Career Strategies for Librarians
Library Residency: A Stepping Stone
by Kate Flanagan
As a Resident Librarian at a major academic research institution, I am often asked about being a
resident. Some of the more common questions I receive are:
"What is a library residency?"
"Why choose a residency?”
"Is a library resident the same as an intern?"
"How did you hear about your residency program?"
So, here are my rough and tumble answers and a short disclaimer. This article is based on
generalities, except for some instances in which I speak about my own experiences. I certainly do not
mean to say that all library residency programs fit the parameters below (as each residency differs in its
own way and it’s up to you to find the one that fits best). I’m just giving the facts as I have experienced
them or have read about in books and articles. With that said, let’s begin.
The Library Residency
A library residency is a unique opportunity for a recent MLS graduate to explore the world of librarianship
beginning at an entry-level professional position. Institutions such as the University of Minnesota, Twin
Cities often seek individuals from under-represented populations who are interested in academic
librarianship. The changing demographics of the general population and the growing need to meet the
resulting demands have necessitated a diverse workforce. In addition, some libraries have made it their
mission to recruit diverse librarians to the profession, but that is another article altogether.
Typically, a residency program lasts one to two years and allows the individual to strengthen his or her
skills and explore new areas of interest. This can mean several rotations across different departments
such as reference and instruction, technical services (like cataloging and acquisitions), and special
collections and archives. The resident basically learns about a variety of library functions and gains
broad experience in a number of areas of librarianship. At my institution, the library residency is a two-
year program with two rotations the first year and one rotation the last year. Rotation schedules during
the first year are defined mainly by departmental needs. Responsibilities are also defined by the
particular department. The second year is catered towards the resident’s area(s) of interest; the
resident selects the specific department(s) in which he or she wants to further his or her expertise.
During the residency, a senior colleague mentor is assigned to help guide the resident, provide support,
and offer a listening ear.
Why a Residency?
There are three good reasons why you should consider a library residency. First and foremost is that a
residency is a great way to get your foot in the door. Many academic libraries want candidates with two to
three years of professional library experience, so if you have graduated from library school with no library
experience, a residency provides the professional experience you’ll need to get started. A second
reason to consider a residency is if you are undecided about the area of librarianship in which you are
most interested. The residency provides training and experience in areas you may not have explored or
even contemplated. It provides the opportunity to find your niche and figure out, for example, if you would
rather work with MARC or engage in reference interviews with patrons. Lastly, a residency allows for
extensive professional development opportunities. I have been fortunate in that I have received a
generous allocation fund for local and national conferences, workshops, leadership training, and other
endeavors. Being a resident has broadened my network opportunities and allowed me to attend library-
related events I could not have otherwise afforded.
Resident vs. Intern
A library resident and an intern differ in two major ways. First, a library residency generally begins after
an individual has received an MLS whereas an internship usually takes place before the degree is
completed. The second difference is a residency is long-term (one to two years) at an entry-level
professional position. An internship is short-term, often for curriculum credit, and usually unpaid.
Now that I have explained what a library residency is, why you should consider it, and what the difference
is between a resident and intern, let’s move on to where you can find out about library residencies.
Finding Out About Library Residencies
Be aware that since residencies are generally offered only every two years, it’s best to start early. The
first place I would suggest is ARL's Research Library Residency & Internship Programs site at http:
//www.arl.org/careers/residencies.html. This is a database of past and current residency and internship
listings. It is best to go straight to the “Review Database” link and find a program that piques your
curiosity or matches your interests. Two other websites list residency positions. They are Lisjobs.com
at http://www.lisjobs.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education at http://www.chronicle.com. A
publication I highly recommend is Raquel Cogell and Cindy Gruwell’s book, Diversity in Libraries:
Academic Residency Programs (Greenwood Press, 2001). Here you will find previous residents’
experiences at their respective institutions, and what worked and did not work for them.
A final tip: keep in mind when applying for a library residency that academic institutions are slow-moving
beasts. Don’t be discouraged if you do not hear back from them right away. Do make sure to write a
follow-up letter after submitting your cover letter or send a thank-you note if you have already interviewed.
About the Author:
Kate Flanagan is a Resident Librarian at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. She is a 2001-2002
ALA Spectrum Scholar and received her M.L.I.S. from the College of St. Catherine (St. Paul, MN) in 2003.
Article published October 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.