On the Job Market? Five Helpful Hints to Get You Through the Horror

Introduction. It’s spring. The birds are singing, the flowers are blooming, and graduation is looming. The idea of leaving grad school can be daunting. Yes, it does mean a brief reprieve from reading neck-sized tomes of library literature but it also means heading into that emotional gauntlet known as job hunting. This is a scary place to be, in the face of terrifying student loans and the prospect of having to move back in with the ‘rents…AGAIN! It doesn’t help that the unemployment rate hasn’t stabilized and older librarians, who were predicted to be retiring in droves by now, are postponing their retirement due to the economy.

The truth is that there are jobs out there but they might not be your dream job at an ideal salary and you might not get them in record time. So, if you are a new graduate with limited experience but won’t settle for anything less than a $55,000 salary in a major metropolis, you might have a long wait on your hands. So what is the answer to getting a job? With so many people applying for so few positions and needs varying from institution to institution, there isn’t one. But don’t lose hope. Here are some helpful hints to get you through the process in one piece.

1. Have Patience — New archivists. Unless you already have 2-3 years of professional archival experience, can perform special collections cataloging, are fluent in French and German, and know how to create metadata for digitized objects, it might be a while before you get a permanent position. New librarians. Unless you already have 2-3 years of professional library experience, can perform original and copy cataloging, are familiar working with several OPACs and ERMs, and have an established background in instructional, research and liaison services, it might be a while before you get a permanent job. How long? 8 months to a year…at best. It’s a long time but it is time that can be used wisely. So what’s the best way to keep yourself occupied that doesn’t involve weeping over the want ads?

  • Participate in your state archivist and library associations by contributing to their newsletters and attending the annual meetings. If you can’t afford to travel to the national or regional conferences, this is a good way to stay active professionally while on a limited budget.
  • Work on your research. Dust off one of your student research projects and turn it into a presentation proposal for an annual meeting at a local library or archivist conference. This is a great networking opportunity and it will help you build up your resume. You can also start reading up on those topics that piqued your interest in school but you didn’t have time for.
  • Write a book review. You have the time and there are a number of places to submit your reviews to including Archival Outlook, American Archivist, SAA roundtable newsletters, and a wide range of ALA newsletters, columns, and publications.
  • Stay current. Continue to read the professional literature, follow blogs, subscribe to RSS feeds, and listen to podcasts. Also, take advantage of available professional development and online learning opportunities. Both ALA (http://www.ala.org/ala/onlinelearning/) and SAA (http://tinyurl.com/65578p) keep an active schedule of webinars, workshops, and presentations as do most state archivist and librarian associations.
  • Create an online portfolio that showcases your research, experience, and areas of interest. You can post papers, projects, instructional modules, completed finding aids, and digital examples of collections you have processed and/or digitized.

2. Consider Residencies and Temporary/Contract Positions — I cannot recommend residencies enough. I graduated in 2009 with only 6 months of practicum experience. As I slugged through the job hunting process, I immediately realized two things:

  • I did not have the requisite years of experience. Period.
  • I was competing with several past classes of MLIS graduates for the same “entry-level” positions. The difference was that they had been slowly building up their skills in the interim through professional development, part-time jobs, and patient waiting in less-than-ideal part-time and full-time positions. So it didn’t matter that I had a 3.9 GPA and more enthusiasm than you could shake a stick at. My resume simply wasn’t competitive enough.

So I started to investigate residencies. Residency programs are fantastic! It will be the only time that someone will be unperturbed by your complete lack of professional experience. The positions are usually for a two-year term at academic libraries; appointments are often at faculty status with faculty pay and privileges. The primary goal is to help participants develop their professional library skills. This means financial support for conferences, time to work on articles and presentations, peer collaboration, and a very supportive and mentoring environment. Most importantly, it means the opportunity to gain experience.

Most residencies are listed as librarian positions but they often allow residents to choos e their area of interest; some job postings explicitly list archives and special collections as desired areas of focus. Although these positions don’t require professional experience, they are still very competitive and often require an exhaustive interview process that includes a presentation component.

