Career Strategies for Librarians
From the Motor Pool to the Data Pool: How Military Service Can Translate into Skills for Information
by David T. Culkin
There is a myth that military women and men return to their lives right where they left them when they
reported for duty. They resume occupations such as farming, teaching, running a business, or
managing a household. Like repeating records, they invariably play the same track. Norman Rockwell
illustrated this American dream with his portraits of soldiers returning home after World War II. The
difference in reality between then and now is quite astounding. Military professionals and their families
are in a constant state of transition in terms of skills, training, jobs, homes, and bosses. They have an
intimate knowledge of experiential learning, expectation management, and adaptability.
These attributes serve any military member seeking employment as an information professional in
today’s dynamic working environment. Information professions entail disciplines that organize, analyze,
and disseminate information to those who need it, when they need it. When applied, this information
becomes potentially life-altering knowledge. Military personnel use their craft in life-or-death scenarios
every day. They conduct raids in combat zones, analyze intelligence to inform senior leaders, and
translate policy into operations through planning. In short, they organize, analyze, and disseminate
information in high-stakes conditions. They teach others these skills in a culture that encourages
improvement through learning.
Military skills, learning experiences, and values are transferable to the library and information science
fields. Bringing information to those who need it offers military professionals a unique opportunity to
contribute an invaluable service to their communities. The purpose of this article is to help inform
military professionals who will eventually move back into to the civilian world about the transferability of
their skills to civilian information professions. It will also encourage potential employers in information
fields to seek these highly qualified people.
So, what are competences?
Skills are technically specific tools that we pick up during periods of employment and/or learning. These
periods accumulate into our personal experience and build our “toolkit.” From this pool of resources,
service members regularly draw what they need to accomplish particular tasks, anticipate problems, or
improve products. Military members have long relied upon their individual experiences to succeed
personally and professionally.
Competence is a broad term which encompasses skills, experience, and knowledge. In 2009 the
American Library Association declared that the core competences of librarians cover knowledge of
several areas, including information resources, technological knowledge and skills, research, user
services, continuing education and lifelong learning, and administration and management. (1) These
competences directly relate to the military ethic.
Officers and non-commissioned officers have traditionally built their careers around these
competences. They know the processes that affect their subordinates, advance by their technical
prowess, listen to the needs of those under their charge, encourage continued education by doing it
themselves, and lead by example. There is a nearly sacred bond between military leaders and their
people. This concern for the needs of others is perhaps the quality that is most readily transferable to
the information professions.
Learning has no bounds
The military is a learning environment, and information professionals are lifelong learners. This
similarity captures the unique bond between military and information services. It also can translate
individual improvement into organizational development.
Learning brings innovation, especially in structured organizations. As professionals working in decision-
making units, military professionals possess a unique depth and breadth of experience in working with
different personalities, products, and processes. All recruits receive entry-level training and often some
form of mid-career education that cements their on-the-job experiences. This span of experience is a
These three attributes can help us to better understand organizational dynamics, whether in a military
unit or in a local public library. Learning ties these facets together into one cohesive lens through which
we can better understand organizational processes. What library director would not want to hire
someone who understands the complex world of administration and good governance and who can
deliver creative solutions?
Values—who needs them?
The military is a values-based organization. Values are intrinsic to the expectations and doctrine of every
uniformed service. For example, both the US Army and Marine Corps define a value as “…an enduring
belief that a specific mode of conduct or end state of existence is preferable to an opposite or converse
mode of conduct or end state of existence.” (2) Values form the fabric of the military workplace.
A career in such an environment of high expectations inevitably creates people who value the
significance of their work. Regardless of duration, this particular work experience forges resilient
individuals who can—
- Discern the information requirements of their customers
- Operate under pressure
- Behave ethically
- Serve as role models/mentors
- Develop approaches to complex problems; integrate commonsense and strategic planning
- Work with others from diverse backgrounds
- Function and produce in collaborative and interdisciplinary venues
These key skills are also in demand by employers in libraries, archives, museums, and other cultural
Current military members can do some or all of the following to pursue jobs in the information
- Follow the advice of education and transition professionals at most installations in the United
States and abroad. They provide quality programs in job searches, applications, financing (e.g.,
GI-Bill), interviews, and resume writing. Long-established organizations such as the Military
Officers Association of America also offer comprehensive services such as job fairs and
- Consider jobs in the federal sector to optimize benefits. Installation career centers can provide
information about local and nationwide job fairs which cater to military members and their
families. Some events target wounded warriors, spouses, or students. Others are sponsored by
specific federal agencies or career paths.
- Use web resources for current information. These resources can offer a lot of information as
well as opportunities for job seekers. For example, visit the official home pages for sponsor
organizations such as the American Library Association and the Society of American Archivists.
Check web sites for information institutions close to your desired area. This would apply for
private and state jobs. To explore your federal options, go to the Office of Personnel Management’
s official jobs web site at USAJOBS and cross reference it with the privately sponsored FEDJOBS
site. The United States Army Library Program comprises 300 librarian positions distributed over
210 facilities worldwide. The US Department of Veterans Affairs also hosts a web site for
veterans seeking federal jobs. These resources provide a broad collection of information related
to career searches: career descriptions, application forms and policies, core competences,
educational opportunities, veterans’ benefits, and links to community organizations.
- Harness the power of technology to network. There are some very effective social networking
tools that are secure and user-friendly. LinkedIn provides subscribers with an interface with
other professionals seeking jobs or employees. Lisjobs is another service which offers the
same capabilities but focuses on jobs in the information professions.
Potential employers can seek military hires through several of the outlets listed above. They can
advertise in the web and printed media of professional and government organizations. Employers can
also participate in job seminars and fairs to gain better sense of the applicants while broadcasting their
availability to the military community. For further assistance, they may contact the career assistance
programs located on most military installations.
Military members possess a full range of skills, learning experiences, and values which are readily
transferable to the information professions. Employers in these fields should consider hiring these
highly qualified individuals who bring a proven record of performance and quality.
There is perhaps no better way to continue service to the community than by participating in a service
profession which provides the nation with long-term value. That is not a bad deal—or a myth.
1. ALA Council. 27 January 2009. ALA’s core competences of librarianship, final version. Retrieved
online on 14 April 2010 at http://www.ala.
2. Office of the Librarian of the Army. October 2007. U.S. army library program. Retrieved online on
16 April 2010 at http://www.libraries.army.mil/employment.htm.
About the Author
David T. Culkin is a career army officer who recently graduated with a MLIS from Florida State University.
He looks forward to his next career as an information professional.
Article published June 2010
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.