Surviving the Job Market

It’s hard to believe that I gave this presentation a year ago, and I’m just now getting around to posting it here. Better late than never, I suppose! The topic is certainly as relevant as ever for archivists, librarians, and any flavor of information professional.



“Surviving the Job Market” was originally presented at the MARAC Spring Meeting in Cape May, New Jersey. The session “Hire Power!” focused on, you guessed it, job-hunting! Dan Frusciano moderated, and my fellow panelists were Maureen Callahan and Dan Santamaria. The slides are the same used for the original presentation, and the text is based on the notes of my talk.



First, you earn an MLS. You’re full of new knowledge and skills and ready to get to work!



You somehow impress someone enough that they give you a job.



But seriously, you all know you’re librarians and archivists, right? Next time you want to get rich quick, try mega-millions.



So maybe you’ve heard about this in the news, I don’t know, but I guess there’s been a bit of an economic recession going on. Unfortunately, the recession has had a pretty negative effect on the market for archivists and librarians. Based on my highly anecdotal study of job postings, things are looking up compared to three years ago, but there are still more applicants than there are jobs.

I started applying for professional positions in February 2010. I graduated in May 2010 and finally landed my first interview that August. I didn’t get hired. After that, I didn’t get hired for a great many jobs I thought I was perfect for. I applied to everything from Metadata Specialist to Processing Archivist to Children’s Librarian in cities across the United States and Canada with no luck. And lemme tell it to you straight… it sucked.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to get a job. I’m not here to give you that advice, but hopefully I can give you some advice about how to survive the process. After all, it’s a jungle out there, and other cliches.



I frequently come across the statement that “applying for jobs is a full time job.” Let’s be real. Applying for a job takes a lot of work. But do not let this be the only things you’ve got going in your life. If you do, you’ll burn out, and fast.

In my case, I was lucky enough that I remained employed through all two years of my job search, sometimes full time and sometimes with two part times jobs. That’s awesome because it meant I was never broke. But it also meant I did most of my job hunting on weekends or weeknights after getting home from work. Given the choice between Netflix and job applications, I’d pretty much always choose Netflix for my evening entertainment, so if I didn’t occasionally schedule some time to work on applications I’d never have gotten anything done.

Several of my former classmates who spent some time unemployed also recommended budgeting your time. Decide which jobs to apply for that week, and schedule time to complete the applications. Some weeks you’ll apply for more than others—because some weeks there just won’t be many good postings! Work hard at it, just make sure applying for jobs isn’t consuming all your time.



Just so no one bothers asking me later, I don’t actually know exactly how many job applications I submitted over the years. (Let’s just call it a lot.) I used to keep track, but after the first year, I decided that wasn’t a very healthy behavior, because it made me focus too much on the jobs that I hadn’t been hired for, instead of focusing on the future.

That doesn’t override what I just said about goal setting. If you decide to send in three applications this week, DO IT. That will help you get a job. Dwelling on the fact that you’ve submitted 50 applications so far but haven’t landed a job yet won’t.



The tough reality is that you most likely will be rejected multiple times. Sometimes you’ll get a phone call with great feedback on your interview, sometimes just a form email, and sometimes you’ll never hear from the organization… ever. I remember one particularly bad week I got four rejections over a three day period.

Do your best to brush yourself off and move on. Because there will be more opportunities out there. Remember how I mentioned that looking for a job shouldn’t be the only thing in your life? Hang out with your friends, have a beer, catch up on last week’s episode of Community, bake some muffins, play Mario Kart… whatever it takes to prevent you from just moping around the house and dwelling on how nobody really likes you. (It is tempting! But don’t do it!) One of my friends recommended finding a regular activity that you’d like to do—regardless of your job search status—like volunteering somewhere that isn’t for your resume or taking up kickboxing.

Another helpful way to deal with rejection… You probably know people who are in the same situation, so talk to them. They understand what you’re going through.



