You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals

06 Oct

Recently I’ve found myself giving out some careers advice, as part my role as a New Professionals Support Officer for CILIP, and as a follow up to the New Professionals Information Days where people have emailed me asking for guidance (and some of the below is stuff I said in my talk on technology). My career is by no means a shining example to follow, but I do know about a lot of resources or ideas which could help people just starting out in Libraries.

A picture of a 'library careers' magazine

I’ve created a seperate page on my website which draws together the advice below, along with the advice from people in the comments too - you can view it here. The following is the original blog post:

  1. Work *really* hard. I know this is obvious, but you’ll be surprised how hard you have to work if you are to get anywhere. There are enough talented, focused and hard-working individuals in this field who will be going for the good jobs, so you have to work very hard to keep up with them unless you want to stagnate – that may mean doing stuff in your own time, including unpaid work-experience in the department you want to work in (even if you already work in the library elsewhere). Librarianship is NOT a soft option – if that’s what you’re after, stop reading this now and go and look for an alternative career.
  2. Get focused work experience. This really good post from Library Hat reminded me of how important this is – the job market in libraries is so competitive, it’s no longer enough just to have worked in libraries generally. You need experience directly relevant to the career path you want to take.
  3. Plan to do the Masters. Forget the merits or otherwise of the LIS Library Masters, forget the fact that most job descriptions will ask for it ‘or significant experience’. Just bite the bullet – pretty much everyone entering the profession now who is in it for the long haul, either has or will soon acquire a Masters in Library and Information Management or similar. It is expensive and time consuming, it’s of questionable value, and it won’t necessarily prepare you for the proper world of working in libraries – but for now it’s absolutely essential. The sooner you get it, the better. Here’s a list of the places that offer it in the UK (and here’s one for the US), including Distance Learning options which a lot of people are choosing now. I can understand if the prospect of doing another qualification, and all the sacrifices it entails, puts you off the profession; that’s fine. But don’t continue working in libraries without intending to acquire the Masters at some point if a: you plan on sticking around and b: you plan on getting anywhere. (On Twitter, @bibliopoesey asked if it matters where you do the Masters. In my opinion: not THAT much – it’s a vocational degree, so that kind of hierarchical system of Universities doesn’t seem so important. That said, UCL and Sheffield appear to offer a considerably better course, so go there if you can! But you’re not going to be denied a job because you did it at Northumbria, or wherever. Just my view, I may be wrong.)
    Please see the comments section below for more on this - it may be that planning to do some kind of Post Graduate library qualification is sufficient: ie you could do a PgDip rather than a full MA/Msc, which is shorter, cheaper, and not subject to new UK laws about increased fees for those who already have a Masters.]
  4. Be prepared to start near the bottom. Because you need a Masters to get a good job, and you usually have to have worked in libraries for a minimum of one year to get onto the Masters, it’s almost impossible to start anywhere other than near the bottom. That’s actually a good thing – it connects you with the customers, who are what the whole thing is all about (it becomes easy to become detached from that as you move highter). Graduate Traineeships are a good way in – but as @Naldasaid pointed out, there aren’t too many of them. Don’t worry if you can’t get onto one, just start off in Customer Services (or as a Library Assistant or whatever your organisation of choice likes to call it) and apply to do the Masters after a year anyway – just try and make as many opportunities as possible in that first year (by shadowing people, trying to get involved in committees, or doing extra-curricular stuff like serving on your local CILIP Career Development Group committee or getting an article published). You undoubtedly get a broader experience by default as a Graduate Trainee, but by the time your career is three or four years old I’d be surprised if you’d be significantly disadvantaged by not having been one. I certainly haven’t been – I started off in Customer Services, and then got a better job as a Project Assistant 10 months in. Project work is great if you can get it – you can be in at the start of something, which often leads to greater responsibility and the chance to use your initiative.
  5. Proactively anticipate your career needs. It’s very little use trying to acquire some kind of expertise, experience, or training, after you’ve seen the job you want advertised. You need to have already done it before you apply – so anticipate what you might need to know, and start learning about it even if you don’t require the knowledge for your current role. This could be something as simple as going on an Advanced Excel course when you get the chance, to a more strategic process like going for a Subject Team Assistant role if you want to end up as a Subject Librarian, even if that means moving sideways. Get hold of a generic job description for the next role you want, and start ticking off all the boxes in the Essential and Desirable person specification so you can strike when the position becomes available. Then, get hold of a job description for your IDEAL job, even if you’re 20 years away from being able to apply – it’s never too early to know what expertise your career will need.
  6. Join a professional body. I can’t emphasise enough how valuable I’ve found an awareness of the wider profession, and for me that awareness comes from two things – professional bodies and social media (more on which below). So join CILIP, or IFLA, or SLA, or ALA, or whatever body is most pertinent to your ambitions, and devour all the information and connections they have to offer. Most organisations have cheaper rates while you’re a student or earning under a certain amount, so take advantage while you can!
  7. Acclimatise to the fact that this is a people profession. As @jaffne points out, it’s not a book profession, and as @Girlinthe points out, it is a people profession – we are part of the service industry, just in a sometimes-quite-intellectual way. You cannot work in this industry if you don’t like people, if you can’t solve problems, if you can’t keep smiling. If you’re painfully shy then that’s something you can work with and overcome – if you just want to sit quietly surrounded by lovely old books, you are completely screwed.
  8. Acclimatise to the fact that this is a technological profession. Technology is the one thing, apart from problem-solving, that runs through every role or job that the library pays the salary of at the end of each month. Almost every single role needs a good grasp of technology (even the ones you might not think would do, like being a Convervator for Special Collections for example). Here’s a guide to what technological expertise is needed in which areas of the library. If you’re not comfortable with technology now, that’s okay – just throw yourself into it. Fear comes from unfamiliarity, so take that away and you won’t be scared anymore.
  9. Acclimatise to the fact that this a profession in transition. Change is a constant in libraries – there’s been more change in the last half-century than in all of previous library history put together. Get used to change early, and plan for the future always. Part of that change means we have to be more agressive than in the past – the days of running a library like a charity are gone. They need to be run like businesses and aggressively marketed – and you need to be prepared to market yourself, build some kind of brand, and put yourself out there. (I dread to think what I’d've said to someone in 2006, on my first day of the job, if they’d've come up to me and talked about marketing and building a brand – I probably would have laughed at them, or called them a tosser. But it’s the reality, and it’s more fun than you might imagine. :) )
  10. Attend events. Meet people, learn stuff, make connections, understand more than just your own library world. Social Media will help you find the best events to go to, as will membership of a library body.
  11. Join LISNPN. I created a network for LIS New Professionals – it’s full of events listings, how-to guides, information, and other new professionals (around 560 at the time of writing). Wherever you are from, join it – we can try and answer your questions, attend to your needs, we organise face-to-face meet-ups, and we’ll connect you with the wider profession.
  12. Get yourself on Twitter. Twitter is an invaluable source of networking, links, information and support. If you’re not on it, it’s probably different to how you imagine it is – it’s much more interactive, and much less vapid. Make time for it and you’ll have so much more understanding of what’s going on in the Information Profession; here’s my guide on how to get started. If you want to set up a blog too, even better – here’s another guide on how to do that, and on the importance of an online presence.
  13. Diversify. There is no career ladder in this industry; think of it as a career climbing wall. Sometimes there are no hand-holds directly above you – you have to go sideways or diagonally, but the most important thing is not to get stuck. Keep your eye on the job you want, and keep moving upwards in the meantime – sometimes there is no direct route from A to B so you have to diversify. One thing is for sure though – no one (or almost no one) ever went right from a Grade 3 entry level role to a Grade 7 professional role. You need to cover some of the ground in between – and library careers often don’t develop in a linear fashion.
  14. Value yourself. Things have changed over the last few years, and New Professionals are increasingly recognised as being worth listening to! We have a voice, we have networks of support. Don’t put up any kind of wall between ‘us’ and everyone else more senior – but be confident from the start that your opinion is of value.
  15. Make things happen for yourself. If you’ve got a good idea or a wish, don’t wait for someone else to make it happen. Today, with social media and Web 2 tools, you can probably make it happen yourself. Just do it, and professional development will almost certainly follow. An example of this is the Library Routes Project, set up by me and Woodsiegirl – take a look, you may find it useful, as it documents people’s routes through their library career (including how they got started). We just decided to do it because we thought it’d be useful – now it has around 150 entries from librarians all over the world, and has been viewed by over 23,000 people.
  16. Find something in librarianship that matches your existing interests. You’ll be amazed at how diverse interests can be accommodated as part of your library job. Whether you’re a wannabe writer (write some articles for professional publications) or a fan of 16th century textiles (work towards becoming the archivist for the 16th Century Textiles Society..) you can drag your existing interests into your job somehow. It’s what helps make it a vocation rather than just a job.

