I’m cranky about having to volunteer in my field, my former employer’s website still lists me as an active employee, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. Should I do volunteer work in my field even if I’m cranky about it?

I have a master’s degree in library and information science, which has been ranked by Forbes magazine as being the #1 worst master’s degree for jobs. Predictably, I have not found a job in this field. I am currently unemployed after my job as a staff writer at a small private university was eliminated, haven’t had a library-related job for years, and graduated with my MLIS 2+ years ago.

I’ve talked with my local public library about volunteering to gain some experience, saying that I was interested in working with the young adult population and hoping that volunteering would get something library-related at the top of my resume again. The volunteer coordinator said she would see what the “volunteer needs” at the time were. I learned that that amounts to primarily doing data entry – not anything I could cite as “professional level” library work. I also learned that another MLIS grad is volunteering at the library. And that’s just at one branch – who knows how many other MLIS grads are volunteering at the other branches??

I’m already angry at myself for having gotten into debt for a useless degree, and am feeling angry towards others who have the jobs that I want, and resentful. Obviously, this is not a good attitude, but that’s how I feel, and I’m wondering if volunteering is just going to be a bad idea. I’ve never been an optimist, and I’m highly doubtful that this volunteering experience will amount to anything, especially with other MLIS grads volunteering with the same hopes of getting hired even part-time. But it also doesn’t seem smart to just dick around the house looking for jobs on the internet. I wonder if I’m better off just continuing to volunteer at the animal shelter, which I do once a week to get myself out of the house and give my mood a boost. What do you think? Volunteer and try my best to be happy and agreeable and there to help? Or just don’t bother?

If you’ll have anything less than a cheerful and pleasant attitude about being there, don’t do it. You’re more likely to do your job search harm than good, because even a hint of resentment or lack of enthusiasm will impact any contacts you make and any references you get from the volunteer work.

I’m more concerned about the broader issue here, which is whether you can reasonably expect to get a job in your field, or whether you should be looking at different types of roles. I don’t know the answer to that, but a good first step would be to talk with a wide swath of people working in your field about that question — not about the MLIS job market generally, but about your specific place in it. You want them looking at your resume and helping you to figure out what your prospects really are, so that you can plan accordingly. (And I’m sorry you’re dealing with this — this sucks.)

2. What should I ask in an internal interview with my current manager?

I have a phone interview coming up for which I am an internal candidate. The position I’m up for is essentially my current position (same department, same supervisor, 90% of the exact same job duties) with a small new component/set of duties.

What can I ask the my interviewers (one of whom is my current supervisor) during the “Do you have any questions for us?” portion? Obviously, I can focus in on the new duties, but could I also ask something like, “Ideally, what are your long-term goals for the person in this position?” or “How so you see my workday changing as a result of these new duties?” Or would those be too awkward to ask of your current supervisor?

No, those are exactly the sorts of questions you should be asking! Don’t let awkwardness get in the way here — ask exactly what you want to know, which will help you figure out if you even want the job … and as a nice side bonus, usually leads to a better, more substantive conversation with your interviewer (as long as those questions are about the work itself and not questions about perks or drug testing or so forth).

3. My former employer’s website still lists me as an active employee

My former employer still lists my photo and personal bio on its website. Shortly after I left, I had asked for my information to be taken down (or at least updated), but nothing came of it. It’s now been more than six months since I was last there.

I understand that updating these parts of a website isn’t always a priority, but I feel it’s misleading to my personal brand to be identified as an active employee of a company I am no longer working with. What is the appropriate response here? Is this something that is worth addressing?

You’re probably just going to have to keep following up until it’s removed. I’d email whoever in your company is the right person to deal with this (could be your web person, could be HR, could be your old manager, could be an office manager — depends on how your former workplace operated) and nicely say, “I just noticed that I’m still listed as a current staff member on your website, even though it’s been more than six months since I left. Could you remove the listing, since it’s now inaccurate?” If it’s not done a week later, send a polite follow-up email: “Hey Jane, just wanted to check back on this since it’s still up.” Wait another week and email again if it’s still there. Repeat until it’s removed. It’s annoying, but there’s no other way to force their hand.

4. Do employers research candidates’ age before interviewing them?

I am curious to know the real truth about age discrimination. I am 50 years old and looking for a position in the nonprofit sector (fundraising), where I thought age/experience would be less of a factor and more of an asset (I am closer in age to the potential donors). I have searched myself on spokeo, zabasearch and instantcheckmate and find that even without paying, anyone can find out my age, birthdate, address and relatives. Do recruiters or HR departments use this to prescreen before doing a phone interview or paid background check? Especially since it is essentially free?

No, employers do not typically use those services. And they don’t typically go looking for someone’s age either. Usually when age discrimination occurs, it’s because employers are picking up on a candidate’s age through evidence that’s right in front of them — like the length of your career or the year you graduated college (which you should feel free to leave off your resume once you’re over 30 anyway), or actually seeing/talking to you.

5. Writing a cover letter when you don’t know who the company is

I’ve been applying to a lot of administrative assistant positions on job boards like Monster, LinkedIn, CareerBuilder, etc, and I frequently come across a posting that I’d like to apply for, but I find many that list the company as “confidential,” either as a posting from the company itself or from an agency. Sometimes there’s a generous description of the company that from a Google search I can figure it out but sometimes there isn’t anything more than a town and an industry and I’m clueless.

I know that I have to tailor my cover letters and application materials to each posting, but how can I when I hardly have anything to go on? How can I sound genuinely interested in the position if I don’t even know who I’d be working for?

You tailor it to the job, not the company. Talk about why you’d be great at the work they’re advertising for, which is generally the most compelling part of a cover letter anyway.

{ 297 comments… read them below }

  1. Spolio*

    #1: I have worked for several public library systems, and all looked to good volunteers first when doing hiring. Of course as Alison said, you really want to make sure you are making a great impression if you are going to volunteer. But volunteering makes you a known quality, and that’s a huge advantage in an industry with so much competition.

    1. KLH*

      I think it’s also important to realize that the public library system may not be able to hire you due to their HR/requirements. My local branch loved me as a volunteer, but I couldn’t get past central HR due to the volume of applicants, my work background not matching up to their ideal and being overqualified on paper.

      In my case, I went and worked retail for a year, which was interesting and proved I can make connections with the general public (my 10 years of paraprofessional experience was mostly in special libraries) and used my references from the public library to get a job in a local medical library. I worked for them for a year as a sub before getting a full-time position.

      1. Susan*

        And often times public library staff are unionized, which means that volunteers cannot do the work of professional staff.

        1. Puffle*

          On one hand, I can understand this — nobody wants paid positions being replaced by volunteers. I didn’t realize this when I went looking to help out my local city library when I was job hunting… they didn’t even want volunteers at all at any level, I guess they had too many. It was really disheartening though — like, I’m a “helper”, I want to help, why wouldn’t you want my help? So I had to step back, not take it personally, and look elsewhere. I went to my childhood library and helped out for a few months doing collection development on their travel books. It was helpful to them!

          1. Henry*

            I got the same reception at my local PL. They didn’t want me as a volunteer because I’d want to do “library things” and they couldn’t have that … it was a huge turnoff, frankly.

          2. Oxford Comma*

            It’s not that we don’t want help, it’s that there are other factors at play. You’re volunteering and you’re actively looking for work. The minute you get something, you’re gone. Which is fine, but it’s going to leave the library in the lurch. Then there’s the time we spend training you. We’re already understaffed and it’s not a simple matter to just have someone train you for something high-level. We don’t know your work. If you’re coming through a practicum or a special project, that’s one thing (although honestly, I do not like taking practicum students on), at least there’s some oversight.

            But let’s say we take you on as a volunteer. We’re still unlikely to give you high-level work for the reasons listed above. Yes, you have the degree, but I know lots of people with the degree who aren’t particularly good or smart. We don’t know your work and again, you could be leaving us anytime something comes along. So it’s going to be low-level stuff. If your work is good and we get the sense you won’t just not show up one day, maybe we’ll find other things for you.

            If you had a specific project in mind perhaps you might have more success? I know I’m more likely to take someone on for something like that than I am just in general.

            If you cannot find a worthwhile volunteer position in a library, even if you take on another job or volunteer work elsewhere, try to find things that will have transferable skills for the library market.

            And lastly two bits of advice for the OP, have you had any luck with part time library jobs at the community college level? The pay tends to stink and they seldom have benefits, but it’s actual professional experience and it helps. Secondly are you in any of the local or regional professional organizations? A lot of the networking happens at that level. The MLS/MLIS is not a useless degree, but the market is horrendous. I wish you the best of luck with your search.

  2. Anon*

    Re: #1
    I agree with AAM that you shouldn’t volunteer if you aren’t enthusiastic about the work. Library jobs are extremely competitive, but if you are enthusiastic and willing to be underemployed for a little while, it can pay off. I graduated with my MLIS around 3 years ago–I didn’t get my first professional position until a year later, and I didn’t get anything full time until 2.5 years later. It isn’t ideal and not everyone can financially swing it, but you kind of have to work in the trenches first to get something good. I worked as a temp, and held multiple part time/hourly/as needed librarian positions to build up my resume– and despite working in a location that is overrun with MLIS grads it paid off and I got the mythical full time/permanent/with benefits position we all hope for. Did I work as a paraprofessional for awhile before I got a librarian job–shelving books, issuing library cards, etc? Yes, but I did it because I love working in the library– every position contributes to the overall mission of library service. I know it sucks to get a professional degree and feel like you are not putting it to use, but my personal philosophy has always been you can’t really have the attitude that you are overqualified to do anything that needs to be done at the library and that philosophy has really helped me maintain a good reputation among colleagues/supervisors/patrons at every place I have worked. The library world is small and if you are an awesome volunteer no matter what tasks you are doing, that will pay off somewhere down the line, but no one likes a volunteer who doesn’t want to be there.

    1. Anon*

      Also, good luck to you #1, I hope my comment didn’t seem too harsh. If you have a passion for working in libraries it will come in time. Also think about branching out to working with schools–after school programs, etc, if you want to work with young adults. That will give you an upper hand when you apply for YA jobs!

    2. Joey*

      Try museums that cater in part to youth. From my experience they don’t require An MLS and my experience with these folks was that they were frequently doing a lot of librarian level work.

      1. Marie*

        Museums don’t require an MLIS but they do require a Master’s in Museum Studies these days (and several years of experience). It is just as competitive as the library world, only you’ll be competing with people in an entirely different group of people, and you’ll be at a disadvantage. The only time MLIS comes into an advantage is in cities where the Museum Studies degree is in shortage (no nearby programs) or where there is a large archive.

        1. Elizabeth*

          Yes, this. I’m in the museum world (with an MA in Museum Studies) and it’s incredibly competitive. Unless you happen to be applying for an archivist job (usually at a larger museum), an MLIS degree is likely not going to attract much interest.

          1. Sara*

            Also in the museum world and it took me years of internships and part-time work before I finally landed a full-time job. You can certainly look to museums as an alternate source of employment (one of my colleagues has an MLIS degree) but be warned that the competition for jobs is just as fierce as in libraries.

    3. SCW*

      You make a really good point about not seeing things as below you–in the library world we are expected to be team players. If I had a librarian candidate whole thought shelving or circ duties or cleaning out the bathroom when someone made messes, I would think less of them.

    4. Anoners*

      Just to add to this, a lot of people who get an MIS have a very specific job in mine (like a children’s librarian), and get down on themselves when they don’t work in the role they want right away. My advice is to look outside of the traditional jobs. Look into law firms, insurance, general office jobs, banks, anywhere with a library. You’ll find that a lot of them are hiring people with your strengths (they may not say you need and MIS, but a lot need information management people).

      I’m not saying you aren’t already doing this, but a lot of the people I graduated refused to look outside of public/academic libraries and then go back to school for more degrees when they think the one they have is useless.

      I live in a major city though, so there may not be as many of these kinds of jobs out there.

      Good luck in the search!

      1. CurrerBelle*

        Depending on your level of forbearance towards religious folks, almost all churches have a library somewhere on their campus.

        Or you may look into taking the Praxis II exam to be certified as a teacher in your state. Middle/High School librarians have an instant YA audience just waiting for someone to smack some literary sense into them. :)

    5. danr*

      Also look at the allied industries to use as a stepping stone to libraries. The publishers of library reference databases and cataloging look for MLS/MLIS graduates and they will train you for their systems.
      I worked for a library publisher and colleagues who wanted to move to working in libraries had little problems making the move.

    6. KLH*

      Not to mention, even if you’re just shelving you get to be out of the house, see what people are reading and what’s hot, get your hands on new materials of interest, talk to people. And people will ask the rando in the stacks a question before they will go up to the desk for help. My local branch has a manpower crunch and I’ve started to go over after work once a week just to do a little shelving to help out.

      1. KLH*

        Or do your own projects–a friend of my sister’s runs a weekly preschool class for toddlers and puts a lot of work into putting together a curriculum and activities that reinforce what they are learning, and writes it up on a website.

  3. short'n'stout*

    Just a note to LW 3: be really, really sure you’re looking at the most up-to-date version of their web page before you contact them each time. Clear your browser cache or check from a different browser/computer, just in case your browser is showing you an out-of-date version of the page.

    1. Evan*

      For anyone who doesn’t know how to clear their browser’s cache: Ctrl+Shift+Del. (Holding down Ctrl and Shift, press Delete.) This works in Firefox and IE; I haven’t tried it in Chrome. Then, be sure you’ve check-marked “Temporary Internet Files” for deletion.

  4. Stephanie*

    OP #1: Volunteering while unemployed can be pretty draining even when you do like the work. After a while, transportation costs add up and you begin to realize you’re paying to gain experience. So if you can’t even say you like the work and/or believe in the mission, it’s not worth the effort. You’re less likely to get good references if you seem less than enthusiastic.

    Is there a way to use your MLIS skills or prior work experience at the animal shelter? Like do archival work or work on some kind of youth outreach?

    I’m not in library sciences, so apologies if I’m giving you really obvious advice. Have you looked outside university/public libraries roles? OldJob was at a patent search firm. We actually hired the occasional MLIS holder as a lot of our work involved searching through databases. The librarian on staff helped the analysts come up with new search strategies and had to stay knowledgeable about new technical databases and resources (as well as how and when to use them). I also saw a posting at 3M a couple of weeks back for a technical information specialist that wanted an MLIS.

    Granted, neither of those are working with young adults, but thought I’d just throw those out as examples of library roles outside academia.

