Career Strategies for Librarians
Diversifying Your Experience
(adapted from Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information Science)
by Priscilla Shontz
How do you know what type of job, or area of the field, is right for you? How do you know which type of
job to apply for? How do you gain experience that will help you move from your first job into a job that
better fits your idea of the ideal job? How do you gain practical experience before applying for that first
job? How you do you keep yourself from getting bored or stagnant in your job or career?
In the early stages of your career, it is especially important to learn all you can and to prepare yourself to
move in different directions as you find out what you do and do not enjoy. Diversify your experience and
education to provide a broad framework for the future. Give yourself room to change your mind or accept
a variety of opportunities.
Student or Internship Experience
Try to get a job or internship, or volunteer in order to get relevant experience while in school. Many
libraries are thrilled to have volunteers. Often these volunteer experiences can lead to job opportunities;
they can also provide references for your resume and professional contacts that may help you later in
your career. Volunteering is a great way to try out a type of job without committing yourself. Talk to co-
workers to find out how they like their jobs. Find out about different types of jobs in the field. Getting
experience in school will also help make your classes more relevant.
Workplace or Volunteer Experience
Work or volunteer at different types of libraries or organizations to gain experience and see what type of
environment you like. Get a variety of experience, if possible, to provide a variety of options and broader
perspective. Volunteer for committee work, task forces, or special projects to get varied types of
responsibilities and experience. Work with different people to get different perspectives both on their type
of job and on working with different styles of people and in different atmospheres. Ask your supervisor if
you can cross-train in another department.
Often, small libraries can offer you more variety, because you get to do a little of everything. If you work in
a large institution, ask if you can volunteer in a different department in your own library. By trying different
things, then you can assess what you like and don't like, and decide what you might like to do next. Don't
be surprised if you change types of jobs often during the early part of your career (or maybe throughout
your entire career!). These are your learning years and by trying different things, you learn about different
types of jobs and about yourself. Also, by diversifying your experience, you don't get pigeonholed into a
niche that you later can't break out of.
Professional Involvement Experience
Use professional or community involvement to gain experience. You can use these activities to gain
experience in areas that you are not able to gain at work or school. For example, you may be able to
participate on a committee that allows you to learn to manage a budget, plan programs, manage
projects, work with teams, write for publications, speak in public, run meetings, create web pages, and
more. Try to get varied experience in your association work. Look for ways to build skills that you aren't
able to build in your daily job. Don't forget to list these skills in your resume.
Serve on search committees to see resumes, interviews, and search processes. Serve on award
committees to see applications and selection processes. Serving on search or selection committees
allows you to see what your colleagues and supervisors notice in resumes. It allows you to see others'
resumes, and allows you to learn for your own future job interviews. Watch what your colleagues or
supervisors notice, like and dislike as they select candidates for job interviews or awards.
Enjoy New Experiences
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Even if you learn that you don’t like a particular type of job, you’ll learn
new skills, meet new people, gain a better understanding of different jobs and work environments, and
discover new things about yourself – and you’ll know not to apply for that type of job in the future. Look
around you for opportunities to diversify your experience in order to make yourself as marketable as
About the Author:
Priscilla K. Shontz is a web designer and freelance writer and has worked in university, community
college, medical and public libraries. She is author of Jump Start Your Career in Library & Information
Science and is a past president of the ALA New Members Round Table.
Article submitted Dec 2001
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.