Any more essential tips? Let me know and I’ll add them to the permanent page.

- thewikiman

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  • woodsiegirl October 6, 2010 at 8:12 PM

    Fantastic post, loads of ace advice there! There’s only one thing I’d add, which I think is a caveat to your “get focused work experience” point: don’t get too fixated on which particular sector you want to work in. What I mean is, don’t let a really interesting looking role in an NHS library pass you by because you’re determined you want to work for a law firm (for example). Particularly if you don’t have that much experience in your chosen sector. This might sound like an odd one but I’ve seen someone do this, only to find when they got their “dream job” that they actually didn’t enjoy working in that sector as much as they’d thought they would. Particularly with the job market being so tough right now, it doesn’t pay to be too picky early on!

  • Jennifer Yellin October 6, 2010 at 8:43 PM

    Interesting and useful post – I have a question though. Having perused a lot of library job adverts, I have noticed that none of them ask specifically for a Masters degree, but rather for a ‘postgraduate qualification’.

    I have discussed this with careers advisors and other librarians and have been told by many that a PgDip is actually a sufficient qualification to have, because it is becoming chartered which really matters in terms of professional qualifications.

    I am interested in your opinion on this, because I know that a number of trainee librarians (myself included) already have a Masters and so are coming up against the problem that the government has removed funding for people taking a second Masters, which means that we are now liable to pay fees at much higher rate at many Universities – even as high as the international fee rate. Sheffield currently has a page on its website warning about the increases in fees for ‘ELQ’ students here:

    I have no doubt that for many people, this would make taking the library Masters unaffordable, but as the PgDip is somewhat cheaper than the Masters I was wondering whether this qualification was a viable alternative?