      1. Marie*

        Agreed. I work at a law firm, and we struggle to find and retain good librarians. The type of work they tend to be doing is proper research that the lawyers don’t have time for, plus keeping all the subscriptions up to date and buying new books.

        1. BW*

          I second this. Look towards law firms. A lot of these job postings I see do require MLIS, to head off the desperate JDs from applying to these law librarian jobs.

        2. Puffle*

          Huh. I’ve occasionally considered trying to look for that sort of position in a law firm, but either they’re downsizing/getting rid of the librarians (whyyyy…the needs don’t go away once you get rid of people!), or the rest of the places want an MLIS -and- a JD. Maybe it depends on the geographic area.

    1. DublinBore*

      Good points. I’m in the MLIS field, so I’m going to jump on the comment about using your technology skills for database searching and technical resources to say: OP, I think this is what you should be doing. Don’t volunteer somewhere that will make you truly miserable. Work at the animal shelter and use the rest of the time to develop some other skills. I’m sure if you’ve been looking for jobs for a while you’ve heard this advice before, but improving your technical skills is one of the best things you to do to make yourself more marketable. Resources like MOOCs and CodeAcademy are great for getting started here. And I don’t just mean getting some XML, HTML, and CSS under your belt–although those are crucial–I mean becoming comfortable with databases, Javascript and Python.

      The good news is is that these technical skills are transferable into a greater variety of positions–so you are not only setting yourself up to be a better librarian, but also to gain some skills that are desirable across the board. I cannot advise you strongly enough to consider looking at permanent positions that are not “Librarian” in name–the reality is that there are simply not that many “traditional librarian jobs” anymore, and that really isn’t likely to change.

      I also wanted to add that even though I advise you not to volunteer at the library, it’s more because of your attitude towards the prospect, not because I think volunteering isn’t the right way to go. Volunteering is unfortunately an expectation in our profession. It sucks, and it’s not fair, but lots of people do it (as you noted in your letter). Maybe this volunteer opportunity isn’t the right one–that’s fine, you shouldn’t do it if it will make you unhappy and damage your career prospects. But don’t take volunteering off the table entirely–there are fulfilling volunteer opportunities out there!

      Finally, don’t let the constant discussions of bad job prospects get to you. It can be easy to get sucked into the online black hole of listservs and blogposts about how difficult it is to be in our profession right now. Try to step away from these as much as possible–they can be really draining.

  5. Nelly*

    For the first person: I work as a senior librarian in a university, with several librarians, techs, and assistants working for me. It took me ten years after my getting my qualifications to get a foot in the door in the library business. I finally got in sideways via help desk/administration/IT work. Job opportunities come up every few years, if you’re lucky! (And I’m not American, I’m from a country with a decent economy!)

    I will not hire volunteers under any circumstances because every volunteer and intern takes a paying job away from someone who needs it. Unfortunately, others are not so ethical.

    If you want the advice of someone who’s been in the library industry for some decades, get out, give up, do something else. See if you can move your degree into IT – there are cross over possibilities. It’s not a dying industry, but for every job, there are a hundred applicants, and a hundred people willing to volunteer and take every paying job in the hope that ‘one day’ it will pay off. It won’t. You’ll just be replaced by another volunteer hopeful and all the work will go away.

      1. majigail*

        Nonprofits often see their volunteer recruitment and placing process as hiring for an unpaid position. You can absolutely hire and fire them.
        Even though they aren’t paid cash money for the position, people get something for volunteering and nonprofits have expectations for their volunteers.

        1. en pointe*

          Not to mention, in many cases, not-insignificant amounts of time and/or resources are invested into training volunteers.

          It’s entirely reasonable (even obligatory if they’re funded by money from donors) for non-profits to have expectations of volunteers, and to take measures to ensure that the costs don’t outweigh the benefits.

        2. Stephanie*

          I did more onb0arding for a volunteer job (including submitting to a drug test and background test) than my last paying role.

      2. The Clerk*

        They can’t just show up and start shelving books, though–you have to approve them being there. If they’re going to be working with kids, they even need background and reference checks.

            1. Cassie*

              It’s not really a skill we learn in school… I remember seeing it in some clerical test prep books, but nothing in K-12 + college. One of my coworkers screens her student workers with a brief filing by alphabet test – she had worked in a library for a while so knew the rules. I hope she didn’t reject students just for missing a couple, though – for me, it would be more important if the person is able to learn the filing rules (than already know it).

          1. HR lady*

            Unfortunately I’ve experienced people who have trouble filing alphabetically in the workplace.

            I’m curious – what was the test like? Did you find it difficult?

              1. Anonymous*

                It’s easy to put letters of the alphabet in a particular language in order. It’s not easy to put words, including proper names, in order without a specific set of rules to follow. Here’s some stuff that is hard as a group without rules to follow:

                A and G motor vehicles
                B*** de B.
                Byrum, John
                M’Bow, Ahmadu
                $5000 reward
                XVIIe & XVIIIe siècles
                A B C
                A la mode
                Newark, DE
                John the Baptist
                Mrs. Miniver
                Peña, Carmen
                short stories
                3-D scale drawing
                New, Thomas
                Route 66
                Mme. Pompadour
                Örne, Anders
                John XXI, pope
                17 days to better living
                Newes from New England
                Seton, Carl
                100% American
                newton (unit of force)
                XX century encyclopedia

                1. fposte*

                  Fortunately, librarians have specific sets of rules to follow :-). (I think even some computer sorts can toggle letter by letter vs. word by word.)

            1. KLH*

              I’ve taken the shelving test in 2 formats. One was the cards, one set for last name, one for Dewey Decimal, and one for magazine titles, and you had to put them in order.

              The other was basically the same but on a piece of paper–that’s harder because of the writing and erasing.

      3. De Minimis*

        I’ve lived in areas with tight job markets, and in a lot of those places getting a volunteer position is as competitive as getting a paid position. My local library had a long waiting list for volunteers, especially if people wanted to work at the branches nearest to their home.

        It really depends on the city too, where I live now they have a lot of part-time shelver positions at the library.

        1. Stephanie*


          For sure. Out in Phoenix, especially during Snowbird Season, volunteer jobs get more than enough applicants because of all the retirees (unless it requires lots of standing or physical work).

          1. Lindsay*

            Ugh. I wanted to volunteer while I was unemployed at the Botanical Garden – but you have to pay $80 to become a member first before they’ll consider “hiring” you to volunteer! *shakes fist* yeah, volunteering in Phoenix is hard.

            1. Stephanie*

              $80?! The Chihuly exhibit is pretty awesome, if you haven’t been.

              I think the key here (or anywhere else that has a surplus of willing volunteers) is find something specialized and/or physical. The public libraries all had more than enough people, but the public library warehouse was ecstatic to get someone who was able-bodied enough to move books around and get dirty.

              1. De Minimis*

                I used to work at a retail bookstore, and shelving is pretty physical work. I think that’s part of why the local library seems to often have shelving positions open, and why they tend to go to younger people.

                1. Kelly L.*

                  Agreed! I did it for a while while between other jobs, and it was much more physical than you’d expect, along with dusty.

            2. Ruffingit*

              It is totally ridiculous to require someone to pay for a membership so they can volunteer. That just really enrages me for some reason. It’s messed up.

              1. Natalie*

                It seems like it usually works the other way, even – if you volunteer you get free admission or a discount on membership or something. When I was a (paid) usher at a prestigious regional theater, we worked with a lot of retired folks who volunteered for free tickets.

              2. Lindsay*

                RIGHT?!? I would posit that Phoenix not only has a sizeable retiree population, but it’s also got a sizeable wealthy (elitist?) retiree population.

                But yeah, Stephanie, I did see the Chihuly exhibit in December at one of the Luminarias evening events (discount last-minute tickets!) and it was pretty awesome.

        1. Ruffingit*

          That’s the truth. You get what you pay for is a cliche for a reason. Sometimes you have fantastic volunteers and that’s great, but sometimes you don’t and you have to get rid of them. Nothing wrong with that.

    1. Zillah*

      In the United States, you can’t just hire volunteers or interns instead of hiring full time staff – there are specific rules in place regarding that, IIRC, especially if you’re a for-profit institution.

      Not that everyone follows those rules, mind you, but laws do exist that are supposed to prevent abuses.

      1. The Clerk*

        Sometimes it can work backwards, and a position is created with money squeezed out of the budget for a department that has no help. Whereas if they’re flush with volunteers, there’s no incentive to do that. That’s actually how I got started–I was the only volunteer and my boss wanted me to come every day, so she asked them to approve a very part-time paid position.

        1. Anon*

          Many libraries are also unionized, so that also affects our ability to bring on volunteers. The limits can vary a lot by system. At my current workplace, volunteers have a limited set of approved tasks, and we’ve also careful about not asking clerical staff to work “out of class” on professional tasks that they are not being paid to do. I was lucky enough to have a paid internship while in library school, but one of the rules of that system’s program was that the job ended when I completed my degree–I wasn’t allowed to stay on indefinitely doing professional level work for clerical pay.

          I’d echo the advice given by several people above which is to look for transferable paid experience in related industries rather than go into a volunteer gig with a bad attitude. Also, if you’re trying to get your foot the door with a clerical job, understand you’ll be expected to do the clerical job. I was one on an interview team for a page position with a candidate who had an MLIS, and the person clearly was not going to be happy doing page work. All the questions they asked were about librarian responsibilities, and what we needed was someone who was happy to check-in materials and shelve.

        2. Zillah*

          True – I was reply to this, though: I will not hire volunteers under any circumstances because every volunteer and intern takes a paying job away from someone who needs it. Unfortunately, others are not so ethical. I don’t think that it’s necessarily unethical to use volunteers, because at least for the institutions I’ve volunteered at, they don’t always have money to hire people in the first place.

      2. DublinBore*

        Unfortunately a lot of libraries and archives don’t abide by these rules–there are a remarkable amount of “post-grad” intern positions that basically require you to do have an MLIS and work experience but either don’t pay you anything or require you to work part-time for very minimum wage, while still expecting you to have major responsibilities. Because the job prospects in the field are so bad, people still take these positions.

        It’s such an issue that there is even an entire blog dedicated to calling out these jobs in the archival profession–it’s no longer very active, but it’s an interesting read to anyone who wants to get a more in-depth look at why MLIS grads are generally so frustrated: http://eatingouryoung.wordpress.com/

        1. De Minimis*

          That’s the complaint I have about our local library—a family member is working there part time as a shelver and they keep wanting her to take on more and more duties but for the same just-above-minimum-wage pay.

          1. DublinBore*

            I’ve been spending wayyyy too much time editing metadata recently, in case that wasn’t obvious :)

  6. Pnonymous*

    #3: I’m glad you asked this question. I’ve been on my former employer’s website for 2 years since leaving and have even contemplated a cease and desist letter. However, in my situation, I know my ex-employer is keeping me on the site purposefully to portray a highly experienced and long term employee on their team as they have a high turn over rate.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      In the “Is this legal?” department, I’m pretty confident it isn’t. I can’t grab pictures of people, put their real names under them, and claim that they work for me on my website.

      The problem is that lawyers cost money and threatening a former employer with legal action isn’t the best way to ensure a good reference.

      I’m wondering if Alison’s patented “worried that we might get in trouble since this isn’t legal” approach might work. There’s no “we” about it, however people do perk up and pay attention and forward letters/emails with a legal component to it.

      1. fposte*

        It’s not likely to be breaking any law, though, unless it means they’re claiming some kind of licensure they don’t have without the OP. It could be a tort if it was costing the OP or her company money or business, but it doesn’t sound like there’s any evidence if that, and those tend to be long and pricey suits anyway.

        1. Mike C.*

          Isn’t it basic fraud? I can’t falsely claim that “Noted commenter fposte has been hired by my firm, look how awesome we are!” can I? After all, don’t people have control over how their identity is used?

          1. De Minimis*

            There would have to be a lot of additional pieces to the puzzle to make it fraud…someone would have to rely on the false information and suffer a loss as a direct result of it. A false statement by itself isn’t fraud.

          2. fposte*

            Unless a client is signing on specifically to work with the OP and the firm is knowingly taking their money without delivering the OP’s work, I would doubt it, unless the OP is famous enough to be an enticement to business (I’m guessing she’s not, but I could be wrong here). So if you keep Bob A. alongside Bob B. on your administrative assistant list on the website for years after Bob A. is gone, it’s not likely to be considered fraudulent; if you state you have former president Jimmy Carter when you don’t, that’s a lot likelier. I suspect even that might still get shoved onto a regulatory agency or attorney general’s consumer division than the cops, though.

            There’s also a question about who would have the cause of action, I think; if it doesn’t damage the OP’s reputation or current income in provable ways, she doesn’t really have anything to sue for. A customer who paid to have the OP handle her work and then found out they got substandard work because OP wasn’t there would be likelier to have grounds.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

          Neither a lawyer nor a fake one on TV but as marketing is under my umbrella, these are the things that I stay away from to be on the right side of a lawyer letter.

          Personality rights are a thing.

          If somebody uses your picture and your name on a website, listing you as an employee, it seems to non-lawyer-me to be implying some kind of endorsement.

          BTW, my reply was specifically to Pnonymous who said this:

          However, in my situation, I know my ex-employer is keeping me on the site purposefully to portray a highly experienced and long term employee on their team as they have a high turn over rate.

          1. fposte*

            Right–the question is, though, whether it hurts the OP enough to have damages. (And if so, whether they’re enough to be worth suing over.)

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

              Right. Where I was going was the “expedite getting it off the website” part.

              In the online environment, we get lawyers’ letters and emails about possible lawyers letters. We have a very ordinary business, nothing scandalous in teapots, but it’s the nature of the beast that this that and the other thing, legal things come up where we are asked to remove something.

              There’s an entirely different fast track for something that says “lawyer” in it. 98% of the time there’s not a legal leg to stand on, but 99% of the 98% time we don’t care enough and it goes down quickly.

              This actually isn’t legal. You can’t just use somebody’s name and image on your website. Perhaps when they are your employee it’s a grey area?

              Anyway, we get signed releases from any of our employees who are on our website, and compensate them specifically for the use of their image. I can’t say that that is absolutely necessary but I’m surprised that the issue and question doesn’t come up more.

    2. Sarahnova*

      Interesting. To be honest, my default assumption was that taking down ex-employees’ profiles is simply not anybody’s first priority, and that’s why it kept on being put off.

