A survival guide for new librarians

Public librarian Molly Kumar.

Public librarian Molly Kumar.

When I graduated from New York’s Vassar College in 2011 I knew that I wanted to be a librarian. I thought, “Yeah, that seems like a pretty straightforward path.”

How little I knew. My career as a librarian has taken me down every path but the straight and narrow—but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I graduated from UBC’s SLAIS a year ago and by then becoming a librarian felt like the scariest pursuit I had ever undertaken.

The following tips (gathered from recent survivors of the graduation gauntlet, librarian veterans, and my own trial and error) helped me survive my post grad haze and hopefully this advice (which is perhaps cliché but indeed heartfelt) can assist new and seasoned librarians alike who find themselves in a similar professional transition.

DON’T panic. Seriously. It may seem like the end of the world but you got this. We all have the post graduate slump but try to take it in stride. You made it this far, after all—Know that everyone struggles with this process and if they don’t they’re lying.

DON’T compare yourself with other librarians. Just don’t. I would encourage you to cultivate your own brand of librarianship during your job search…What is that makes you “tick?” What experiences have you gained during school that could help cultivate your brand of librarianship? What is your vision of your future in libraries? And I’m not just talking about what “type” of library you see yourself in—what is that you want to change or innovate?

DO find your support group. Who’s around that “gets” it? Is it a classmate, partner, or good friend? Who has your back in this new transition?

DO find mentors who can help you. Join BCLA’s Mentorship Program. Stay in touch with your former employers.

DON’T be afraid to cold-call/email someone for an informational interview. I recently met with a manager at Calgary Public Library. She gave me some of the best advice and insight I have received on being a Public Librarian today. While I wasn’t able to work with this lovely person, our talk was invaluable. More recently, I cold-called the principal researcher at a historical research firm in my hometown and asked if she’d like to go for coffee. That cup of coffee secured a contract with her firm. I don’t like to think that this is networking. It’s about being curious and engaged. It’s about building relationships and connections with those who love information as much as you do…The rest falls into place.

DO put in the hard work of applying EVERYWHERE. An amazing, tenure track, permanent, full- time librarian job is not going to fall into your lap as soon as you graduate. Push harder than you ever have before and know that finding a good job is a full-time job. Nothing is guaranteed just because you have the degree in hand, so in the words of Rihanna, “work, work, work” to get where you want to go.

DO practice self-care. This one tip from fellow librarian Anna Ferri has stuck with me since I graduated: You have to take care of yourself. What is your major stress release? What are your passions outside libraries? How do you escape? How much have you been sleeping?

DON’T feel bad setting boundaries for what kind of library work you want. I worked as an Auxiliary Librarian in two amazing library systems during school and right after I graduated. I gained incredible experience and insight in these roles. On my second round of applying to library jobs I will only apply for full-time, permanent jobs. While it is important to try out all the different opportunities available to us as new librarians there is nothing wrong with saying no to certain ones. It’s OKAY to go big. It’s also OKAY to say no to opportunities that do not fit for you.

On the other hand…

DO try out temporary, on-call work. You only live once. That being said, get a calendar, make sure your phone is always charged, and always have a change of clothes/snacks if you work on- call. *The snack part is crucial* Another hot tip: Make sure you sleep in your clothes during flu season when your work calls at 7 am and you have to get from your bed to the next town over ASAP. I’m joking. Like 60 percent.

DON’T take the job process personally. Job rejections are not personal. They are not about you. Repeat after me. Job rejections are not personal.  They are not about you.

DO volunteer if you don’t have full time work. One amazing manager I worked with insisted I do this because, “Just because you’re an auxiliary [librarian] may mean you’re only working part-time—When I’m on a hiring committee I want to know that you’re doing something meaningful the other half of your week.” Pick opportunities that can round out your skills as a librarian. For example, if you don’t have a lot of experience working with youth, why not try out a youth mentorship program? The Writer’s Exchange in Vancouver is helping kids hone their creative writing skills in the Downtown Eastside.

DO apply for everything. Seriously. Don’t doubt your skills. The employer will decide if you’re a good fit or not.

DO take breaks in the job application process. It can take a toll. You have to get off the roller coaster every so often.

DO give yourself credit. This process is hard! Make sure you reward yourself.

DO create opportunities for yourself. You may not have a job in a public library yet–so why not start a podcast on reader’s advisory? Why not start a story time blog? Create the library life you want!

DO stay in touch with library folk who move away. My librarian buddies are always there for me and they have been my greatest cheerleaders and toughest cover letter editors (you know who you are).

I like to think of my MLIS as a ticket to so many amazing rides. It will take time to find the right one, but if you see it as an adventure with endless opportunities it becomes a little less scary and more like an exciting (albeit continuous) work in progress.

Molly Kumar is a Public Librarian from Boise, Idaho. She is currently drinking coffee and reading.