    On the other hand, with so many new librarians taking the Masters, I do wonder whether the MA/MSc will become the standard qualification required in the future, rather than just ‘a postgraduate qualification’. Would be interested to hear your thoughts.

  • Adrienne Cooper October 6, 2010 at 9:00 PM

    Wonderful post, Ned! I’d like to add something to the idea of librarianship being a people profession. The people you serve are not only your readers but also your co-workers and fellow professionals. Librarianship is a tiny world in which everybody shares information: somebody will know somebody who knows of you and your work. Being a known quantity (or indeed brand ;D) is important.

    And that means you have to get out in front and work on your networking skills. My goodness me – you’ll need them by the bucketload! Lex Rigby’s #NPID2010 talk defines networking beautifully ( It’s not about exploiting who you know, or shameless self-promotion, or accumulating and dispensing as many business cards as possible. It’s about sharing advice and support. And that support can be as small an act as smiling and listening intently to a nervous speaker. Or leaving a comment on a blog post. I am learning so much from those I meet in person and follow online.

    And speaking of qualities needed in bucket sized quantities – passion and enthusiasm. Sometimes it’s the only thing that sustains you through those demoralising times of frustrated (and frustrating) readers, job insecurity and tedious work… It’s totally worth it!

  • meimaimaggio October 6, 2010 at 9:36 PM

    Just chiming in to say a resounding ‘yes’ to the last point about librarianship being a diverse profession. No matter what your interests or ambitions are or what kind of environment you like to work in, there will be some place for you. It’s a good profession for the fickle!

    Also: what do you suggest for people who don’t know what direction they’re headed in? How can I anticipate my career needs when I don’t have any goals?

  • hmccormack October 7, 2010 at 12:01 AM

    Thanks to @theREALwikiman for link; ALA Emerging Leaders, why not contribute to his collection of professional advice

  • theREALwikiman October 7, 2010 at 7:53 AM

    Senior library people: would be really interested in your response to @JenniferYellin’s question re: PgDip versus MSc

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 8:28 AM

    Wow, thanks for the great comments! So taking them one at a time…

    Woodsiegirl, yes, you’re right. I was wondering when I wrote this whether the ‘focussed’ bit conflicted with the ‘diversify’ bit. But yeah, definitely don’t pass up opportunities to work in different areas – I had no idea what my second ever job in libraries even WAS before I got it, not really, but it helped me progress (and it involved technology, as so many jobs do, which is partly why I’m such an advocate of becoming familiar with as much library-related technology as you can).

    So basically I agree, don’t be too picky – if you can GET a job that’s great, you don’t need to worry so much about the focussed work experience thing; but if you’re struggling to find something, it is worth considering.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 8:32 AM

    meimaimaggio this kind of chimes in with what you were saying about how to you anticipate career needs without knowing where you’re going. Firstly, I think that’s a very good question and it’s very easy for me to give out this advice rather than having to live by it! For example, I don’t have a job description of my ideal role in 20 years time as I suggest above, because I don’t know what that is.

    But I think you can do two things – one, go on courses even if you don’t think you need to know what is taught on them. So for example like most academic libraries, the one I work in runs an Information Literacy programme – it tends to be one-and-a-half hour sessions on a topic, either at lunch time or in the evening. They’re aimed primarily at students or University staff but I went on LOADS of them in my first year – they were free, they were on my doorstep, a lot of them were irrelevant to anything I’ve done since but the Copyright one wasn’t; it turned out copyright knowledge was a key part of the second job I ever had, and when asked about it in my interview I didn’t have to mumble something about being ‘aware of the issues’, I was able to say to the questioner “I’ve been on YOUR copyright course!” That made a big difference. So get as much free training as you can.

    The second thing is, the whole ‘awareness of the wider profession’ thing I often bang on about, which develops from conferences, membership of organisations, and social media, will make you more and more aware of the possibilties, until eventually you have enough information to make an informed decision as to where you’d like your career to go. Just try and keep moving in the meantime because as I say, it’s very hard to jump two grades or more, so progression is essential so that you are in a position to apply for your ideal job once you work out what that job is…

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 8:40 AM

    Adrienne, you need to start a blog… That is fantastic comment, that ought to be a comment in itself. I love what you say about networking, that is so true – and perhaps sometimes forgotten. Maybe people would be less intimidated by the prospect of it if they thought of it like that, too…

    By the way, you are the QUEEN of smiling and listening intently to speakers! You have that absolutely nailed. After having you watch my afternoon session at NPID2010 I can see what Bethan was talking about at New Professionals, it’s the most encouraging sight… so thank you for that.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    Jennifer that’s a really good point about the new rules regarding Masters – like I said to you in the email, I can’t believe this is something I’ve never considered before (particularly because half of my wife’s job is post-graduate recruitment, so the rules are big problem and something we’ve talked about a lot). I did wonder if you could maybe do an MSc if you’ve already done an MA, but the FAQ you link doesn’t seem to think that’s possible.

