Career Strategies for Librarians
A Librarian without a Library: Staying Professionally Active While Unemployed
by Priscilla K. Shontz
I recently had my first child -- a beautiful daughter -- and decided to stay home with her for a while. After
spending years building my career as a librarian, I faced the question of how to stay active in the
profession while being out of the workforce. If you are temporarily unemployed – whether by choice or by
chance – you may be wondering how to keep your career and skills up-to-date so that you can return to
the workplace when you are ready. Here are just a few suggestions:
Read professional literature. Subscribe to professional journals or newsletters, or read them at your
local library or online. This will help you stay abreast of current trends and issues in the field. You can
also keep tabs on news and people in the field. Reading the literature may also give you ideas for your
own article, book or professional project. You might find that you have more time to read the literature
than you would if you were working!
Surf library news sites or weblogs. Keep up with library news, trends, issues and opinions by checking
out library news sites or weblogs. Just a few include Peter Scott’s Library Blog (including links to many
weblogs), librarian.net, The Informed Librarian Online, LISnews.com and Library Juice.
Browse job ads. Whether you’re looking for a job right now or not, skim the job ads periodically to see
what skills are being required and what types of jobs are being advertised. This may help you stay
aware of the job market – for example, what organizations have high turnover, what salaries are being
offered, or how job titles and descriptions are changing. Browse job ads in journals, newsletters, or one
of the many online sources such as Lisjobs.com or Libraryjobpostings.org.
Attend conferences. If you can’t afford to travel, try to find conferences, seminars, workshops or
meetings being held in your area. It’s often less expensive to attend a state or local association’s
conference. Professional meetings are fantastic ways to make contacts, meet new friends, learn new
things and (if exhibitors are present) see new products or services.
Take classes or attend workshops. See if your local library, college or community center offers some
continuing education opportunities. Groups such as Amigos Library Services or SOLINET often offer
training sessions at libraries. Perhaps a local library is offering training to their staff – would they let you
enroll? Check out online workshops and training. Why not use this opportunity to take some non-library-
specific training that would help you when you re-enter the workforce (for example, public speaking,
business writing or financial management)?
Maintain memberships in professional associations. Better yet, volunteer for a committee or two.
Several organizations allow “virtual committee members” who can contribute and participate
electronically without attending conferences. LibraryHQ.com maintains a list of library organizations and
Participate on discussion lists. Reading messages on discussion lists can help you stay aware of
current issues or problems or trends in the field. Participating on these lists can help you develop and
maintain professional contacts – it’s a wonderful way to interact with other professionals and feel like
you’re still a part of the profession. You might start by checking out Library-Oriented Lists & Serials.
Visit your local libraries. If you are looking for a job, why not hang out at a local library? You might sit
near the reference desk and listen to the questions, thinking about how you might answer them. You
might watch the patrons and staff at various types of libraries to compare differences and similarities.
Talk with local librarians; you might make friends or learn more about their work. (Obviously, don’t
become a nuisance or prevent the librarians from getting their work done!) If you are staying at home by
choice – as a stay-at-home mom, for example – visit the library with your children. Perhaps they have
activities or story times for children, or programs for adults. (If you take your young children to an
academic library, try to time your visits so that you disturb the students as little as possible – especially
Volunteer at libraries or relevant worksites. Libraries usually love to have volunteers, especially one who
knows and cares about libraries and librarianship. It is probably easier to volunteer at a library than at a
private organization (such as a library vendor) but it never hurts to ask. Some companies may have
intern or volunteer opportunities. Volunteering is a wonderful way to stay active, keep your skills up-to-
date, build experience for your resume, network with others in the field, and investigate various types of
work. You might volunteer at several different types of libraries, for example, to see whether you prefer
academic, school, public or special librarianship! Volunteering doesn’t have to mean working at the
library or organization regularly – you might join a Friends of the Library group and volunteer to work at
book sales or other fundraising events. You might use your skills in non-library settings – for example,
volunteer to catalog your church’s library books or offer to read to children who are patients at a hospital.
Work on professional projects. Even if you are unemployed, you can write articles or books, create
websites, compile bibliographies, review books, or work on other professional projects. Not only does
this help you keep your skills sharp, it builds a body of work that you can list on a resume whenever you
do want to re-enter the workforce. It can also help keep your name in front of others in the field, which
may help when you look for employment. The best thing about working for yourself? You choose your
own projects and set your own deadlines!
Network. Stay in touch with friends, former professors, former employers, former co-workers, colleagues
you have met at conferences, colleagues you’ve met online through discussion lists, etc. Maintain your
social circles and support systems so that you won’t feel isolated. These contacts may encourage you if
you are discouraged about a job search, or may help you learn of job opportunities.
Develop an online presence. Use the power of electronic communication to help yourself become or
remain visible in the library world, even if you are physically isolated from other librarians. Consider
creating a website, a weblog, an electronic newsletter or discussion list. These don’t have to be
professional – you might create a personal website or newsletter based on personal interests. Of
course, if you create a resource that is helpful to others in the library field, you boost your own visibility to
potential employers. Participating actively in discussion lists or other message boards can also boost
visibility. Remember to communicate in a professional manner, even on a “social” discussion list – the
library world is small and you never know who’s reading your messages! For more advice on online
career development, check out Nesbeitt & Gordon’s book The Information Professional’s Guide to
Career Development Online.
librariansahm - Yahoo group for librarian stay-at-home parents
Kinghorn, Lynn. “How to Keep Your Career Skills Up-to-Date While at Home” (AtHomeMothers.com)
Droese, Theodore. “Reenter the Job Market Easily” (Monster.com)
"Reentering the Job Market" (Fiftysomethingjobs.com)
About the Author:
Priscilla K. Shontz is a freelance writer and editor/webmaster of www.LIScareer.com. She has worked in
university, community college, medical and public libraries. She is author of Jump Start Your Career in
Library & Information Science and is a past president of the ALA New Members Round Table. She is
currently staying home with her daughters while working on a new book for Scarecrow Press,
maintaining www.LIScareer.com and serving on ALA and NASIG committees.
Article published June 2003
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.