2.18.2011

but there is some good news: becoming a librarian update

Despite my complaints, there is some good news. Nothing solid like a job offer - too early for that - but hope is beginning to take shape on three different fronts.

Volunteering. At the iSchool, we are absolutely inundated with opportunities to be more active in the library and information science community. Talks, conferences, networking opportunities, volunteering needs - our in-boxes are flooded on a regular basis. At first this used to add to the pressures I felt during my first term, but I learned to quickly scroll through the emails, then hit delete.

However, graduates are expected to have participated in some extracurricular activities. Library students are especially expected to go beyond, at least a bit. I don't think anyone expects our resumes to be laden with organizations and activities, but on the other hand, not having any would be a deficiency. I feel like I can't afford to have anything working against me - I'm not going through all this to lose out on a potential job because I didn't dig deeper.

Given how I feel about my time and my schedule, you can imagine how much I look forward to this! Because I'm attending school part-time, I've been able to put it off. Full-time students have only two years to touch all the bases; I have four. But now it's become time for me to keep an eye open for some volunteer opportunities. Anything I do must be both relevant and interesting to me, and work with my schedule. No small order! So when I received an email that had potential, I jumped on it.

A community centre in Toronto needs volunteers to read to children in their after-school program, and to generally maintain their small children's library. They ask for only one three-hour day per week - a minor time commitment compared to most things I do.

Inquiring further, I learned that there's a great need for volunteers after school ends, but before they break for summer - perfect for me. And they're in easy walking distance of my war resister meetings. So during May and June, before my Wednesday night meetings, I'm going to do this. I'm actually looking forward to it!

I also joined a children-and-youth library group, and although I haven't participated at all yet, perhaps I can write about this experience for the group blog - potentially interesting to me, and a useful resume-building activity. So expect to read about this in May and June.

Working in a library. When I started school, I was hoping and expecting to get a job as a page - shelving books - in the Mississauga Library System. This would give me access to internal job postings, plus bring in a bit of much-needed income. But my library school career coincided with the closures for renovation of five branch libraries, which had to be done simultaneously in order to qualify for federal stimulus money. So the whole system compressed, and hiring froze.

Now the first renovated branch has reopened, and the rest are slated to reopen soon. It will still be a while until a job opens up, but several librarians have told me there is movement on this front.

In one sense I dread this, as it seems that the only way I can squeeze in a part-time job is to give up my activism for a while. But it's important, and I need it; if there's an opportunity, I have to take it.

Career prospects. Several people at school have implied that not having library experience will be a gaping hole in my resume - that despite 20+ years of work experience, great skills and a degree, I may not make the cut because my past experience is not library-oriented. This is not a part-time job shelving books, but people who have made a career in libraries, working their way up through a library system, eventually hitting a ceiling, then returning to school for their Master's degree, and now moving into the professional level.

In January, I had a networking and informational interview with a librarian very high in the Mississauga Library food chain. Her response to this concern: absolutely not. She said, point blank, that I "should not hesitate" to apply for professional-level jobs upon graduation. Working one's way up through a library system is one path, but it's not the only one. In her mind, it's not required or necessarily preferred: it depends on the person and her or his skills. She was very encouraging that my life-work experience plus my degree would be considered a solid background, and that - at least in her mind - I would not be considered deficient because my career path hadn't run through the library. This was a great relief!

Along with the volunteer opportunities I mentioned above, iSchool students are bombarded with networking opportunities. I never attend. Most of them don't apply to the work I want to do, plus I am useless in those forced networking situations. I grow tongue-tied and shy. But one-on-one, although I do get a bit self-conscious, I am much more at ease. And since I know exactly where and how I want to start my library career, it seems much more fruitful for me to simply meet people in the Mississauga system - to let them know I'm here, and to periodically remind them I'm still here.

4 comments:

Amy said...

The volunteering should be meaningful. I hope you enjoy it. And I can't believe your local libraries are renovating. Around here libraries are just closing. I am sure that you will have much to offer any library without ever having worked in libraries. We need more smart, hard-working and passionate people involved in public service and in educational pursuits.

laura k said...

Thanks, Amy. I'm sure I have much to offer, too - but employers will see many resumes of many good people. My concern isn't so much what I have as how my experience will compare to that of others. But my chat with this upper-level manager was very encouraging.

Yeah, it's amazing, isn't it? Five brand-spanking-new branches - not just renovated, completely rebuilt - the oldest branches in the system. A new branch was built just a few years ago.

There have been some service cuts - numbers reduced by attrition, more automation, more paraprofessionals - but nothing drastic. I don't know when salaries will take a hit, but I imagine it is on the horizon.

impudent strumpet said...

So THAT'S why all the libraries are renovating! Stimulus deadlines! I saw the federal signs out front, but never made the connection to that's why so many of them are going it all at once.

laura k said...

Right - use-it-or-lose-it deadlines.

Here in Mississauga, all the older branches being renovated at once means when people's closest branch is closed, their alternate branch is closed, too, and likely their 3rd choice, too. It's been tough for a lot of people, especially seniors. But they're all coming back now - beautifully re-designed and expanded.