    This is a real problem for our industry because the vast majority of people who join the profession don’t do so straight away – people don’t know that it’s any good, so they often stumble into it later. That means that, like you and like me as it happens, they might have already done an MA in something becasue they didn’t know they wanted to work in libraries. So it’s all very well me saying bite the bullet and do the Masters – but if it had cost me nine grand or whatever the overseas fees are, there’s no way I could have done it. All the more reason to look again at the Library Masters and re-assess if it is working!

    Regarding your main point about whether the PgDip is sufficient – I imagine that in a lot of cases it probably is, yes. My old boss had one of these rather than the ‘full’ Masters and he was fine, Jo Alcock is yet to complete her dissertation but her career is exemplary. So I think that may well be the answer to the post-grad qualification fees rule – just do the PgDip. Of course you could end up in the hypothetical situation where two otherwise equal candidates go for a job, in which the one with the MA/MSc would probably get it. And dissertations are useful if you do them on subjects pertinent to your potential employer – you do develop expect level knowledge of a specifc area of librarianship, which can come in very handy and make you an attractive prospect. But I don’t know of any specific instances of the PgDip stopping someone from getting the job. This goes back to what I’ve said before, that all the qualification does is get you the interview (because everyone else has it) – it’s your experience and attitude that get you the job. So perhaps any post-graduate library qualification will get your foot in the door.

    I have to say though, I’m just speculating. As you say, with so many people doing it perhaps the MA/MSc will become the de facto standard. I wish we as an industry could adress the problem the of ‘the qualification’ collectively, as it’s really not satisfactory as it is.

  • jimmy1712 October 7, 2010 at 8:53 AM

    @theREALwikiman I only have undergraduate degree, experience is what matters most in my sector, although now not officially a Librarian!

  • Girl in the Moon October 7, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    What a great post. Not a very easy read – there’s so much I should be getting on and doing! – but all the more useful for that.

    I was going to leave a comment similar to woodseigirl’s about not being picky about what experience you get, because you never know what will be useful and you never know where your interests might end up. It’s something I’ve been guilty of in the past: not going to things because they weren’t immediately linked to my ‘dream job’. I’m trying to be more eclectic now…

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    Yep I really do agree with the not being picky part. I just wanted to get across that, for example, if you get a job while you’re doing the LIS Masters, it’s tempting to think that just getting something in a library is enough. But actually, it really is useful to be aiming for something even at that stage. You can always change your mind of course! But working in Special Collections if that’s where you want to end up is a good thing to be doing – the profession is so diverse now, that working in section X won’t neccessarily be preperation at all for working in section Y even though both are part of the same library building.

    To quote the Library Hat post I link to above:

    “If one’s dream is to be a systems librarian, working at a circ desk would add very little in the job market no matter how long the work at the circ desk has been and how good one did the job. If it is not possible to get a job or work as a cataloging or a reference assistant while you are in school but cataloging or reference is the job you would like to go for after the MLS, you should consider other ways to get that type of work experience such as volunteering and part-time and/or term-time positions. In reality, MLS programs provide mostly vocational education, and as such, work experience often trumps high GPAs and other academic achievements. Going for the work experience in the field one wants to be is THE type of risk and investment that any future librarian must take and make.”

  • davidclover October 7, 2010 at 9:35 AM

    @theREALwikiman I’ve gopt a PGDip but when I did my qualification they didn’t do MA’s and I never thought it worthwhile upgrading. As someone who has done lots of interviews I’m more interested in experience, skills and attitude (cust service, team wk…)

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 9:43 AM

    This from @Jaffne on the same subject: I only have diploma, can’t see it’s had any effect. Tho in my sector, experience is more important. When you fall into a specialism (law, health etc) no lib qual can be relevant, just skills/experience.

  • Lex Rigby October 7, 2010 at 9:49 AM

    Remember that there are professional qualifications awarded by CILIP too and pursuing a traditional librarianship postgrad isn’t your only option. There’s ACLIP certification for instance for anyone with at least two years experience working in libraries and are looking to move forward in their careers –

    You’re also eligible to register for Chartership with a non-accredited degree providing you have substantial experience (what constitutes substantial though I do not know) –

    Although I do have a Librarianship MA nothing has taught me more about libraries than actually working in libraries. I agree with Woodsiegirl about not letting interesting roles pass you by. When I first started working in libraries I was sure I was going to be a law librarian.

    I’d also recommend grabbing fixed-term contracts or temping for say Sue Hill. It’s a great way to get more experience in a variety of sectors.

    Great post Ned!

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    Yes, excellent points all, and thank you for putting in the links!

  • Emma Davidson October 7, 2010 at 10:08 AM

    Wow, this post is amazing! I just wanted to say particular thanks for the point about proactively anticipating future career needs – I can’t believe I’d never really thought of doing this before and I think it’s brilliant advice.

