Career Strategies for Librarians
Experience to Get Experience
by Sarah Krygier

"Yes, you do have an MLIS, but all of our applicants have that degree. What library experience do you

It is not uncommon for recent library school graduates to face this dilemma as they begin looking for a
job.  I would like to suggest a number of strategies for getting library experience (or the equivalent) in a
creative way before you finish your MLIS.

Volunteer at your Local Public Library

With positions ranging from public relations assistant to storyteller, you can find a position that fits your
interests – both personal and professional – at a public library. Search on your favorite library's website
for volunteer opportunities. For example, two of my favorite libraries have links with more information:

Solano County Library
San Francisco Public Library
Because many people enjoy volunteering at libraries, positions might be hard to find, so you may need
to look beyond your local branch library.

Become a Library Page or Departmental Aide

Page or aide positions often require much less library experience than higher-level positions and are
often filled directly by branches rather than through the system-wide office. Lower-level positions in
libraries do not generally pay a great deal (just above minimum wage in some library systems), so
consider whether you can afford to leave your current job to take a paid position in a library.  If you’re not
working at all, a part-time position, (as most of these are), could very well suit your needs and bring in
some extra cash.

Work with the Friends of the Library

Most public libraries have a Friends of the Library group, which can offer opportunities such as working
in the bookstore, sponsoring programming events, and even fundraising for artwork. Simply go into any
branch of any public library and ask for information about the Friends group. While some libraries might
have well-established groups, others may lack leadership, which you could provide.  

Serve on the Board

Serving on the board of a library foundation, commission or advisory council can give you very valuable
experience. These opportunities vary by library but often offer a marvelous chance to get involved with
things like fundraising, budgeting, hiring, and policy-making, all of which will make you more

Keep in mind that a library foundation may expect you to make a substantial donation in order to serve on
the board of directors.  If your current financial situation does not allow this, inquire about volunteer
opportunities the foundation might have. You could find yourself rubbing elbows with major donors,
serving at important fundraising events, and learning about how foundations serve libraries.  

Commissions and advisory councils may require that you run in a local election or apply for an
appointed seat through your local government.  While this might sound like too much work, consider that
for many library commissions, there are so few qualified applicants that you would probably have a
greater chance of being appointed than you might imagine.  With knowledge of libraries combined with a
passion for service, you may very well find yourself serving on a commission.  

Volunteer as a Literacy Tutor

The regular time commitment (often two hours a week) and intense training schedule required to
volunteer as a literacy tutor may preclude many library school students from choosing this option, but the
rewards will prove endless. For more information visit your local library and ask for the literacy
coordinator, or do a search for a local office of a national organization.

America’s Literacy Directory – search for a volunteer opportunity in your area.
AmeriCorps Vista Program – If you have a greater amount of time to give, consider serving as an
AmeriCorps Volunteer in an area with extreme need for literacy outreach.
Reach Out and Read National Site - find a ROR center near you.
Get Involved with an Alumni Group at an Academic Library

Getting an entry-level job at an academic library might prove difficult, as current student employees may
often take those positions. If you can find out which branch of the alumni association assists the library,
though, you might find yourself not only involved with events at the library but you may also develop a
valuable network of professional connections.

Volunteer for a Special Library or for an Archival Organization

Many special libraries (particularly one-person libraries!) are happy to have volunteer help.  If you are
interested in medical librarianship, perhaps you could contact a local hospital to see if their medical
library needs a volunteer.  If your interests lie in legal librarianship, you might check with your county
government or county library. Public libraries often have archives (such as the McCune collection at John
F. Kennedy Library in Vallejo, CA) and would love to use your expertise. For example, perhaps you could
serve as a docent. To learn more about special libraries, check out the Special Libraries Association:

Complete an Internship

Alumni and professors alike highly recommend that library school students do an internship. If you have
the time, this is a marvelous opportunity to get experience as a librarian. You will work more closely with
supervisors than you would as a page, and you should have the opportunity to implement change or at
least oversee an ongoing project.  

Work at a Bookstore

The duties in sales positions at bookstores are similar to those of entry-level library positions; these
duties might include knowing the inventory, shelving books, planning events (which can range from a
Harry Potter release party, complete with costumes, to monthly author visits or open microphone poetry
events), and inputting catalog information into the computer. Management positions allow the
opportunity to develop relationships with vendors.

Getting the “Real” Job

Once you’ve filled your resume with good quality library experience and your MLIS is within reach, you
can start the search for your first job as a librarian.

One place to search is the American Library Association career placement center, which is offered at
both the Midwinter and Annual conferences. Job seekers need not attend the conferences and can sign
up for free online. We “employment-challenged folk” can browse job listings and post our resumes for
employers to view.

About the Author:

Sarah Krygier is in her final semester at San Jose State University’s School of Library and Information
Science, on the way to a career as a children’s or YA librarian.  With a full-time job as the assistant to the
director of Solano County Library, she has not found time for an internship, but she does volunteer at a
pregnancy resource center, where she recently developed a collection of books for teen moms as part of
an independent study project.  In her “spare” time, Sarah edits the newsletter of the American Library
Association Student Chapter’s newsletter at San Jose State University, the SLIS Descriptor.

Article published March 2006

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.