      Are there any specific reasons to strongly want it taken down, or ways it could hurt you? Presumably if a new employer, etc. asked, you could simply say, “Oh, I left there in December 2013, but they haven’t yet got around to taking down my profile”, and referencing would confirm this.

      1. AdminAnon*

        I would tend to agree with your assumption. My office is in the midst of an organizational shift and, as a part of that, we re-structured the org chart and gave most of the employees new titles. This all happened in June of 2013 and the old titles/duties are still listed on the web page. Everyone knows; it’s just not a top priority and there is only one person with the ability to change it.

      2. en pointe*

        +1 to your first paragraph.

        If I’m reading the letter correctly, the OP has only asked once, six months ago, for their details to be taken down.

        It’s entirely possible this request just slipped off the radar, probably as a result of being a low priority. Hopefully, if the OP follows Alison’s advice and sends a reminder email (or multiple if necessary), that should do the trick.

        1. Jessica*

          +1 I’m in charge of updating the website for my department and I have to say it’s pretty much last on my to-do list. Sad but true. If somebody asked super nicely, though, I’d probably get it done for them.

  7. Sunshine DC*

    To #4 – If you work for any kind of international organization, you will almost always have to provide your age and, commonly, the dates of university and even perhaps high school graduation (not just the fact that you hold a specific degree) when applying for any professional role. There is no way around this. Its also not uncommon for an organization or company outside the USA to require your photo as well.

    One often even must list marital (or civil partner) status AND if you have children and how many, if so – ostensibly because (and this part IS great) professionals sought for overseas roles would be expected to bring their families, and the job perks cover things like school tuition at American standard schools, etc. So it does make sense in that an org would need to know if they’ll be paying for private school for no children or 5 of them for a new employee, I imagine.

    I find these expectations and required compliance to be very unpleasant things to deal with in my realm of work. But that’s the way it is. *Sigh*

  8. Zillah*

    Re: #1 – sigh. As someone graduating with an MLS in May, that does not exactly fill me with confidence. :(

    1. SCW*

      My advice to the new or soon MLS grad is to get a job, any job, in a library. Not volunteering–working. Even if you are cleaning the building, if you work there you are more likely to be hired than external candidates. At my system, we don’t post most positions externally—we use a roster if there aren’t enough internal candidates, but you can only get on the roster 2 times a year.

      1. Zillah*

        I’m actually hoping to go into archiving (I have a concentration in it and about two years of paid/volunteer/internship experience), which makes it even harder… but yeah, that’s definitely my goal. It doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to pay some money and help get my foot in the door.

    2. OhNo*

      As someone who is also working on an MLIS, my advice is to take internships now, while you still can. Volunteering is also good, but internships are better. Every single librarian I’ve spoken to says the same thing: internships and experience will make or break your application once you finish school. As competitive as the field is, absolutely no one will hire you based on grades/classes without experience.

      Also get as much IT/web developing/computer knowledge as you can – even if (especially if) it’s not related to what you want to do. Techie positions are harder for libraries to fill, so if you can say in your application that you’ll do the job and run the website, too, you’re much more likely to get hired.

      1. holly*

        totally. i’d also hope that you did at least one internship while getting your degree, but if not, now is the time. if you did do an internship, are you still in contact with your supervisor?

        1. Zillah*

          I’m doing an internship now, and I’m still in contact with a former boss from when I worked in an archive during undergad.

      2. Zillah*

        Oh, I have. I’ve got about a year of work experience in a university archive during undergrad; I did a lot of processing and wrote a finding aid (which is available online). I also did some volunteering at another archive in between undergrad and grad school, and I have an internship at a third archive right now. I don’t have my contacts from the second anymore, but I still keep in touch with the first (and obviously the current).

        And I’ve also definitely been working on tech stuff, as well as graphic design stuff.

        So I’m not in a terrible position, but… it’s a competitive field.

    3. Stephanie*

      There are a lot of librarians among the commenters (I suppose because librarians are really good at finding high-quality information). Use them! I’d join the LinkedIn group as well.

      1. holly*

        yeah, linkedin! i had a recent grad contact me out of the blue for an “informational interview” where she wanted to interview me. i wasn’t opposed to doing it and i assume other librarian-types aren’t either.

      2. LibrarianJ*

        I’m fairly new to the profession, but I benefited (and continue to benefit) from the wisdom of so many wonderful mentors along the way. My experience has been that many librarians are happy to help out like this (as busy schedules allow, of course!), and I know I’d certainly be happy to.

  9. majigail*

    4- I know that age discrimination exists, but I believe that experience makes a big difference in a fundraiser. If you have a handle on not only talking to and relating to donors, throwing events, the nuances of planned giving and all the other intricacies of the job and have a great reputation in your community, some smart ED will snap you up regardless of age.

  10. TychaBrahe*

    #3 – If your former company is large enough, they may have contact information for the web site in a footer or about page. This would oh directly to someone responsible for site maintenance.

  11. Anonymous1973*

    #1 I have a MLIS and have been very successful in non-traditional positions. Don’t limit yourself to just the library. There are full time, paying positions out there, the job ads just don’t have the magic letter “L” in them.

    1. JMegan*

      Agreed. I’m going to put in another plug for records and information management, which is where my MLIS led me. Most of the work tends to be in government, or in highly regulated industries like finance or oil & gas, but it’s definitely the kind of work that every organization needs at some point.

      Which is not to say that it’s necessarily any easier to find a RIM job than a library job, just that that’s one option for broadening your scope a bit.

      1. KLH*

        I’ve worked as a performance auditor, a project assistant with a flair for competitive research for a medical education/publishing company, a researcher for a bank, and as a reference specialist for an international law firm, before and after getting my MLIS. There are jobs out there for people who can make fine distinctions, apply theory, make connections about topics and keep stuff organized–all librarian skills.

          1. KLH*

            I had spent 5 years as a reference specialist in a law firm, so I had experience with databases, tracking things and people down, conflict checks, and basically problem solving. I went to work at the medical publishing (ghostwriting) company when they had just hired someone who would come to me and say–“Hey, who else is working on a drug for X? Over the past 5 years how many articles have been published on this topic and who’se been writing them?” and I’d scour PubMed and the internet to find out. And then I went to work for the bank where we did research on prospects and industries for the bankers. This was 2002-2006, so things are totally different now.

            Look into the Special Libraries Association–a friend wa s heavily involved in that and the competitive research/business analysis activities, and has transitioned completely out of libraries at this point.

    2. Elizabeth*

      I have a friend who works in state government, in the agency that is responsible for clean-up of old oil & gas wells. She has to do property transfer searches in state databases as well as going to local courthouses to dig through old record books that haven’t been digitized to find out who owned the property at the time the well was dug, and then trace the leases for the mineral rights to determine who the state needs to bill for cleanup.

      She has a MLIS, which she puts to good use virtually every day. The position doesn’t require an MLIS, but the degree is listed in the “we would prefer you have …” section.

      When she got her MLIS, she remarked that library schools missed the boat during the rush to convert to digital records. They should have been out pushing every organization who had records to hire an information management professional to help guide the transition, so that there were standards set across entire industries and cross-industry to ease the use of the records. Instead, the library schools waited until the internal standards at each company were already set, saying that they dealt with books, not computer files. By then, it was to late, and they’ve trained an entire generation of “librarians” when most of us have needed “information management professionals”.

  12. The Clerk*

    OP #1, do you really like working with young adults, or were you just saying that? Because depending on your area, a middle or high school library might need your help. If it’s an area with reasonable funding there might even be a parapro job in the library. Which is better than not working, and at least related to the field. Then if you had some money coming in, you might not feel so cranky about volunteering for the library on weekends or something. It could take a while, but suppose a year goes by and still nothing great comes along–isn’t it better to have something related on your resume than nothing? If you’re a year older anyway?

    Three years ago I didn’t go after a volunteer job because it was only two evenings a week and I was in panic mode trying to find something that paid. During that time I did find part-time jobs and finally just landed full time, but I look back and think, really? Those three years had to pass anyway. I couldn’t spare two evenings a week for this? The person I interviewed with for this job was impressed with the volunteering I did do, imagine if I’d had this too. :/ And that field was what I actually went to college for, even if I love what I’m into now.

    1. The Clerk*

      Possibly also look at being the technology support person for one of those schools, since at least in my district, all the computers and electronics are in the library anyway and the LST person is considered part of the library staff.

    2. holly*

      or maybe a library aide in a school? my mom used to have volunteer classroom aides when she taught elementary at a public school.

      1. The Clerk*

        That’s what I was thinking of, basically, and most schools will put you in the library when you call about volunteering. They have you put away books at first because volunteers can be flaky, but soon mine had me processing books, weeding, etc because I showed up when I said I would and didn’t stick the 92s in with the fiction.

  13. Chris*

    Wow. #1, I pretty much have your situation (although, replace MLIS with B.S. Aeronautical Engineering 1.5 yrs ago). Getting a job just seems to be a titanium Gordian Knot right now. Some thoughts:

    a) seriously, how is your resume? Have you had someone in your network who is a hiring manager (one who reads hundreds of resumes a day) look it over? It’s very possible this could be your problem (since it seems like you have some experience), so it wouldn’t hurt getting this checked out.

    b) Googling library jobs nets me this link:


    Maybe you’ve seen it already and have applied around. There’s a lot here.

    c) Speaking of volunteering. You might want to check this out:


    It’s not a library job, but it involves proofreading and (in later stages) formatting e-books before they are put in the public domain. Not the best gig, but it might give you something to do if you need to see some books and applying for all the jobs is just too mentally grating and time-consuming.

    Good luck.

    1. JoAnna*

      Thank you for posting (c)! I’ve always wanted to volunteer with Project Gutenberg, and this looks right up my alley. (I toyed with the idea of volunteering for Librivox a few years back, but couldn’t make the time.)

    2. Another MLS grad*

      It’s incredibly condescending to assume that someone with a degree in library science didn’t think to Google library jobs.

      1. Yet another MLS*

        Ha! I was about to post this exact thing. I think one of my main skills from library school is incredibly efficient job searching (to the point that I help my husband/family/friends with it)

      2. OhNo*

        No it’s not. I’m in an MLIS program right now, and I actually had to walk one of my classmates through the idea of googling for job openings just last semester – she didn’t think it would give any results.

        LIS grads aren’t magically better than everyone else just because they got their degree in looking for information. They can miss things, or forget about resources, or skip steps because they don’t think they’ll be helpful, the same as everyone else.

        While we’re throwing links around, though – I highly recommend INALJ.com, if anyone hasn’t tried it already. In addition to links to particular jobs, they also have links to libraries/library orgs that might be hiring or looking for volunteers.

        1. Anonymous*

          “LIS grads aren’t magically better than everyone else just because they got their degree in looking for information. ”

          It’s not magic – it’s learning to think well. I got better at searching for everything, including jobs, via library school. If someone didn’t, it reflects poorly on them and/or their program.

          1. Another MLS grad*

            Bam. If someone can’t perform the most rudimentary tasks in looking for information, why should anyone hire them for a job that includes research?

        2. INALJ*

          Thanks! we post on average 5,000-7,000 jobs librarians can do (many are non-traditional like prospect research or competitive intelligence) each month.

          Good luck!

        3. Another MLS grad*

          I started school with people who were terrified of computers, so I can see that.

          I just find it really infuriating when people assume that I haven’t typed my question into Google when the reason I’m asking online is that I’m interested in lived experiences.

  14. Graciosa*

    Regarding #1, I would strongly urge you not to do this. One commenter talked about volunteering simply for the love of being in the library, but this is not your attitude.

    You clearly think that the work you’re being asked to do is beneath you, and that attitude is absolutely fatal. I have interviewed (and not hired) people who thought this and encountered them in junior positions looking to be promoted. Just this week, another manager in my function tried to hire someone who thought he should be doing higher level work than what was on offer; the head of function spotted this in what is usually a courtesy interview, and that candidate will not be coming to work for us.

    I am not saying you don’t have reason to believe you can do the higher level work you trained for – it is your attitude that is the killer. If your question was about whether it would damage your career aspirations to take a lower level volunteer position in your field just because you love it so much and can’t stand not to be there, this would be a different situation – but it isn’t.

    If you volunteer to do work you believe is beneath you, sooner or later it will show. Someone will catch you rolling your eyes, or you’ll grimace once too often – not to mention that your general unhappiness will not win you any friends. You will become increasingly bitter and finally give up – probably after you have created an irreparably toxic reputation for yourself in what is probably a very small professional circle. Insiders will warn others not to accept you as a volunteer, which will certainly not help your chances of getting hired for a paid position (not to mention what kind of references you’ll be creating!).

    Without that reputation, you still have a chance at winning over an interviewer with real enthusiasm for the work you trained for – if you want to work in your field, don’t volunteer.

    1. Gjest*

      I totally agree with this. I used to supervise a number of interns and volunteers in my last position. It was super annoying to have volunteers who acted like the work I gave them was beneath them. Those were never the ones I considered if a paid position was coming up, which rarely happened, but we did once create a summer paid position for one of our amazing volunteers.

      1. BCW*

        Here is my question about people thinking work is beneath them. Sometimes it just is. The problem I think is the perception of the wording. A manager saying you are overqualified for a position is looked at as ok (which has happened to me with jobs I applied for). However me saying that the work is far below my skill set makes me arrogant? I mean, in a way I get that you shouldn’t act high and mighty, but at the same time, if someone has a masters degree and they are doing what a high school kid trying to get volunteer hours is doing, well I’d tend to agree with them that yes, the work is beneath them. If they have a certain level of skill, why would you punish them because they aren’t happy putting back issues of a magazine in order when they can do so much more?

        1. SCW*

          Because in a library or other place, we pay people for those higher level jobs. The volunteer jobs are things that we can use help with but are not things we necessarily would pay someone to do. At our library we only have volunteers do the lower level jobs because volunteers are an unknown, inconsistent quality, much better if we have someone who is paid to focus on the higher level duties do that.

          However, I would be very concerned about the attitude of things being beneath them–picking up garbage on the ground is not just the custodian’s job–if you see a mess pick it up or make sure it gets picked up. If a patron needs help, try to help them, don’t tell them that because their question isn’t a research question you aren’t going to answer it–everyone can tell someone where the bathrooms are!

          1. BCW*

            I think part of it is about expectations. If Jane with a masters in library science takes a volunteer position where she knows she’ll be just dusting and shelving books, thats one thing. If she takes a volunteer position where she thinks she’ll be doing work where she is using her degree, then she ends up dusting and shelving books, then I don’t have as much of a problem with the attitude.