    I think a good strategy to adopt if you don’t know where you want your next move to take you would be to work out what elements of librarianship you want your next post to include. This could then become something to compare job descriptions to, and see what was available which might suit you, and would also help in working out where your skills gaps might be.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 10:13 AM

    Yes that’s a good plan. Also, talk to other librarians! Generally, librarians are happy to share information (it’s all part of the brand building Phil Bradley was talking about at NPID2010 – “you need to give things away for free” – and what Adrienne was talking about above with networking) so just ask them about their role, to see if you think it might suit you in the future. Even if people within your own organisation are a bit unforthcoming, the wonders of social media mean there are always people to ask who are only a few clicks away… (And of course, check out the Library Routes Project and the Library Day in the Life project to see what other professionals actually do, and why they like it.)

  • Jo Webb October 7, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    As a shortlisting criterion the PgDip/Master’s degree does not make a difference as there are many people who did not have the option of doing the Master ‘s. I do, hoever, encourage team members with a PgDip to upgrade to a Master’s qualification of some sort, either topping up the LIS qualification of taking an MA in Education after the teaching course. M level qualifications help to departmental metrics for staff skills and qualifications and reinforce our professional and academic credentials.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 10:41 AM

    Thank you for commenting Jo! I appreciate a short-listers input, and that’s very interesting.

    So basically, the advice could read – be prepared to do a Post Graduate Qualification, and keep in mind the option to the Diploma now and the possibility of upgrading at a later stage in your career…

  • Jo Alcock October 7, 2010 at 10:42 AM

    Re: qualifications – Ned is correct that I am yet to complete my MSc so currently just have the Postgraduate Diploma. Despite that, it has in no way affected my career prospects and I have had two jobs on the strength of a postgraduate qualification (i.e. it was specified to get an interview) but in neither of those (in two very different jobs in different institutions) has the lack of the MSc affected my prospects. In both interviews the focus was very much on skills, experience, and approach to tasks – most of which I have gained through working, not qualifications. Having the postgraduate qualification gets your foot in the door to get the interview, but I certainly haven’t found that only currently having the Diploma has set me back in the slightest – it wasn’t even raised as an issue at all. I am doing the MSc (it’s now finally paid for thankfully!) as I enjoy research, but if finances are an issue and you are only doing the qualification to progress in your career, I would say that the Diploma is fine – I know a number of people who stopped at that stage and it certainly hasn’t held them back. You could always top it up or later, or do chartership which I would think shows a greater commitment to your professional development than the MSc.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    Okay well that’s actually really encouraging… I might actually change the post to say – “be prepared to do the Post Graduate Qualification” – as that seems to be the message. The comments would no longer make any sense, but…

  • Jennie Perry October 7, 2010 at 10:49 AM

    Great post! I think the value of temping in getting started shouldn’t be underestimated – especially at the moment where so many jobs are being filled with temporary contracts. It is a bit scary going from contract to contract, never knowing whether you’ll find something else quickly when you need to, but the experience you gain and the wide range of contacts you can make doing this are very valuable. New professionals struggling to find their first permanent post should definitely consider a bit of temp work too. I know people who have made thier whole career this way and love it!

    Regarding the PGDip/MSc – I already had an MA in another subject (art history – how useful!) and was dismayed that I wouldn’t be able to get funding for my library qualification. I had to borrow the money to pay my fees from a relative, and because of this and also partly because I felt I had already demonstrated my ability to study at postgraduate level I opted to take the PGDip in Information Science at UCL.

    Before deciding to do this I checked with CILIP quals that the course was accredited, and I also asked around my library contacts and was unanimously told that when they were recruiting all they wanted to see was that you had taken an accredited postgraduate course and the level was irrelevant to them. Interestingly, the type of course I did was also considered to be unimportant, and so I opted to take a more techie course than a traditional library school one although I did have the benefit of several years’ library work experience through which I had covered most of the “traditional” library skills (cat & class etc.) I’ll be interested to hear if anyone has come up against problems with a Diploma rather than an MA, but so far I’ve had no trouble.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Okay that’s it! The advice posted above is OFFICIALLY changing to reflect all this very positive stuff about the PgDip… Thank you all. And good point about demonstrating your post-grad abilities already, and really good to know that when you asked around people said the level was irrelevant.

    I will edit the post later today.

  • Bethan October 7, 2010 at 1:42 PM

    Great post! very useful advice :)

    A couple more things:

    1. Look at the other things you do, and how they can be related to what libraries do. I was talking to someone who had been working in the journal publishing sector, and was worried that they didn’t have the ‘right skills’ to put on a CV to move into librarianship. Actually, they had loads of great skills & experience, but they were describing them in a publishing way, rather than bringing out the information management aspects.

    So many things can be relevant to the profession when you choose to look at them in the right way – when I interviewed for my grad trainee position I got brownie points for doing proofreading over at Project Gutenberg (, as it showed I was interested in ebooks, digital preservation, and quality of information (though I doubt I put it quite like that at the time!).

    2. Speak as well as listen. This is related to your point 14 – realising your own value. Reading professional blogs and discussions is fantastic, but they gain in value the more you interact with them: value as you have to think about something more to make a decent comment (no more skimming!); value as people see you as being involved & having ideas; value as you gain confidence from professional dialogue.

    That doesn’t mean you have to start your own blog, or comment on everything! But it does mean that you need to make the effort to get involved – even if that means stepping outside your comfort zone. A good way to start might be to set yourself a target – say, comment on 1 blog post for every 10 you read.