It’s very easy to procrastinate once you’ve found a good job posting. The deadline’s still three weeks away, so you can just let it wait. Except then the negative self-talk can start. You don’t really have all of the preferred qualifications. Somebody with way more experience will apply. Nobody’s ever going to hire you. If you go down this path, please stop listening to yourself. You are wrong. You know what’s the sure fire way to not get a job? Not applying.

Early on, there were positions that I talked myself out of, and I later regretted it. After that I got better at both honestly evaluating my skills and prioritizing applications for the most promising looking positions so that I wouldn’t have any time to talk myself out of it.

I’ve already mentioned scheduling time to apply for jobs, but it’s worth saying again. If it’s hard for you to stick to it on your own, try working with others. For instance, about a two ago, when another group of my friends were about to graduate, we had several job application meet-ups. Everyone picked a particular job application to work on, and we made an informal workshop out of it. Applying for jobs is much more fun with friends and take out!



One of the things you’ll find is that everyone you want to know will want to give you job hunting advice. (By the way, you may start hating everyone who know who already has a job. This is normal.) I’ve most often been told to network more. Now networking, not bad advice. But when people advise you to do the things you’re already doing? Yuck. These people do mean well though, so I find it’s best to listen politely, thank them, then disregard their advice as you see fit. Seriously.

Because of the economy, a lot of the unsolicited job advice may come in the form of “helpful” job search blogs or articles. They’ll pop and in your Twitter feed or on your Facebook timeline with headlines like “The Top 7 Resume Mistakes” and tell you obvious and not so useful advice like “oh hey, don’t lie on your resume.” Thanks. What’s worse is that a lot of job hunting advice is really just someone’s personal preference. The classic example here is resume length. Some advisors will insist that your resume should be no longer than one page because hiring managers don’t like to read, I guess, but should include explanations of all your past employment, accomplishments, skills, and the dread gaps in employment. Others will tell you to use as many pages as you need.

What I did in situations like this was a) listen to people that I trust and b) go with my gut. For instance, when it comes to my resume, I know what my most important accomplishments are and how they apply to the position in question. I make things as clear and concise as possible, but don’t leave out information I think is essential. I’ve had mentors and trusted peers review my resume, but I don’t stress about trying to make all the internet’s contradictory resume advice add up.

I’m not suggesting that you should be full of yourself and assume that you’re perfect and nothing you do can possibly be improved. Learn from your mistakes, but balance that out with some confidence in your abilities.



This is related to that related to the unsolicited advice problem. While I was job hunting, people periodically did ask me what I was doing wrong. (Yes, they asked me that! To my face!) And I told them… I don’t know. I spent hours refining my resumes and cover letter, fighting with annoying online job application systems, prepping for interviews, and still came up empty. I’ve done tons of self-evaluation, and overall, I think I tried really hard. And sometimes it just didn’t work out.

Some potential employers may give you feedback after an interview, others won’t. If you feel comfortable asking for feedback, that’s an okay thing to do. Of course, sometimes the feedback is “we really liked you, but another candidate had five more years experience.” There’s not much you can do with the fact that a potential employee thought you were awesome, but just thought someone else was a little more awesome.  On the other hand, you could get some really useful suggestions on how to improve for your next interview, so don’t be afraid to ask.



Will there be misteps along the way? Probably. But cut yourself a little slack, okay? Whatever mistakes you’ve made, at least you’ve learned something that will make you an even better candidate for the next job you apply for.

I’ll finish with some general tips. As you may have guessed, I’m not a huge fan of much of the job search advice that’s available out there. However, a friend introduced me to the Ask a Manager blog, and it quickly became a favorite source for practical job hunting advice. The writer has experience as a hiring manager and has some very good tips on things like making your cover letter stand out and general job search etiquette.

Stay involved, even if you’re not working in the profession. This could take many forms: going to conferences or other activities sponsored by professional organizations, connecting to other librarians and archivists on Twitter, writing a blog, etc. What you choose to do matters much less than the fact that you’re making the effort to stay engaged.

