Thursday, April 12, 2018

Applying for Academic Library Jobs, by Sarah Wingo

The job market is tough and there are any number of reasons that an application may not make it through to an interview, and many of those reasons may be as simple as “did not meet minimum requirements.” My experiences are with applying for jobs and serving on search committees at academic libraries, but I believe a lot of what I’m going to suggest is applicable across the board… with one caveat: if any of the advice given below goes against instructions for a specific position to which you are applying, ignore my advice.

The Job Posting:

This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but the very first thing anyone should do when applying for a position is to carefully read over the job posting. Usually the posting will contain all of the vital information you need about the position and will help you figure out what they are looking for, and whether or not you want it.

Next, look more closely for clues about what the search committee is really looking for in a job candidate. The job title, description, required qualifications, and preferred qualifications are all areas to key in on, but what you really want to be looking for is anything that goes beyond general descriptions and requirements posted to most job postings.

For example “MLS/MLIS from an ALA-accredited institution, or an advanced degree in _______ with a willingness to pursue an MLS/MLIS” isn’t unimportant, and you could see some version of this requirement on any academic librarian job posting. That alternate degree tells you what the focus of the job will be.

Resume or Curriculum Vitæ

Although most job postings will usually refer to a “resume”, some academic libraries actually want is your Curriculum Vitæ (CV). A quick google of “Resume vs. CV,” will return plenty of results explaining the difference, but this one provided by is clear and concise.
“A CV is an in-depth document that can be laid out over two or more pages and it contains a high level of detail about your achievements, a great deal more than just a career biography. The CV covers your education as well as any other accomplishments like publications, awards, honours etc.
“The document tends to be organised chronologically and should make it easy to get an overview of an individual’s full working career. A CV is static and doesn’t change for different positions, the difference would be in the cover letter.
“A resume, is a concise document typically not longer than one page as the intended the reader will not dwell on your document for very long. The goal of a resume is to make an individual stand out from the competition.”
You should look at your CV or resume with fresh eyes every time you apply for a new job. You may not need to change much, but you might want to update descriptions or reorder bullet points to highlight experience that is most relevant to the particular job to which you are applying.

As a newcomer to the profession, the amount of experience you have may vary and that’s okay. If you don’t have a ton of jobs or internships to list you might also add large projects you did in library school that are relevant.

And if you don’t know where to start, try Googling “librarian resume sample” or “librarian CV sample” and use the categories you see there. You can also turn to the career center at the school where you got your master’s. They’ll be happy to help.

Cover Letter

While having a strong and coherent resume/CV is definitely important, having a good cover letter is what will make you stand out as a candidate and may even help you to get an interview.

Some of what makes a good cover letter is personal and it takes practice to learn to write about your experiences in a clear and concise way, but there are also pitfalls that are easy to avoid.
  • If the advertisement includes the names of the search committee address it directly to them, but if you don’t a general “To The Search Committee for [position title]” is fine.
  • Unless otherwise stated in the application instructions a good cover letter for an entry level position should be anywhere from 1-2 pages in length. If your cover letter takes up less than half a page, you’re probably not providing enough information.
  • Your cover letter should NOT just repeat information already shared in your CV. It should instead elaborate on what the search committee has seen in your CV by providing concrete examples you have had in your past work experience that relate directly to the job you are applying for. This is where your careful reading of the job posting comes into play. This is also where applicants can really shine, by highlighting the different ways in which they meet the job requirements and demonstrating their understanding of what the position is asking for.
  • Your cover letter should clearly address the specific job to which you are applying. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a general overall template that you use for similar positions, but you will need to make edits, especially in the introductory and summary paragraphs.
  • You also want to make it clear that you have some idea about the institution to which you are applying.  Do some basic googling, go to the university’s website and the library’s website. This doesn’t need to be anything elaborate, a simple sentence mentioning the name of the university and something that drew you to apply will be enough. You just don’t want your cover letter to be so generic that you could clearly send it to any job posting, because the search committee will be able to tell and may eliminate you because of it.

Some final thoughts

Never be afraid to ask for advice or guidance. When I was applying to jobs I reached out to a number of librarians at my graduate school. I had never met most of them I had never met before I simply found their email on the library’s website and contacted them explaining that I was a current student applying for academic librarian jobs in their area of specialty and asking if they would be willing to meet with me, they all were. I also had my boss at the time and a few of my former internship supervisors look over one of my cover letters, which really helped me to focus in on what was important and cut out what wasn’t. 

If you’re no longer in school or if you’re a distance learner, it is okay to contact a librarian at a university near you. Since taking my current job I’ve spoken to a number of people who don’t go to the school I work for, but wanted to talk to me about librarianship and I’m always happy to speak with them. We all remember what it was like to be new in the field, and we all want to help if we have the time.

Sarah is the liaison to the departments of English, Theatre, and Romance Languages at Villanova University’s Falvey Memorial Library. Her library degree is from the University of Michigan and prior to doing her MSI she did an MA in English at the University of Birmingham’s Shakespeare Institute. She tweets at @SgWingo.

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