    And this applies as much to people thinking of going into the profession as to new professionals! Info pros *love* talking to people outside the sector – there’s no ‘librarians only’ club. You won’t be mocked or excluded – and what better way to find out what the profession is really like?

    3. Say yes to everything! This is a bit misleading, as indiscriminate ‘yes’es can leave you overworked and without even a hint of a social life… but it really means that you shouldn’t let any opportunity get away. Agree to be on committees, speak at events, write articles and guest blog posts – you may be terrified, but it’s a fantastic way to gain experience. And the more you say ‘yes’, the more people will ask you to do, and the more opportunities you get! (it’s at this point that you might need to start considering saying ‘no’ – but if you’ve got this far, you’ll probably only say ‘no’ for good reasons, and not because you’re scared/think you can’t do it).

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 1:50 PM

    All excellent points Bethan, thanks for chipping in! Totally agree with all those. Relating to your third point is that once you do a couple of things for yourself, people just start asking you to be involved with stuff and you don’t even have to try and make things happen! It’s amazing how quickly that occurs… As you say, the more you do, the more you get asked to do. For the first time I’m having to say no to some really good stuff this year (my annual leave year started last week, and 5 days are gone out of it already for speaking stuff – I need to save the rest for, you know, holidays and baby stuff…) so I guess a caveat to your third point is, once people start offering you a lot, start saying ‘no’ based on discretion rather than on when your diary fills up!

    NB: Not that I’m regretting any of the stuff I’ve said yes to. :)

  • miss Jparris October 7, 2010 at 1:54 PM

    Fabulous tips and I am actively taking yours and Lex’s advice about Twitter & Blogs, which you promoted at the New Professionals Day, regardless of how daunting this all is.

    My career path kinda went in the opposite direction. Starting as a library assistant in a public library many many moons ago ( about 12 years) I settled into the role without really thinking about my career path. Years later I find myself working in an academic library in a senior role. It was this position that actually prompted me to look at my career which is very much management based, plus working for a small campus means that I am often required to undertake “librarian tasks” like teaching and enquiry work.. After 4 years of progression I have finally reached that glass ceiling… ouch …

    So I applied for a place on an MSc course in information and library management with UWE. I have no undergrad degree ( I was too busy playing mum) yet I feel that experience in the field
    can be just as valuable as any degree. Degrees that can be seemingly totally irrelevant to information science … Hmmmm… I feel lucky that my institution recognised my skills and allowed me the opportunity to further develop, without demanding a degree. I have had to learn new skills – how to write an academic essay and how to evaluate literature,… Now the challenge for myself is obtaining the MSc as oppose the PgDip.

    But my primary passion is my work, my vocation and after years of working in this field as a non professional I am 100% sure of my career choice. There are many paths to this career but knowing yourself will make the journey easier.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 2:08 PM

    I am glad you are throwing yourself into blogs and Twitter! Were you the person who asked about what blogging can lead to, in one of my sessions, by any chance?

    I agree with you – and once again I want to state, I don’t like the idea that you are not ‘professional’ until you’ve done the degree. I might edit the start of this post to reflect the fact that where the title says ‘Advice for New Professionals’ it really does just mean ‘people new to the profession’.

  • Bohyun Kim October 7, 2010 at 2:44 PM

    RT @theREALwikiman: You want to work in libraries? Essential advice for New Professionals – come join debate.

  • Bohyun (Library Hat) October 7, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Great post, Ned! And thanks for mentioning my post about getting the job experience while in the library school. Just a few points. Getting focused job experience does not necessarily mean being picky (particularly when it is hard enough to just find a job in this economy!). What I meant is to be “strategic” about getting work experience in the field of one’s interest early on since that experience will be the most important base on which one will find the next job and eventually the first professional librarian job after graduation. It would be hard for an employer to see the right fit, for example, when an applicant for an archivist position at a museum library has only the experience of working law reference assistant. But who among us would be free from making this kind of mistake of applying for all open positions when we desperately need a job? =) By all means, one should explore all areas of interest and follow the thread of librarianship that one is most passionate about. This includes not passing up interesting opportunities. However, I just wanted to emphasize that knowing where one’s passion lies “early” in school and “consciously working towards strengthening it” by getting relevant experience will significantly increase one’s chances in the tough job market.

  • thewikiman October 7, 2010 at 4:34 PM

    Yep I agree with you completely – thank you for commenting and clarifying what you meant!

  • Libreaction October 7, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Great post Ned. I wanted to echo what Bethan said about saying “Yes” to everything, initially at least. It’s amazing how many staff I’ve managed in the past who have not done this nor recognised the long-term value of going above and beyond the call of duty – this is precisely how you get on in librarianship. I’m only beginning to say “No” now and I still find it very difficult as I had trained myself to say “Yes” regardless. Linked to this it’s also worth remembering that you gain a lot of useful skills and knowledge from bad experiences – projects or committees that you wish you weren’t involved in at the time. These will be invaluable to you when you it comes to working out the right approach to take at a later point in your career (when you have more say and influence). Another point I’d like to add is to never waste time complaining about what little work your colleagues/fellow team members are doing in relation to you, particularly moaning about whether things are fair. Concentrate on your own job and the role you have to fulfil – that’s another key to progression. Your manager will know about the problem already and don’t need your input – they’re probably already having a helluva time dealing with the problem already!
    And yes, people, people, people, you wouldn’t believe the amount of interviewees who sit before me talking about books and procedures who never mention people, interaction or users/patrons once. Its a big giveaway to me that they don’t understand what librarianship is about and aren’t right for the profession.