Lest some of this talk make you worried that you’ll end up living in a van down by the river, I want to assure that persistence does eventually pay off. Just before the MARAC meeting, after 26 months on the job market, I accepted a new full time position as a high school librarian/media specialist. Whether you’re just about to graduate this spring or you’ve been on the job market for awhile, I hope you’ll make it through the application process and get the great job you’ve worked so hard for!


[Photos in this presentation come from the University of Maryland Libraries Special Collections, the Library of Congress, the US National Archives and Records Administration, the London School of Economics Library, the McCord Museum, and Flickr. Click on the slides for a link to the images in their natural habitats.]


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What’s Making Me Happy This Week

On Saturday I went with my friend and fellow librarian Patty to the headquarters of National Public Radio in DC for their “Sale-a-bration” event. Like many others, we were drawn by the twin promises of cool NPR swag and a live taping of our favorite podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour. In this, we were not disappointed. We met up with our friend Marc and his son, and were delighted to have prime seats standing room right in front of the PCHH crew.

photo of the PCHH team around their table

If you have never listened to Pop Culture Happy Hour, I encourage you to do so. As everyone knows, librarians are the primary demographic for the podcast. If you do listen to the podcast, you will not be surprised that the show was lots of fun live and that the panelists—Trey Graham, Linda Homes, Stephen Thompson, and Glen Weldon—are just as lovely as they sound. Patty and I were delighted to get to chat with Glen after the show about Matt Fraction’s Hawkeye, which has been making us very happy.

In what will surely be remembered as the moment I made it big, you’ll be able to hear me on the next podcast, whenever it goes live! Yes, I got to answer one of Linda’s trivia questions… about Celebrity Apprentice, which, happily, I have been too busy watching Teen Wolf to subject myself to. Delight in my wrongness! When I am internet famous I’ll be the one laughing at you 😛

Photo of signed tote bag

To close the exciting afternoon’s entertainment, I purchased a Nina Totin’ Bag—because how could I NOT buy a tote bag with a punny name?—and got it autographed. Nina may come after Stephen Thompson if she ever discovers he tried to forge her autograph.

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Wading into that Volunteering Debate

Over the past weeks I’ve been following the responses to SAA’s publication of Resources for Volunteer Programs in Archives with interest, but it’s taken me until now to organize my thoughts and type them up. I worked in archives for four years during and after graduate school in a position that involved interacting with and occasionally supervising volunteers. For a variety of reasons, I’m currently working as a high school librarian, not as an archivist, and I am once again involved with a volunteer program. Additionally, I have some experience on the other side as a volunteer.

First off, for anyone who has not been following the debates over Resources these are the two statements that sparked most of the discussion.

At a time when the volume of archival records created is increasing monumentally, it is common in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world for budgets to be cut and paid staff to be reduced.

It’s a pretty benign statement. Archives are facing a lot of budget cuts. But what you might not expect is that this is an answer to the question, and the question is not “Are archives currently well funded?” but “Why have volunteers in archives?”

There is a feeling among some staff, including supervisors and managers, that volunteers diminish the status of the archival profession. Some staff fear that volunteers will replace them and take away their jobs.

The fears are presented as obstacles to implementing a volunteer program that managers must overcome.

I agree with Rebecca Goldman that the idea that an institution should find volunteers to do what would otherwise be paid work is not an ethical solution to budget reductions. Lack of funds does not make it okay to take advantage of someone’s professional skills. I strongly believe that volunteers make valuable contributions to many archival programs, but object to the idea of SAA, the national professional organization for archivists, suggesting that unpaid labor is an acceptable substitute for professional positions.

Since I think Rebecca and others have raised valid and important concerns, I was very disheartened by the response from Terry Baxter that characterized any of those raising objection to Resources as whiny children:

But if you can only see SAA as a problem and as ‘them,’ then set up your own friggin’ organization and WORK to fix the problems. Talk is cheap, kids. [Emphasis mine.]

I have two responses to this:

1) I am relatively young and relatively new to the profession. I’m employed full-time and not worried that my employer will replace me with a volunteer. I also have friend—former classmates—from their 20s up the their 60s who have thus far only been able to stay in the field by accepting unpaid volunteer positions. Yes, new archivists are especially concerned about the growing reliance on volunteers, because we both want jobs and sometimes are those volunteers. But it’s not because we’re all silly kids that don’t know anything. And no, we will not get off your lawn.

