Library funding news has been bleak for the last couple of years. Municipal budgets are flat or declining, and loss of funding from state governments is hitting all types of libraries particularly hard. Not many full time library positions are being offered on the job lines. Knowing all of this, I was still surprised by the huge response to the posting of a full time reference librarian's position at my library. In the past, we had never gotten more than about forty applicants for a job that we posted, and even then a third of the job seekers were people from other fields thinking that they could bypass the requirements for library training and experience. After I posted our position in April, I received seventy-eight applications with resumes from fully qualified librarians or library students close to qualifying.
Reading through over seventy letters (a few foolish applicants failed to send cover letters), I got a look into the very deep pool of library talent that is currently available for hire. Many qualified, experienced, and creative librarians are currently either unemployed or under-employed. From my reading of the letters and resumes, I sense that under-employed is the new norm for young librarians. Quite a few have been working in part time library positions for several years, perhaps supplementing that employment with work at restaurants, discount stores, and such. Many have been volunteering at libraries or social services agencies that they feel translate into relevant experience. A fortunate few are making ends meet with two part time library jobs. Many get glowing references from employers who wish they could give them full time hours. New graduates from library school have these now experienced librarians competing for the same few jobs.
While I did not sense despair from the letters, there seemed to be a heightened urgency to get a library job that actually paid a living wage. The applicants are ready to work. Several expressed that the open position was just what they had been seeking – a position that sparked their imagination. They were sure that they were perfect for the job. I am sure that many of them would have done well. My first call folder was rather thick.
It always stings not to get a job for which you are qualified and enamored. Nothing I can write here can lessen that sting for the many hopeful applicants that did not even get an interview. At this point all the applicants know the outcome, for I did contact them to announce the position was filled.
A second round of surprises came after my carefully worded closing letters. Around a dozen applicants thanked me for letting them know that the job was filled. While the news was not good for them, it was an acknowledgment of their offering themselves to my library and ended any doubt that they had as to their status in the process. Another handful of applicants asked me through email or even by phone call what they had lacked to be considered. Here I answered carefully, saying what I had sought (a reiteration of the job announcement) instead of dissecting what the candidates lacked. They could then make their own analysis. By doing this, a potentially awkward question (which I would not deny them) became a more positive conversation.
I have spent weeks thinking about the experience and have a few observations for people applying for jobs.
1. Send a well-written cover letter of no more than three paragraphs that covers about three quarters of a page. Address how you meet the job criteria. Don't stray into your irrelevant (to the job) interests and activities. Be positive without boasting.
2. If you are sending cover letters and resumes by email (which most people do), be very careful to send the right ones specific to the job for which you are applying. Sending letters addressed to other parties does not engender any confidence in your ability to do good work. If you are applying to a public library, do not state on your resume that your objective is to work in a government archive. This seems pretty obvious, but I saw six or seven cases of incompatible objectives.
3. For the benefit of the prospective employer, who might be collecting Word documents or PDFs in a folder, put your name in the document name. It saves the employer from having to rename dozens of documents named "resume."
4. If sending paper letter and resume, be sure to include your email address so the prospective employer can quickly verify that it was received. Not including an email makes you seem out of touch.
5. PDFs often look better when opened by the prospective employer, whose Microsoft Word might have different margins than the applicant's Microsoft Word.
6. Have patience. Looking through applications and setting up interviews takes time. Calling or emailing the prospective employer to ask when your interview will be the moment the application period ends will not portray you as the calm and confident candidate that the employer seeks.
Here are a few thoughts for the profession as a whole.
1. This is not the time to push prospective librarians to attend library school. Only those people who know the current conditions and who either have a job already lined up or are willing to risk spending a few years under-employed should start working for a degree.
2. Library schools need to scale back to survive. If too many degrees are issued causing an overabundance of librarians, the news will eventually reach prospective future students and registrations will fall.
3. Finding satisfying non-traditional jobs for current and future library students is also needed.
Thousands of librarians are meeting at the annual conference of the American Library Association this week in Washington, D.C. I suspect there will be many there seeking jobs. I hope to read how well they did finding them and how the issue of jobs for librarians is address at the conference.