  • Bohyun (Library Hat) October 7, 2010 at 4:39 PM

    Forgot to mention this. I have recently interviewed three really brand-new librarians about their experience of preparing themselves during the school and getting through the job search process for their first professional librarian position. They offer great tips and sincere and useful advice. In case, anyone is interested, the three posts can be found at:

  • Carol Terry October 7, 2010 at 10:21 PM

    Good stuff. > @lejwa Great post, "You want to work in libraries?"

  • Carol Terry October 7, 2010 at 10:22 PM

    "As @jaffne points out, it’s not a book profession & as @Girlinthe points out, it is a people profession"

  • Carol Terry October 7, 2010 at 10:23 PM

    Librarianship: "if you want to sit quietly surrounded by lovely old books, you are completely screwed"

  • thewikiman October 8, 2010 at 8:41 AM

    Thanks for the links Bohyun..

    Andy that’s a great point about taking the negative experiences and using them to shape things in the future. I can’t believe people still do the whole ‘I love books’ thing in interviews… although that’s partly our fault, as an industry, because we’ve failed to break out of the echo chamber to such an extent that those outside the field have no other reference point except books, so don’t know what else to talk about in interviews. As you say though, they should at the very least mention people too.

  • Ned Potter October 8, 2010 at 2:09 PM

    Final plug for anyone who's not seen it: Essential Careers Advice for New Profs, loads of good comments. Thank you. :-)

  • jennikuz October 8, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    @theREALwikiman thanks for your latest post – nice bit of inspiration!

  • Tixylix October 9, 2010 at 5:07 PM

    Hello, great post and also some really interesting comments. As someone who started her MA in 2000 (amazing it’s 10 years ago already…), I was surprised that previous library experience was not a prerequisite then. I think it’s good that it is now recommended/esssential as, like you say in the post, ‘librarianship is not a soft option’. Despite working as a graduate trainee in an academic library for a year before I started my MA, I still found it a big leap up to what I was expected to do in a qualified post – a big leap, in a good way – so the suggestions of shadowing and networking are excellent ones.

    As a shortlister, I would recommend really doing your research on the insitution (if academic) and library to which you’re applying for a post: can you get any information about whether there have been big changes in staffing, what are the priorities for the service (look for a strategic plan), where does the post sit in the bigger scheme of things etc. Call the named contact on the application form with a couple of well thought out questions and you’re likely to find out more than the bare bones of the job and person spec. I have experience of doing this and getting feedback (and the job) that I had made a good impression on the phone, but also it helped me find out what the real priorities were for the panel.

    Thinking back to shortlisting recently, yes lots of people met the essential criteria but what I was looking for were experience of line management and a positive and proactive attitude. This isn’t to say that all the rest of the criteria went out the window, but that these were my main interests. So, if you can find out more about the context of the post, you can ensure you have excellent examples of the skills or experience that the panel are really looking for.

  • Jennifer October 10, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    I just wanted to add a quick thanks a million for writing this post. As someone who is hoping to enter a career in libraries in the future this post, and the comments as well, have been incredibly helpful.

    I didn’t know about the increased fees for students who already hold a masters degree, which has me slightly concerned now so this is one area I need to look into further to see if it even financially possible for me. However, this post has made me realise that in order to succeed in your chosen (library) career you need to be determined and over come these obstacles, and hopefully there be opportunities out there for those of us who put the commitment into our careers. Thanks for the advice and inspiration!

  • thewikiman October 11, 2010 at 11:05 AM

    Tixylix – this is such great advice, thank you so much for commenting. I love getting the short-listers persepective, it’s invaluable! In fact I would go so far as to reccomend trying to get onto an interview panel so you (and I don’t mean literalyl you, Tixylix, but everyone else reading this…) can get experience from the other side of the desk – it’s something I intend to do as soon as I can.

    The calling the named contact and really going for it – I’ve never had the guts to do this, but next time I think I will. As you say, not all essential criteria are created equal…

  • thewikiman October 11, 2010 at 11:07 AM

    Really glad you found it useful Jennifer! As you say, if you want to succeed you have to overcome a lot – but do keep the option of the Diploma in mind. Particularly if you start working for an organisation you intend to stay working for – just ask them how much value they put on their staff having completed the ‘full’ MSc/MA as opposed to stopping at the PgDip stage and not having to fork out literally thousands and thousands of extra pounds.

  • Bobbi Newman October 11, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals « thewikiman

  • thewikiman October 11, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    On this whole subject, some essential reading from Bobbi Newman’s recent post on the subject, a nice round-up of a lot of good information freely available on the web:

  • Tina Reynolds October 14, 2010 at 3:32 PM

    Really useful post. Thanks Ned! I’ll be pointing people in the direction of this.

