Thursday, May 3, 2012

Job searching and self-reassessment

This post is kind of long overdue, and I'm not sure how helpful or coherent it'll be, but it's something I've been thinking about and wanted to talk about.

Before diving in, though, I wanted to send out a huge, huge, HUGE thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out my survey. I've gone through the answers and have been absolutely blown away with some of them, both in a good way and in a bad way. I didn't realize there were places that considered 39 hour per week employees not full-time and thus didn't offer them insurance or other benefits. I'll share some of the interesting results (anonymously) in the future, and I have used a lot of what I've gathered to think about what I wanted to talk about in this post, which is job searching. I'm writing this in hopes of offering up some insight, as well as seeking some from anyone who still drops by here to read the archives.

As you'll remember, I left my job 7 months ago. It's been a real ride, these months, with plenty of highs and plenty of lows, with the majority of the time being right in the middle. When I left, I knew that getting another library job would be a challenge, especially since I'm a bit location bound for the time being (I was one of those people that chose to take part in the government incentive for home buying, thus locking me into my home for at least three years -- doing my part to stimulate the economy while simultaneously taking a huge gamble on what the future could hold during that time period). Fortunately for me, I live within driving distance of the suburban areas of two major metropolitan areas, as well as a few other urban areas.

Most library school grads know that finding a library job is tough. That's why those who want a job put in the time and effort to get as much field experience as possible through internships, part time work, and volunteering. Back when I was in my last semester of grad school in fall 2008, I worried like crazy about what sort of market I was getting into. I'd worked in libraries for a long time and gained good experience for a fresh grad, and since I was flexible with location, I applied just about everywhere. Before I graduated, I scored a few interviews, including one at a public library that (believe it or not) flew me in and put me up in a hotel on their own dime. It was the only one that did that in my job search, and I spent hundreds of dollars traveling for interviews thereafter. Everyone knows public librarians don't make money. They go into it because it's "a calling" (in quotes because it often seems that's justification for the low pay scale). But you sink in tens of thousands of bucks for the master's level education and then hundreds of bucks for interview attire, for interview travel, and so forth, because it's a field you're passionate about and are willing to put that into for. It's just part of the game.

I watched a number of people who I respected highly in library school spend months looking for jobs, so I knew my road wouldn't be any easier than theirs. I graduated in December 2008, having had a few rounds of interviews, but ultimately, I didn't have a job offer until May 2009. It seemed that the going rate for a new grad to get their first job was about six months then, and I felt so lucky to get the job I had.

I moved across the country for a job that paid $15 an hour. I did it for the experience it would bring me, and I cannot say I regret what experience and knowledge I took away. I worked hard and I enjoyed it a lot, though the commute (an hour each way) and the cost of gas began to kill me. I didn't put out an active job search while working there, but I did apply to a couple of places that had neat-sounding opportunities, including my local library. Luck struck when I was offered that job and had the chance to work closer to home, with virtually no commute, for a bit more money. More than that, though, it allowed me greater experience, more flexibility in work, and it gave me much more responsibility (seeing it was second in command, leadership wise). I worked hard -- so hard -- in that job, but I was in a position where I needed to leave.

I knew leaving would be tough. I knew the market for library jobs was tough. But with a few years of real-world library experience, I thought I'd have a bit of a leg up in the market when opportunities did arise. More specifically, since I'm looking more favorably toward part-time employment, I thought I'd be able to find something in a few months. In my initial search for library jobs back in 2008-2009, I remember feeling overwhelmed with how many part-time jobs there were. Now it seems the opposite is true.

In the course of these last seven months, I've applied for a grand total of three library jobs.

With an aim for my happiness and career-satisfaction, of course I've got more limited options in terms of what jobs I'm applying for. Being location bound, of course I've got more limited options. But having spent hours every day looking through job ads, I have to say, this is a much narrower -- scarily narrow -- field than it was even a few years ago. There are far fewer jobs, even at the national level, and there are far greater demands upon applicants, not just in what requirements there are for applying, but also in terms of the sorts of experience they want. Even knowing I have experience, I look at some of the ads and wonder whether I'll ever be good enough for it. Or worse, maybe I have the experience but looking at the list of job functions, it looks overwhelming. I like to have too much to do. I like keeping busy and I like the challenges there in, but many of these jobs combine the functions of three or four full-time jobs into one. It's the new reality with budgets and the need to meet demands.

I worry that my experience is somehow holding me back in a few ways. First, maybe, I read job advertisements much differently now than I did when I first started out. I have a greater sense of time management and time investment involved with many tasks, and I can easily see when the demands of a job are going to be more overwhelming than challenging. Knowing, too, how many other great and experienced librarians are out there with much more flexibility makes me question myself and my skill set. When I was a fresh grad, I knew I'd be up against challenges, but I wonder now that I'm myself "experienced," if I am more aware of how tough competition really is. I wonder what it is I bring to the table that's different or makes me stand out. I'm passionate about library service, about helping patrons and anticipating their needs, about putting the right book in the right reader's hands. But is that enough to make me stand out?

Self-doubt has crept in and I can't seem to shake it.

