June 18, 2018

Hiring is Recruiting: A Career Often Begins in a Low-level Library Job | Blatant Berry

Many of my closest librarian friends found their way into our profession much as I did. We had no idea what a librarian did, nor how or why anyone would become one. In my case, just out of the U.S. Army after two years as a draftee and badly in need of a livelihood, I followed up on an advertisement from a local library. Apparently, I was the only able-bodied male who applied and the only applicant they thought might be able to deal with the rowdy adolescents who invaded the place every afternoon (see “Listening to the Young“). The rest, as they say, is history.

Recently, teenage Patrick Robertson, one of my next-door neighbors whom I pay each spring to mow my lawn, stopped by to tell me he had decided to pursue a career as a librarian. He is a very smart young man and had been considering his options for the future. He found librarianship, much as I had, by taking a position in the local library. He enjoyed the work so much he decided to look to it as a career. I was delighted at his decision and enjoyed knowing that he discovered our profession as I had, albeit some six decades later.

I am very familiar with that very small library, the Richards Free Library in my hometown of Newport, NH, and its librarian, Andrea Thorpe. She is one of those paragons of our field whose enthusiasm for the work is highly contagious. Young Patrick has apparently been captured by her professional powers.

I have witnessed stories such as his literally hundreds of times, many of them from students in classes I have taught in LIS programs. It strikes me that while many of us know how working in a library attracts people to this field, we need to develop more organized ways to use that exposure to recruit new librarians.

There is no doubt that experiencing various aspects of librarianship can make someone want to enlist in it. Our academic and public libraries are staffed by thousands of students and young folks who came for temporary employment and discovered a future as a result.

We haven’t always used these recruits well and have probably lost many because of the menial chores we offered, the low rate of pay, and the tediousness they had to endure. Yet in smaller libraries, where pages and clerks often have to interact with library users, younger library workers get at least a taste of what a professional librarian’s job encompasses. For many, it is an inspiration and suggests a course they had never considered.

Clearly, it would make these initial jobs even more attractive if we add to them meaningful and varied tasks, especially those that require interacting with the public. It would also be helpful if we librarians would connect more with these recruits, sharing inspirations and professional highlights and suggesting ways they could find out more about our industry and its opportunities.

My point is this: library work is attractive, especially those parts that include working with patrons and creating and developing collections and services to meet their demands. It is work requiring high levels of social and intellectual competence and a commitment to service.

If we tried to build samplings of those aspects of our field into lower-level jobs, we would have a recruiting tool of great potency. My first library boss did exactly that, and I was hooked for life. If we make it a goal, our temporary positions can become a permanent pipeline.

This article was published in Library Journal's July 1, 2017 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

John N. Berry III About John N. Berry III

John N. Berry III (jberry@mediasourceinc.com) is Editor-at-Large, LJ. Berry joined the magazine in 1964 as Assistant Editor, becoming editor-in-Chief in 1969 and serving in that role until 2006.



  1. Bob Peterson says:

    Great article. Made me think of all the ways folks decide to join this profession. For many of us it was as patrons, myself included. Looking back I wish I had the chance to work in our small town library while I was in high school. It would have been a more direct route than the circuitous one I traveled to find my way to librarianship. Either way though, it is a joy find one’s way however one does and join this profession.

  2. Conrrado S says:

    I applied for a paralibrarian position at the age of 24 not knowing the full extent of library work. I have now been at my library for over two years and, due to a hiring freeze, perform more duties normally given to librarians. I learn something new every day from my supervisors and our patrons, and I look forward to pursuing a degree in Library Science in the future.

  3. Rachel Renick says:

    I became a librarian because as an English major, the only place I wanted to work while I was an undergrad was in the campus library. I was thankfully hired as a student worker in Circulation. I didn’t know at that point which career I wanted to pursue or anything about becoming a librarian. When they moved the reference desk to the same desk as the print desk that I would work at sometimes, I started talking to each of the librarians while we were working next to each other. This led me to learning about what a reference librarian did and how to become one. It has been 10 years since I was hired as a student worker, and I’m now working in a job I love as a Reference Librarian at a joint use community college/public library. I strongly agree that student, part-time, and staff positions can be great ways to start a career in librarianship.

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