Jul 01 2003
by Patti McCall
Most people I knew in my MLS graduate program had a plan. Some have “always wanted to be a youth services librarian.” Others said, “I want to be an archivist,” or “law librarianship is for me.” I was somewhat distraught, because I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had completed coursework in archives and records management, but also had an interest in academic librarianship and working with technology.
Looking back, however, I am glad I did not have a grand plan. Instead, I had the flexibility to work in a wide variety of areas - one of the main reasons I pursued librarianship in the first place. I did not want to be a typecast librarian. I wanted to take on different roles and different challenges, and improve my chances of being employable in a competitive job market.
I have been asked how I transitioned my way into different capacities, but I truly had no scheme. After some soul-searching in school, I determined that I would keep my options open. If I saw an interesting opening for which I met the minimum qualifications, I applied without hesitation. Initially lacking real-world library experience, I emphasized my transferable skills in my resume and interviews.
After having worked in the insurance field, where I developed attention to detail, the ability to prioritize, the ability to resolve stressful situations, a high standard of customer service, and the ability to detail with occasional chaos, I quickly discovered I was well suited to work in libraries. Potential employers often recognized that value of such skills. After all, I had experience helping customers who had just lost their home to a fire. I knew all about stress and rattled customers. I pointed out my strong skills for handling details, having worked in a field where inaccuracies could lead to nasty lawsuits.
Leaping Into Librarianship
My leap into librarianship began with a reference department graduate assistantship. I then became a records management coordinator for a municipal government. I did not have experience in records management, but I did have the required coursework and a base of knowledge to work from. I enjoyed the challenges of working with different departments, managing two records centers, and learning about the inner workings of municipal government. I then managed interlibrary loan at an academic library, before arriving at my current position as a corporate librarian for a pharmaceutical research company. Somewhere in the middle of all that I also worked, and continue to work, part-time in a public library handling adult and youth reference as well as teaching Internet courses. I even threw in some short-term consulting in records management.
I also found that my variety of coursework enabled me to get my foot in the door. I was hired as a part-time records management coordinator due in large part to my relevant coursework. The job grew into full-time within six months. During that time I improved and expanded my technology skills by taking evening classes. In another six months I was promoted, with a nice raise, to handle network administration duties - due largely to my taking the initiative to learn as much as I could about computer technology. I have spent all of my life learning new skills, and saw no reason to stop just because I had acquired a graduate degree.
I love my current job, but I cannot say that they will wheel me from here to the retirement home one day. There are still opportunities that require exploring, new challenges that require tackling. For those of you who are like me, I can offer the following advice:
- Do not be discouraged if you have not yet identified your library dream job. Maybe the problem is that you have, not one dream job, but six! Either way, explore interesting courses, internships and volunteer opportunities. Such options are not always possible, but take advantage of any opportunity to explore different areas of librarianship and acquire a variety of skills.
- Emphasize your transferable skills. Are you a volunteer paramedic? Have you ever worked in healthcare? Were you an accountant? All of these jobs require many skills also important to librarianship. Are you able to find solutions to tricky problems on the spot? Do you know how to communicate with a variety of people? Such skills can be your passport to different areas in the information field. Identify them, articulate them, and draw attention to them. Remember that librarianship offers a wide variety of opportunities.
- Send in your resume for any positions that interest you. I have sent resumes and interviewed for a variety of positions that interested me, including archivist, youth services librarian, adult services librarian, and corporate librarian. In each, I saw ways I could contribute my varied talents and learn new skills in appealing environments.
- Keep diversified. I cannot give up my part-time gig at the public library. I thoroughly enjoy teaching Internet classes, recommending good fiction, and tackling random reference questions. The crowds are different at corporate and public libraries but both provide their fair share of challenges and rewards. Working part-time or volunteering in another area offers a change of pace, enlivens a resume, and helps a librarian think outside of the box.
- Accept new opportunities. While working as a serials and acquisitions librarian in an academic library, rather slow work during a budget crisis, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to manage the interlibrary loan department when another librarian left. In a short time I was able to acquire a breadth of skills in a number of areas. My skills in interlibrary loan provided me with a solid bridge to my next position in a corporate library, where interlibrary loan and document delivery were key concerns.
- Join professional organizations, keep current in the library literature, and follow e-mail lists. Make contacts in different areas in the field, keep up with the latest issues, and stay active in relevant organizations. Not only will these prove useful resources in your current job, they will keep you up to date on other areas you may choose to explore down the road.
- Remember that the world is filled with possibilities. If you possess a bit of initiative, creativity, flexibility, and willingness to try new things you will quickly discover that a career in librarianship offers a wealth of diverse opportunities.
Patti C. McCall is the Corporate Librarian for Albany Molecular Research, Inc. (AMRI) and a part-time Adult Services Librarian at the East Greenbush Community Library in East Greenbush, NY.