I used to be a librarian for seven years. I was laid off twice and am now working in marketing, which I hate but am doing well in. Many libraries are downsizing, and although I've been applying and interviewing, I'm stuck. And I’m not a librarian anymore, which makes me sad.
My concern is that I'll "time out" from library work by being out of it for so long. Do I take a horrible-paying job in order to get back into the field to make myself more marketable and combat (perceived) skills erosion? Is that worth it, or necessary?
Ask yourself why you really want to be a librarian. What is it about the job — or the profession — that is so attractive to you?
If, as you suggest, your goal is to work in a traditional library setting, set some goals for yourself:
- Make sure you have a broad and deep technological understanding. As you know, library science has evolved rapidly and dramatically into a very technologically sophisticated profession. If your skills are lacking, enroll in online courses.
- Go to trade conferences, attend webcasts and webinars, and absorb everything. See if the school where you earned your Master’s (or any other degree) has online continuing education classes.
- Visit every library in your community. Public libraries, university libraries, libraries affiliated with museums or scholarly collections. Hang out and watch. What’s changed in the years since you last worked in one? What kind of people are there? How are they finding what they need? What are the librarians being asked to do? Also use these visits as networking opportunities and a time to ask lots of questions about the demands on the newest generation of librarians.
- Most importantly, embrace change and question everything you once learned. That’s what the most successful librarians are doing now as they are reinventing their profession.
Give yourself until the end of the year to get your skills up to date, learn new technologies, and network as broadly as you can. Then, given your willingness to move, see what opportunities are out there in as wide a net as you can throw.
Remember to lean on your marketing expertise. It’s a skill that will increase your value in the profession today and it can help you market yourself to prospective employers. The pitch is not about what you haven’t done in recent years — it’s about all the things you will have done in the coming months. You’ll sell yourself based on your passion, your creativity, and your commitment to continuing to evolve and grow.
But before you focus on finding a traditional library job, consider this: In the broadest sense, libraries are where people go to find information that has been organized and catalogued. Today, information (think data) is organized and catalogued in all kinds of remarkable and interesting ways — and not just by libraries, but by all types of people, organizations, and corporations. Data management systems are ubiquitous.
If you break down what it is you love about library science, you might discover that the essence of the thing you care passionately about is found today in places other than a traditional library setting. Maybe it’s organizing and cataloguing a retrospective of something. Maybe it’s helping analysts research a particular business sector. Maybe it’s working with a major corporation to help them manage millions of digital assets.
The most important thing you can do is look at your situation through a 21st-century lens. Chances are you’ll gain clarity and see countless possibilities that require your skills and appeal to your passion not just inside — but far beyond — traditional library walls.
Christine Tardio is a trusted advisor and business coach to a dynamic range of women business leaders. She can be reached at thelookinglass.com.