When I began library school I had two preconceived notions that turned out to be wrong – faster is better, and generalizing is best. Speed is a topic for another day, but as I continue to job hunt I realize how important it is to specialize in grad school.
First, a word on my graduate experience. I took the accelerated (“wallet friendly”) 15-month track, and I knew I wanted to focus on technology in the library so I chose an information technology concentration. For the most part though, I wanted to generalize – achieve the broadest education possible and be widely marketable in the face of a recession. I didn’t want to pigeon hole myself with a narrow skill set, so I took information technology classes and also sprinkled in other topics, like reference.
Here’s why that tactic isn’t as sound as it appears:
- There are very few true entry-level positions out there. With each new job posting you’ll be competing with seasoned librarians and those who have chosen to specialize, and a general education is no match.
- Lacking experience, you’ll need a solid theoretical knowledge of the jobs you’re applying for, and it’s impossible to have such knowledge in every aspect of librarianship, especially in the constraint of just 36 credit hours. If you specialize then you’ll have at least one area of strong background knowledge.
- Logically it would appear that your best job-winning bet would be to apply for a diverse selection of library positions, and being well-rounded will help you both qualify for more jobs and be better at your job once you earn it. Realistically, a general studies applicant is likely to be passed over in favor of people with more experience, education, and passion regarding the task at hand.
So what can you do?
- Start thinking about your library interests before grad school (and spend some time job searching to make sure your interests align with the employment market). If you aren’t sure what specialty is right, consider a paraprofessional, intern, or volunteer library job to learn more.
- Pick your library school accordingly – know the professors’ backgrounds and publications, and the options the program offers.
- In addition to your concentration, look for professional development opportunities while you’re still in school – conferences, workshops, webinars and more.
- Know the qualifications listed on job applications that would interest you well in advance of your actual job hunt, and work to add those skills to your repertoire. If you’re interested in a technology-centric position, consider adding certifications to your resume.
- Your practicum will be of vital importance when searching for your first librarian job – choose carefully and keep good notes so you can reference your work in job interviews.
These are all pretty basic things, but sometimes it’s necessary to state the obvious – I did some of them and omitted others, and am now finding myself needing to double back and improve my skills in some areas that could have been handled when I was in graduate school. For more obvious things you may not think of yourself, check out the awesome blog Hack Library School, “by, for and about library school students”.