2) New archivists are organizing and trying to effect change from within SAA. Just this year the Students and New Archivists Roundtable (SNAP) made its SAA debut, and already the group is taking on new projects suggested by its membership and, in my opinion, is making a difference in students’ and new archivists’ participation in SAA. The suggestion that no one is taking action strikes me as disingenuous, or at least misinformed. Whatever the case may be, can we please disagree about the publication without ageist implications that some of us are young and therefore our arguments are invalid?

The answer to “why have volunteers in archives?” should never be “because we can’t afford to pay our staff.” Why not focus instead on things like the benefits of a volunteer program as a form of outreach to the community? Flipping it around, the answer to “what do we do about budget cuts?” should never be “just get volunteers!” Bobbi Newman wrote a blog post that I liked in which she wrote that librarians need to “stop saying we can do more with less.” I believe the same is true for archivists. We need to advocate for more. Anything less is a disservice to the profession. How can we as a professional community on one hand assert that professional archivists are truly necessary—that the professional credentials and experience that we worked hard to earn were worthwhile—while on the other saying it’s possible to make do without?

Unfortunately, newer archivists are often poorly positioned to be the best advocates. I’d like to see SAA use its national reach to take on a stronger advocacy role. It’s also important for individuals to get involved. Seasoned archivists, especially those in management positions, should work to convince resource allocators that funding for archives is essential.

Let’s all push toward archives with enough staff positions to accomplish our missions… and while we’re at it, let’s set up some great volunteer programs to complement that work, maybe by following some of the examples in Resources.


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Summer Reading

Summer vacation is one of the best things about working in secondary education. Sure, I spent part of it working on some other part-time projects, but I still had plenty of time left over for summer reading. (Unfortunately, I did not win any cool prizes, as my local library doesn’t have a summer reading for adults.)

I had a short thematic reading streak this summer when I read four books in a row featuring women and girls in a World War II or Pre-War setting. Each of the books explores different aspects of that historical period and they’re written in different styles, but they all have enough merit to recommend. In fact, I’ve ordered copies of all of them for my school’s library.

Code Name Verity coverThe first book is Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wien. After reading several gushing reviews on book blogs, I knew that I had to pick this one up. Code Name Verity centers on Maddie and Verity, two British women working as, respectively, a pilot and a spy during World War II. When the novel opens, Verity has been captured during a mission to Nazi-occupied France, and the narration is actually her written confession obtained during interrogation. The story she tells is about the British war effort, but through the eyes of her best friend Maddie. It’s hard to say too much about the plot of Code Name Verity without ruining any of the book’s surprises. What I can say is that the story is incredibly compelling and features one of the most well-written female friendships in YA fiction. I dare you not to enjoy this book.

Flygirl coverFollowing in the wake of Code Name Verity came Flygirl by Sherri L. Smith. The titular flygirl is Ida Mae Jones, a young black woman who dreams of being a pilot. When she learns about the Womens Airforce Service Pilots (WASP) program she’s determined to join, even though that means she’ll have to leave behind her family and pass as a white woman. Thanks to her light skin, Ida Mae has been mistaken for white before, but passing still seems like a betrayal to her, but one that she decides is worth the risk. There’s a lot that the reader can learn from this book about gender and race in mid-century America and the amazing unsung contributions of the WASP to the war effort, but luckily the narrative never seems too didactic—though it sometimes skirts the edge.

The FitzOsbornes in Exile coverFinally, we travel back across the ocean to the tiny (and imaginary) Kingdom of Montmaray for A Brief History of Montmaray and The FitzOsbornes in Exile by Michelle Cooper. Montmaray is an island located between England and Spain, home to a crumbling castle and a nearly deserted village. In the lead-up to World War II, Princess Sophia FitzOsborne is the glue that holds her family—her uncle, the King, psychologically damaged by the Great War; her brother Toby, the heir, and tomboy younger sister Harry; and cousin Veronica, the King’s only daughter—together and is the story’s narrator, through her personal journal. Both books weave together family drama and and growing political turmoil. Their are some pretty implausible bits of revisionist history, but they didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the books. The third and final volume, The FitzOsbornes at War will be published in October.

