Thursday, May 15, 2014

So, You Want to Be A Government Librarian?, by Naomi House


My first official librarian job was for CSTI contracting as the Reference, Acquisitions and Marketing Librarian at the US Census Bureau. Oh, and one small thing, I was only half way through my MLIS online at Rutgers SCI program. How did I do it? Was it my grades? Was it through networking? Was I recruited? Nope. My grades were excellent but they didn’t even ask for a transcript until later and I did not know anyone at CSTI or the Census Bureau. No job recruiters found my resumé no matter how many places I had it posted online. No, what helped me find the job was a keen desire to advance that made me much more aware of the resources I already had. I was a member of DC / SLA and received emails with job ads in them regularly. I had no idea at the time that the contractor had only posted on two listservs, the Catholic University LIS student listserv and DC / SLA’s listserv. Contractors are often not just library specialists and actually do much, much more so they were unaware that they should have posted on ALA JobList or on SLA’s main jobs site. What got me my first job was reading my listserv jobs notices, a good interview where I smiled a lot, experience working as staff in a library, and a smaller pool of candidates due to the limited number of people on those listservs.

Not all jobs in the federal government are federal jobs: many are run by outside contractors. Also, not all jobs LIS professionals and students are qualified for are strictly in libraries. I highly recommend informational interviews as a way of sussing out what working in these different types of environments and agencies is really like. But if you are anxious or ready to start job hunting for federal work, here are some places I highly recommend you check out first!

In: Federal Libraries

There are many jobs each month in federal libraries both in the US and around the world. (Note: mostly they are only open to US citizens.) The first place I recommend librarians and MLS students look for a library job is the Careers in Federal Libraries Google Group and email list. Nancy Faget and her team scour the federal jobs sites and put all new federal positions into an email with hyperlinks so you can easily apply. Well, applying isn’t easy and each application takes hours to complete, but at least Nancy’s team makes it easy to know what is available.

Second, set up a alert. You can set up an account on with a resumé that federal HR people can browse as well as set up alerts for specific jobs series (types of jobs). Librarians and Archivists fall under the 1400 series, for the most part, which means the job can be a 1400 or a 1410 or a 1411 and it goes on like so. Alerts, just like the Careers in Federal Libraries email list, take the search out of the job hunt and save you tons of time. You are going to need it! Applying for a federal job takes hours and you need to be repetitious in the application. Jobs apps are sorted by machine first so saying the same thing twice is something that a machine sees as quantity. Machines see repeated phrases as evidence that you are an expert so say it once, twice or thrice, that is OK. For further advice on getting a job in the federal government check out my review of a DC / SLA and Careers in Federal Libraries event online.

Out: Non-Library Jobs in the Federal Government

Not surprisingly the very best resource for non-traditional jobs is also Careers in Federal Libraries. Nancy Faget is a federal librarian and President of Federal & Armed Forces Libraries Round Table. She has been working for years with many LIS professionals and was well aware that it is not just the 1400 series that LIS professionals can work in. In addition to the 1400 series librarians are often qualified to work in jobs families such as the 1000, 1700, 2200, 0300, 0000 and 0001 series; these are some but not all we may be qualified for. These include the Information and Arts Group, Education Group, and Information Technology Group. Heck most of the NewFeds (a group of new federal and contractor LIS professionals) I know do not work as traditional 1400 series librarians. I was a rare exception.

All Around: Contracting

You may have heard of contractors before and wondered what it was like to work for them. Where do you go to work each day and who do you report to? While each place is different, basically you are an employee of the contracting company who goes on site to the government agency and does the required work (cataloging, reference, acquisitions). The company you work for is your source for human resources, but you will also have a contracting officer or contracting officer technical representative (COTR) who you take directions from and work with.

As I mentioned listservs are a great source for finding these jobs and no there is no database of all jobs for contractors. Contractors win bids to get those contracts and can be secretive about who knows which jobs they have open. Yep, that is right, that does make it harder for them to find good people. Now here is a secret; contractors actually use and other job scraping services that let you post your resumé to find candidates. It happened to my friend and to one of her previous bosses. You will need to update your resumé at least once a month so they see it but this actually works! Of course Aflac will call you too but one sternly worded “take me off your list” and you should hear from them no more.

So there you have it. LIS professionals can work in a variety of positions in, out, and all around the federal government. And the jobs may not make it onto the traditional websites you scour already so be sure to be signed up for listservs too. Part of the reason I founded INALJ was to help people find all these jobs in one spot, and we do a great job of finding many of them but there is no substitute for also signing up for every listserv that fits your bill. Make your own luck by not missing a thing that comes through your area. I know I am glad I did.

Naomi House, MLIS is the founder, editor and publisher of, a library jobs board and webzine.  She founded INALJ (I need a library job) in 2010 after her own successful job hunt lead to her first librarian position as a government contractor at a federal library.  She believes well sourced quantity is quality.  Find her on TwitterFacebookLinkedIn and the INALJ LinkedIn group.


  1. I can echo Naomi's experience. My first job for the federal government was as a contractor and my first federal job was not in a librarian series. In fact, it wasn't until my last job in the federal government (as a Director of a Library) that my job classification actually matched my scope of work. You've got to look for the type of work you want to do and the type of organization for whom you want to work. Not every library job is worth having and not every government agency is a good place for you to work. Apply, apply, apply and if you find the right job (contractor, librarian, other), then take it and grow in it until it's time to move on. Good luck!

  2. Wonderful advice, Richard!

    I would highly recommend informational interviews and joining your local SLA chapter as ways of networking with and picking the brains of government librarians. I also love Cathy Wagner's old blog, called All About Special Libraries. It is archived now (she isn't adding to it)

    All the best,


  3. I appreciate this post very much! Not currently seeking a library job but I love keeping tabs on what positions are available. I'm considering pursuing a Digital Archives degree and this info will come in handy down the line! Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thanks Caroline!

      I just presented to the NDSA (National Digital Stewardship Alliance) at the Library of Congress this week. We chatted about getting the word out about digital archives and digital preservation.

      I love their Digital Preservation in a Box website/ resources/ tools:

      And you should check them out here and connect with them; great people:

      All the best,