Thursday, September 11, 2014

Don’t Believe the Myth, You Can Change Library Types, by Maribel Castro


After 14 years, it was time for a change.

Though an accomplished school librarian, I had hit a plateau and needed a whole new set of challenges. The choices for me were to either seek these challenges within the world of school librarianship or to look to a whole other area of the library profession. As it happened, a move to a new city resulting from my husband’s job change served as the perfect opportunity to pursue try something new.

I had always held a deep interest in academic librarianship and polled a number of my academic librarian friends regarding their work. I was excited about the new possibilities and applied for two research and instruction positions in my new home town. My ego took a hit when I received two rejection letters. I had assumed that because I had name recognition as an active member of our state library association that I would magically receive an interview. Since I needed a job, I accepted a position as a high school librarian working with an incredible team, but still held on to my goal.

I continued to eye every academic librarian job that was posted and continued to seek advice of friends who are academic librarians. I periodically updated my resume to highlight my most recent jobs, duties, and titles. I had no idea that it would be three years before I would see the perfect posting for an academic librarian. This time, I took a whole different approach.

Doing an Honest Self-Inventory of Your Skill Set

I began objectively assessing my challenges in applying for this position. My strategy was to emphasize my skill set through my years of instructional experience, my expertise in electronic resources, and my experience as a systems librarian- areas where my academic librarian competitors might be at a disadvantage. I printed the job description and became intensely familiar with it. I placed check marks next to each of the required and preferred job qualifications and listed my skills separately. I stayed honest and did not “inflate” any of my skills.

I also agonized over every single word of my cover letter, particularly since my academic librarian friends informed me that hiring directors and search committees “weed” out applicants based on the cover letter. There are many online resources to help librarians who are in the job market write the perfect cover letter. Additionally, online resources are valuable tools to assist in “selling” yourself, as well as avoiding the tendency to sound prefabricated and indistinguishable from the pack.

In essence, my self-inventory served as the guide for my cover letter. It provided me with the foundation I needed to stress my qualifications.

Getting “The Call”

After the intense work of looking at my skills through a new lens, I was thrilled to receive an email from a library director requesting a “time to talk” about my candidacy. It happened very fast- I answered the scheduled call that was, indeed, a phone interview. After I hung up, believing I did not do well, I felt it was pretty much over for me. However, as I pulled up to our home, I received the call inviting me to a face-to-face interview. I was still in the game!

While I did not yet have the credentials as an academic librarian, I knew that my mission would be to demonstrate my confidence in my abilities during the job interview. By the time I got to the job interview I had committed the job description to memory. In addition, I had spent countless hours becoming intimately familiar with the university’s library site, its resources and usability. The library website, I determined, was in need of an overhaul.

From my instructional experience, I had a keen sense of how students interacted online when seeking information. I would leverage this skill in the interview. Furthermore, I planned to constructively utilize my perspective as an “outsider” to delicately critique areas of need. For example, the job description specified duties pertaining to electronic resources, but what improvements would I recommend?

When asked by the library director toward the end of my interview if I had any questions, I asked, “Are you happy with your online interface and presence?” The exchange between us for the next hour clearly indicated to both parties we were the right fit for each other.

It’s Been a Year!

Just last week, my library director mentioned to me that I had simply “jumped into the deep end of the pool” when I started my job, now over a year ago. It was a challenging first year to say the least. I conducted 82 research classes, migrated our library site and guides to LibGuides CMS, learned to code to a much more sophisticated level, and took over the duties of managing our electronic resources within the first term. Becoming a subject specialist, understanding tenure, publishing, university committees & politics, outreach, are next on my plate, but I was right! I knew I could do this job and I’m so thankful to my library director for taking the leap with me.

Maribel Castro is the Electronic Resources & Instruction Librarian at Lubbock Christian University Library. She tweets @eatdrinkbooks.

1 comment:

  1. I went from a medical library to academic to public and I'm an emerging tech. librarian now. All of our skills are transferable!