Career Strategies for Librarians
Move Along: Relocation for Librarians
by Christine Gertz
Librarians relocate for the same reasons that any worker might decide to move: a change in personal
circumstances or the unavailability of local work. For example, perhaps you have promised your family
that you will return to your hometown after graduation, or your spouse or partner has received a job offer
in another city and you have agreed to take your turn as the “trailing spouse.” If you’re a job seeker who
can move anywhere, you have the advantage of being able to choose the best labor market for your
talents. If you’re a trailing spouse, you may have more resources available than a librarian whose local
job prospects have dried up, but you will have to take your chances in a location that’s already been
chosen for you. Whether you are moving to a particular location or moving “anywhere but here,” there are
a variety of tools and techniques you can use to move along to a new job.
Holistic Job Search
Typically, we look for work in stages: search, apply, interview, and begin work or keep looking. We only
move forward if the previous step is completed. You decide what you are looking for and you apply for
those jobs. You get a phone call for an interview, do your research for that position, and attend the
interview. You get an offer or you “rinse and repeat.”
Instead of a sequence, think about the job hunt as a holistic and integrated process by which actions
taken at any time will move you closer to your ultimate goal. Meeting library professionals during
internships or at professional events, researching different career options using resources like Dority’s
Rethinking Information Work, learning how to answer behavior-descriptive questions, writing a
presentation for an interview, or meeting with human resource professionals at a career fair will all
contribute to landing your new job and can be done at any stage in the job search process.
During a relocation search you will look for a place to live—if it costs more than one-third of your salary to
live there, should you move there? You see a news item in The Chronicle of Higher Education that a new
library in Michigan will be opening its doors in eight months and they expect to hire four new librarians.
This is labor market information, the fuel of a holistic job search, and it is one step beyond the traditional
job search in which you find and respond to a suitable ad.
If you are free to relocate anywhere, you still need to select your flavor of librarianship: academic, public,
school, or special. Wait, you say, since you have already had trouble finding work in your current location,
you don’t want to be that narrow; shouldn’t you apply for everything to increase your chances of landing a
position? Sorry, that strategy won’t work: There just isn’t enough time in the day to be continually
reshaping your resume to make it appeal to hiring supervisors in completely different types of libraries. If
you concentrate on a particular type of position, you will be able to focus your energy and build your
momentum. For example, as you apply to a number of young adult librarian positions, you will see
trends in required or desired skills, answer similar interview questions, and build presentations that will
eventually support your work as a young adult librarian—all pieces of the holistic work search.
On the other hand, if you have no choice in where you are going and the librarian labor market there is
limited, you need to be flexible in your career goal. That could mean moving from children’s librarian to
business reference, switching from academic to special librarianship, or transferring your skills to a
position that has not previously been filled by a librarian. Focus on what is available and don’t waste
time looking for the job you left behind or dreamed about in school.
Research Your Locale
Only apply to positions in locations where you really want to live. Don’t waste the employer’s time as well
as your own. Deciding on a specific city or region will also help you write a targeted cover letter or answer
questions about the library community during the interview. Lack of focus may hinder you from effectively
researching the community or library, and it may lead to interviewing gaffes if you mix up the
communities or library services. Just as you can anticipate one obligatory question about the OPAC, also
expect that any interviewer will ask about your knowledge of the community and the library’s place within
the community. Of course, the library website is an essential part of your research, but the local chamber
of commerce can also assist you in researching the community. Use the World Wide Chamber of
Commerce Guide to find the local chamber.
Internet Sites and Tools
Focus your Internet searches so that everything you read about your new community helps you in the job-
seeking process. If you know where you are going, bookmark the websites of local libraries, relevant
professional organizations, and civic or state government sites, since they may post job opportunities
and also may determine policies that could have an effect on your potential job.
If you are throwing a dart at the map, your bookmarks should include Forbes Best Places to Work and
the North American Best Companies Lists from the Great Place to Work Institute, so that you can find
communities with stable corporations and industries. For the academic dartboard, include the Chronicle
of Higher Education, Inside Higher Ed, the Canadian Association of University Teachers, and ALA and its
divisions. The National Center for Education Statistics also provides an online directory for schools,
colleges, and libraries, a useful tool for academic librarians and school media center specialists.
