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Career Strategies for Librarians
Why a Residency or Fellowship Might be Right for You
by Tomaro I. Taylor

In her October 2004 LIScareer article “Library Residency: A Stepping Stone,” Kate Flanagan provides
three reasons why residency programs may be of interest and benefit to recent graduates of
library/information science master’s programs.  According to Flanagan, residencies afford new
graduates many opportunities to advance professionally, provide the chance to explore different aspects
of librarianship of which new graduates may not have experience or knowledge, and often allow for
extensive professional development.  While it is true that many residency programs offer a number of
practical ways in which their recipients can grow professionally as librarians, there are as many
intangible benefits as there are tangible ones.  Opportunities to work with mentors and to establish a
professional path early in one’s career may seem abstract because they are not always readily available
in entry-level positions.  For these reasons alone, a residency or fellowship program is a great
advantage as the experience can open new doors for professional and personal growth.   

Residency programs and fellowships in colleges and universities often present opportunities that other
settings may not yield.  New job seekers who apply for positions based solely on their academic track in
graduate school and who lack preprofessional experience may not be as marketable or as in-demand
as their counterparts.  Calls for academic librarians, especially special collections librarians and
catalogers, may go unheeded because many recent grads do not possess the skills needed to succeed
in those areas.  And while the basic tenets of opportunity, mentorship, career development, and flexibility
are true, it is even truer that a different (and, perhaps, more interesting) perspective on postgraduate
professional programs is needed.  So, instead of the four basic principles usually used to attract recent
graduates to these positions, let us reflect on four more reasons why a residency or fellowship might be
your best bet: personal growth, engagement in the profession, commitment to the profession, and a
sense of accomplishment.   

Graduate School Blues

Many of us know people who enter librarianship knowing exactly what they want to do. They choose a
graduate school based on the diverse curriculum offered or the academic tracks available.  Once in
school, they seek internships or fieldwork opportunities in their area(s) of interest and begin preparing
quite early on for the job search that will inevitably occur a few months before graduation.  These people
often go on to the jobs of their choice, carving out career paths as soon as they set foot in the door.  
These people should be applauded.  They have focus, drive, and more than likely, the skills needed to
succeed in the field.  However, these people are not the majority.   

According to the 1989 Occupational Entry: Library and Information Science Students’ Attitudes,
Demographics and Aspirations Survey, the majority of respondents decided to seek graduate degrees in
library science after completing an undergraduate or graduate degree program and working in the library
field (30.5%); after working in a nonlibrary field (30.2%); or after a period of joblessness, raising a family,
or other, unidentified reason (17.0%) (Heim and Moen, 1989: 44).  More recent data shows that the
trends are changing.  More and more students are entering library and information science graduate
programs after having careers in other fields (Josey, 1998: 51).   Sometimes the fields merge—teachers
become school media specialists, lawyers become law librarians—but just as often, they do not.  
Career paths change for numerous reasons, many of which relate to difficulties obtaining professional
positions in a given field. The National Association of Colleges and Employers’ 2006 Graduating
Student and Alumni Survey, which included, of a 7000-plus sample, 12.6% master’s-level respondents,
indicates that the primary obstacles encountered when job seeking are competition (31.9%), lack of
work experience (22.8%), and indecisiveness regarding career path (15.2%).  Couple these statistics
with data from the same report showing that 16.1% of those surveyed “‘sort of drifted’ into their majors”
(Koncz and Giordani, 2006: 18), and it is easy to see how only a small number of people go from Point A
to Point B—from graduate studies to whiz-bang jobs—in their discipline.

My Experience as a Resident Librarian

When I started library school at the University of South Florida, I was certain that I was on the path
towards becoming a curator of education in a museum, thanks to a Careers for Dummies book
borrowed from a friend.  Little did I know that nearly two years later, I would be graduating with a master
of arts in library and information science and very little hope of using my chosen degree in a museum
setting. Now it is easy to laugh at my naïveté and my apparent lack of knowledge from the outset about
library science and what the field comprises.  But my ignorance notwithstanding, there are lots of people
who are just as naïve as I was then.  And, with the ever-decreasing availability of entry-level positions in
librarianship (Galvin, 1998: 209), it is a stark reality that many new LIS grads need help finding direction.

Postgraduate residency and fellowship programs are a blessing for people like me.  There I was, on the
verge of getting a degree that I wanted to use but did not quite know how to use.  My graduate career had
been spent working the only library job I had ever had: as a graduate assistant in the library’s reference
department.  And while I liked the challenge of reference and the engagement it gave me with the
university community, I never really felt that I had found my niche.  Regardless, I began to apply for
positions seeking reference-type skills since, in all honesty, I had few others. I had never even shelved
books, unless you count taking one off the shelf and returning it immediately upon use!  As graduation
loomed ever closer and I sent more and more applications to those I hoped might be potential
employers, relief came in the form of two meetings—the first with the library’s director and the second
with both the director and the dean.  After these meetings (which I later realized were interviews) and an
application review by the dean and director, I was offered and appointed to the position of Dr. Henrietta
M. Smith Resident at the University of South Florida Tampa Library.   

