Let’s take a break from our crash course in A+ Certification to talk about certification itself. We get certified in any variety of subjects not only to build our resumes but to build trust – between ourselves and our employers or clients. Certifications say that we have the knowledge and experience to do what we claim we can do. If you’re A+ certified I can trust you to fix my computer. If you’re a board certified physician I can trust that you have the credentials to heal me. If you’re a CPA I will trust you to do my taxes correctly.
And if you’re a Certified Public Librarian? What knowledge and experience does that imply?
Requirements and standards for librarian certifications vary by state, and some of the better ones include different levels of certification based on education and experience. However, there are some states, Ohio included, that leave much to be desired. Let’s pick on Ohio’s granting body, the Ohio Library Council. The requirements for certification are simply a Masters in Library Science and “two years of experience working in a library”. There’s no stipulation that these two years must be post-graduate or professional in nature.
So let’s say I’m a page. I shelve books 10 hours a week for two years and at some point during that time decide I’d like to be a librarian, so I go to library school and get my MLIS. As soon as I graduate I am eligible for certification, despite never having earned any experience in a professional role with librarian-level responsibilities. I have exactly as much knowledge and experience as my recently graduated peers, but the certification implies that I have some form of advanced knowledge or experience, when in reality it’s simply a piece of paper for which I have paid OLC $50.
I am not against the idea of librarian certifications, but if they are simply going to be an additional piece of paper to pad resumes with and we are not going to reserve them for librarians who have earned them with real world experience, we might as well tack the $50 onto the price of library school tuition and give them out with the diplomas.
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”.