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School Days

banned books display

Not actually my library. Photo by flickr user covs97

I’ve gone back to high school! But not in a Drew Barrymore, under-cover reporter crushing on the hot English teacher way.

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve accepted a new position as a high school librarian! Before and during grad school, I never anticipated becoming a school librarian. Maryland has a school media track, but I wasn’t on it—or any other—track. When I began my studies, I hoped to be a teen specialist at a public library, but my the assistantship I held led me to digital archives and special collections. However unanticipated this turn of events was, I think I’ve found a job that will both expand my skills and be a lot of fun.

I’ve been on the job for less than a week, but already I’m enjoying working with teachers who are interested in integrating library resources and technology into their classes. The library is busy throughout the day, and I love the amount of face-to-face interaction I have with students from every grade level.

For all the soon-to-be grads and current job seekers, take it from me: even though the job market is still tough, your perseverance will eventually pay off. And it certainly doesn’t hurt to consider different specializations within librarianship, because you just might find the perfect opportunity.

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Job Hunting for Fun and Profit!

marac badge

It’s been nearly a year since I reviewed the book How To Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool, and I’m still looking for a full-time job, though I’m not exclusively considering academic libraries. (Hire me!) Aside from the time I spend actually working on applications, I’ve been thinking about the job search process a lot lately because I’ve been asked to speak about my experiences at the upcoming spring MARAC meeting in Cape May. The session is called “Hire Power!” and the program description is as follows:

This panel will look at the challenges that new and seasoned archivists face when searching for employment prospects in the current job market. Speakers include a job hunting recent graduate, a seasoned archivist who blogs about archival job-seeking issues at, and an archivist who has been on the hiring end (they are out there!). They will provide advice for students, interns, grant-funded archivists, and other who want to break into or move up in the profession.

I’m obviously the job-hunting recent graduate! My fellow panelists are Maureen Callahan and Dan Santamaria, and Tom Frusciano is moderating. If you’ll be at MARAC and you’re looking or will be looking for a job, I highly recommend it! We’re hoping to make it more informal and interactive than the average session—meaning lots of time for your questions!

Along those lines, I want to point out a few interesting job hunting resources for other aspiring professionals in libraries and archives:

  • Hiring Librarians — A new blog started by recent SJSU grad Emily Weak to survey library hiring managers about what goes into their decision making process. There aren’t a ton of responses yet, but I think this a great project, and there are already some good tips for applicants. Kudos to Emily for putting this together!
  • Open Cover Letters — A blog created by Stephen X Flynn to showcase cover letters that helped librarians get hired. Hired librarians real cover letters are anonimized and posted on the blog. If you’re not familiar with what makes a good cover letter, and the generic business oriented examples aren’t helping, this is a good resource.
  • You Ought To Be Ashamed — Job searching can sometimes make you mad, and this final blog is a bit of an outlet for that angers. The posts feature terrible job postings in archives—the kind where you must be highly qualified and have many responsibilities for little compensation. We all wish these types of positions didn’t exist, but a mechanism for calling employers out is at least a step. See also the Library Loon on coordinator syndrome.

Good luck to all my fellow job-seekers! May you all find amazing new positions—but maybe not before I do! :p

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Hacking the UMD iSchool

Shameless self-promotion time! There are probably few people who subscribe to this blog who don’t already follow me on Twitter or Facebook, but just in case, you should read over to Hack Library School to read my installment in the Hack Your Program series about the University of Maryland School of Information.

There are already several comments from other current and former students as well! If you’re considering going to grad school for an MLS/MLIS, the Hack Your Program posts are all must reads. I wish there was a resource like this four years ago when I started applying to schools, so I’m glad I could contribute!

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