What Residents Think

As many residents can attest, the first year in any program can be challenging, especially if, like me, you
are the first person to hold the position.  But every challenge leads to growth, each development to
something newly learned, and every bit of knowledge to an eventual accomplishment.  
Accomplishments—whether seen or unseen—are derived from the actual and perceived experiences of
those involved. In the 2001 publication Diversity in Libraries: Academic Residency Programs, both
former and current residents outline their experiences, from good to bad to everything in between.  By
focusing on what many of the residents stated as their greatest achievements during their tenure as
resident librarians, it is apparent that their perceived accomplishments are primarily focused internally.  
Working and recently “retired” residents reflected on the skills and interests they uncovered (Cichewicz,
2001: 43) as well as the confidence they attained (Daix and Epps, 2001: 139) while serving as residents.
Others viewed their experiences as what one resident deemed “a window of opportunity” (Winters, 2001:
99). My experiences as a resident and resulting post-residency sentiments are not unlike those
presented in Diversity in Libraries.  And if you are wondering what my greatest accomplishment as the
Dr. Henrietta M. Smith Resident was, it was realizing that I wanted to use my library degree to be a
librarian.

Conclusion

The prospects a postgraduate residency or fellowship often provide—the four fundamentals of
opportunity, mentorship, career development, and flexibility—are the foundations of personal growth,
professional engagement, professional commitment, and feelings of accomplishment derived from the
residency experience.  Although some may view residencies and postgraduate fellowships as stepping
stones, it may be more appropriate to think of them as building blocks.  Library residents and fellows
enter their positions with the same trepidation, curiosity, and excitement as their colleagues hired on a
permanent basis.  Residents and fellows, however, have a greater chance of getting more out of their
first one or two years in an institution than their peers.  If a resident enters a position with little to no
experience, then he or she may be able to “learn by doing” though active engagement.  If he or she
needs help wading through the confusion of professional development—whether deciding which
workshops and conferences to attend or in which journals to publish—he or she may have mentors to
help guide the way.  And if he or she is unsure about certain aspects of the profession, including which
areas of librarianship and types of positions to pursue, he or she may work with different librarians
within those settings to help gain focus on a viable career path.

Individually, the principles behind most residency and fellowship programs are laudable; they give
recent graduates the chance to develop their professional identities while learning about and becoming
increasingly involved in the profession, whether through networking with more seasoned professionals
or by contributing to the scholarly record.  Taken as a whole, these principles signify the impact that
these experiences can have on the personal and professional development of budding librarians.  They
expand the new professional’s perspective, present a variety of people, places, and things with which to
interact, and break down many of the roadblocks that new librarians may encounter when entering the
field. Residencies and fellowships also open the symbolic door to the profession. And, if an open door—
or window—is presented, the possibilities of achievement are great.   

Finding Information on Specific Academic Library Residency and/or Fellowship Programs

Use your favorite search engine to find information about academic library residency or fellowship
programs.  There are a number of websites featuring lists of programs; unfortunately, many of these
sites have not been updated in a while.  A fairly comprehensive listing of programs available in the
United States is presented in Diversity in Libraries: Academic Residency Programs.  Position
announcements also can be found by searching job lists such as those provided by national library
associations.

Works Cited

Cichewicz, E. Joy.  “My Residency at the University of Michigan: Rewards.” Diversity in Libraries:
Academic Residency Programs.  Raquel V. Cogell and Cindy A. Gruwell, eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood
Press, 2001. Pp. 37- 44.

Daix, Erin C., and Sharon K. Epps. “The University of Delaware Library Residency Program: Two Former
Residents’ Perspectives.”  Diversity in Libraries: Academic Residency Programs.  Raquel V. Cogell and
Cindy A. Gruwell, eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001.  Pp. 131- 141.

Galvin, Thomas J. “Options, Choices and Consequences: Prognosis for the Future of Library and
Information Science Education.”  Library and Information Studies Education in the United Sates.  Loriene
Roy and Brooke E. Sheldon, eds.  Washington: Mansell, 1998.  Pp. 199- 211.

Heim, Kathleen M., and William E. Moen.  Occupational Entry: Library and Information Science Students’
Attitudes, Demographics and Aspirations Survey. Chicago: American Library Association Office for
Library Personnel Resources, 1989.

Josey, E.J.  “Students of Library and Information Science.” Library and Information Studies Education in
the United Sates.  Loriene Roy and Brooke E. Sheldon, eds.  Washington: Mansell, 1998.  Pp. 49- 64.

Koncz, Andrea, and Giordani, Pattie.  “What Students Think: A Report on NACE’s 2006 Graduating
Student and Alumni Survey.” NACE Journal.  Summer 2006: 18-23.

Winters, CM.  “Keeping the Window Open.”  Diversity in Libraries: Academic Residency Programs.  
Raquel V. Cogell and Cindy A. Gruwell, eds. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2001. Pp. 97- 101.

About the Author:

Tomaro I. Taylor, M.A., C.A., is an Assistant University Librarian for Special Collections/Latin American &
Caribbean Studies at the University of South Florida Tampa Library.  She served as the library’s first Dr.
Henrietta M. Smith Resident (2003- 2004) shortly after obtaining her master of arts degree from the USF
School of Library and Information Science.

Article published Dec 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.