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Career Strategies for Librarians
Career College Libraries: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly
by Melissa Aho

So you are fresh-faced, idealistic, and just out of library school. You were told by your library school there
would be “tons of library jobs” when you graduated because of the graying of the profession and all
those baby boomers that are nearing retirement or death (yes, even librarians go to that great library in
the sky, thereby creating new jobs—it’s that whole circle of life thing, but with books). So you eagerly
await that great college/university posting that will begin your career as an academic librarian. And you
wait. And you wait some more. OK, so while you are waiting, what are you doing to pay off your credit
cards and massive student loans, feed the cat, and purchase health insurance?

Well, one option is to get a position as a career college librarian. Career colleges (also called proprietary
or for-profit) are some of the fastest-growing schools in today’s educational market (and yes, it is a
market, because these schools are out to make money). While they are not your traditional educational
environments, they can be perfect places for new librarians to get their feet wet. This article will discuss
the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the world of career college librarianship.  

The Good

Most career college librarians are solo librarians, so they are running their own libraries and
participating in many school activities (like teaching, supervising online programs, and helping with
accreditation visits) that they would probably not do in a more traditional setting. Because you are usually
the only librarian on campus (sometimes you might get an assistant or a student worker), you may have
the opportunity to perform a wide variety of library services. You catalog materials, handle all
acquisitions, manage serials, provide reference services, teach library literacy classes, supervise
circulation, and handle all the IT computer and printing issues—and that’s all in the same day! You do a
lot because there is no one else there to do it for you, but you also learn a lot. While this may seem
overwhelming, it’s a wonderful and unique opportunity to run your own library and experience the wide
array of the librarian experience. Very few librarians can say they have actually “done it all” and this
makes the career college librarian very special.  

Many career colleges have small campuses so you get to know the staff, instructors, and students very
well. You assist students in their academic careers and they actually get to know you too. For many of us,
this is the best part of the job! Because it’s just you in the library, you can do fun and creative things like
start book clubs for students and staff, have displays at student orientation, involve the entire school with
National Book Week, send out emails about new books in the library, and offer a friendly greeting to
potential students and their families when they are touring the library and school.

While being the only librarian on your campus may occasionally be a little lonely, do not let that stop you.
You must also take advantage of this time to further your career. Get involved in local and national library
organizations. Or create your own library organization like the career college librarians in Minnesota did. I
helped found the Career College Libraries of Minnesota (check us out at http://www.cclmn.org/). Write
book reviews and articles. Figure out what area of academic librarianship interests you the most for your
next job. Will it be reference, circulation, website development, or perhaps public libraries instead? Also
take this time to try out part-time jobs or internships in other libraries, or host an intern and get
experience as a supervisor. For example, while working in my career college library, I also did an
internship in a corporate map library and had a part-time weekend reference job at one of the local
“traditional” university libraries. Both of these experiences were very different from what I do in my career
college library, and they both helped me become a more well-rounded librarian. You never know what
type of reference question a student or patron is going to ask, and you never know where you might work
or what type of librarian you will be two, five, or ten years from now.

The Bad

One thing you should know before you start working at a career college library is that the administration
may not appreciate your range of skills or your education. Career colleges are a business, usually run by
a family or a corporate entity. You must be aware that the library is often seen as a cost center, taking
money away from the school and not contributing to its bottom line. So despite the fact that you probably
have at least a master’s degree, you will be on the bottom of the food chain and the bottom of the pay
scale. The upside to this is that you will be able to take free classes in unique subjects like culinary arts,
automotive sciences, or massage; computers, veterinary technology, or paralegal studies.  You could
earn additional degrees such as an MBA or PhD, which would be quite useful in future jobs.  

There is also the stigma of working in a career college; your fellow library colleagues may look down at
you. You see, the career college librarian fits into a weird library niche: it’s not a traditional academic
librarian, not a special librarian, and not a corporate librarian, I choose to believe the career college
librarian fits nicely into all of these different library worlds.  

The Ugly

It’s a well-known fact that career colleges drop programs frequently and without any advance notice due
to low enrollment. Perfectly good programs, classes, and instructors will be let go because the program
was not generating enough money to justify its existence. The library is usually safe from these cuts
because, as I have been not-so-kindly told, the school needs the library and your advanced degree for
accreditation purposes. While you (with your advanced degree) may be safe from budget cuts, your
assistant and your library hours may not be. One day at my career college library I was told, with no
advance warning, that my assistant was going from full-time to part-time and would lose her benefits
due to budget cuts. While we were disappointed, we adapted as well as we could under the
circumstances by tightening our budget and losing a few hours of operation. But don’t let this get you
down. Remember, your job or library is what you make of it, so use this time and experience to your full
advantage.

So, Should You Take A Position In A Career College Library?

If given the opportunity to work in a career college library, I would say “go for it!” Why? Because you will be
given many opportunities to make the job a great place to start or expand your career. You will also meet,
work with, and make a difference in the lives of many students. Finally, what is there to lose? At the least,
you will be richer for the experience.  It never hurts to try.

About the Author:

Melissa Aho has a MLIS from Dominican University, an MS in Anthropology from the University of
Wisconsin-Milwaukee and is currently working on an MA in Art History from the University of St. Thomas
in St. Paul, MN. Melissa is currently the Campus, Acquisitions and Business Resources Librarian at the
Minnesota School of Business-Brooklyn Center campus (a career college in Minnesota) and she is also
a Weekend Reference Librarian at the Metropolitan State University Library (a traditional education and
library setting) in St. Paul, MN.

Article published Nov 2006

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