There are so many things I want to accomplish in my life and in my career, and even though I know this is only a temporary block, it's not an easy one to work around. I have been beyond fortunate enough over these last few months to pick up a couple of freelance, non-library job opportunities that are helping pay the bills. But more importantly, they're also allowing me an opportunity to dabble in some of my other interests in the book world. I'm lucky in that both of these opportunities sort of fell into my lap accidentally. I didn't have to apply for them. I didn't get them through a job advertisement or through an application process. I wasn't competing against anyone but myself.

I've also been toying around with a small business idea -- one focused on librarianship and library services -- and I've taken some of the initial steps in working on it. It's a combination of all the things I love about librarianship along with meeting a need I think exists, especially now that there are so many demands upon librarians who are working. But much of this sort of dream project exists in my head at this point. I feel like I need more experience and more knowledge to make it happen in the way I want to make it happen.


There are many days I wake up and I miss working in the library. I miss working with teens and I miss figuring out how to solve a patron's problem. Those are the days I probably spend more time hitting refresh on job boards. Those are days I spend more time looking for new ways to search on aggregated sites for jobs. Those are days I have so much build up inside me I begin self-doubting all the decisions I've made that have led me up to this point and all the self-doubt I had about whether I've killed my career by making the decisions I have up to this point. Those are the days I wonder whether or not I'm meant to be in this field, despite my passion for it. 

I think maybe what's toughest is knowing I'm the only one holding me back right now. Even with the legitimate limitations I have, it's myself holding me back from putting myself out there. I realize everyone has this happen in their lives and in their careers. It's part of growing up and figuring yourself out and it's not fun. Frankly, it sucks. It's hard -- so hard -- to watch your colleagues talk with excitement over what they're doing and know you're not a part of it right now and know that part of why you're not a part of it is because you're doing it to yourself. It's not that I am not working or thinking or trying or dreaming, but rather, when I feel like I have an idea of what I want, I'm telling myself I'm not good enough for it. So where do you go from that place?

The right thing is out there, and I know I love having variety in what I do. I love the idea of building a career in libraries that's not all together typical or linear. I love bringing my assortment of passions and experiences into what I'm doing and making it work. I love working because I love working. Not because of a paycheck or the security therein. But when did experience bring such doubt? How do you overcome it and just...take that leap?

There's that line about wisdom coming with experience, but I fear it's turned into the opposite for me. With experience I've become so cautious and worried. Shouldn't I feel more confidence, especially in a field where you know you're passionate and engaged and able to contribute fully? Is it really the job market that's changed a whole lot or is it me who has?


  1. Thanks for posting this. Things are feeling rough in this job market... I feel like the longer I think about what I want to achieve in the field and where I want to go, the more excited I get, but as I apply for jobs that demand 2000 words in essay questions and pay 30k/year with limited benefits, the more I feel like my ambition and experience and education could be a liability. I ask myself that last question 3 or 4 times a day!

  2. Thank you so much for writing this. I'm about a year ahead of you struggling through a lot of the same issues, although I left my job for very different reasons. Currently I'm working part time in an area of librarianship I didn't expect to find myself in, and I like it a lot more than I expected, but now I'm on to worrying that the longer I stay in this part-time job with little responsibility, the harder it will be to land a full-time job with the kind of responsibilities I was used to.

  3. I came across your blog while looking for story time ideas and felt like I was reading my own diary. I am grappling with the idea of leaving my position at a large public library system when I go out on maternity leave later this year... like you my confidence is completely shot. I wonder if those folks that are often the most confident are also the most likely to doubt their skills and abilities. Thank you for writing this, it's good to know that I am not alone.

  4. Your points are so very true. I graduated in spring 2006, and most of my library school friends are on job 2 or 3, and still aren't happy. They keep looking for something better, and are contemplating what it would take to jump into another field. One of my coworkers completed her MLS a couple years ago, and she's still working as a library assistant in my library, though she has managed to pick up some librarian on-call hours at nearby libraries. She's basically given up on searching for jobs. One of our pages is halfway through her MLS, and I can't imagine how she's going to be able to find a job. I'm a fluke in that I had a job lined up as soon as I graduated, and have now been at the same place for 6 years but basically now I feel trapped. I know much more now about what type of library jobs I would or would not like, and am much more picky about trying to end up in a geographical location that I'd want to stay in long term, which pretty much limits my job prospects to zero. My current job pays better than most job listings I see that would be a step up for me, and come with fewer perks. Unless I want to be shit poor and live in the middle of nowhere, I'm never going to be able to justify leaving this job no matter how ready I am to move on to something 'different'.

  5. I would really like to encourage you to look outside the traditional library field. After being unhappy in my job - feeling underappreciated, underused, micromanaged, and blamed for things that were not my fault - I started looking. At first, I went with the traditional routes (I was a Children's Librarian) at public libraries large and small. I had interviews with big systems and little independent libraries. I had hopes!

    And I realized that "traditional" librarianship, at least in my area, just wasn't for me. I hated being held by standards that were outdated and isolating our patrons, especially families with young children. So I started looking outside the typical jobs and found tons of opportunities. Businesses need people who are good at handling lots of information, can organize and catalog, and be personable with all kinds of people. There are some really great opportunities, stuff you would be fabulous at! Please look into them; start searching for jobs information literacy, social media, knowledge management. And check, they have all kinds of keywords to use in searches and good advice on library jobs.