April 20, 2018

The Grads' Perspective

Many of the 2010 grads found that wearing multiple hats was the norm. They found it much more challenging to delineate a single job assignment than in the past. Multiple part-time positions aside, they identified dual roles in their day-to-day jobs. In the area of reference and information services, for example, some of the more unique examples included taking information services to the user outside of the library, combining outreach with education, and being responsible for developing social media resources along with duties in other areas of the library.

Other roles combined reference services with acquisitions and collection development functions. While not a particularly unusual combination, the dual role clearly illustrates the changing nature of the information professional’s routine. Similarly, in public libraries new graduates reported spending a portion of the day in circulation and another portion in either children’s or adult programming. Children’s and youth services librarians also served as liaisons with the local school district and school library media specialists, planning programs and in resource sharing opportunities. Instruction and outreach were inseparable in some cases and not limited to academic libraries; public librarians as well as special librarians engaged in similar activities. As they described their multiple responsibilities, new grads emphasized the need to be flexible and the willingness to learn and think creatively about how to approach new challenges and, more important, to develop skills that are applicable to many roles.

Solo librarians expressed some of the greatest challenges in meeting the needs of their individual agencies. Most echoed, “I do it all!” They took on administrative responsibilities, research, information dissemination, cataloging, digitization, organization, and even swept the floor. Despite the complex dimensions of their jobs, the average starting salary for solo librarians came in at $41,043, 3.6% under the overall average. This was, however, a huge leap (8.8%) from 2009 (up from $37,449). Like other positions, solo librarians found themselves in academic, public, and special libraries as well as government libraries and private industry. They noted that they were intrigued that each day is different, with new possibilities and new problems.

Class notes

Numbers and statistics do not convey the complete story. The words of the graduates provide a sense of what is really happening. The graduating class of 2010 spoke of both triumphs and disappointments in reaching their postgraduation goals and expectations.

Regardless of prior professional experience in another discipline or some type of work experience within libraries or information agencies, the job search was lengthy for the 2010 graduates—even for those who ended up in temporary or part-time positions. Some spent three or four months landing a job only to end up unemployed again after only a couple of months when economics caught up with their employers. Respondents remarked that the job search felt interminable after being dropped back into the job market unexpectedly. Graduates also expressed frustration with potential employers who did not take time to acknowledge the receipt of résumés; the grads found not knowing worse than outright rejection. Some grads decided to delay the job search until 2012 in hopes that the job market would turn around or at least ease. The lucky ones found employment before or upon graduation. Such coups did not, however, guarantee either permanence, stability, or a professional position.

Members of the graduating class agree that library experience was a prerequisite to landing a job. Nose to nose in competition with mature professionals for jobs, it was critical to be able to show meaningful experience in the type of agency targeted. Many, however, commented on the catch-22 of the situation, asking how they would obtain that experience when they couldn’t land a temporary placement or part-time job and were trying to enter the LIS job market without any “real” library or information science experience.

Grads were unable to agree on whether specialization (library type, subject specialization, etc.) hindered or helped them. For some, the very nature of specialization landed them a professional position. They were able to fill a need for the employer by having knowledge and skills in a specific area, such as children’s services or social media resources. The combination of coursework and on-the-job experience (as part-time student workers, support staff, or through carefully planned practicums) gave them an edge over peers with more generalized backgrounds. One graduate suggested that “intellectual knowledge had to be coupled with experiential knowledge” in order to be successful in a tough job market. Others found the job search difficult for specific jobs and said it would have been better to focus broadly and more generally on their studies.

Other graduates did find the right job in the right type of agency. They acknowledged that in some instances the search was long and disheartening, noting that persistence and patience helped them through. Many treated the search for permanent placement itself as a full-time job, spending a regular eight-hour day on searching, preparing résumés and cover letters, and making contacts with potential employers.

To future graduates

The graduating class had many words of advice and encouragement for their future colleagues. As a group they advised, “Keep a positive and professional attitude; something will come along eventually.” Many also suggested that new graduates will need to be even more willing than before to accept part-time, support staff positions in order to get in the door and prove one’s worth.

One grad offered these sage words: “Look beyond libraries. It is very rough out there even if you do all of the right things. And acquire other relevant experiences.”

For the 2010 graduates, volunteering, fieldwork, and internships were critical to finding a job and ultimately being successful in a position. They reiterated that in such endeavors they gained valuable experience and also found many opportunities to network with professionals. Grads also suggested maintaining good, comprehensive portfolios of work completed during practicums to illustrate skills and competencies to a potential employer.

Other recommendations made by new graduates include knowing when school districts actually begin the process of recruiting and hiring for the upcoming school year. It is important to be in the cycle to be considered for a school media position. Documentation and certification need to be up-to-date before hiring begins.

Far and away, however, the most important factor in landing a position, according to the 2010 graduates, is people. Tap into professional networks, keep in contact with friends and colleagues made during the degree program, and continue to cultivate professional relationships with internship supervisors, they advised. They also cited mentors as being very influential for their contacts in the field and as references that may be more impactful than a more generic letter from a one-semester instructor. Some graduates who landed jobs quickly suggested that finding a job wasn’t in the hundreds of résumés they sent out but rather the single internal job announcement that was forwarded to them by a mentor, friend, or classmate.

Stephanie L. Maatta About Stephanie L. Maatta

Stephanie Maatta, Ph.D. (es7746@wayne.edu), is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University School of Library Information Science, Detroit