            1. Gjest*

              But then Jane should just stop volunteering there, rather than continuing to do it with an air of “this is sooooo beneath me”.

              1. Ruffingit*

                Attitude matters as well, yes. If the person is volunteering with an air of disdain, then they need to stop and move on.

            2. Ruffingit*

              I agree with this, it’s the expectations that are the problem. If you hire someone and tell them they will be doing high-level research and statistical analysis, then when they come on board, you have them answering the phones and directing people to the bathroom all day, that is not OK. It’s not about work being beneath anyone, someone has to answer the phones and give directions, it’s about doing what you were hired to do and not massively changing the job. People take jobs to make money and to advance their careers (generally speaking). You will not advance your career as a master’s level statistician by answering the phones. If you are told and expect one thing, then are given something that is well below what you were hired to do, that is a problem not because you’re arrogant, but because you care about your career path.

          2. Ann O'Nemity*

            “Because in a library or other place, we pay people for those higher level jobs. The volunteer jobs are things that we can use help with but are not things we necessarily would pay someone to do.”

            Sigh. I always find it a bit depressing to hear about organizations that *depend* on unpaid labor. It raises all sorts of concerns.

            Essentially, there are going to be fewer paid positions, because the low level work is being done for free. A gulf grows between the paid and unpaid work, so that there are few opportunities to gain experience and actually get paid for the work. Further, you’re diminishing the importance of the work being done. If unpaid volunteers can do the work, why pay for a professional?

            Relying on unpaid workers also hurts diversity. And it makes the price of admission to the field too high for some people to afford based on their economic conditions. It moves us farther away from equal opportunity.


        2. the_scientist*

          I agree a little bit with this. I know that it’s the attitude that’s the killer, here and that if it’s part of your job description, you knew what you were getting into and have to suck it up. But, I’m looking to get out of my job ASAP because I spend most of my time reconciling Visa statements and processing invoices as opposed to doing the study design and analysis I have an advanced degree in. In small research programs, everyone needs to pitch in and help out and I wouldn’t mind if I was spending the bulk of my time doing actual science, but I’m not….and that’s not what I went to grad school for. It’s not that the work is beneath me, it’s that it’s at a far lower level than my skill set.

          1. Stella*

            I am currently referring to this as being “unable to do the tasks for which I am uniquely qualified”. My entire organization is understaffed and overworked so whining about being overworked is stupid. And this feels like a more professional way to say “Hey!! Consequences will happen if I can’t do my stinking job!!”

          1. BCW*

            Call it what you will I guess. You aren’t getting paid, so yes I think its volunteering. But I had to do volunteer hours for national honor society.

          2. Judy*

            Lots of high schools require volunteer hours for civics courses or an honors diploma or certain clubs. Our local charter high school requires 20 hours volunteering a semester. Lots of colleges expect applicants to have volunteer community service work.

            I’ve filled out forms for at least two situations, helping at our church’s soup kitchen for some of the charter school students and a older brother of one of my girl scouts came in and talked about his experiences hiking Philmont when we were doing our hiking badge. He needed to log community service time for a civics class.

            1. AdminAnon*

              My high school required volunteer hours for every student as a graduation requirement, plus additional hours for NHS and other clubs/honors diplomas. It was easy for me, because I had been volunteering since middle school anyway, but for some people it was a pain as they scrambled to get all of their hours in during senior year. In my opinion, a volunteer is a volunteer, regardless of whether or not their participation is, for lack of a better word, voluntary.

          3. Felicia*

            To graduate high school in Ontario you have to do 40 volunteer hours. You have to do them, but I’m not sure what you’d call it other than volunteering? You’re doing work for free. You are volunteering to do the work at that particular place (you could do it anywhere). So you have to do something, but you choose where and what.

            1. Ann O'Nemity*

              My high school required 80 hours of community service just to graduate. Volunteering at the library was one of the more coveted options.

          4. KLH*

            Logically yes, forcing students to volunteer is not actually volunteering. However, it’s become rediculously common in the past 20 years, under the false assumption it’s going to make teenagers into better, more empathic people.

            1. MJ*

              The students may not be paid money, but they are receiving credit, and they are doing it because it’s required, so it’s not really voluntary.

              At our library we have a lot of teens earning their service hours. We have chosen to treat it like work experience for them. They fill out applications and do an interview. Because we often have more applicants than spots, they may not get the job, but we will help them with their interviewing skills. If they do not follow procedures to gets subs when they are out, they can be asked to sit out the rest of the semester and reapply in the future. This year we are planning to do a workshop with them to teach them how to use volunteer service on their resumes.

        3. Colette*

          Someone at a high level usually is responsible for big picture things – and the big goals only get done if all of the small pieces get done. That may mean that the higher-level person has to pitch in. I doubt many managers would accept “I know I didn’t get that bid/contract/project delivered on time, but the receptionist had gone home, so I couldn’t FedEx it” as a legitimate excuse.

          In addition, usually people get to the higher-level jobs by doing the lower-level jobs.

          In this case, if the work on offer is data entry and the OP takes the job, it’s absolutely unacceptable to complain about it.

          If the work on offer is higher-level stuff and the OP is occasionally asked to do data entry, it’s still not OK to complain. Sometimes that’s how jobs go – you have to do things that are not your first choice.

          If, on the other hand, the OP was mislead about what the position was (i.e. the organization said it was higher level, but it was data entry), that’s a good reason to stop volunteering (but again, not to complain).

        4. Gjest*

          It’s not punishing someone to ask them to do the volunteer work that they were “hired” to do. If they don’t want to do the tasks- don’t volunteer. Do not volunteer with a bad attitude about it.

        5. Elsajeni*

          Well, there’s a distinction to be made between “I’m not happy filing these magazines” and “I’m not happy filing these magazines and I’m gonna make sure everyone knows it.” I’ve been a retail worker with a master’s degree; I wasn’t always happy about it, but part of acting professional at work is doing the task you were hired for without complaining that you could be doing something much cooler and more complicated.

        6. some1*

          Well. I’m certainly above being a baby-sitter skill-set wise but I watch my nieces and nephews from time to time because I love them and I like to help my brothers out.

          If I wasn’t that into kids, or I’d rather not baby-sit, or I resent my brothers asking me to do something they’d usually have to pay for, there are plenty of aunts and uncles and grandparents.

        7. CC*

          Well, for just about anybody with a degree, a volunteer position is going to be below their skill level. It’s kind of the nature of volunteering; for the specialized skills, they pay people.

          I’m a chemical engineer, not quite senior yet, call it intermediate; my volunteer position is retail, at a charity’s fundraiser storefront. I haven’t worked retail since high school. I spend a lot of time pricing stock.

          Thing is, because it’s volunteer work, I’m choosing to be there. Below my skill level or not.

          1. Judy*

            My parents are retired in their late 70s. They both taught elementary school and both have master’s degrees.

            Is it beneath them because my mom volunteers one day a week at a nursing home, running bingo, mending clothes and writing and reading letters to the residents?

            Is it beneath them because my dad volunteers one day a week for habitat?

            What about the day they both help at the food bank, sorting incoming items, or pulling orders?

            1. fposte*

              I think there are different economics in the OP’s case, though; volunteerism by choice is different than volunteerism instead of a paid career, especially right at the start of a career.

              I think that you still need to make sure you can bring an upbeat attitude if you’re going to do it, but it’s a different kettle o’ fish to post-retirement commitments.

        8. Fucshia*

          It may seem like just semantics, but the phrasing matters. The work may be beneath your skill set. But, it is not beneath you as a person. If you say the work is beneath you, but not beneath the student, then what does that say about how you view that student as a person?

          1. SCW*

            Bingo! I like that distinction–especially where you are implying something about other people who are doing that. It isn’t beneath me to work circulation, even if I am the manager, it is just not economically using my skill set, and since I don’t do it every day I may not be as efficient at it as the folks who do.

        9. vvondervvoman*

          Because a positive attitude is key to most jobs, especially library work? Work may be beneath your skill level but it should never be beneath *you*. There’s a difference.

    1. en pointe*

      Buggered if I know.

      OP, maybe don’t use that specific wording in your emails to the company. Yes, it’s petty but I would probably take you less seriously.

    2. Letter Owner*

      The only thing I can think of is maybe this was a short term position and she’s not mentioning it on her resume, so she doesn’t want it coming up if a potential employer does a search on her?

    3. OP*

      OP for #3 here. What I mean here is that I don’t want my name associated with a company I no longer work for or contribute to. It reflects badly on my as a professional if people think I’m doing work for a company that comes across as disorganized or unprofessional. I’m not the one who’s not updating my previous work, etc – I simply don’t work there anymore.

      1. Katie the Fed*

        Yeah, “reputation”

        But I really don’t think people are going to care as much as you think they are. On the off chance anyone is googling you, it’s not that uncommon for organizations to be delayed in updating their webpages.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I got what you meant OP with personal brand. I would have used the word reputation, but I won’t make fun of you for not doing so.

        A lot of companies don’t update their websites and I think it makes them look bad myself. I worked for a company once that had an old address on its website. They hadn’t been at that office for 5 years, but they never changed the address on their site. That’s a pretty basic thing and since this company was a software company, I would think their website would matter to them, but it didn’t.

        You can only follow Alison’s advice and ask repeatedly that they remove it. Also, if the website is maintained by a 3rd-party, go to the site and find that out and write that person. You will usually see that on the bottom of the site’s first page.

        1. Natalie*

          ” I worked for a company once that had an old address on its website. They hadn’t been at that office for 5 years, but they never changed the address on their site.”

          And as the landlord, this drives us absolutely batty.

          People still come into my building looking for an IRS office that moved *15 years ago* and still hasn’t updated their address on their damn letterhead. Thankfully, they moved a block away so at least those folks don’t have much farther to go.

    4. Mike C.*

      Personal brand? Isn’t that the thing I stick in a fire to mark my cattle and threaten unruly children with?

      /Seriously, the closest I get to cattle is the meat department of the Business Costco.

      1. De Minimis*

        This was all the rage at a former job, I was hoping people had moved on to another trendy buzzword, but I guess “the personal brand’ is sticking around.

        1. Jessica*

          I’ve even heard it extended to encompass people’s personal lives…the beginning of the end, I tell you.

        2. HR lady*

          I’ve heard it in connection with job seeking – as in, you want to make people aware of your “personal brand” so that you have a better chance of getting hired.

          1. De Minimis*

            At my old job it was used more as a way to market yourself within the organization…but it was a large company and there was a constant need to network and market yourself in order to remain employed.

  15. SA*

    OP#2: Since you are interviewing with your current supervisor a question I’d ask is ‘Knowing my current responsibilities and performance do you have any concerns about how I would handle the new position?’ or something like that. Gives you an opportunity to address them at the time. Good luck!

    1. OP#2*

      Thanks! I was thinking of asking something like that when I (hopefully!) go in for an in-person interview. It’s not too risky of a question, is it?

  16. Dennis*

    #1 I am a MLS reference librarian in a public library with 30 years experience. There are a lot of old Dinosaurs like me holding on to positions and when the Dinosaurs leave their full time positions they are often replaced with part time, non MLS employees. Sad, but true in our area.

    The best way to get work in our system is to start as a substitute and pay your dues until a part time position opens.

    Volunteers often create a lot of work for staff. We use them sparingly. But if you really develop some skills in YA programming you could offer to do book talks or help with other YA programming.

    On the bright side. There are jobs out there. My daughter has an MLIS from the #1 school in the country. She works in an academic library and already makes more than her old man. You might look at academic libraries as an option.

    1. Youth Services Librarian*

      Exactly. I know big library systems that don’t use volunteers – they had too many liability issues. I work in a very small public library and about all a volunteer can do is dust or maybe shelve a few books. I just don’t have the time to train someone to do more complicated jobs. We have had interns, and that’s a different story, although it was still a lot of work for me. If you want to intern at my library, you have to sell me on how it’s going to be mutually beneficial. Both of our interns went on to get library jobs.
      For my own career – I graduated almost six years ago and grabbed the first job I could get. I moved to a state I’d never even visited and took a job that paid a little over minimum wage. I got a raise a few years later and I now earn what I consider a decent salary for a small public library (about $20 an hour, salaried) but I’m going to be paying my student loans until I die probably and I’m always aware that my job could get cut at any time. I’m sorry your school sold you on the idea that librarianship was a thriving profession – there are jobs out there, there are things you can do with your degree outside librarianship but it’s not an easy field (then again, what is these days?) and especially if you’re going into teen services there’s not a lot of full-time jobs (at least in my experience and geographic area)

      1. Youth Services Librarian*

        Oh and also – I do plenty of “professional” things – collection development, programming, outreach, reference, reader’s advisory, supervising staff, etc. but I also shelve, work at the circulation desk, help people with the copier (over and over and over and over…) and plunge the toilets. Even if you’re just doing “data entry” you’re showing a willingness to be flexible and do what’s needed and that’s going to be a good sign, especially in a public library.

        1. Anon*

          I’m a branch manager, and I still plunge the toilets. That’s one of those things anyone who’s “in charge” should be prepared to do. (At least at a basic level. Sometimes we all just call the custodial emergency number. Oh, the joys of working in a old buildings with crummy plumbing.)

        2. Joey*

          On the other hand you’re also becoming a librarian that’s worth less. What you describe sounds similar to what librarians did in the library I worked at. And what was interesting was that when we actually quantified their duties we found they were spending the majority of their time doing non MLS level work. Which meant we had to decide if we were paying them appropriately or if we wanted to redistribute those duties and rethink the number of librarians we had. Its a double edged sword.

      2. Joey*

        It’s crazy to me how a profession can require so much education yet pay so little. I know there are some librarians that do well but for the most part its a pretty underpaid field.

        1. Anoners*

          I think this is hit or miss, or maybe it’s based on country? The lower 25th percentile for an Information Specialist (someone who most likely has an MIS), is over $60,000 for my city. This is in Canada though so I think maybe librarians here make more.

          1. fposte*

            It’s really, really variable in the US, because it’s so dependent on state, municipal, and school funding. But Salary.com puts the median in the US at just under $60k; the median in Brownsville, TX is $52k, and the median in Darien, CT, is $65k.

    2. Joey*

      Yeah I think libraries are rethinking what they need in terms of librarians and librarians have a hard time believing or accepting that many of the things they do can sometimes be done better by people with non library experience. Library managers are a perfect example.

