Career Strategies for Librarians
Should You Take a Temp Job?
by Amy York
Deep down, we all crave security. Sure, there are risk-takers among us, but even bungee jumpers and
reckless drivers like a steady paycheck and retirement plan. As of this writing, I have been out of library
school for 32 months, yet I have held a permanent job for only eight of those months. No, it didn’t take
me two years to find a job. I am one of the increasingly rare few who got a position right out of library
school, and yet I held that job for a mere four months before chucking it for a temporary position. What?
Is she crazy? Well, a little bit, but I actually had some pretty good reasons for trading in my permanent
position for a temporary gig, including a huge pay raise, a much shorter commute, and more interesting
work. After two years, two temporary contracts, and more than a few anxious moments, I finally landed a
permanent job at the same library. But even if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t regret my decision to go temp. It was
the right decision for me at the time.
Why Take a Temp Job?
At certain times in your career you may find it necessary – or even preferable – to take a temporary
position. Right out of library school, for instance, you might find it difficult to snag a full-time position that
appeals to you. Recent articles have lamented the tough job market facing new grads. Even when jobs
are available, they often require a certain amount of professional library experience , particularly if you
desire an academic library job. By working a temporary job, you build experience to list on your resume,
and you also gain potential “real world” references.
A Geographic Solution
Geographic issues may also compel a librarian to seek a temporary position. If you are moving to a new
city, you may be able to work one or more temp positions while you learn about the area, wait for
permanent vacancies, and go through the (sometimes long) application and interviewing process.
Conversely, if you are stubbornly determined to remain in the town you call home (as I was), you may
need to take a temporary job while waiting for a permanent position to open up. If you are tied to a certain
area, it is particularly important to build a network of people who are aware of your intentions and will
inform you of any openings they hear about.
The Need for Change
But joblessness is not the only reason to consider a temporary position. Perhaps you are eager to move
from a public to an academic library, or from a reference to a cataloging position. In some cases it can
be difficult to make this type of shift within permanent positions, but requirements for temporary jobs are
often a bit more relaxed. You can gain experience in your new area of choice and be poised to snag
future permanent openings. And again, you will have gained references who can testify to your ability to
perform the work. I began my career in a small public library, and while there were certainly aspects of it
I enjoyed, I longed for the more varied activities – and higher salary – that an academic library job would
offer. When I was offered a temporary job at an academic library, I took it because I knew how hard it
would be to make the move later.
Another catalyst for job change is a toxic work environment. Many LIScareer articles have described the
perils of working in a bad library or with negative co-workers. While some librarians are able to develop
coping strategies (see Timothy Ferguson’s Surviving Jobs You Loathe), others find themselves
descending into depression and decide that they absolutely must leave, as detailed in Lisa Ennis’ Going
over the Wall! Escaping a Toxicity. While it would usually be a bad idea to quit with no employment plan
at all, it may not be so crazy to settle for a temp job while looking for another permanent position.
Escaping the stress of a dreadful job probably makes one a better candidate, anyway.
It may be difficult for many people to justify giving up a sure thing for the relative insecurity of a temporary
job, but if you are committed to shifting or salvaging your career, it will be worth it in the long run. Your
potential employers may wonder why you went from a permanent to temporary position, but this is easily
explained as dedication to your new career aims.
Finding a Temp Job
So, now you’re willing and eager to take a temp job. Where do you find one? For many librarians working
a temporary position, the job found them. In my case, I had applied for a permanent job at the university
seven months before they called me. The search committee had experienced delays in the hiring
process and anticipated that it might be several more months before they could fill the position. After
noticing that I lived in the same town, they called to ask if I would be interested in working on a temporary
contract (while remaining in the running for the permanent job) until the end of the fiscal year, which was
eight months away. I have spoken to other librarians who were offered temporary jobs under the same
If you want to go looking for a temp job, you can occasionally find them posted on library job sites. In
addition, there are several temp agencies around the country that specialize in placing information
professionals. Lisjobs.com maintains a listing of these agencies on its website . Posted temporary
jobs are likely to be the result of anticipated needs like grant-funded positions, maternity leaves, or
Vacancies due to unanticipated needs like hiring complications, illnesses, or sudden resignations are
more likely to be filled through quieter means – through the network. And, of course, when I say network I
mean the old-fashioned, offline, who-you-know network. Let your professional connections know that you
are looking for a job (including a temporary position) so that they can pass your name along if the
subject comes up in conversation. As in my situation, employers may draw temp workers from a pool of
previous applicants for permanent positions. While you probably don’t want to proclaim your willingness
to work temporarily at the beginning of your application process with a potential employer, you might
make the offer later if you are not in the list of finalists.
So should you take a temporary position at a library? You probably wouldn’t set out to make it your life’s
ambition to skip from library to library, but when you find yourself without a job or in desperate need of a
change, it’s a fabulous alternative to working in fast food. While temp jobs do offer less security and may
not come with a heap of health or retirement benefits (though my temp jobs did), you will be gaining
experience and professional references (so make sure you do a good job!) for future job searches.
A colleague and I were recently discussing this article, and he jokingly said, “You know, the real question
is why anybody ever wants a permanent job after working a temp job. I mean, once you see how
screwed up the place is, why would you want to commit?” Sure, he’s a bit of a curmudgeon, but he’s kind
of right. Each workplace has its quirks, and when co-workers start to get grumpy, temp workers have
something to be thankful for: an escape hatch.
Holt, R., Strock, A. L. “The Entry Level Gap”. Library Journal 1 May 2005. 3 Jan 2005. <http://www.
“Temporary and Employment Agencies for Information Professionals.” LISjobs.com. 5 Jan 2005. <http:
About the Author:
Amy York is the User Services Librarian for Distance Education and Outreach at Middle Tennessee State
University in Murfreesboro, TN, where she worked in temporary positions on and off for two years before
landing her permanent job. During the “off” times she worked as a substitute high school teacher, which
has filled her adventure needs for many years to come. Amy received her M.S. in Information Science at
the University of Tennessee.
Article published March 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.