May 26, 2018

The Class of Twentysomething: Degreed and Jobless | BackTalk

Employed or not, we are out of school and we are librarians

Here we are: the spanking-new class of degreed librarians.

For the past year, or two, or more, we have memorized our profession’s code of ethics, role-played the reference interview, and practiced AACR2 to impractical depths. We have defended our future to strangers and loved ones (“You have to go to school for that?”), polished resumes, and faithfully followed along with #libraries. We have tackled internships and practicum opportunities with gusto. We have eaten more pizza at student and faculty-sponsored socials than we can handle.

Now what? Sure, a few of you nabbed something before graduation and are heading off to dream librarian jobs in sunny climates with above average salaries. A few others are moving into management positions, having successfully earned the necessary degree, happily paid for by your employer. A few more are landing positions like “Librarian for Japanese Medieval Literature and Biometrics” because, for whatever reason, all those stars happened to align.

But what about the rest of us? Too many of us recent graduates are unemployed or—if we’re lucky—underemployed.

After graduation day has passed, those of us who have yet to find full-time jobs are left with a sense of unease. What exactly are we to be congratulated on? We are now eligible to start paying back those student loans. Excellent. We have way more time to surf the web, though now with significantly less purpose. Great.

Smartphones and paperbacks

We are a particular group. Many of us happen to be twentysomethings. (Of course, we may also be thirty- or fortysomethings.) We have pursued librarianship for all the right reasons. We know this career path will be about working with and for others. We like books and technology, but we also like people. We can recall a time before computers were in every room, but we were also the first to get on AIM and Facebook. We can easily form friendships with people we’ve never met. We have smart phones in our pockets and laptops in our book bags. We read full-length novels. We are active library users: “power patrons,” switching between print and ebooks without regret.

Many of us have a few years of professional experience, though not necessarily in libraries; some have worked in education, government, business, and nonprofits. We have the right references: professors, supervisors, colleagues, mentors ready to sing our praises. We have all the anecdotes ready for interviewers who ask, “Tell me about a time when….” We can identify our communication style and probably know how we best deal with conflicts.

Many of us are progressive movers and thinkers. We ride bikes and buses. We have been recycling since kindergarten. We are sensitive to issues of access and work to ensure all people feel welcome to the library. We furiously defend the best principles and practices established to protect the rights of every library patron. We recognize the issues facing underserved communities and are prepared to focus our efforts on meeting their needs.

We need jobs. We search and we wait. We resist embitterment. We know we are employable.

Living our vocation

There are just oodles of advice for new librarians out there. Entire websites are dedicated to the plight of unemployed librarians. They instruct us of all the things we need to do, many of which we’ve already done: be ready and willing to work with people, make the cover letter perfect, surround yourself with like-minded professionals and positive companions, find a mentor, network, intern.

In the meantime, we are librarians. Library job or no library job or not-quite-a-library job, we must act accordingly.

Stay up on technology and relevant geekdoms: Tumblr, Twitter, etc. If you have an iPhone or ereader, discover every feature. If you have a job, become the known expert on the printer/fax machine and conference phone. Organize your department’s electronic records. If you can’t afford an ALA membership, remember that ALA and its respective subdivisions publish many of their professional resources online. If you can’t afford subscriptions to journals, get to the library. Use local academic libraries (if you can) to access new databases and catch up on library literature. Learn everything your public library has to offer online and through programming. Risk your friends’ patience and barrage their inboxes with events at and news of your public library.

Librarianship is first and foremost a service profession. If you are unemployed, find a means to support yourself. Make sure you can pay rent, then get out there and serve. Find volunteer opportunities or part-time shifts in the community you hope find library work. If there’s a waiting list for volunteers at the library, look for other organizations promoting literacy and education. And don’t forget social services. Many shelters and soup kitchens include a computer or two—volunteer your expertise and help a neighbor navigate the job listings on Craigslist. If you are applying for jobs outside of your current location, consider the demographics of your future placement. You may not be helping folks draft research papers or discern credible resources for citation, but you will gain insight, experience, and personal connections with your future patrons.

We must seek opportunities to demonstrate and exercise our new librarian identity. We may not have an office wall to hang our shiny new diplomas on, but when we finally land that first (or fifth) phone interview, we must be confident in the fact that we are librarians already. We are just looking for the right library.

Fund Your Library: Tools and Tactics for Getting to Yes!
Whether you’re going to voters, city councils, school boards, college board of directors, or any other funder, the fundamental issues are the same: how do you convince the stewards of a limited budget that the library is their best investment?


  1. I just got a rejection email informing me I was in an excellent pool of more than fifty candidates. I have a second masters and five years experience, so it’s tough out there. On the other hand, as a hiring manager in the midwest, I almost never got out of state applicants for entry level librarian positions that paid $38K to start. I was often stunned by the lack of quality and quantity in those applicant pools, especially given this economy. Pick your battles. Try to stay out of situations where it’s almost a lottery. Good luck!

  2. I just received my MLS a month ago, and this article really hits home for me. I need to make the last line of this post my personal mantra, and just stay positive. Thanks!

  3. Nice article, Kate! I have been working two part time jobs in different public libraries for the past year, and while I am so grateful just to have jobs in my field, doing what I went to school for, I am still looking for that perfect full time position with benefits, 40 hours a week (at ONE library!), etc. They are few and far between, but in the meantime I’m waiting for the right job, and busy working as many hours as I can to pay for student loans and health care…

    I think we had a class together a couple years ago… if not, you look JUST like her. 716 in Harold Washington with Alexis??

  4. This is a great piece and another reminder of how important it is to get library experience while in grad school.