      1. KLH*

        A big part of it is that libraries (the institutions) and librarians (the people) need an attitude adjustment on both sides and to become more antagonistic. The librarians need to develop stonger self-interest and personal advocation skills. The institutions need to realize they can’t survive without good people doing the work, and figure out what their new existance looks like and what their end goals are. The library as a place is dying. Librarian skills still have uses but have fierce competition from other fields crossing over into traditional libraries and functions.

        IMO, of course.

        1. fposte*

          I agree with you that librarianship is transforming (which is, ironically, the one constant in its history), but I don’t think the library as a space is dying any time soon. There are too many people in libraries who don’t have the privilege to find those resources elsewhere.

          1. Joey*

            We’ll but library spaces are becoming community centers, not book repositories. I’m still shocked that many libraries still use Dewey and that many librarians don’t believe that the physical book isn’t as important to society as it use do be. Not that I think books will ever go away, but the need/want for them is clearly trending down and who knows when it will stop.

            1. Dennis*

              ” I’m still shocked that many libraries still use Dewey ”

              Umm..what? Every public library in the U.S. uses Dewey as far as I know. A couple of Universities use it..I believe University Of Illinois. It’s not on the verge of changing or anything.

    3. kelly*

      I know you mean well with your comment but it comes across as condescending and to be honest, out of touch with where libraries will be in 20 years.

      Licensing costs are going up for both academic and public libraries. I’m in academia and the costs keep going up for access to both print and digital copies of journals. Two major journals in my subject area switched vendors and the new vendor has a reputation of being both more expensive and providing worse customer service. We can’t drop the print subscriptions because some faculty will have a fit even though the digital access is great. They love trotting their classes into the library to show them the journal that their article has been published in. Their back runs are nearly all digitized and there is no embargo on digital access for their current issues. Overdrive, the primary e book provider for most public libraries, is expensive, cumbersome and the selection isn’t the greatest. They know that they don’t have much competition and have no incentive to change their current model.

      I’m a skeptic about the overall value of having a professional librarian provide reference services for how frequently it is used. That being said, they are among the more adventurous with new technology because they have learn how to use it in case a patron asks. Once in a while you get someone who has an in depth reference question, but most of what we get are directional or tech related. It doesn’t make sense to pay someone $50k per year to answer questions mostly about where the bathroom is or explain to some 60 some person how to use the iPad that their kids and grandkids thought would be a great gift. It’s a waste of taxpayer dollars. I think academic and research libraries can justify having a reference librarian because of the research core of their missions. I think that public libraries need to have good solid statistics and evidence that the reference staff is providing actual reference and reader advisory help to justify the expense of paying someone a librarian’s salary. Otherwise, paraprofessionals and graduate students in areas that have an MLS program could be provide equally good and most cost effective service. The one exception would be public libraries that have strong genealogy holdings because of their specialized archival nature and navigating public records databases.

  17. AAM Intern*

    As a fellow recent MLIS-grad, I feel your pain. It is rough out there right now, for sure. I was lucky to find this AAM intern position to give me something relevant to add to my resume!
    I agree with others that you shouldn’t volunteer if you’re feeling negative about it, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t look for meaningful volunteer work. If you really want to work with YA, find something relevant, even if it isn’t in a library. Or, if you can swing it look for part-time work tutoring. I would say, though, that if you have your heart set on a a specific local library, that you’ll likely need to pay your dues and volunteer.
    Good luck to you, OP! I’m job hunting as well, and I know it can be mentally draining, so hang in there!

  18. Piggle*

    OP#1. I am currently an underemployed high school English teacher (with a MA in my subject area!) working as a substitute. A few weeks ago, I had a bunch of classes in the library and the librarian offered to teach me library skills, so I could become a sub there as well. When I told me SO, he said that I should consider getting some sort of librarian degree– more money into education. It’s good to know that all of my degrees would be equally unemployable.

    As someone who is in the trenches, trying to get a job doing something useful with my degree: You need to get over yourself. I work as a substitute teacher, already. And, most days, I enjoy my job. I work as a sub because it pays money and because it’s the only way to get a job in my field. I am a known quantity, which opens me up for longer teaching positions, either in the short run or for an actual job. Yes, it’s immensely frustrating, but I have also gathered a huge toolbox of skills, working in high school classrooms in 3 districts. I take my job (not too) seriously and I don’t take guff.

    My point is that you might actually get something out of volunteering. It’s not just a one-way street. You might learn that you do or do not like the environment. You might realize that there’s something bigger than your hurt ego. You might also learn skills or, maybe, that you don’t even like the environment.

    I know, I struggle with the same problem as you every day. There are few jobs and too many people to fill them. Look elsewhere. Your skills might be a better fit in a non-traditional library environment. My friend with a library degree works in a private school library. At least by volunteering you will know what you gave up for better or worse.

    Really, the attitude is not helping you.

    (I am also considering the para route, although it might just be easier to leave schools altogether.)

    1. Anonymous*

      I think that telling someone who is resentful that the only way they can work in their field is for free to get over themselves is unfair. You compare that to your work as a substitute teacher, but then you say that you do it because it pays money and is the only way to get a job in your field. Take away the first bit, and the part about actually teaching school (imagine you were sorting lego pieces for a classroom all day instead of interacting with students) and that is a fairer comparison.

      1. KLH*

        Honestly, if you have experience with kids and programming/teaching kids, library assistant jobs are in your wheelhouse. No MLS necessary.

    2. Simonthegrey*

      Are there community colleges in your area? With a MA, you can usually teach there. My MA is actually in a field barely related to my BA, but I have enough hours of masters-level coursework to teach at the community college. If I wanted to go to teach at a Uni, I would have to probably go back and get a MA in my original field (or teach at a religious school, since that’s what the MA is in). If nothing else, your community college might have a developmental department like mine does, where you can teach remedial level classes.

    3. The Clerk*

      Would you still be a substitute if it didn’t pay? Because the OP wouldn’t be getting paid, so it isn’t the same thing.

      Paraprofessional jobs are almost as competitive as teaching jobs right now, so best of luck…

  19. Laura*

    I feel your pain. I have worked in libraries for over 15 years, 10 of those with an MLS. The field is tough and I would discourage anyone from pursuing an MLS at this point. The field is oversaturated, especially if you are not in a postion to easily relocate.
    That being said, do what ever you have to do to get actual work experience in the field. Swallow your pride and volunteer. Everywhere I’ve worked, experience counts the most.

  20. Laura*

    #1 – have you considered school/college libraries? Possibly high schools, too, if you don’t mind an education approach. You may have to go to private schools if you go K-12 and don’t also have teaching certification. What about curated libraries associated with other non-public-library institutions? (Sorry, I have a friend with an MLIS and I remember her mentioning some form of business library, but I don’t remember what kind.)

    1. Another MLS grad*

      The recession really wrecked what business libraries were left. Managers think that everything is Googleable and libraries an unnecessary expense.

      1. ThursdaysGeek*

        A couple of years ago, a local federal lab dumped their library and threw away all the books (literally). Libraries cost money to maintain, and it’s all online now anyway. Plus, that’s old science, so there’s nothing of value there. Technical books that are long out of print and would never be scanned were tossed. My husband managed to get his hands on a few books, but a huge body of knowledge went to the landfill (they didn’t even recycle them!)

  21. BW*

    OP#1, I did unpaid internships too when I was still in law school, as did a lot of my classmates (the popular belief that lawyers make oh-so-much money needs to stop). I won’t say that I was always sunshine and rainbows Pollyanna all the way, but I tried to never let my frustration show.

    In the end it did indirectly lead to a career-track job: the firm I was interning for couldn’t hire me, but one of the lawyers I worked for put out a blurb for me on a message board, and then people were actually emailing ME asking for my résumé! I doubt that lawyer would have felt so inclined to help me if I were bitter all the time.

    So basically even if a path doesn’t seem to be leading directly to where you want to go, doesn’t mean it won’t go somewhere good. Also don’t think little things don’t matter. That blurb was literally one sentence, but it made a huge difference in my life.

  22. Calla*

    4. I’m curious about something related to this! I am going back to school to finish my undergrad after 3 years “off.” So I updated my resume, and it says “Anticipated May 2016.” I was thinking about whether this would make me look a lot younger than I am. But my job history should probably take care of that, right? If I’ve been working office jobs since 2008 they probably know I’m not going to be a 21yo new grad, I would think!

    (I’m not actively job searching anyway, but it was something I thought about.)

    1. Letter Owner*

      My resume reads the same (I’m almost 34, though – I took way more than three years off). Even though the whole reason I went back to school is to improve my chances of getting a job in my desired field, I still keep my education at the bottom of my resume, after all my work experience. I like to think that helps emphasize that I’m a working professional first, and a student second.

      1. Calla*

        Good point! Mine’s at the very bottom too. (And I just remembered it was actually more like 4 years off… not that it probably gets close to the break you took – congrats on going back!!)

    2. KJR*

      I see this quite often…seems like lots of people are going back to school theses days. You are correct in your assumption that your job history will take clear it up.

  23. Kat*

    #1 – I have been there as a fellow MLIS grad, and apart from the advice you’ve already been given, if working in a public library is really your passion, maybe you can try to look at it from a different angle. Volunteering at a library means you’re that much closer to getting a job there — it’s not a guarantee, and it may take some time, so it’s not ideal. I was a part-time page at a local public library while I was in school. I didn’t look at it as beneath me but at the time, I was worried about bills and took another job outside of the library field after a few months. Looking back, I’m sure if I would have stuck it out, I would have been in a good spot to get a full-time librarian job there eventually — a lot of the librarians I worked with there had come up through the library from volunteer/customer service positions.

    What I’m trying to say is, if you’re sure working in a public library is what you want to do, it will probably be worth it to start from the bottom and work your way up. That said, I was extremely worried about finding a job when I graduated and got hired about a month later as a hospital librarian. It’s a good job and I’m getting a lot of really great experience, even if I may not want to work in a hospital for the rest of my life. So you may want to look outside of the familiar public/academic library jobs when you’re beginning your career, because of how tough the market is right now. Good luck to you.

  24. Kacie*

    OP1: Consider volunteering for your local professional association. It would be great networking and you can contribute in a meaningful way.

    When I worked in public libraries, we had very few volunteers. And we would never interview or hire an MLS for a para position (I’m in the Midwest, hear this is much different in larger cities on the coasts). I would say to get into a substitute pool, but I suspect those positions aren’t easy to come by where you are, either.

  25. SCW*

    If you want to be a youth services librarian, you might focus on getting experience with youth and not just library experience. Both are important, but there are a lot of folks with MLS degrees and showing success working with the target audience helps. The newest librarian hired in our system was a circ clerk who in her spare time went to her kids’ school classes and did book talks. It wasn’t part of her job, but was such an impressive bit of relevant work experience, showing familiarity with books, outreach, and working with kids.

    Also, as some folks have mentioned, substitute work is more impressive than volunteer work, since you are already doing the job you’d be hired for. The thing about the MLS degree that is kind of sad is that it doesn’t prepare you for what you actually do in a library as much as working there. So much of what we do is procedures that are specific to the library system, policies you have to learn, computer systems they don’t train on in library school. The MLS degree is supposed to teach you to be able to pick up these things easier, but if you can’t demonstrate that you can work in the system or similar systems it makes it harder to invest the time in the training, especially when there are very experienced people competing against you.

  26. thenoiseinspace*

    OP #1 – a thought! If everyone you know is doing traditional library volunteer work, why don’t you try something a little different, like volunteering with the Little Free Library project? If you could become, say, a regional coordinator (or something), that might give you something few other people have. Plus, it’s a growing project that people feel very passionate about, so you might get some brownie points (and you’d be doing good work!) You’d have to do something more than just start one of the libraries – you could develop a new tracking system, or start a regional network of libraries dedicated just to a certain genre, or you could set up a project to bring the libraries to inner-city or underprivileged kids. That way, not only would you be getting some credentials that not everyone has, but you’d be doing good work that might help you feel better about yourself. :)

    1. anon58*

      I agree. I’d find non-traditional ways of volunteering and get involved with your state library association. That will help you network. As a youth services librarian myself (specializing in kids under 12), some of my volunteer activities include:
      -Flannel Friday–weekly online blog activity where librarians post a storytime activity
      –Storytime Underground Ninja–volunteer to answer reader questions about working with kids

      I also write my own blog. (You can google the project names to learn more about them. I won’t link to them directly since I don’t want to accidentally get this comment marked spam. Both groups have active Facebook pages).

      Another place to get involved–I Need a Library Job, which lists job postings by state. They are often looking for volunteers to help with that site. You could also be a volunteer book reviewer for School Library Journal. You don’t get paid but get free books. Also stuff you can volunteer with on your own schedule and doesn’t tie you to one part of the country.

  27. Heather*

    I’m a mid-career librarian having gotten my MLS in 2007 (right when the economy fell out), had a GAship during grad school, and worked for several years in libraries before grad school. I had steady work the first four years after graduating but they were all contract and part-time librarian gigs (one of which I beat out hundreds of applicants for). Three years ago I finally landed the full time jobs with benefits. In a tough economy a degree isn’t enough and I wish library schools would require that students have had work experience in a library both before and during their degree. Unfortunately this way of dealing with our current realities would cut down the number of students that could attend their programs and would not be as lucrative, so they’ll never do that. Library school doesn’t fully prepare someone to be a librarian the way working does and I really wish we had an apprenticeship model instead. Oh well. If OP no. 1 already has a ton of experience then don’t do volunteering that can’t give you any professional projects if not then, yes, you should try to get your foot in the door as well as try looking outside of librarianship… there’s many places that organized, information savvy, and customer-service oriented people can thrive.

    1. Kelly*

      I got my MLS in 2008 and found a full time library with benefits after a couple years of working part time in non-library jobs. I didn’t have any luck getting a volunteer position or part time position because I was too overqualified for either with the MLS for a small town library. They preferred their volunteers to be either high school students, retirees, or people who had no professional ambitions in the library field. The last rather bothered me because they were giving staff members who did not have their MLS a librarian title. That is a touchy subject when both public and academic libraries hire MLS degree holders in paraprofessional positions like library technician or library assistant.

      I’m in Wisconsin now and there 2 Teen Librarian positions open in Madison. Given that there are multiple ALA accredited programs within driving distance, including Illinois which has a good reputation in that area, they’ll get a very qualified pool of applicants.

    2. Anonymous*

      I got an MLIS recently and though I interned in a couple libraries, I have no intention of working in one. In fact, one of my internships was actually in a web development shop inside a library.

