LIScareer.com
Career Strategies for Librarians
Making the Shift:  Using Transferable Skills to Change Career Paths
by Deborah Taylor

Your greatest strategy for career success may be using what you already know.  Obtaining the skills
needed to shift from one career to another or even from one library type to the next can seem daunting.   
Unstable times and rapid changes, coupled with an uncharted career path, may leave you feeling
hopelessly trapped in a career that is far from your dream job.  And yet, inside each individual are
practical skills just waiting to be identified and used to further your career.  

As an undergraduate I went through several attempts to choose a career path before selecting a major
in finance.  My ultimate goal was to become a financial entrepreneur.  The possibilities in this field at the
time seemed endless . . .  professional financial planner, analyst, real estate agent, or author.  Dreams
of a thriving entrepreneurship motivated me to keep moving forward, especially when the reality was that
I worked part-time in a library applying skills learned in high school (filing, keeping records, typing,
receiving new books, etc.).  Not once did I contemplate working full time in the library until the head of
cataloging recognized my transferable skills and offered me a full-time position as a paraprofessional.  
She encouraged me to reevaluate my current path and to consider becoming a corporate librarian.  Her
influence opened my eyes to the idea that I could apply my transferable skills to the library world.  I would
have never thought to take my business background and relate it to what I was already doing.  This
revolutionizing thought proved to be the first step to changing my career path!  

Attention to detail, organizational skills, and enthusiasm for learning were a few of the transferable skills
that opened doors to a new career path in the field of information science.  Willingness to learn new
things in a rapidly changing environment was especially important during a time when new technology
was increasingly changing the library world.

Defining and Applying Transferable Skills

After graduating with my degree in finance I left the library to pursue a graduate degree in information
science.  The skills that I gained while earning my degree and working in the library have helped me to
transfer skills time and again to different library types (academic, public, and special) and occupations
(paraprofessional cataloger, technical services assistant, director, cataloging supervisor, and assistant
professor/acquisitions).  I have also been able to transfer these skills to a few part-time positions
outside of the library (e.g., retail, case manager, adjunct, arts & crafts coordinator, etc.).

What are transferable skills?  In layman’s terms transferable skills are comprised of something that
individuals can carry with them and readily apply to a new job or work environment; for example,
organizational skills, communication (speaking/writing), record keeping, problem solving, research
skills, building websites, etc.  Such abilities are defined as either hard or soft skills. Transferable skills
allow you to lean on natural strengths, talents, skills, and experiences and reassign them to entirely
different occupational fields or settings.  

My first professional job after earning my MLS was a library director position at a small college in St.
Louis.  Some of the requirements for this position included solid administrative talent (natural),
experience in instruction (educational training), strategic planning (educational training), financial
management (educational training), collection development (educational training), cataloging (work
experience), reference (work experience) and research skills (educational training), and problem solving
(life experiences).  When I made the decision to move on I did so to strengthen my technological and
administrative transferable skills.  I moved from a small college to  a middle-sized university as a
cataloging services manager Working in this area of library, which was known for military-like precision
and attention to detail, worked wonders for me and provided additional skills that I could use in the future.

Soft vs. Hard Skills

Transferable skills fall into two areas, soft and hard skills.  Hard skills consist of working with things (e.
g., computers, carpentry, painting, keyboarding, etc.) or understanding technology and technical skills (e.
g., physical processing, cataloging, research skills, e-resources, etc.).  Soft skills help balance
professional and technical abilities.  How you interact with customers, vendors, and colleagues are
examples of soft skills.

Soft skills

  • Customer service (e.g., communicating clearly, active listening, using good manners,
    demonstrating empathy, etc.)
  • Partnership, collaboration, and teamwork (e.g., working together with a diverse group, helping
    with a project or difficulty, etc.)
  • Creativity (e.g., exploring new options, redesigning a project, etc.)
  • Character (e.g., fairness, integrity, etc.)

Hard skills

  • Web design
  • Keyboarding
  • Building/Sketching
  • Repairing

Transferable skills can also be classified into three categories:  people, things, and information/date.  
This table illustrates some skills that might be useful in various library occupations.  

Transferable Skills












                  

                

              




          

             











Know Yourself

When I secured my first librarian position I began to apply listening skills to learn what worked and what
didn’t, character (integrity, building trust, etc.), creativity (creating colorful charts, calendars, and posters
for the library), communication (public speaking, presentations, library instruction, newsletters, email,
written procedures, and memos) and organizational skills (meeting deadlines, systematizing material
backlogs, rearranging resources for greater visibility, etc.) to my new position.  Training was conducted
for staff on job responsibilities and good customer service.  I applied a number of soft skills before any
physical changes took place.  These were portable skills that I was able to bring with me and apply
readily.  As the chief librarian I had to know who I was and what I had to offer the institution.  I also had to
put aside my job title and use the competencies that I brought with me to sell myself and the skills I
possessed.

Navigating the Path Ahead

Making the shift toward an exciting new career requires knowing yourself -- what your natural gifts are;
what hobbies or experiences you have acquired through education, training, or life; , what your strengths
and weaknesses are; etc.  Each individual is equipped with tools to shift into a new stage of their career.  
And if you believe that you aren’t equipped, perhaps  a bit of soul searching coupled with formal training
can place you on the path to an exciting future.

Conclusion

While I never followed my original career path in finance I have found a rewarding career in
library/information science.   I have learned how to apply and sell my transferable skills in a manner that
has provided unique opportunities in librarianship.  

As the information profession continues to  evolve, librarians must  discover what is available within
themselves and  use those skills to follow a career path that  excites them.   Developing and enhancing
your transferable skills can position you  to grow with an evolving position or even move to a totally new
and unfamiliar career.

Recommended Reading


About the Author

Deborah Taylor is the Assistant Professor, Acquisitions Librarian at the University of Tennessee Health
Science Center in Memphis, Tennessee.  Before joining the Health Sciences Center she was the
Cataloging Manager at the Memphis Public Library .

Article published March 2010

Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.
Area
People
Things
Info./Data
Director
supervising,
motivating,
delegating, etc.  
selling, computer
skills, etc.
communication,
analyzing, planning,
etc.
Cataloging
  keyboarding, software
skills, constructing,
etc.
analyzing, organizing,
gathering data, etc.
Reference
teaching, customer
service, advising, etc.
Computer skills,
keyboarding, etc.
researching,
gathering data,
communication, etc.
Interlibrary Loan
customer service
working with
computers, computer
software, etc.
researching,
gathering data,
analyzing, etc.
E-Resources/Webmas
ter
  assembling parts,
designing, repairing,
etc.
developing
databases, analyzing,
etc.
Acquisitions
negotiating,
translating, advising,
etc.
constructing,
keyboarding, working
with computers, etc.     
  
working with
spreadsheets,
computing, budgeting,
analyzing, etc.
Instructor
teaching, training,
advising, organizing,
motivating, etc.  
designing,
constructing, etc.   
writing, researching,
gathering data, etc.