Thursday, January 16, 2014

Getting Your Foot in the Door: Moving From a World of Possibility to One of Opportunity, by Emily Weak

"Tundra," by Nate Eul

I was one of those naive fools who started library school without any actual library experience. When I went in, I had vague notions of being a teen librarian, because I liked YA books (if you were to watch a seasoned librarian read this, now is the point when you would hear uproarious laughter [Editor’s Note: Yup, I laughed when I read that, but also me, too: my first experience in libraries other than as a patron was the volunteering I did my last semester at Simmons.]). When I got out of school, I had broadened my interest in potential careers to include special libraries (where I had actually gotten experience), academic libraries (no experience, although I had been a research assistant), and both adult and children’s services in public libraries (no experience).

Basically, there was a whole world of exciting possibility out there in libraries.

I graduated in May of 2011, and was laid off from my paraprofessional position about five months later. 2011 was a tundra for library jobs - hiring was frozen all over. At the time, my resumé was full of creative reaches written in a sort of desperate hope that all my non-library experience could translate into actual library skills.

In spite of my wide ranging dreams of possible librarian jobs, the actual opportunities were few, far between, and intensely competitive.

I applied to a wide range of positions - academic, special, public, and non-library. My wishful resumé did manage to get me a few interviews, in more than one of those categories. Finally something clicked, and I got a pool librarian position at a multi-branch, city-based, public library. (If you’d like to know what it was like doing pool work for three different libraries, I wrote about it.) At the time, I only had a bicycle and public transportation, and I often had a four hour round trip, to work a four hour shift.

But it was library experience! Adding this to my resume won me a second pool position, in a different city. And then a third city library sent a hiring announcement for pool positions to the first library - so I was part of a small group that knew the third library was hiring, and was able to get a position there as well. Then, finally, over a year and a half after getting that first job as a pool librarian, I was hired into a permanent position, in adult services, at that third library.

I’m about six months into this permanent position, and I love it. This is what I want to do. This is what I’m good at. I still have fleeting dreams of working in children’s services, or even as an academic librarian, but for the most part my world of possibilities has narrowed down to this single opportunity.

The point of telling my story to you, here today, is this: get your foot in the door. If you’re just getting started, put your feet in as many doors as possible. Take a part time job that’s far away from you. Volunteer. If you’re still in school, do internships. If internships are not available, see if you can create them at libraries you’re interested in. Do what it takes to get experience doing actual librarian work.

And then, once you get that foot in there, do good work. Be on time. Put your nose to the grindstone. And the most important thing: be nice. Be fun to work with. Make your coworkers’ jobs easier. Over at Hiring Librarians I often see job hunters complain that it’s not what you can do, it’s who you know. They’re right. Getting to know other librarians, and letting them get to know you, is vital to finding and making the most of opportunities. People skills are the most important skills you can develop, both in your work as a librarian, and in your career trajectory.

Emily Weak is an adult and virtual services librarian at Mountain View Public Library (although she still works as a pool librarian one day a week in Oakland).  She blogs at MLISsing in Action, and also founded Hiring Librarians, which features short interviews with people who hire librarians, and some other stuff. You can find her on Twitter @flemmily and at the Hiring Librarians' Twitter account, @HiringLib.


  1. Good Post. Thanks and congrats on finally landing a job you enjoy.

  2. I'm so glad you shared this story, Emily. I had a similar experience: laid of from academic library job in 2012, started part time work in early 2013, and the job went full time. I love it and wouldn't be where I am today had I not taken the risk of accepting a part-time job to get my foot in the door.

  3. Thanks Katy! I'm glad your situation has worked out well too!