      Requiring students to work in a library before would have been a big disservice to me (I probably wouldn’t have been accepted, though perhaps working 15 years ago in a dorm library would have counted) and the school (I got a lot out of it and I know a couple of professors said I contributed a lot to the school as well – I was nominated for a university wide prize for service by one of them).

      Library school is shorthand – it isn’t just about libraries. It’s about librarianship. The practice, not the place. That the future.

      Also, I don’t think library schools should cut down the number of students they have. They should just be honest about job prospects and students should do some research before applying too.

  28. Laurie B.*

    Hi OP #1

    I’m one of the volunteer Volunteer Coordinators for the e-resource center I Need a Library Job.com. You should check us out, we find and post all relevant jobs to those who hold library degrees/diplomas (the traditional and the non-traditional) and articles offering advice. If you’re looking to volunteer we are also always looking for more volunteers.

    1. Joey*

      God, I don’t know how people do it- spend a ton on school and when you’re finally out you have to spend more money to have a decent shot at actually landing a job in your profession. Pretty soon (if not already) you won’t even be able to volunteer without an advanced degree and previous experience. Isn’t there something wrong with that? I just can’t get on board with using volunteers to supplement your workforce. There are few volunteer or unpaid internships that really don’t contribute to the business. And if you’re contributing to the business it only makes sense that you actually get paid some compensation (and no experience I don’t consider compensation).

      1. Another MLS grad*

        most libraries are private or government institutions, if that helps. it’s not providing free labor to a “company” but to a government agency or incorporated not-for-profit.

  29. JoAnna*

    OP #1 – try thinking outside the box a bit regarding volunteer opportunities. For example, the hospital where my son receives (outpatient) treatment has its own library. https://www.phoenixchildrens.org/health-information/the-emily-center

    If there is a similar facility in your area with a similar setup, perhaps they could use volunteers. Or, maybe there’s a similar facility in your area that doesn’t have a library but wants one, and you can volunteer to help get that project off the ground. A project like that would be a great resume asset.

  30. Ashley*

    #1 – I have an MLS and an MIS and I ended up thinking outside the box for how to use my degree. Even if it was not your initial goal, sometimes life leads you in directions you did not expect. For the last few years I have worked for library software vendors in a variety of capacities. Every vendor I have worked for generally has a long list of available jobs and candidates with an MLS are given higher weight because they have an understanding of the customers and the companies are trying to increase the number of librarians employed because it is good for marketing and RFP answers. Consider building skills in other areas that would complement your degree – training, technical writing, programming, etc.

    In addition, you might be surprised to find that there are a lot of jobs totally unrelated to libraries that would work for you. I interviewed for and was offered all kinds of positions for employers who felt they could make use of my experience and training in organizing information and research. Make sure you are positioning your skills to work in other areas outside of being a traditional librarian for maximum effectiveness.

    1. SCW*

      Plus having worked in library software and training, may help you stand out when it comes to transitioning into other kinds of libraries. Tech skills and tech training skills are very important for public libraries.

  31. Anonymous*

    #1 – Have you ever looked into a career in prospect research? Many prospect researchers have an MLIS degree. The skills are highly applicable to the profession, and since prospect research is quite a niche field within non-profit fundraising, I’ve personally found it quite easy to get jobs and advance fairly quickly.

  32. Jessica*

    OP #1 – I am so, so sorry that you’re dealing with this. I wish I could give you a hug and a plate of cookies right now. I think I know exactly how you are feeling. I graduated with an MLIS last December, and I couldn’t find a full-time librarianship job in the area I wanted to stay in. I didn’t want to leave the area because I had an amazing boyfriend still in school. It seemed like all of my friends were getting a job near us or moving to really cool places (Florida! DC! Portland!) and they were going to make a lot of money! Meanwhile I was struggling in a job that I hated and I felt like nothing was going to get better at all. I felt like all the enjoyable parts of my life were just overshadowed by this terrible soul sucking feeling of not having a job that I liked. At the time, I thought that getting the degree was the worst mistake of my life.

    Okay, so it does get better. It really does. I think you should stay with volunteering at the animal shelter since it brings you joy. Seriously, snatch that joy up and hug it to yourself. I think you should also consider moving away from librarianship into something related. What drew you to the field in the first place? Think about that and consider similar jobs. For me, it was the research. I found interacting with students draining, but I loved hearing about their research projects and helping them find all of the information. I researched most aspects of my life anyways. So now I work as a prospect researcher, and I love it. INALJ.com has a list of titles/keywords for job searching. Maybe explore some of those? And if you live in Pittsburgh, let me know and I’ll gladly take you out to coffee and listen to you complain about how much it all sucks.

    1. Ruffingit*

      I would like to move to Pittsburgh just so I can be your friend (and also for the cookies)! :) Seriously, it is super sweet of you to offer some words of wisdom and to offer to be a sounding board. Sometimes you just need to complain that something is a bummer and sucks. Cool of you to offer to help the OP!

      1. Jessica*

        You should move, Pittsburgh is awesome! I complained sooo much and was just generally miserable to be around when I couldn’t find a job, but my friends were still sweet to me. I’d love to pay it forward.

    2. Zed*

      I miss Pittsburgh! I lived there for several years and did my MLIS there, but I knew I had to move away to find a job. :(

  33. MLSer*

    #1 should use her research skills to think outside the box and identify local job opps that could use her research, info org and analytical skills. ie researcher, writer, tech support person. that’s assuming she learned hard skills in lib school and didn’t just focus on soft classes like storytelling. good luck from another MLSer!

  34. Meredith*

    Hi OP #1 – I also have an MLS, and am currently about 5 years out of school. I’m also a former volunteer coordinator (I worked as an AmeriCorps VISTA for a year while taking a break from my grad program). My advice to you about volunteering echoes Allison’s: stay well away from a volunteer gig if your attitude toward said volunteer gig is less than cheerful. In your position, volunteering should be about both maintaining (possibly developing) skills AND building your professional network. I cannot emphasize how important a strong network is in the library world, and how badly you will damage your reputation if you’re perceived as That Resentful Volunteer. Librarians LOVE to talk to each other, and word gets around unbelievably fast about this sort of thing.

    Also, I detect a little bit of anger directed toward the volunteer coordinator. Please check that attitude – their job is to make sure that your gig at the library fills a need. That is what they are paid to do. Ideally, your skills and interests will match up with a need, but that does not always happen, and it’s not their fault.

    If this gig doesn’t seem like something you’d like to do, look elsewhere for a more rewarding volunteer experience. Perhaps your animal shelter has records that need to be organized? From your letter, it looks like you’re interested in youth services, but broadening your scope beyond volunteering in the public library is a good idea. Look into volunteering with schools as a tutor, or maybe contact school libraries and see if you can volunteer there. That will get you lots of experience actually working with youth, which I’m not sure you got from your old job as a staff writer. Also, if you’re able to do it, AmeriCorps will not earn you lots of money, but you’ll have just enough to live on and get a lot of experience with managing projects and volunteers, and you’ll have a natural way to build up a local network. Check Idealist.org for other volunteer opportunities in your area. See if LinkedIn has a network of alumni from your LIS program that you can tap into.

    For this last piece of advice, please forgive me if this is stuff you’ve heard before. I’ve been in your position, and it is incredibly stressful and frustrating, and I have all the empathy for you. If you’re only looking in your own geographic area and are able to move, look into it. My city has a library grad program in it, and it is saturated with qualified librarians. It is really difficult to get a job here. I only have one because of (ding!) a contact in my network for whom I had done work as a grad student – just to emphasize the importance of a good network again. Look into non-traditional jobs that other commenters have mentioned. I have a few grad school friends who are prospect researchers, one is a software developer, another is in patent research. I haven’t read it, but there’s a book by Rachel Singer Gordon called, “What’s the alternative? Career options for librarians and info pros” that may be useful for thinking about expanding your career options beyond the traditional library setting.

    Good luck!

  35. OP #5*

    Thank you so much for answering my question! I feel so honored :) That makes perfect sense, obviously, but I guess since most of the jobs I’m applying to are the same thing, save for a task added here or there, I’m just worried that it’ll seem that I’m sending the same letter to everything I apply for. I just re-wrote my cover letter this past weekend to replace what I had been sending around before so we’ll see what the leads to. Thank you again!

    – Jen

  36. Shelley*

    OP1 – Library jobs are hard. Undoubtedly. I was ridiculously lucky to land mine quickly and now I help with hiring in my department.

    One perk to volunteering is that you’re vetted, already in the building, and can say things like, “Oh, I see you have X big program coming up…need some help with that?” We’ve used our library student volunteers for big programs and they are such an asset. Face time with librarians is great.

    You can also check for internships – many in IL are paid. We hire very often from interns (which we as a department select) vs volunteers (which the volunteer coordinator for the whole library selects).

    Join ALA if you haven’t already and put yourself onto committees. You don’t need to be a professional to be on, say, the Rainbow or Bloomer book committees, I don’t think, and then your name is out there to public libraries. Even being on virtual task forces or committees is a great way to network and looks good on a resume.

    See if you can volunteer at your local HS library, too, if you want to work with teens. Keep up with your other volunteering and see if you can work in any organizational projects while there. Develop web skills – blogging, Drupal, social media, etc – that you can talk up and show off, because front line staff use these a lot.

    If you have interests that lend themselves to YA programming, up your skills and leadership in those areas, too. (In Kids, I love to hire people with music skills and hobbies – translates amazingly well to storytimes. But former teachers do not usually translate well to storytimes, so they often go below musicians even if they have more kid experience.)

    Look at what libraries around you offer. Is there a population they aren’t doing a great job of targeting? See what you can offer. (I have spent my whole life working with families with special needs, because of my sibling. It’s led to skills and knowledge no one else in my library has, for example.)

    People come to libraries with a very wide range of backgrounds – use that to your benefit! So many skills transfer to the profession. Figure out what you love about library science, what brought you to the profession, and see where it crosses over with other places where you can work or volunteer while you keep your toes dipped into the field through ALA and/or social media.

    Good luck!

    1. holly*

      also, does ALA have a mentor program? basically a way to hook up with higher-level professionals in your field to get advice?

      1. Kacie*

        Yes, the New Member Round Table (NMRT) has a mentoring program. Some of the divisions and other groups have their own peograms. And if ALA is too expensive, try your state association.

  37. Nonymous*

    OP1 – I feel for you. I am approached about volunteer opportunities from people in your situation often (I am in an academic library) and I feel for you. Your attitude is not helping you.

    I find that it is easier to place volunteers who have a clear idea of what they want to learn/be exposed to/explore. Often people will say they are interested in “everything” and I don’t believe that and I can’t help you. I find it much more productive when prospective volunteers come with a clear idea of what they want to learn or be exposed to.

    Another suggestion would be to find something you think needs doing at the library and volunteering for that – I had someone approach me for example with a ton of ideas on using social media and we developed a project where they helped me develop a usable social media plan. This person got something to put on their resume (and a reference!) and I got help, but I think what was the most valuable for them was not even the plan itself but that they started to think like a librarian, testing what they learned in school with the constraints of a real library – and that carries over when you are interviewing.

    Attend any local meetings (even if they are not in your specific area of interest), volunteer for any professional committees, go talk to people who have the job you want to have in 15 years…they may not be able to place you, but they may know someone else who needs someone with your skills. But you have to go with enthusiasm and openness, as hard as that is.

    Good luck!

  38. Gigs*

    Hi OP#1

    I am a professional archivist (10 years in the field) and I also teach at a midwestern MLIS program. I totally feel your pain as it is one that my students currently face.

    The problem with the field is that there are a glut of newly minted librarians (and archivists) out there right now with (in my opinion) not enough practical experience to distinguish themselves from their competition. I can’t tell you how many students (when we go around the room and introduce ourselves) in my classes have English majors and want to be a librarian because they love books. The problem is that there are too many people with generic skills (I LOVE BOOKS!) and not enough with specialized skills (I know how to do budgets, I have a background in a hard science, I have project management skills) to make them a unique commodity.

    What I would strongly urge you to do (which I urge my students to do) before you just start volunteering at a library is the following:

    1) Start by examining job postings in the field and determine what types of jobs you are interested in. I tell my students to do two things: a) look for a job that you would like tomorrow and b) look for a job you would like in 5 – 10 years.

    2) Take your resume and compare it to the job postings. You are asking two things here: a) where am I strong? and b) where am I weak? This is important because it will help you to figure out what types of volunteer experiences and additional classes/workshops you should take.

    3) Plan accordingly based upon your research from #2.

    A few PROtips from an archival hiring manager:

    1) Everyone has an MLIS who applies for jobs I post. What I want to see is that you can actually do what I am asking you to do. If I am hiring someone to process an archival collection, I’m going to hire someone who has actual processing experience on their resume, not someone who has just taken a class about processing. (I cannot tell you how many of my students look blankly at me and tell me that they expect to get a job just because they have an MLIS – no, that’s now how it works!)

    2) Try to capitalize on your past experiences. At your past job(s) before your MLIS, what skills do you have that might help you? What can you put into “library terms” to make yourself more hire-able?

    Don’t give up! It’ll happen for you. Remember to be flexible and think about the creative ways you can utilize your MLIS degree that don’t just equal working in a library.

    I’m terribly curious to find out what library school you went to, btw.

    1. athek*

      +1 on No. 2…. for no particular rhyme or reason, I have a lot of database experience from my previous jobs. I was able to relate that to MLIS work and it really helped. Other things to think about are customer service, management, etc.

  39. Elizabeth West*

    #5 – I typically don’t reply to blind ads, although I had to during my last job search just to get enough to submit to UI. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when someone from a blind ad contacted me by phone, and it turned out to be a company I had been fired from. Who was listed on the second page of my resume (clearly no one turned the page). >_<

    That was a very awkward (and short) conversation. It was nice that the person who called thought the first page was worth reaching out to me, however!

    1. NP*

      I was always put off by blind ads. I don’t see the point to them from the company’s perspective. Why the veil of secrecy? How does that benefit them? The only time I applied to blind ads was through the temp agencies I worked with.
      Its definitely annoying as a job seeker because its important to be able to check out a company before you apply. I guess OP #5 can tailor the cover letters to the job and the industry (though if that is too vague then you are still guessing and could be way off base), but having a company name could be better. But at the same time, if they are not giving out the name, clearly that’s not what they want your decision to be based on anyway.

      1. Stephanie*

        I think the main benefit to the employer is that the search is confidential (so if the employer is trying to replace an employee that’s about to be fired).

