"Let us not be ashamed to speak what we shame not to think."
-Michel de Montaigne

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Graduation Isn't Enough: Maintaining the Post MLIS Momentum

For the last three or four months I've done very little but labor over the work for my last semester of library school.

Over the summer I spent many, many caffeine-fueled nights fantasizing about what it would mean to have the leisure to be a total non-thinking slob if I wanted to. Minor jealousy filled my heart as my friends cracked jokes and drank beer at Braves games or lounged in the grass and watched 80's classics at "Screen on the Green" while I sat at home and pondered copyright law. Everything other than school looked sooo good. A veritable buffet of pleasure. So bleak was my work-life balance that I was beginning to drool over the prospect of watching "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" while pile-driving through a bucket of extra crispy.

Then seemingly, out of nowhere, I was marching to "Pomp and Circumstance"/being hooded/ushered down a platform/posing with my degree in front of a camera/and receiving palpitation-inducing exit counseling emails from the Graduate DIRECTPlus Loans office.

My first order of business after graduating was to get out of dodge; so I took a trip Chicago. I stayed up late, got up early. I watched an entire season of "Sex and the City" in one shot in my hotel room while laying in bed in a bathrobe. I met up with some fabulous writer people I know who toured me around their fair city. I read poetry magazines while soaking in a ginormous whirlpool tub and listening to Dvorak and sipping on cheap Shiraz I bought from the 7-Eleven on the corner. Oh the lack of research papers! The joy! The decadence! Yes, that's decadence for a young mother: bath tubs and cheap vino and alone time (shut your face).

But now that that's done, I've been scouring the LIS job boards, and realizing a few things: 1) my Master's degree doesn't make me a desirable candidate, it only makes me minimally qualified, and 2) there are understandable gaps in my education or experience that I need to address (and fast) if I'm going to secure a job in my field.

Instead of poo-pooing the fact that my Master's degree isn't the end-all-be-all of my education as a professional, I'm excited about the challenge of figuring out what I can do to make myself a more nuanced librarian and enticing job applicant.

In this difficult economy, entry-level positions are few and far between and the competition for these coveted spots is marked by more tears and self-loathing than an episode of America's Next Top Model. In fact, a recent article from the San Jose State University LIS program confirms that 26% of all current LIS job listings are at the management level (although as a job-seeker it feels more like 80%). With all of this in mind, I propose 10 ways that others like myself can keep the post-graduation momentum going while applying for that first professional position:

1) Edit, edit, and RE-EDIT your resume or CV. Seriously, dude. Nothing makes you look more not-with-it if you're still rocking the objective statement under your contact information. Or heaven forbid--you misspell something.

2) Labor, labor, labor over your cover letters. Make them personal. Make sure that you address as many of the job responsibilities listed in the job announcements as you are convincingly able. Don't lie or overstate your qualifications. But neither should you assume that because you have a MLS that a potential employer will know you are the goddess of MARC or ILS or children's programming. Customization is also incredibly important because many HR departments now sift through hundreds of applicants by using software that automatically weeds out unqualified candidates based on the number of specified keywords used in cover letters or resumes.

3) Use your nifty new research skills to locate a few research articles written by or about the institutions you'd most like to work for. This info you'll gain by understanding your most choice employer will not only be edifying to you, it will go a long way in creating a dialogue and setting you apart in interviews.

4) Develop your technical acumen by taking a continuing-education IT course or the like. Luddites in the library profession should truly take a reassessment of themselves--or take a Xanax. The future of librarianship is steeped in technology. As for myself, in the coming months I'm dedicated to mastering Drupal (a free website content & development program).

5) Unlock the power of your professional organization. I've joined ALA (American Library Association) and SAA (Society of American Archivists) in the last year, and have only really just started to discover what membership actually means in terms of services and networking opportunities. To the unschooled person, I'd advise: take advantage of any local or regional professional development classes offered by your chosen professional organization. Get on the job listservs. Go to the events and actually get your face in front of your colleagues. Attend conferences where possible. At the very most, this could mean that your name may stand out in a sea of applicants for a future position. At the very least, it could mean that you grow and develop as you exchange ideas and share anecdotes with more established professionals.

6) Position yourself as the chief-muckety-muck of something or other, and develop a website that displays your know-how. Love special collections and archives? Create a blog that discusses the recent acquisition of collections at various institutions, or the need for improved training for new archivists. Love children and teen programming? Think about a starting a website that reviews the best books for those age groups. Get it out there. Think of your internet footprint as a supplement to your resume. Which leads to #7...

7) Safeguard your internet identity. Things happen, as we can all attest--and we are not always able to prevent having the one idiot friend who tags you in a picture wearing a less-than-professional costume while chugging a Hurricane on Bourbon St. in 2001 or whatever. But with that being said, control your Facebook/Myspace (who still uses Myspace?)/Twitter rants/Flickr uploads. Nothing says don't hire me like a person who doesn't understand (or care) about the ramifications of social networking in 2011.

8) Give in to the inner 12 year old that still likes to: write/draw/skateboard/knit scarves in funky colors/collect comics/bake cookies. Developing your hobbies and having fun in a way that is completely unrelated to the field is, I think, a HUGE deal. So many people are so laser-beam focused on being the best worker-bee possible that they forget to be a human-being also. Who wants to hire a bland robot? I don't.

9) Get thee a Mr. Miyagi. You know that cult-classic-amazing-piece-of-cinematic-genius called "The Karate Kid?" If your 80's nostalgia serves you well, you'll remember that Daniel-san couldn't get to that final championship kick without the help of his coach, and a lot of wax-on-wax-off action. What does this mean for professional development? It means you should find your equivalent, a mentor of sorts, to help you along your way. Of course nothing would suit my vanity more than the idea that I didn't need someone older to help me along, but I'd be stupid to think that. We all need a Mr. Miyagi. Immerse yourself into the wide world of librarianship and see who the cool kids are that you can admire; you'd be amazed how many of them will be willing to offer advice when prompted by a (sincere and heartfelt) email.

10) Get some library experience by hook or by crook. If you are already employed in a library somewhere, then thank your lucky stars and go hug a patron. If not: volunteer, get an post-grad internship, a part-time position, something. All experience is valuable, and EXPECTED of you when you apply for that first gig.

The uncanny thing about this is: this plan of action works for nearly any major professional attempting to transition from graduate school to the work force. Substitute a few words and sprinkle in some optimism. Think of anything I've left out? Email me or comment below. Let's start a dialogue and get hired!

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