Temporary positions are another option, mainly for archivists. These positions are often grant-supported and can last anywhere from 6 months to several years. If you have the flexibility in your personal life, these jobs are a great opportunity to gain some much-needed professional experience. If your options are more localized, don’t be afraid to apply for part-time positions in your area.  While not ideal, these types of positions will help keep your resume current.

3. Practice, practice, practice! — In “real world” terms, entry-level means 2-3 years of experience and some institutions further qualify this as professional experience, meaning any position held after you graduated from library school or a paid position; this excludes practicum or internship experience. Yes, we’ve all taken classes but theoretical knowledge isn’t enough. Employers are looking for what can’t be taught in school, namely the knowledge that comes from working regularly with more experienced librarians, learning from your own mistakes, and creating that personal balance between theory and practice.

Still, some experience is better than no experience. If you are still in graduate school, then you should get yourself a practicum immediately. If you are about to graduate, then you should be looking for opportunities to volunteer. Areas you will want to get some skill development in include:


  • Instructional media
  • Outreach and research services
  • Working with OPACs and ERMs and OCLC
  • Collection development and management
  • Basic original and copy cataloging


  • Processing collections
  • Creating EAD-compliant finding aids
  • Project management
  • Familiarity with digitization components and institutional repository (IR) platforms
  • Reference and instruction
  • Basic preservation

Also, regularly review job postings to see what skills employers are looking for.

4. Be Willing to Move! — The best advice anyone gave me in grad school was to be willing to move. The professor who imparted this wisdom was also the professor who had most recently come off the job market as a full-time archivist and she was acutely aware of the professional climate. She stressed that if I was willing to move anywhere, I would find a job faster and that, in the long-term, it would be worth it professionally. And she was right. Aside from my own, other examples include:

Ex. 1. Right after school, a colleague from my graduating class accepted a full-time, lone archivist position at a very small institution in a very, very, very, very small town. I know just how small it was because I interviewed for a different position at the same institution. She managed to stay there a year and she is now working at Yale.

Ex. 2. Another friend in my class accepted a position as a part-time librarian in an extremely rural library. She spent the last year and a half building up her qualifications and gaining professional experience. She has just accepted a full-time librarian position in the field of her choice; she will be moving to Sacramento in a few weeks.

5. Publish, present, or perish! — Well, you won’t perish literally but you might flounder professionally. If you intend to work in an academic institution, then publishing and presenting are required. Even if the position isn’t a faculty appointment, a demonstration of “professional involvement and a commitment to scholarship” will be one of the requirements for promotion and advancement.


If you’re not planning to go into academic librarianship, it will still behoove you professionally to publish and present. Though the language is slightly different, many non-academic positions still require a “demonstrated commitment” to the profession. This doesn’t mean that you need to publish a 500-page doctoral thesis on the entire history of archives but you should be thinking about your research interest. Become involved with SAA, ALA, and ACRL groups and roundtables and don’t be afraid to respond on the listservs. Also, don’t limit yourself; try out member groups and sections that pique your interest but aren’t specifically in your field such as the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section (RBMS) or Library and Information Technology Association (LITA). Librarianship is increasingly interdisciplinary and there are a number of interesting ideas being developed in closely related fields that could innovate and rejuvenate our work.

Conclusion. The job climate might be rough at the moment but it certainly isn’t hopeless. With a little hard work, perseverance, and compromise, we, the recent MLIS graduates, WILL find gainful employment.  Mayb e not in the cities we want or at the salaries we think we deserve but we will get jobs. And those dream jobs that we fantasized about during long lectures in school? We will get those too…eventually.

Popular Job Sites

ALA Job List (http://joblist.ala.org/)

SAA Career Center (http://careers.archivists.org/search.cfm)

Libgig (http://www.libgig.com/)

Archives Gig (http://archivesgig.livejournal.com/)

Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (http://www.hercjobs.org/)

UT Austin’s iSchool Jobweb (http://www.ischool.utexas.edu/jobweb/Search.php)

ARL Job Announcements (http://www.arl.org/resources/careers/positions/index.shtml)


Rabia Gibbs is a Diversity Resident Librarian/Research Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee. Her area of specialization is archives and records management. She received her MLIS from the University of Pittsburgh in August 2009.



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