        1. en pointe*

          Also, they might not want to be inundated with calls from people (who clearly don’t read AAM) wishing to follow up on their application, find out more info, sell themselves etc. I don’t generally support blind job ads either, but they do allow organisations to restrict contact to candidates whom they have an actual interest in.

  40. HR lady*

    OP #1, I have no actual facts to back this up, but I seriously doubt Forbes is correct that the MLS Masters is the worst masters to get. Just logically – there have to be others that are less lucrative, career-wise. How about a masters in philosophy? A masters in Latin? (That was a joke I heard on a sitcom lately.)

    I think it would do you well to stop thinking about the Forbes rating. Those kinds of facts are meant to sell magazines, and they’re based on large numbers of people. All that matters to you is that you can find one job – not how many people with MLS degrees can each find jobs.

    OK, actually I do have some facts. I live in a major east coast city and I have several friends who are librarians with their MLS degrees. I also know a few who are legal librarians (working in law firms or legal publishers). So opportunities do exist.

    1. fposte*

      Our graduates actually are still getting placements. I will also note that just about all of them have done at least one library practicum before graduation and usually additional library and program/community volunteering.

      I’m with you on the Forbes rating (it’s two years old now anyway), in that it’s really also not a list that takes into consideration what people in the field find rewarding. But it is true that it’s a tight field now in most regions and that you don’t go into it to make a mint.

    2. Joey*

      We’ll there is some truth to it. It’s not a real versatile degree , it pays pretty poorly on the whole, and with technology efficiencies on the rise in libraries the job outlook is pretty poor.

      1. fposte*

        Actually, we’re finding it a very versatile degree–it depends a lot on where you go and what your coursework and concentration are, of course.

      2. LibrarianJ*

        While it’s true that technology is changing how libraries operate and what librarians do, I wouldn’t say that that’s really the problem in terms of job outlook. As fposte says, it depends on your program of study, but for the most part the MLS is not narrowly focused on books. My program had classes covering HTML and XML, user experience design, database administration, search strategies, web programming, digital humanities — and mine wasn’t even particularly technology-focused. The biggest problem from what I’ve seen is that just there are too many MLS grads in a flooded job market still suffering from the economic downturn.

    3. kelly*

      The job placement rate is improving. It’s better than it was than when I got mine in 2008. I think that there are more entry level positions opening up, due either to retirements, promotions, or ending of hiring freezes. The ones that are getting positions quicker have both the experience and the potential to do well. It also depends on where you live. The Chicago area is going to be very competitive due to programs in the area.

      The programs that have the highest placement rate are those that have a significant information systems emphasis, like Michigan and Washington. I think Michigan now focuses exclusively on information systems, and record and data management.

      1. Anon*

        Placement rates vary a lot from program to program. Some programs are just diploma factories. Which is not to say they don’t have smart graduates–every program has some excellent grads!–but they don’t do much to help you when you’re on the job market. I’ve enjoyed full-time employment since graduating in 2008, and so have many others in my cohort. My program required us to get practical experience before graduating; it also had an excellent career services department that helped us find internships and reviewed our resumes and cover letters.

        As someone who’s hired librarians, I’ll tell you this: I didn’t get hundreds of overqualified applicants for my opening. The strongest candidates had good experience and strong cover letters and resumes–they really stood out. The differences between applicants were even more obvious once we started doing phone interviews. There are a lot of people on the market, but many of them aren’t able to distinguish themselves from the pack in any meaningful way.

  41. MJ*

    OP#1 Read David Lankes or watch his talks online. The future of libraries is in collaboration and partnership. Stop trying to volunteer as a page or a shelf duster. And don’t expect the library to come up with a volunteer job that is better suited to you. Hang out in the library and identify needs they have, and then offer to fill one that is in line with your interests and skills. If you are interested in YA, observe their teen programming. Read current library literature to find things your local library isn’t offering that they should. Read their strategic plan and find something that they hope to accomplish that you can be a part of. No makerspace? Can you help create one or create some sort of maker-club? No after-school program? Can you start Wednesday Homework Help? Help them build something they need. Partner with them.

    Our community members have volunteered all sorts of skills which they have parlayed into work with us or with others. One volunteer (not a librarian) runs an iTeen program for us (trains local teens to help patrons with their tech questions), and we are now paying him (free lance) to do other tech programs for us. He is taking what he has learned from this to grow a business, where he offers these types of services to other libraries and organizations. Another volunteer (also not a librarian) who started in circulation saw problems with the way our collection was laid out and is now employed by us to help manage the floor.

    The librarian market is tight. When we hire, we get to choose the cream of the crop. We look for experience and we look for education, but more than these, we look for traits – translatable skills like customer service, teaching, project management, and humor. We look for creativity, initiative, and an engagement with current library philosophy.

    And to the person up the thread who thinks hiring volunteers is unethical, I would point out that volunteerism in a community library allows the community to share ownership of their library. It’s THEIR library. We couldn’t survive without our wonderful volunteers, not only because of the amazing work they do but because they are our heart and soul – they keep us connected to what is important in the community so that we can serve that community better, and they are invaluable ambassadors connecting others to the resources we offer.

    Good luck to you! If this is really what you want, you can make it happen.

  42. holly*

    #1: i had to move to a different state to get my first FT job out of library school. i don’t know if this isn’t an option or if you just don’t want to do that, but yeah, the field is somewhat competitive.

  43. Kim*

    Tangentially to OP1’s library job question –
    Librarianship is one of the worst fields to go into now. I read this all the time on career sites, but every month my library department gets another huge crop of local MLIS candidates to come take a tour, so I think people don’t really believe that it is as bad as the career experts claim. It is. If any of you AAM readers are thinking about getting an MLIS, take my advice – please reconsider, if you need to make a living, anyway. Unless you have a complementary degree in computer science and want to be an ILS programmer or systems librarian, the chances of your finding a job – ANY job – are low. The chances of your finding a job that pays enough for you to support yourself are even lower; finding one locally, if you don’t want to move – EXTREMELY low. I have been working in libraries all over the U.S. for many, many years, with an MLIS, and have watched traditional librarian positions be axed and replaced with trendy new “consultant”-type positions for which non-MLIS applicants are preferred. Reference librarians are being replaced with roaming assistants, a la the Apple Store, and collection development is increasingly being outsourced to vendors. Cataloging? Forget it. Please do not believe the lie that the current generation of librarians are “retiring soon” and that a national wave of jobs will become available. In my system, the people who are retiring are doing so under pressure, and they are not being replaced. Instead, those salary funds are going to cover the ridiculous cost of healthcare. Oh, and administrator bonuses. (While we haven’t had a merit raise or cost-of-living increase in four years, despite being relatively well-funded. Who says libraries aren’t run like businesses? /sarcasm)

    There are a few opportunities to explore if you’re already stuck, such as digital resources, user experience/web design, even grant specialist – but many library systems can’t afford such a position. Besides, if you have these skills, don’t waste them in a library system for $31K a year.

    I’m not familiar enough with academic libraries to make a comparison, but I do think that turnover is lower, the tenure process is tedious, and positions often require another area of specialty.

    You can tell I might be *slightly* biased by the misery of having a large student loan to pay back in exchange for being underpaid and overworked in a corrupt system becoming more and more tone-deaf to common sense. From what I hear from my cohorts in other libraries, though, my experience is more the rule than the exception.

    1. Laura*

      Exactly! I’ve been the field for 15 years and my experience is exactly like what you are describing.

  44. Recent MLIS Grad*

    #1 HA! I know exactly how you feel about your degree because I spent three months applying to any and every library job, even those I was completely overqualified for, and never heard back from any of them. It got to the point where my student loans were kicking in ($40,000 for grade school and another $50,000 for undergrad) so I joined a temp agency and was assigned to a university where I ended up getting hired as a part of the registrar’s office. Obviously it’s not what I expected to be doing, but at this point and in this economy, I’m not going to be picky and I enjoy it immensely.

  45. Lils*

    I’m going to say something harsh to you, OP#1, because I sincerely think you need to hear it, and I hope this might jolt you a bit. You have a terrible attitude and a case of entitlement. Your concept of librarianship is unrealistic. The problem-solving skills and creativity that I would expect in a librarian don’t seem to be evident in the way you’re approaching this job search. A terminal degree doesn’t guarantee you an awesome job right out of school, in the perfect geographic area, doing exactly what you want to do. I don’t have 100s of applicants for every open position, and we are hiring librarians with little experience, so I know there are jobs out there which you would qualify for and have a chance at getting. What I don’t need is a librarian who thinks certain tasks are beneath them, who considers him/herself above the paraprofessionals, who can’t solve problems or come up with creative solutions, and who isn’t enthusiastic. I can almost guarantee that your attitude is coming through in your application materials and your interviewing–this is the only thing “predictable” about your situation. Please find something to like about what you’ve studied, or get out of the profession.

      1. NP*

        Can we not assume the person is a millennial? Enough with the ageism. Even if they are young, its not an excuse to judge them. There are plenty of entitled people in GenX and among the boomers too.

    1. anon*

      I don’t think that it’s too harsh. You do have it dead on about the caste system in libraries with librarians being at the top of the food chain, then the paraprofessionals. It’s not just confined to public libraries – you see it in academic libraries too. It’s not just how paraprofessionals are treated, it’s in the classification structure and benefits. There’s very little difference in the work that both perform.

      Entitlement isn’t limited to just millennials. You see that “you owe me a job because I have some magic quality” or “I’m expected to do that?!!!!” trait in all ages. Millennials just get a worse rap than other age groups due to the less than ideal economy during which they entered the workforce.

      1. Stephanie*

        Millennials just get a worse rap than other age groups due to the less than ideal economy during which they entered the workforce.


        Millennial bashing is a pet peeve of mine. We don’t all live in Brooklyn! Some of us have jobs (or aspire to ones :) ) that aren’t at coffee shops or have the title “Social Media Guru.”

        1. Stephanie*

          Backtracking…not to disparage either of those jobs.

          My eye just starts twitching every time I read some millennial trend piece in the media (with the accompanying Baby Boomer comments asking why Millennials don’t pull themselves up by their bootstraps and go work at McDonalds).

          The economy’s just rough in unique ways for every age group.

      2. Ann Onymous*

        Absolutely there is a hierarchy. The library techs are often asked to do tasks that it would make more sense for the librarians to do. Case in point: When the reference desk closes for the night, someone from circulation is supposed to cross the room, put the phone on forward so calls go to circ. One of my coworkers said, “Um…why doesn’t the last person leaving reference forward the phone? Doesn’t that make more sense?”
        No, not if you can get some peon to do it for you.
        We also have a librarian who resents that she has to wait for students to finish using the copiers before she can use them. Gee, I thought the students/patrons were our first priority?
        And just about any “interesting” task is something a librarian would do. Like updating our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and doing a library newsletter. Believe me, I’ve offered to take on these tasks and was turned down.

  46. T*

    OP #1

    At the risk of information overload, I’ll add my 2-cents’ worth. There seems to bee a lot of good advice on this thread. Take encouragement that you have options. Having finished grad school in August and spending too much of my time at home feeling depressed and wishing I had a job to go to, I can relate.

    Some of the comments (including Anon, one of the first) mention passion. Gigs, further down, suggests that you ask yourself why you are in this field. Allison suggested talking to some people in the field. Many readers have suggested looking for related work outside your field. I think this is a good time for you to take stock of what you really want to do with your life. Make connections with people in libraries and related fields and people who do similar work in unrelated industries. Once you find out more about their careers, are these jobs you could see yourself doing and being happy about it? What made you pursue your MLIS in the first place? How do any of these other career options fit with that?

    Regarding volunteering and taking part time positions, I did not get the feeling that you thought certain tasks were beneath you, but rather that you want to use your degree and build skills. There are some good suggestions in this thread about various ways to do that. Maybe figure out what skills you need to develop, for instance something technical or working with youth (if that is your passion). How can you develop those skills if your local library can’t help? I’ll throw out one more idea–your local historical society might need help with archiving or other related tasks. My experience is that they would be willing to work with you to find projects that meet your interests. Most cities and counties (and even many villages) have historical societies that could use your help. You might even find a project that you could show on your CV as an accomplishment instead of a task.

    In any case, I agree with the comments that your attitude needs to be right. I know the whole job search thing is discouraging, but remind yourself repeatedly why you are doing this and take encouragement from people who have been in your shoes and ultimately obtained jobs that they like.

    Good luck!

  47. Mary*

    1. Should I do volunteer work in my field even if I’m cranky about it?

    I understand where you are coming from #1! I too have a library degree (MLS) and graduated recently. If you are looking for jobs, check out these AWESOME sites for jobs/hints/whatever specific to libraryland:


  48. shelfninja*

    OP #1: Have you considered volunteering with the Friends of the Library? I did this while I was getting my MLIS, partly because the library itself couldn’t accommodate volunteers at the time. If my experience is any indication, the Friends group might be more open to new ideas, and the experience you get might be closer to what you’re looking for: organizing events, shelving and categorizing books, customer service, basic reference questions, etc. You are also much more likely to encounter the young adult population in the FoL bookstore than in some cubicle where you’re doing data entry.

    There’s probably less competition for FoL volunteer positions, and you can become a known quantity without looking like you’re groveling for a “real job.” But again, as everyone has mentioned, only do this volunteer work if you will be able to enjoy it and not be resentful. Attitude counts here, too.

