Career Strategies for Librarians
So You Want to be a Librarian . . . Now What?:
Advice and Tips from a Newly Hired Information Professional
By Jeanette Claire Sewell
When my library school alma mater, the University of North Texas, announced that it would be giving a
conference to help students and recent graduates with job hunting skills, I decided that, as a newly hired
information professional, I had something to offer my fellow library school colleagues. So I contacted my
former advisor and proposed a presentation of advice and tips based on things that worked for me in
landing my first professional position. Now, you must understand, I also considered myself to be the
person least likely to be giving a presentation in front of lots of people. I’ve often been shy and, quite
frankly, terrified of public speaking. Yet, there I was, poised to give my first presentation. Since it was also
my suggestion, there was no backing out, either! It certainly helped that I felt I’d already conquered the
interview process, and I knew that I had good information to share with others who would be in the
audience with similar feelings as I’d had.
So in this article I will a series of seven tips from my own experiences in learning to promote myself and
how they each helped me to achieve my goal of not only landing a professional position but being a
conference presenter as well. If you like, you can also view my coordinating Prezi presentation at the
Tip 1: Start small.
As a student or new graduate, you will have the opportunity to attend many conferences and events
related to your studies and librarianship. Do not hesitate: attend them! These events are the most
valuable networking opportunities that you will have. Of course, you might be feeling like I was: nervous
and apprehensive in a room full of people you don’t know and thinking to yourself, “Where do I start?
Who do I talk to?” Start small and introduce yourself to at least one person who shares your area of
interest. This one person might know many others that they can also put you in touch with later on. That’s
called networking, and you can easily make it happen for yourself. Just mention a project you are
currently involved with that is of shared interest or ask for more information on their organization and you’
ll quickly find yourself in an easy conversation.
Tip 2: Remember: it’s not “why,” but HOW.
This is probably my personal favorite piece of advice and the one I consider to be the most important. In
making the transition from networking to job interview, always remember that you will make the most
impressive impact if you can tell a potential employer how you will be the best fit for the position. Hiring
managers already know why you want to work for them, so be sure to give them concrete examples of
your ability and performance. You most likely will not be asked on a job interview why you want to be a
librarian. After all, that’s the reason you went to library school in the first place. Instead, hiring managers
will want to know more about how you have managed projects so far or how you have implemented what
you learned in your graduate program or previous job, for instance. Be sure to give them examples that
matter and ones that will put you in the most positive light possible. Even if you don’t have much in the
way of professional experience yet, keep your grad school projects and assignments in mind. These are
part of your unique skill set and represent what you have in common with potential employers and
professional contacts. And again, they also emphasize how you are accomplishing things in the
information science field.
Tip 3: Create a unique web presence.
One of the things I did in preparing to apply for jobs and interviews was to create a resume website. It
really helped me to keep all of my qualifications in order and, in fact, I even memorized them simply
through the process of creating the website. So I was more than prepared in my first professional
interviews and didn’t trip over remembering anything from my career so far. I created my website on wix.
com. It was free and easy to use, even if you have no website building or coding experience. I also
included the link on my resume which, while not appropriate for every job, gave me an edge over other
candidates because it showed I was interested in current technology trends.
Tip 4: Get used to promoting yourself.
Believe me, I know this part is not easy for many of us. It can be strange, especially if you’re shy or new to
the job hunting process, to learn to speak about yourself in glowing terms. Creating the resume website
was something that helped me, though, and it also made writing cover letters easier. Keep in mind that
a cover letter isn’t just a piece of paper on which to repeat your resume in narrative form. Rather, it’s the
space to let your accomplishments shine! It’s also one more way of keeping your qualifications fresh in
your mind. Plus, it’s important to be confident when speaking to others about your qualifications, and the
more you read over and then practice discussing the projects and activities you’ve been involved with,
the more you will be prepared for promoting yourself in interviews. Employers will be very impressed and
more likely to make you an offer when you can answer all of their questions with carefully considered
responses rather than long pauses of trying to remember why you are there in the first place.
Tip 5: Just say “yes.”
During your time as a library school student and early in your career, you may be asked to join certain
projects, teams, committees or initiatives. You might be unsure of your ability to tackle those tasks, but
remember that you were asked for a reason. So just say “yes!” For many of us, it’s much easier to let self
doubt take over and to find reasons why we can’t or shouldn’t say yes, but saying yes to one opportunity
will create more opportunities in the future. You can also step up and say yes by letting others know that
you want to be involved any time that you hear of an interesting event or opportunity. Saying yes is an
easy way to get yourself noticed as an active member of the information sciences community and
demonstrates that you are a self-starter with a positive attitude.
Tip 6: Just be yourself!
Along with the tips above, I also want to emphasize that it’s okay to be yourself, even in an interview. More
than anyone else, your colleagues and hiring managers in the library field will understand your
enthusiasm for information sciences. For instance, my enjoyment of the nuances of the Dewey Decimal
System was something that helped me to stand out among the other applicants when I interviewed for
the position that I was hired for.
Of course, it’s important to remain professional in an interview, but you should also be sure to give a
potential employer a reason to remember you. For me, getting a job was a combination of preparation,
being involved, and positive thinking during my job hunting process that enabled me to land my first
professional position. I never would’ve thought that gushing about the Dewey Decimal System would
help me to get a job, but it did and it illustrated, again, how I would succeed at the position.
Tip 7: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”--Gandhi.
Finally, this quote is truly something that has inspired me in the past year between graduating and
finding a job. It always reminds me why I went to library school in the first place—because I believe in the
transformative power of information access. It is easy to get bombarded with stories in the news about
budget cuts and the supposed decline of libraries, but it helps to stay positive and to remember how you
want to make the most impact on the field of information sciences.
Think of your time in grad school or post-graduation and on the way to finding a job as a path up a
mountain. Yes, you will encounter challenges along the way, but you can make it to the top by learning to
pinpoint those strengths and abilities that make you stand out. I hope you find my tips to be useful, but I
know that you will find your own way, and I also hope that you will share any new tips that helped make
you successful with others in the future.
And please remember that information science needs people who believe not only in the profession but
About the Author
-- Jeanette works as a cataloger at the Houston Public Library. Along with enjoying mining the depths of
the Dewey Decimal System and LOC subject headings at work, in her spare time she also likes to sew,
collect books, and blog on tumblr at http://undercovershelf.tumblr.com/.
Article published August 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.