Thursday, August 22, 2013

What I Learned Working Part-Time, by Jennifer Snoek-Brown


Two years ago, I was an out-of-work librarian. By choice. Let me tell you why -- and how that decision turned out the best one I could have ever made.

First, a little context. I’m a second-generation librarian, and I’ve been a professional librarian for over a decade. From 2008 to 2011, I worked overseas in the UAE as an academic librarian, and my husband, an English professor, and I decided to return to the United States when our contracts were up for renewal. Why? For the first time in our lives, we realized that we had the opportunity to choose where we wanted to live. Rather than following the job, we wanted to commit to a place first before the job-hunting merry-go-round. It would be like starting over, but this time, we had skills. So we picked Portland, Oregon, and moved.

It was a scary move. Exhilarating, but scary. Fortunately, we fell in love with our city. Unfortunately, we were not as well prepared as we thought for how competitive the job market is in this area, particularly for librarians and fellow academics.

I set to work on job-hunting by signing up for local library job list-servs and even Craigslist. I kept an open mind about related fields, even considering becoming a paralegal at one point! I wanted to keep my head clear and open for possibilities. After all, that’s what had gotten us here in the first place.

I applied for several part-time librarian positions, prepared for interviews, and was turned down multiple times. Those rejections did sting -- no way to sugar-coat that feeling. But with every interview, I was also networking. Finally, a few months after our move, I secured a part-time reference and instruction librarian position at a local community college. Unlike how some might feel about such a position, I didn’t feel it was beneath me in any way; on the contrary, I felt very lucky! I buckled down and went to work.

And throughout that year -- my first part-time job after almost a decade of full-time work as a librarian -- I really focused on what I was learning through this experience. I wanted another full-time position in the long-term, of course, but I didn’t want to get ahead of myself. I also didn’t want to take my job for granted, as I had been close to doing in the not-so-distant past.

So what did I learn as a part-time librarian?

  • Because of the schedule and scope of responsibilities, I did not have a lot of time while on duty to prepare for work duties like library instruction sessions. I had to be able to go in, get it done, and go home. I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist -- my worst trait -- but there was NO time for that on a part-timer’s schedule. That helped me trust my instincts, and the experience that came with those instincts.
  • Because of that re-discovered personal trust, I was mentally free to experiment. Do different things. Push my own boundaries and preconceived limitations. This included experimenting in the classroom, as well as outside the job. For example, I started a couple of library-related blogs during this period. [Editor’s Note: Both are linked below in Jennifer’s bio.]
  • When off duty, I also had more time to think about the core of what it meant to be a librarian. What unites us as a profession? What linked ME to this profession, after all these years? And I asked these questions of my fellow part-timers, as well, some of whom who (still) work additional part-time jobs to make ends meet. Why were we putting ourselves through this uncertain job market and professional turmoil? Through this reflection, I came to believe one thing that connects us all is a curiosity, an internal drive that pushes each of us forward, to ask questions, to adjust our attitude/thinking/keywords/starting point, to be flexible enough to respond to change when circumstance demands it of us. I think all librarians do this naturally, internally, perhaps without realizing it ourselves. I hadn’t realized it until, as a part-time librarian, I questioned myself.

And that led me to realize that I had truly chosen my profession. I was re-energized and re-committed. All because I took a step back, slowed down, and was open to new experiences, including part-time work. Best of all, as luck (and experience?) would have it, I secured a full-time, faculty librarian position a year later at the same institution. I do not take this for granted -- being part-time has helped in that regard, as well. When opportunities come along, you take them, and be happy for the chance.

I realize that not every librarian gets to choose, or feels that part-time is a choice; rather, it is an all-too-real necessity for too many. My own husband is currently teaching part-time at two different colleges! But working part-time in this profession has helped me in so many ways. It has kept me grounded, connecting on a very personal level with the multitude of part-time librarians and academic adjuncts in related fields. It has helped me focus on mentoring and encouraging librarians new to the field. Ultimately, it has helped me recognize that common, internal drive in fellow librarians that I want to work with, the ones who are open to new experiences, the ones who live that common saying that the journey can also be the destination.

Jennifer Snoek-Brown is a faculty librarian and coordinator of library instruction at a community college library. She has two library-related blogs, Reel Librarians and Librarian for Life.


  1. Thanks for this post. I think it's important that we all share our experience with the piecemeal part-time work. It will help inform all of those library school students who want to move to Portland.

    Here's an article I wrote about it several years ago:

    1. Thanks, Emily! Your article on the "In the Library with the Lead Pipe" blog is one that I had read previously -- and in the back of my mind as I wrote this personal perspective piece. I agree, the reality of living and working as a librarian in Portland is TOUGH, and there is stiff competition for every position around here, even part-time jobs. On the plus side, it's nice to know that we have a very highly qualified pool of librarians in this region!

      Jen @ Librarian for Life

  2. Can you share how you go about networking during interviews? I feel like I made good connections on some of the interviews I've had over the last few months, but after receiving rejection letters - even of the you-were-one-of-several-outstanding-candidates type - it feels odd to continue the connection. What are your thoughts?

    1. Interesting question, one that has definitely got me thinking. I guess I think of networking during interviews as (1) making a good impression and (2) making connections about what I like to do and how those experiences link to the local library community -- so even if I'm not ultimately the one chosen for that specific position, that they still might want to keep me in mind when a local project or partnership comes up. (And this did happen about 6 months after 1 interview - one director called me about another position before putting it on the market, but I had already secured another position. But instead of being disappointed, that person was glad to hear that my talents and experience were at least being put to good use elsewhere!)

      This can make a difference when you're looking for jobs within a given geographic area, of course, not if you're trying to move across country. In Portland, the library community is quite compact and close-knit. And through local and regional conferences, get-togethers, etc. I have indeed met up again with a few local librarians who had been on the hiring committees for positions I did not get. And I have felt confident enough to greet them warmly (but not mentioning our first encounter, of course, as that could be awkward for both of us). They have all seemed interested in where I eventually ended up, glad that I found a place in and will continue contributing to our library community. :)

      Jen @ Librarian for Life