Nov 01 2003

Career Q&A, November 2003

Published by rachel at 12:44 pm under careerqa

by The Library Career People

Q: I’m currently working in another profession, but would like to get back into librarianship. How do I stay active in librarianship while not working in the field? How do I get back into working in a library? And how do I upgrade my skills for the current job market?

TA: Perhaps the single most important thing is to STAY ACTIVE. Join professional associations, become active in your local library, and network, network, network. Tell everyone you know that you want to get back into (or break into) the library field. A friend of a friend of a friend may know of just the right position.

By joining a professional association, and attending their events, you will be able to make professional contacts and keep your skills up to date. You will also be taking a proactive approach by staying active in the field, even while not working in a library. Look into ALA, MLA, PLA, SLA, or any of the state-level professional associations that closely match your professional interests. Additionally, professional associations often offer career assistance, such as on-site placement centers at annual conferences and resume reviewing services. Take advantage of the workshops or online classes offered by these organizations. They are a good way to keep your skills current, and also to meet new people and expand your network of professional contacts.

Secondly, get involved in your local library. Join the Friends of the Library, volunteer for activities, and attend open library events in your region. This goes back to the first point, networking.

Third, consistently review professional journals, publications and web sites. Watch for announcements of new positions and look for transferable skills - supervisory experience gained in another organization would directly translate to supervisory responsibilities in a library position. The same would be true about experience managing a budget or overseeing a project or program. Examine your experience and determine how it would match the needs of the position (and be sure to explain the parallels in your cover letter). You may also want to consider an informational interview with a professional in your area of interest. An informational interview is simply that - an interview to gain information about a profession or a new area. You should make an appointment (don’t just “drop in”), and stay for only 15-20 minutes (unless invited to stay longer). Ask about the field, the person’s area of expertise and how they got where they are today.

Staying active in a profession in which you are not currently working is a lot of work, and requires a great deal of dedication. But in the end, if it scores you the job of your dreams, it’s all worth it.

SM: Tiffany’s ideas are excellent. It is extremely important to network and to get hands-on experience. To supplement, I would say - get online! This is an exciting time to be entering the library profession. With so many online resources (e.g., web sites, articles, job boards, and e-mail lists) freely available, keeping up with the profession and updating your skills are not as difficult as you may think.

Join library-related e-mail discussion lists. Do some lurking and find out what topics, resources, and ideas librarians are currently discussing. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and voice your opinions. These discussion lists exist to support our profession and its members. They are also a great way to find out about new jobs and new opportunities to stay active in the profession. I would recommend NEWLIB-L, which is geared for new librarians, those who are considering becoming librarians and others in the field who are interested in imparting wisdom and advice to the aforementioned groups. LIBJOBS would also be helpful, not just for finding out what jobs are available, but also for looking at job descriptions, requirements, and salaries to get an idea of what is out there and what is expected of librarians in different positions, in different institutions and in different states or countries. There are plenty of other librarian discussion lists that you may want to consider joining, depending on what aspect and/or subject area of librarianship you are interested in. You can search for more lists on the Library-Oriented Lists & Electronic Serials site.

Another option for updating or refreshing your skills is to take classes, either online or in-person. Associations, universities and colleges, and private companies alike are now offering a variety of classes and distance learning opportunities geared for librarians and library students. The Special Libraries Association (SLA) offers a Virtual Seminar Series, and the Simmons College GSLIS holds online workshops as part of their Continuing Education series. Taking a class or two will not only update your skills, but also give a boost to your resume and show a future employer that you are serious about keeping current in the profession.

In addition, look at the Advice section of for some helpful articles and information on getting started in librarianship. Check out the site, and the new book, Jump Start Your Career in Library and Information Science by Priscilla K. Shontz. Good luck!

Q: I am about to finish my library degree in the United States and want to know if I can use my degree in Canada, and how do I find jobs there?

SM: I have met several Canadian librarians working here in the States, but I haven’t heard much about U.S. librarians working in Canada. If you have ever perused Canadian job ads for librarian positions, you have probably seen the message, “Canadians and permanent residents of Canada will be given priority.” Even though this sentence sounds discouraging, don’t let it stop you from sending in your resume. Here’s why:

An MLS degree or its equivalent from an accredited U.S. school is recognized in Canada (and vice versa). Library schools in Canada and the United States are accredited by the same organization - ALA’s Office for Accreditation & Committee on Accreditation.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) makes it easier for librarians in the U.S. to cross the border to work. Librarians who are U.S. citizens can qualify for a work permit under Chapter 16 of the NAFTA regulations. The NAFTA applies to four specific categories of businesspersons: business visitors, professionals, intra-company transferees, and traders and investors. Librarians are included in the list of professionals.

All businesspersons covered by the NAFTA are exempt from the need to obtain approval from Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC). This means that Canadian employers do not need to have a job offer approved by HRDC to employ a U.S. librarian. For more information, Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) has a helpful site.

U.S. librarians with a job offer from a Canadian employer are classified as NAFTA Professionals, and may apply for an employment authorization at a Port of Entry, at a visa office abroad (in the U.S.), or from within Canada if the applicant is already in Canada as a visitor. The duration of NAFTA Professional status is for an initial period of one year and an unlimited number of one-year extensions may be subsequently obtained. offers more information on employment authorization for non-Canadians.

Although NAFTA makes the process of getting into Canada easier, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it will be easy to procure a job. It really depends on where you would like to go and how much competition there is in that particular city and/or province. There are fewer library schools in Canada than in the United States, and also fewer jobs. But, if you are serious and you are qualified, you should by all means apply for positions in Canada. Just make sure the employer knows about the NAFTA Professional status.

Currently, the job market for librarians in Canada is fair, and the unemployment rate is below average. The HRDC hosts a Job Futures site that provides information and statistics on different careers in Canada.

The following library job sites either list Canadian job openings or link to sites with job postings:

Canadian Library Association Classifieds

LIBJOBS - mailing list and web archive, international in scope

Library Job Postings on the Internet

TA: As a brief follow-up to the excellent ideas from Susanne, I would add a note about the importance of networking and staying involved professionally. In many ways, my response to this question will mirror many of the suggestions from the answer to the above question. Beyond the basics of wanting to work abroad (learning the language, researching labor laws and the work visa issues, etc.), the key to successfully entering any job market (here or abroad) is who you know. Make professional contacts through professional organizations (ALA, CLA, etc.). Check out web sites, monitor e-mail lists, and attend annual conferences. Contact professionals currently working abroad, or folks who have worked abroad in the recent past, and schedule an informational interview. You can speak to individuals who have successfully worked abroad and ask them how they got started. You can also speak with other librarians currently working in the area to which you may be considering relocating. In addition to gathering information about the area, information interviews will also widen your network of professional contacts.

Below are a few links to online resources that I hope you will find helpful in your research:

ALA International Relations Committee (IRC)

ALA International Relations Office

ALA International Relations Office list of International Associations, Organizations and Conferences

ALA International Relations Round Table (IRRT)

International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA)

Have a question for the Library Career People? E-mail it to, and you could see it answered in an upcoming column. Sorry, we cannot provide personal responses.

About the Authors

Tiffany Allen is currently serving as the Assistant Personnel Librarian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Prior to her work in academic librarianship, Tiffany worked in a variety of libraries, including a small non-profit library and a large corporate research library.

Susanne Markgren is Reference Coordinator and Web Librarian at the Levy Library, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York City. Her career experience encompasses a variety of positions in different types of libraries, including public, special, and academic.

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