Career Strategies for Librarians
Punch Up Your Portfolio
by Katie Dunneback
Why Read This Article?
When I started this article, I sent out a call for suggestions on what to cover. I wanted to know what kind
of advice people wanted. I wanted to know what advice librarians would give to others who are creating
portfolios. I’ll tell you right now that this article cannot answer every question posed to me. It definitely
will not answer every question you have. It will hopefully give you a starting point.
Why Should I Even Have a Portfolio?
Great question! We’re not artists. We’re not journalists. Why on earth would a librarian need a
Librarians need portfolios because our target audience is the same as artists and journalists: the public.
Future employers are going to want to see concrete evidence of why they should hire you. Think of
portfolios as the filler stuff in sandwiches. A resume is like the bread and meat of the sandwich --
simple and gets the job done. The filler stuff, like mayonnaise, lettuce, mustard, and cheese, make the
sandwich more fulfilling and last longer. Employers are going to remember the things you include in
your portfolio longer than they’ll remember what you’ve put in your resume.
A portfolio is also a good tool for you to exercise your skills and keep them fresh. I recently had to put
together a bibliography for an interview. I hadn’t done one in over six months. The interview prompted
me to refresh my skill, but including the result in my portfolio will force me to keep the skill current.
A portfolio can also be used as a tool for performance or tenure reviews. You have a record on hand of
what you’ve accomplished over your term in your position that you and your reviewers can easily
reference. If you maintain a portfolio, you most likely will not be rushing around a week before the review
trying to remember (and document!) what you’ve done over the last year.
Tips on Creating Your Portfolio
1. Know the purpose of the portfolio.
A portfolio is supposed to be filled with specific examples of how you fulfill the criteria desired by the
2. Tailor your portfolio to the position you’re applying for.
Portfolios are an expansion of your resume. They provide the hard evidence of why you fulfill the
qualities that managers are looking for in a candidate. If you offer a portfolio that’s tailored for instruction
positions to a manager who is hiring for an access services position, you are probably not going to get
that job. Instruction materials don’t explain how you handle interlibrary loan transactions.
If you’re lucky enough to know exactly what type of librarianship you want to do, take a sample of 5-10
current job postings for that type of position. Pore over those postings and determine the top 5-7
qualities/experiences/competencies the perfect candidate will have. Include an example of a project that
you feel demonstrates your fulfillment of these top qualities/experiences.
For performance/tenure reviews, include examples of projects that fulfill the stated requirements for
3. Have AND maintain both a paper and electronic portfolio.
You don’t have to include the same materials in both. My electronic portfolio came before my paper
portfolio and is focused on web-based materials. Having your paper portfolio in electronic format,
however, will allow for you to share this resource with employers without going to the expense of
sending the hard copy. Some employers may prefer that you bring a portfolio with you to an interview,
which is why it is a good idea to have a professional-looking hard copy on hand. A paper copy is also
handy to have if you speak at career fairs to show future librarians examples of what you do.
Sarah Andrews recommends having an electronic version because it can “showcase
Some items that you may want to include may lend themselves more to an electronic version or a print
version, so consider creating special sections just for the print or electronic version.
4. Have separate sections in the portfolio for separate topics.
This makes it easier for those viewing the portfolio to thumb through and focus on what they are
particularly interested in. This also demonstrates a basic librarian/information science skill:
classification. If you have identified the top qualities/experiences of your target field, use the
qualities/experiences as your sections. If you have room, give an explanation of the section so that the
person reviewing the portfolio will know what to expect in each section.
5. Show your individuality.
It is your individuality that will make you stand out in front of the other candidates. Managers are looking
for people with personalities that they feel will fit in best with their work environment. If the manager can
get a sense of you as a person from your portfolio (along with your cover letter and resume), you are
going to be 10 steps ahead of the candidates whose offerings never change from application to
6. Keep it clean.
Well, language-wise, that’s a given. What I mean here is that keep the presentation, electronic and print,
clean. Don’t load an electronic version up with graphics that take forever to load. Yes, most institutions
have access to high-speed connections, but many don’t. Don’t use a type that is overly showy and
therefore harder to read. I’m in my mid-twenties, but I have a hard time reading small, smushed and/or
decorative fonts. If you use a website to house your electronic portfolio, you might want to consider
checking out a book on information architecture for the organization of the site. Try to keep the portfolio
organized into specific sections addressing selected skills/competencies.
What to Include
Note, this is not an exhaustive listing, nor is it meant to be a checklist. The following are only
suggestions to get the idea juices flowing. Remember, you have full creative control over what gets put
into your portfolio and what doesn’t.
- Copies or links to articles you’ve written on topics in the field.
- Handouts you’ve created for classes you’ve taught and/or developed.
- Subject-oriented bibliographies and pathfinders.
- Read-a-like lists.
- Photographs of displays you’ve created.
- Policies you helped to develop.
- Craft plan and example.
- Grant proposals.
- Catalog records.
- Copies or links to articles about you, or a listing of where to find these articles.
- PowerPoint presentations you’ve given.*
- Photographs of events you’ve organized with quotes from participants.
- Synopsis of book and discussion questions for a book club.
- Links to websites you maintain.
- Photographs of how you processed a book for preservation.
- Circulation statistics for collections you manage.
- Collection development plans.
- Flyers for programs you put on.
- Links to databases you developed.
- Summary of your thesis research.
- Link to a streaming audio archive of a presentation that you gave.*
Try to include projects that you’ve worked on in your current job or within the last two years for currency.
*Remember that the technical capabilities of potential employers are going to widely vary. Always give
an alternate access option for all items that you have encoded using proprietary software (ex.
PowerPoint, Adobe PDF, RealAudio, etc.).
What Not to Include
Don’t include things that do not relate to the position you are applying for. Examples include:
- Your baby’s 10th month portrait.
- Writing samples of your fiction efforts.
- The romance novel bibliography you slaved over, if you’re applying to your dream position of
Technology and Management subject specialist at the Ivy League school down the street.
Other things that may not be the best things to include would be your full 110 page thesis, if unsolicited,
or your copies of what’s in your personnel file.
Examples of Portfolios
Sarah Andrews – http://iowalibrarian.com/tools.html
Andrea Dinkelman – http://leep.lis.uiuc.edu/publish/dinkelmn/412LE/Portfolio.htm
Katie Dunneback – http://leep.lis.uiuc.edu/publish/dunnebac
Ellyssa Kroski – http://www.ellyssakroski.com
Rudy Leon - http://leep.lis.uiuc.edu/publish/ruthleon/Career/Portfolio.htm
Barrett, Helen C. “Create Your Own Electronic Portfolio.” http://electronicportfolios.com/portfolios/iste2k.
html (4 May 2004)
Colorado State University – College of Business. “Career Services: Creating Your Portfolio.” http://www.
biz.colostate.edu/career/portfolio/htm (4 May 2004)
Kimeldorf, Martin. “Selected Works by Martin Kimeldorf: Portfolio Library.” http://amby.
com/kimeldorf/portfolio/ (4 May 2004)
Thank you to Sarah Andrews, Andrea Dinkelman, Amanda Etches-Johnson, Robin Fay, Beth Grimes,
Beth Heins, Ellyssa Kroski, Rudy Leon, Renata McCurley, Ken Petrilli, Susanne Sacchetti and Bev
Somers for sharing their ideas and experiences with me for this article.
About the Author:
Katie Dunneback is a Reference/Adult Services Librarian at the Westchester (Ill.) Public Library. She
currently maintains the Young Librarian website (http://www.younglibrarian.net) in addition to other
Article published July 2004
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.