask yourself what it is you want from your job, what you want for yourself, and then
evaluate the position based on your answers.  Do as much research as you can on the library and ask a
lot of questions during the interview process.  You don’t want to uproot yourself and move across the
state or country for a position you are only mildly interested in or that doesn’t meet your wants and
needs.  When I accepted my current position, I knew there was an instruction component to it, as most
public services positions have, but I was unprepared for the expectation that I was to be the main
instruction librarian.  Instruction had been a major part of my previous position, so I was no stranger to it;
however, the main instruction librarian?!  I embraced the responsibilities as best I could, learned an
enormous amount, and am now Instruction Coordinator.  Still, had I known, had I asked, what was going
to be expected of me in this position, I know the transition would’ve been smoother, and I would’ve
suffered less anxiety during that first year.  Know that the job is the right one for you before accepting the

Location, location, location

It’s also key that you don’t underestimate the importance of place.  Where we live plays a tremendous
role in our lives, and it’s important you choose a place that meets your wants and needs.  If you know you
hate the cold weather, then you might think twice about accepting a job in New England.  Perhaps you
want to live near family or friends.  If the excitement of the big city calls to you, then a sleepy college town
might not be the best choice.  Be honest with yourself.  For instance, a friend from library school knew
from the beginning that she wanted to work in New York City; in fact, she applied only for positions in
Manhattan, even when good jobs were available in nearby areas.  It was what she wanted, and even
though she probably could’ve gotten a position sooner than she did had she applied elsewhere, she’s
been working in Manhattan for four years now and loves it.  

It’s also important to realize that it may take more than one move to find the place that suits you.  Upon
graduating from library school, I immediately took a temporary professional position in Austin.  It might’ve
been permanent except that I let them know that I had no desire to stay in Austin.  When I landed in
Chicago, I thought I’d found the perfect place for me; my job was great and there wasn’t a thing about the
city that I didn’t like.  As time wore on, however, I began to realize that Chicago lacked an essential
ingredient of my happiness: nature (other than birds, squirrels and rats).  So when I began to look for
another position, I focused on cities that provided me with easy access to the natural world, and that led
me to Ithaca, NY.  Here it’s not uncommon to see wild turkey and deer out my back door, not to mention
the occasional skunk.  It wasn’t an easy transition, though, going from a city with a population of over 3
million to one with a permanent population of 33,000.  I miss the glitz and the glitter of the big city, the
cultural offerings, and the affordable food, but I don’t regret leaving.  The point is: when considering a job
in another city, it’s important to think as much about how well the place suits you as much as how well
the job does.

On the road

OK, you’ve accepted the offer, and it’s time to get moving, literally.   This is when that relocation package
really shows its worth!  I suggest looking into hiring a moving company, especially if you’re single.  When
I relocated to Chicago and then Ithaca, I did so alone, so the burden of loading and emptying the moving
van fell solely on my shoulders.  In Chicago, I fortunately only had five steps to navigate, but in Ithaca, my
apartment was on the third floor.  If a future colleague hadn’t shown up to help, I probably would’ve been
forced to pay someone off the street to help.  Similarly, if you have children or pets, your hands are going
to be full enough with them without having to worry about the moving van.  Moving companies are
expensive and can take a huge chunk out of your relocation package, but I think it’s money well spent.

If you decide not to opt for a moving company, you might try contacting your new library before you leave
and see if there’s anyone who might be willing to help you unload.  If it’s an academic library, there might
be a few students willing to help for a small fee.  The colleague who helped me in Ithaca was rewarded
with a free lunch!

Adjusting to your new home

The hardest part about relocating, I think, is adjusting to your new life.  Everything is different: people,
streets, neighborhoods, shopping, etc.  If you made the trip by yourself, it’s easy to get lonely, and
sometimes you even question whether or not the move was such a good idea.  I arrived in Chicago and
Ithaca in January and December, respectively, and had to endure months of brutal winter weather before
I was able to find anything very redeeming about either city.  Still, it was very exciting because it was all
new to me, and I immediately set out to learn about my new community.

Taking walks or going on a drive is a great way to get familiar with your new surroundings.  While in
Chicago, I’d go for a walk at least four times a week, purposely going in different directions to see what
was there.  Soon I was as familiar with my new neighborhood as I was with the one I’d left.  On the
weekends, I’d hop on the L and get off at a new stop to walk around that neighborhood, often walking all
the way home and experiencing new communities I wouldn’t have come across otherwise.  It was an
amazingly simple way to begin to feel at home!  In Ithaca, because my apartment was out of the way, I
walked less and began driving all over town.  Sometimes I’d tour the region, driving up one side of
Cayuga Lake and down the other, making mental notes of which vineyards I was going to visit when
summer rolled around.  It wasn’t long before I could watch the local news and draw a mental image of
the places they mentioned.

Another excellent way of getting to know your new community is to eat out.  Granted, librarian salaries
can only allow this on a limited basis, but you should make it a point to go out a try a new restaurant as
often as you can without going broke.  I made it a point to find the best Pad Thai in my Chicago
neighborhood, which was no small task, and my search for the quintessential Chicago hot dog took me
all over the city.  Once you’ve tried a few places, perhaps you’ll find a favorite, and the next thing you
know, you’re a “regular!”

Of course, getting involved in activities or the community are excellent ways to begin feeling at home.  
Whether it’s a hobby, sport, religious function, political party, support group, or what have you, you’ll get
the opportunity to meet people with similar interests.  I joined the YMCA a month after moving to Ithaca, a
short time later joined a wine tasting group from work, and when it warmed up, I took group golfing
lessons.  Sometimes you’ll have to take risks and try something new, especially if there aren’t any local
groups or activities that cater to your “old” interests; yet, if it results in meeting people, getting to know
your community and beginning to feeling at home, I think they’re risks well worth taking.

Relocating is tough, and no one can guarantee that the effort you put into it will pay off.   Nonetheless, the
rewards that can come with relocating make it all well worth it, and I hope that the next time you consider
applying for a position you’ll look upon relocating as a personal and professional opportunity, even an
adventure, rather than the only way to get a job.            

About the Author:

Thad Dickinson is Instruction Coordinator at Cornell University’s Nestle Library.  He always keeps a few
empty boxes and many rolls of duct tape stored away for that next relocation adventure.  

Article published Feb 2004

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