Career Strategies for Librarians
by Ellen Mehling
With the state of the economy and rapid, ongoing technological changes in the field of library science,
many information professionals have experienced changes themselves in their careers in recent years.
These changes range from minor and relatively easy to adapt to (new procedures or software to learn,
for example) to bigger and more difficult to bounce back from (such as an involuntary relocation or a
Resilience = Easier, Quicker Recovery
I have been advising librarians and LIS students for years and I have seen those who recoup quickly
after job loss or other disappointments and those who don't. I've spoken to those who have managed to
find work more than once since the recession began and have thriving careers despite the state of the
economy and other obstacles. While you cannot make yourself entirely immune to change and its
negative effects, there are things you can do to make it more likely you will recover in a shorter period of
The good news: you can choose to cultivate your own resilience and thereby increase your chances of
finding a job if you are unemployed and of having a successful career despite setbacks. There are jobs
out there, and some info pros are getting hired and enjoying robust careers. Those who recover and
succeed again and again exhibit certain characteristics and engage in certain behaviors and avoid
Job vs. Career
It can help to think of work differently than (perhaps) you have thought of it in the past: less like a
traditional info-pro career (one job at a time, full time with benefits, staying until retirement or working for
only a few employers during a career) and more like an actor's or performer's career (multiple jobs over
time or concurrently, not spending a very long period of time with any one employer, with reputation,
connections, and visible talents and skills crucial to success). You can see your career as something
that you build and create and it is up to you to determine what it includes. It can and should include
much more than your current job or a succession of full-time positions. Crafting your career so it
includes many things beyond “9 to 5” can make continuing progress easier and can also help lessen
the feelings of helplessness that often accompany a setback such as being laid off.
First: understand that it is up to you to keep your career moving forward, and to know what is within your
control and what isn't. Your career is your own to manage; no one else is going to do it for you—not a
boss or advisor, not your library school, not a recruiter or anyone in your network. You have to do your
homework, navigate your own journey, make the decisions, and take the risks.
Expect the setbacks, including large ones. Be prepared for a layoff. (This may sound negative, but if it
prompts you to take action, it is a good thing!) A layoff is something no one wants to experience, but if
you are really ready, it will be much less painful if it does happen, and you won’t be starting from scratch
in finding your next job. If it doesn’t happen, you will have a richer career for the steps you have taken to
prepare, so this is win-win.
What You Can Do
As they say in the Lexus commercial, "Anything not moving forward is moving backward". In order to stay
employable, you have to stay informed about current trends and technologies for the kind of information
work you do, and your skills must be up to date. Examining current LIS job postings regularly and
seeing what skills and experience are in demand is a good habit to get into, even if you are not actively
seeking a job.
Update your resume regularly, whenever a significant career event occurs or at least every few months.
Then when you need a current version in a hurry, it won’t take a lot of time, effort, or stress to get it into
Networking is still the best thing you can do for your career, and for your job search if you are seeking
work. It is certainly faster, easier, less risky, and less costly for both the employer and the employee than
filling a position via a job posting online or elsewhere. The more you serve those in your network, the
more benefits you will receive from them, and you should be doing this continually. It takes time to
establish a large group of allies who know you and your work and are willing to refer you, recommend
you, or hire you. If you begin networking following a layoff (or after graduation for students) you’ll have a
lot of catching up to do compared to other job seekers.
Volunteering is a great way to keep your career moving forward. It can give you additional skills and a
larger network, and the experience of adapting to a new work environment will keep you flexible.
Volunteering can also help fill what would otherwise be a gap in employment, and a supervisor in a
volunteer position may agree to be a reference for you when you are job hunting. Service in library-
related professional organizations is a great way to volunteer. Activity beyond just being a member looks
good on a resume, and there are many organizations (local, regional, and national) and many
opportunities to choose from.
A mentor can help to advise you when you are navigating a difficult change. Even better than having a
single mentor is having multiple mentors, each with a different kind of expertise and counsel to give.
Having more than one can also reduce the wear and tear on a single mentor! Seek mentors who have
weathered a few career storms themselves, as their perspectives are going to be the most valuable to
you. You may also choose to mentor someone else, perhaps a student or new professional. This can
be another way of expanding and serving your network.
Building your professional online presence is also beneficial for your career, both when things are going
smoothly and when you are recovering from a setback. You want your accomplishments, strengths, and
skills to be clear to everyone—particularly potential employers or collaborators. A robust, focused
LinkedIn page is one way of branding yourself and building your reputation online. A website, blog,
online portfolio, or Twitter presence can be valuable, too, as is participation in discussions on forums,
LinkedIn discussion groups, and professional listservs.
Writing, speaking, and presenting at conferences can help to expand your visibility outside of your jobs
and establish you as an expert in your niche. You can add links to articles you’ve written to your LinkedIn
page, website, or e-portfolio which can also serve as writing samples for potential employers.
It is best to have a number of things going on at all times and not have all your eggs in one basket.
Multiple sources of income can help enormously; you won't lose all of your income or your entire
professional identity if you lose one job. Expect that some of the things you have in the works will fall
through; when they do, turn your attention to the other things you are working on and to coming up with
new projects and ideas.
Don’t wait for invitations; think instead of ways you can contribute and collaborate. Seek inspiration: read
about what others are doing and think of ways that you can do something similar. (These ideas don’t
have to come from other information professionals; they can come from any source.) Propose a joint
project or event to others in your network.
If you are job hunting, don't introduce yourself as unemployed or ask everyone you meet if they are hiring,
or try to turn every conversation into a job interview. First, ask about what others are working on, and
listen. Then, later, talk about what you are doing and what you have to offer. If you present yourself as
interested, capable, confident, enthusiastic, and a creator of opportunities that benefit others as well as
yourself, those you meet will think of you in those terms, too.
Use social networking wisely: avoid public attacks on others, complaints, anger, arguments, and other
kinds of negativity, and vent privately. Bridges can be burnt inadvertently, and that’s not what you want to
do if your goal is to get yourself back on track.
Understand that building career resilience is an ongoing task necessary for long term success, as
everyone faces setbacks from time to time. It takes initiative, deliberate planning and action, and time.
You will have to prove yourself over and over for the rest of your career. Successful, resilient info pros
look at other accomplished professionals and say, "What can I learn from their success? What are they
doing that I could do?" They attribute resilience and success to effort and preparation more than luck
and behave accordingly.
Remember that your beliefs and thoughts about your situation influence how you behave, and that
influences how successful you will be. Positivity will make your experience of a career setback less
distressing, and will increase the likelihood that you will continue to thrive in the long run.
About the Author
Ellen Mehling is Director of the Westchester Graduate Library School Program / Director of Internships /
Adjunct at LIU’s Palmer School of Library and Information Science and is Job Bank Manager / Career
Development Consultant at the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO). She received her
MSLIS from the Palmer School and her professional experience includes work in special, public, and
academic libraries, as well as archives.
Article published Nov 2012
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.