  • Nicola Franklin October 17, 2010 at 12:23 PM

    Ned – great post, so many good tips here – particularly around having some kind of goal or plan in mind and proactively thinking about what skills or experiences you need to accumulate in order to work towards the kind of thing you’d like to be doing.

    Tixylix – as a recruitment consultant for the information industry for just over thirteen years, nine of those at Sue Hill Recruitment, I can give a heartfelt echo to your point about having lots of candidates who meet the essential criteria, and having to find other factors to distinguish who to shortlist and ultimately offer the post to.

    I think that many applicants are unaware of this point, and can get upset that they, despite heart-felt pleas of ‘but I know I could do that job’, are not selected – whether by an employer shortlisting for interview, or even by a recruiter whose client expects them to send 4-5 CVs, often out of 40 or 50 candidates who have expressed interest.

    It is an important fact to bear in mind, however, when putting your application together – make sure you cover the bases, to show you have the essential quals/experience/skills listed, of course, but don”t stop there!

    In addition, you need to make sure you go on to show what differentiates you; find out from call the person listed ‘for an information discussion of the post’ what 1 or 2 key goals the post has, what key aspects they are looking for in applicants, & then ensure that you address those things in your application statement or cover letter or at interview.

    In my own experience the thing most often lamented by clients, after seeing CVs or interviewing, is a lack of enthusiasm – whether evidenced by lack of prior research and thinking about the organisation/job (and what the applicant can bring/why they want the job), or by poor interpersonal skill, communication style and/or body language. Try not to let nerves get the better of you! Preparation and rehearsal is probably the best way to overcome this – rope in a friend or two – practice your answers to the obvious questions, practice your own questions – then on the day you won’t ‘freeze’ and go blank and will hopefully be able to let your personality shine through.

  • thewikiman October 19, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    Nicola thanks so much for commenting! That is full of absolute gold, really useful stuff. I absolutely love the fact that I am learning from having posted this – genuinely I’ll be approaching my next job application differently thanks to what you, Tixylix and others have said here in the comments.

  • Ned Potter October 26, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    @JustinLibrarian Thanks! See point 15 of this: We feel the same way, I think.

  • hmccormack October 27, 2010 at 12:18 PM

    Good, gude, goode: "Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals" by @theREALwikiman via @JustinLibrarian

  • Ahniwa Ferrari October 27, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals

  • Ned Potter November 8, 2010 at 3:21 PM

    @Prospects Fabulous – well there's one related thing which has loads of info for people entering the library profession

  • Prospects Jobs feed November 8, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals (from @theREALwikiman )

  • November 8, 2010 at 3:23 PM

    You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals (from @theREALwikiman )

  • Ned Potter November 8, 2010 at 3:33 PM

    #echolib This just gets better! RT @Prospects You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Profs

  • [...] created a presentation which takes some of the essential careers advice for new professionals post, and re-contextualises it as: here is what you need to know if you want to work in libraries. If [...]

  • Stuart Lawson November 8, 2010 at 3:58 PM

    RT @Prospects: You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals (from @theREALwikiman )

  • SueHillRec November 8, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    @theREALwikiman Love the list, realistic but encouraging.

  • Sue Hill Recruitment November 8, 2010 at 4:41 PM

    @theREALwikiman Love the list, realistic but encouraging.

  • NULib ReaderServices November 8, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    RT @prospectsjobs: You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals (from @theREALwiki …

  • Libraries & Stealth Advocising! « thewikiman November 9, 2010 at 2:04 PM

    [...] keep ahead of, or at least up with, the game, b: I’ve been meaning to contextualise my ‘essential advice for new professionals blog post‘ into a slide deck for ages because it would be easier to digest and disseminate that way and [...]

  • Leslie November 14, 2010 at 3:46 PM

    @plumfrais There is more to librarianship than books! I'm an "information professional". :-) Read this:

  • [...] pleased that Debby Raven featured me in the last but one edition of Gazette, following up on the Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals post. You can read the interview, again via the Digital Gazette magazine platform, here. Incidentally [...]

  • Carley May 13, 2011 at 3:23 PM

    Saw this great article online by @theREALwikiman with some helpful advice for all the library newbies out there!

  • Best of Semester One « Hack Library School August 30, 2011 at 4:09 AM

    [...] Potter, Ned. (Oct. 06, 2010). You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals [...]

  • Welcome Aboard! « peripheraldevice January 28, 2012 at 5:53 PM

    [...] also found the blog post:  ‘You Want to Work in Libraries?’  by thewikiman very [...]

  • Interview Advice | Cup of Tea & a Scone March 1, 2012 at 9:18 PM

    [...] ‘You want to work in libraries? Essential Careers Advice for New Professionals’ by thewi… - excellent advice not specifically on the interview, but for starting your career planning.  All useful advice to think about that you can discuss in interviews. [...]

  • Ned Potter August 2, 2012 at 11:49 AM

    @minadotcandy Have talked to people about this and the answer appears to be: not much at all. (See comments here:

  • 0/5(1)/26 | notes and marks July 4, 2013 at 11:08 AM

    [...] to keep up with everything!  Some of the most useful advice for new professionals came from this  blog post by The Wikiman (more on that later).  Other useful blogs: Off the Record, Manchester NLPN and [...]

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