  49. Ann Onymous*

    Regarding #1: I am so glad the OP brought this up. Because for the past two decades (I am 50) I have been considering getting my MLS. Now I’m not so sure.
    I started working as a library tech, full time, a little over a year ago at an academic library. At the same time, we got two volunteers with MLS degrees. One has since been hired (his mother is a professor and I think that has s/thing to do with it). One is still volunteering (she had no previous library experience and is a mid-life career changer). We got another one this year: he is married to a visiting professor and he can’t find a job anywhere around here.
    I live in a depressed area that has the highest unemployment rate in my state. I could pursue my MLS online, but I don’t know if it’s worth it. I am not able to move across the country to get a job (believe me, I’d love to live in Portland).
    I also heard far and wide that getting “library experience” was essential in order to get a job after gaining the MLS. So I was really excited about starting this job. I found out quickly that this isn’t the “right kind of experience.” Because it’s circulation desk work. Checking books and CDs and DVDs in and out, and directing any “interesting questions” to the reference desk (we were told to do that). Most of the time, the student workers do the circulation desk work. There’s NOTHING to do here. I’m online most of the day, and my boss knows it and doesn’t care (he’s online too). I’ve offered to take on other projects. I’ve been told they’ll “consider it”, but nothing ever comes of it. I’ve looked around for new projects in, say, tech services, but I was told “we don’t volunteer to help them, because if we might need help someday, they won’t help us.” Yep. Everything in this place is run by people who have been here 20+ years and they all have their tasks all wrapped up tight, and they don’t want additional help (read: interference). I also think they don’t want anyone to know how little the staff actually does.
    I’ve asked advice on library forums and been told that I need to get out of here, because it’s badly managed.
    So…(and I do realize I’ve hijacked the thread and I am sorry for that) I am *desperate*. I don’t know what to do. I can’t find a job at another library (there just aren’t any) and it would be very difficult to get back into my former field (I too was a staff writer at a small private college).
    I guess I’m looking for some help/advice. Volunteering is out: I work a closing shift that makes daylight work impossible, and quite honestly, my private time is short and I have a family and a home that require my attention. I’m also sick of the shift b/c I can’t even take a freaking yoga class because they all meet at times when I’m at work. Or so it seems.
    Thank you for listening, and if you have any advice, I’d be glad to hear it.

    1. Meredith*

      If you can’t move away from your small, economically depressed area to find a job, I would seriously advise you to be very cautious when considering grad school. Look around your current town. What kinds of library openings are out there? Are they jobs that seem like they’d interest you? If you were to achieve your Master’s, would you want to work in the library at which you’re currently employed? If the answers to those questions indicate that you would have a very difficult time getting a job that you would enjoy, I really think you need to think hard about the investment of time and money vs. the payoff.

      Also, I want to add that circ desk work is absolutely the right kind of library experience. It’s customer service heavy, you probably have some supervisory responsibilities, and you need to handle multiple tasks. Your library sounds dysfunctional, frankly. Your experience is really not the norm.

      1. Ann Onymous*

        Thank you for your very honest and straightfoward advice.
        I do look around and there’s very little or nothing. Sometimes part-time jobs come up in the public system. Sometimes librarian jobs are posted on the various college sites (we have several colleges and universities nearby). But certainly not enough to guarantee I’ll ever find work. And as I head toward retirement age, I’m just not sure how much work I want to put into a career that may or may not pan out.

    2. SCW*

      Academic libraries are a very different beast from public ones–which is where I have my experience. From my understanding, in academic libraries there is a greater divide between circulation and reference, particularly the subject specialist librarians who don’t man reference desks. So there is less possibility of movement from one side to the other. In a public library this is less the case–I am the manager of a small branch library and I worked the circulation desk on Wednesday evening due to one of our circ staff helping at a program when the other was out sick. I did it because I’d committed to doing this program and allowing the staff person to get the experience. Plus, it is good to stay in practice of doing all the circ procedures. We have a fair amount of movement from circulation to librarian as people get their degrees–I’m a fan of this and of providing people with the opportunities to get trained and discover if this is what they want before they do a MLIS degree. That is what I did–worked in a library, got experience as a paraprofessional, went to library school, moved to a different region for my first librarian job, and moved up from there. And that wasn’t that long ago–I graduated with my MLIS in 2009.

      However, I have to admit that when I hired the last two librarians in jobs where I’ve been involved with interviewing, in both cases we hired people with over 5 years experience in the specific job we were hiring. I had wanted to hire the circ staff member who just had finished her degree, but I couldn’t take on the training on top of other turn over we were experiencing. I needed someone to jump in running, and a lateral transfer is the best way to do that. In good news, that circ staff member I wanted to hire, got one of the openings created by my hire–(they hired her to replace the person that replaced the person I hired).

      1. Ann Onymous*

        My original idea, when I accepted my current library tech position, was that I would get a good idea of what it would be like to work in a library. I’m not allowed to help in other departments (as I said above) so really, it’s pretty hard for me to make judgments based on just this one particular position.

        I did work part-time a summer or two ago in the public sector. I enjoyed making recommendations to readers, and helping with ILL. I offered to help with ILL here and was rejected. Then my boss told me I could go upstairs and look for books falling over, sticking out of shelves, etc. for 40 minutes a week. This is as opposed to my coworker, lateral position, who is allowed to work ILL four days a week for an hour. I think I smell a rat.
        How am I going to ever get more valuable experience? I am about to give up, to be honest.

  50. KT*

    There are a lot of librarians reading this blog!…which, I think, speaks to the fact that library schools should be focussing on teaching management skills. Librarians with MLISs end up in management, largely, particularly as traditional reference and cataloguing jobs disappear. Maybe if our schools reflected the job prospects in the course content, graduates would have a better time finding work…. (…I say, as an MLIS grad working as a public library manager, who reads this blog daily for some of my management professional development…)

    1. Shelley*

      Seriously. MLS degrees are so idealistic and generalized they are almost worthless. Broader ideas are important, but there aren’t enough practical classes. If I hadn’t worked in a library throughout grad school, I’d have been sunk. There’s not a lot of overlap between what is taught vs what I do.

      In my area (northern IL), I see a lot less of the disappearing traditional reference and cataloging jobs that other areas do, but no matter what, these workers need to be managed!

    2. a librarian*

      For what it’s worth, the program I went through had a required management component to our degree including managing people/budgets/the community.

      1. SCW*

        I did too, but I didn’t find it remotely helpful. It was poorly taught and focused on management concepts that didn’t translate to the types of management challenges and realities faced. Working in a library as a manager is not like working in other management places–do you know how hard it is to fire people? We spent all this time on how you should get the right people on the bus and get the wrong people off–but no details on exactly how to make that a reality. Easier said than done, let me tell you!

    3. LibrarianJ*

      I actually started reading this blog because it was required reading for a Management course assignment in library school.

      (Now that I’ve graduated, I just read it mostly for fun / my own information, since I’m not a manager).

  51. A Fundraiser*

    #4 – While age discrimination is a real challenge, I have not found it to be highly present in the fundraising field. I have worked at three large institutions as a fundraiser after starting in a small shop, and in each place have been involved in hiring development officers. I have noticed, generally, a strong respect for experience in the field.

    That said, the difference could be that large institutions have the budget to pay the salaries appropriate to skilled, experienced development officers. Are you applying to small shops, or also to larger shops?

    In many markets, there is a dearth of experienced fundraisers, and those with experience are sought after. If you are not being called in, or not making it past first-round interviews, I recommend taking a good look at your cover letter, resume and interviewing skills. Additionally, if you’ve been a job-hopper, that is likely hurting you – and perhaps something you could address in a cover letter.

    Good luck!

    1. Ann Onymous*

      The Hack article raises a question with me. I might be hopelessly outdated and don’t belong in the library field. But what about BOOKS? What if you love BOOKS more than anything else in the whole world? What kind of jobs, if any, are out there for a person like that?

        1. Ann Onymous*

          Thanks, I had never heard of it!
          A quick glance, however, indicates one job in my entire state. And it’s nowhere near the sh*tty town where I live.
          I feel stymied no matter what I try. Oh well…there’s more to life than a job, I guess.

      1. Nelly*

        If you love books, then read books for enjoyment. You don’t get to do a lot of reading as a librarian. I haven’t read a single book in my library (partly because we’re specialist and this is not a field that interests me, but mostly because there’s just no time). I read in my spare time, on the train or on the cross trainer, but not on the job.

        I’ve had so many nongs say ‘Oh, it must be nice to work in a library and read books all day…’ Really? You think a plumber gets paid to sit and shit all day? This is a job. We get paid to work.

        You don’t work in an abattoir if you love animals…

        1. Ann Onymous*

          I do know that librarians don’t sit and read all day. I work in a library now.

          Someone told me that readers’ advisory might be something I would want to look into. Or running programs for the patrons. There is nothing like that in the academic library where I work.

  52. vvondervvoman*

    In terms of volunteering, most volunteer gigs start off really small and basic. Amazing volunteers who prove themselves and have a great attitude are the ones who are able to take on more tasks, start making suggestions and being able to be the ones implementing them. Then you show a potential reference/employer how valuable you are and in this case, give them a reason to keep you around for pay. That’s why you volunteer for professional development.

    I wanted to get into sexual health education. Do you know what I did for the first 6 months of my sexual health ed career?I volunteered in the finance dept. of a domestic violence agency and I HATE math. I was super cheerful and was willing to do ANYTHING. Exactly 3 years later, I’m in my actual dream job working as a sexual health educator.

  53. a librarian*

    As a recent MSI graduate, I remember vividly the job search – and the naysayers that think it’s the worst degree decision ever. Thankfully this wasn’t my experience but I went into the job search knowing these things:

    1. I’d go anywhere. I did not HAVE to stay in a certain geographic location, so I searched far and wide.
    2. I would compromise location and salary but not the type of job (youth services, public library) or work environment. I know from experience how awful a toxic work environment really is so I was looking for something that would make sure I didn’t repeat that.
    3. Time limits. How long before I start considering adult services jobs in public libraries? Academic libraries? Part-time jobs?
    4. I do not want to manage people – so I kept myself out of those positions.

    Knowing these things definitely helped focus my job search. I graduated in May and started at my first library job in July – compromising salary and location, including an out-of-state move. By January of this year, I was on my second library job at a new library that has no compromises – on salary, location or type. So it can happen.

    I might consider substituting or some other temporary job that actually pays money while giving you experience working with children instead of leaning on volunteering (especially b/c I’ve never worked at a library that accepts volunteers outside of prison rehabilitation or specific highschool requirement hours). GOOD LUCK. I really do hope the profession proves itself to you, as it has to me.

    1. Lils*

      1. I’d go anywhere. I did not HAVE to stay in a certain geographic location, so I searched far and wide.

      I think this is so key–too many people want to have a great job where they live now. If you want to get your first library job, suck it up and go work for that rural public system. Academic libraries too are often stuck in tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. The benefit to this? You don’t have a lot of competition and you can rise fast in a small pool.

      1. SCW*

        Yes! That is the way to go–you get great experience that translates well in a bigger system later on. At a small library you may not make much and you may have to do everything, but doing everything teaches you a lot!

  54. NP*

    OP #4:
    I think it depends on what kind of job in development you are applying for. If you are applying for a management position or a position where you interface with donors, being close to their age may be in your favor. One place I could see it working in the opposite direction would be a position where you use a lot of technology- donor databases, prospect research software, Microsoft Excel. Many development departments are increasingly digitized and employers often look harder at the technical competencies in older people. If you have those skills, put them front and center and/or state your willingness to learn. Another potential worry may be salaries for more experienced people, with nonprofits still recovering from the recession and budget cuts.
    Overall, keep looking. Are you signed up for the job alerts from the professional organizations like AFP and APRA?

    1. Ashley*

      I will second this – they might be finding people who are very tech savvy (although perhaps you are, too) and think that’s a bonus. I made the mistake a few years ago of hiring an experienced development person whose computer skills lead to turtle’s pace efficiency. I should have hired the 25 year old who could get stuff done in a timely fashion. Granted, this was a more office-based development role. The younger applicant would have been helpless with donor relations.

  55. Ashley*

    #4 – Make sure you’re not being defensive about your age in interviews or interactions with future employers. I once interviews someone who opened the interview by stating that she was “so impressed that this organization would interview someone over 50 since no other agency was interested in her”. She continued to communicate about her age in nearly every response. I did know how old she was (more or less) when I asked her for an interview because I had met her at another organization where I volunteer and invited her to apply. I didn’t hire her, though – not because of age but because her pre-occupation with it caused her to give thin and not-very-meaningful answers to my questions – I just couldn’t learn enough about her. She also kept emphasizing her low computer skills (again, related to her age, according to her) – and low computer skills just don’t work on our office. I wouldn’t assume that your age is the issue – if you have a friend who is a hiring manager who might give you some feedback, see if you can pinpoint what’s going on. It could be anything from your skills just not being a match to what you’re applying for, to a cover letter that’s not communicating your value.

  56. JW*

    I work in a large public library system and we have hired a number of our volunteers over the past couple of years. Most have been for library aid positions but there have been a couple of librarian positions filled from the volunteer ranks.

    Volunteering allows you to make contact with the hiring managers. When hundreds of applications come in for a position, it helps if they can put a face to a name. However for that to happen you need to be a pleasant person to be around. If you cannot approach the assignment with a positive attitude and open mind do not bother.

    Data entry could be just a starting point, as you become a known quantity you could suggest other projects on which to work.

    Are you volunteering at the closest branch or have you targeted a location where you are likely to make the most contacts? Much of the system wide work is performed at central locations and you may want to go there.

    The job market is difficult for new graduates in many fields so librarianship is not unique in that matter. While I would not encourage people to choose this as a major, I do think there are ways to get hired if you are resourceful and patient. The field is changing and does often have more of a “retail” feel to it in the public library setting. You have to be comfortable with that change or else you should find another occupation.

    Good Luck!

  57. ella*

    #1–I’ve been working as a shelver in a public library for a year and I can’t seem to move up to circulation assistant (the next tier up) because it’s full of folks with MLIS degrees who are waiting for job openings to happen in the reference department, so the resentment goes both ways ;) . Both of the reference librarians that I know who were hired in the past year were hired out of circ assistant positions.

    That said, I don’t know if I’d recommend volunteering, but working at the library in *any* capacity will help you get your foot in the door, especially if you’re the sort of worker that can prove themselves once they’re there. If it’s financially feasible, I’d also look at moving, or applying to jobs outside your immediate area–library jobs (both their plentifulness and their pay grade) have a wide degree of geographic variability.

  58. Laura*

    I just want to thank everyone for their input. The advice here is so great I forwarded it to a friend of mine who earned her MLIS a few years ago and had a bear of a time finding anything.

  59. Anonymous*

    My husband did an MLIS and to be honest it was the best thing he could have done for his career. He worked in libraries for many years and at one point wanted to be a librarian. However, while in school, he focused on the information part of the MLIS program. He learned how to build databases and manage information. He also learned how to use the more complex functions of excel and other similar programs.

    I mention all of this because his propelled this knowledge into two great jobs. The first in financial and contract administration, helping accountants to manage complex information. He then used that experience to get a promotion to a director level. I think a lot of people get an MLIS and have tunnel vision about the final outcome, i.e. being a librarian. There are really great aspects to an MLIS degree if you are willing to think outside the box.

  60. SunnyLibrarian*

    Her advice is spot on. The last thing I need at work is someone angry with me because they don’t have my job or judging me because “that’s not how we learned in in school.”

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