Other tools include Placeblogger, where you can read community newspapers and blogs. Plug in your
new zip or postal code to Google Local and look for neighborhood libraries. Serendipity may occur on
major job boards like CareerBuilder or while you are searching for a place to live on Craigslist, but don’t
count on it or look exclusively on these boards.
The military, some corporations, and some postsecondary institutions offer relocation assistance to
spouses and partners of employees. Generally, these programs offer assistance researching the labor
market, learning about local employers, and preparing resumes and cover letters. They may also be
able to recommend additional support such as referrals for counseling to deal with loss or isolation after
the move. These programs vary in size, funding, and clientele. For example, in the university setting, one
program may assist tenure-track faculty spouses or partners only whereas another may offer assistance
to postdocs. The program may be managed by the academic department or outsourced to a government
agency or human resources consultant, which can lead to variations in the quality of assistance.
This service is not to be confused with placement: you will not show up for your meeting with the human
resources officer or career advisor and receive a job offer. However, if you have been in contact with the
officer in advance, expect that she has reviewed your resume and career expectations and researched
major employers in the area. Your specific career objectives will make this meeting meaningful. Take
advantage of this valuable service if it is offered.
I strongly recommend that you find out about the confidentiality of any information that you disclose to the
officer during the session. In a corporation or small faculty office, you could be expressing frustrations
with the corporation, community, or your personal life to your spouse or partner’s coworker. Is the officer
bound by professional ethics or a program guideline that states that he/she will not tell your
spouse/partner (or his/her boss) about anything you say—for example, how angry you are to be
uprooted? Ask about the confidentiality of the sessions prior to accepting any counseling—you might feel
excited and hopeful now, but if it takes several weeks to find a position or you experience other
frustrations, you may want at least one impartial, discreet ally to confide in.
Career fairs work best for the searcher who has no geographic restrictions and no immediate pressure
to move. Any interview after the fair will require the usual thorough preparation, but at the fair, interviewers
tend to be more forgiving if you don’t know a great deal about the community. They may concentrate on
behavior-descriptive questions for which you can cram prior to the event. (Behavior-descriptive questions
ask you to describe how you behaved in a previous situation.) You may have multiple interviews in a few
days and get immediate feedback on your performance. The drawback to these events is that the
interviews are usually only the first round, and real openings can take months to materialize. Before you
sign up for an interview, you can ask outright if they are interviewing for actual vacancies, how many the
library expects to hire, and how long the hiring process takes.
ALA hosts a career fair at both the Midwinter Meeting and Annual Conference. As with most career fairs, it
is industry-specific, provides a list of attending employers in advance, and charges no fee (beyond
conference fees) for job searchers. Measure any upcoming career events in your prospective city against
those criteria to make sure that you are not wasting your time.
Attend career fairs in suitable interview attire to stand out from the window shoppers who show up in
jeans and flip-flops. Bring an updated copy of your resume, list of references, and cover letter for each
position that you would like to interview for (though you should be aware that you may not get on an
employer’s list, the employer may not show up, or you may find something even better while wandering
in the fair). If no specific positions are posted, you can bring a letter of introduction that indicates your
career interests and highlights any special or desirable skills that you can offer the library. Specificity
does not knock you out of the competition; human resources people appreciate flexibility because they
might recognize how they could apply your skills and experience in their organization. Remember to
include the notation “willing to relocate.”
One of the best books on this subject, even if you are not a spouse, is the New Relocating Spouse's
Guide to Employment: Options & Strategies in the U.S. and Abroad by Frances Bastress. Though the
advice in the book is solid, especially on focusing your search, it is highly dated. For some searchers, a
move to a community with limited library positions may require some flexibility. In cases when you have
already been relocated and no suitable library jobs are available, you are now investigating a “career
transition,” another topic entirely.
A successful relocation requires focus, flexibility, research (using the Internet to find specific community
information), and networking (getting out to meet with people in the industry). Every step in your search
will contribute to the holistic job search process, so keep in mind that all of your efforts will lead to your
new position in your new home.
About the Author:
Christine Gertz is currently the Library and Information Specialist at Career and Placement Services
(CaPS) at the University of Alberta, where she manages a specialized career collection and answers
information and research questions about finding work in all fields. She has also worked in public
libraries and in the nonprofit sector.
Article published Mar 2007
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