Saturday, April 28, 2012

Be Versatile

I recently attended a career fair at Wayne State University's School of Library and Information Science. I spoke with a lot of recent MLIS graduates and current students.  It was very interesting to me that many of them had an elevator pitch about themselves.  That's great!  I could hear them at the tables next to me having the same conversations I had with them.  In some ways, that's smart.  It's consistent, it makes the person seem like they really know what they want, and that they'd thought about how they want to sell themselves.  In other ways, it made me close the door on the ones who didn't match what I was looking for.  My advice to MLIS-holding job seekers is this: be versatile. 

I have received a lot of resumes that are very professional and nice.  They usually include work experience and special skills and things like that.  There's nothing wrong with them.  (Ok, a few of them were very wordy and included things that were completely irrelevant, but the vast majority were just fine.)  Resumes are sort of elevator pitches on paper.  You have a page or two to point out the most important things about you.  Here too, my advice is to be versatile.

I was at that career fair to let current students know that my library has a paid internship posted.  I had the posting with me, and handed out a lot of copies.  Here's the thing: the internship my library posted recently is for both the adult services AND the youth services departments. I really need someone who seems well-rounded enough to spend time in both departments. Resumes that are loaded with goods like "coding in C++" and "building advanced databases" and "familiar with a variety of reference sources" are great, but they feel very...adult. Can those same people interact with children and do reader's advisory with grade-school kids? Can they handle rowdy teens without being either too soft or too harsh? Can they talk to parents about potty training, find the princess books, and talk enthusiastically about Lego Harry Potter games? Can they turn that all off and head up to the adult reference desk the next hour? Because that's the person I will hire.

In fact, the librarians here generally work at three different desks: youth services, readers advisory, and adult reference.  I love this arrangement because it keeps things interesting throughout the work week.  It makes us all better at cross-promoting what's going on in different departments and it makes us all better at readers advisory in each department.

If you are not willing to be versatile, as in you just refuse to work in youth services (or wherever), my advice is to not work in public libraries.  These days, public libraries have so little funding that they need their staff to do whatever needs doing.  That is especially true in small libraries where one sick-day employee turns the other two or three employees (if they're lucky...) into temporary Directors, story time performers, catalogers, and circulation clerks. Even libraries with reasonable budgets want well-rounded staff members.  In academia and special libraries you can get away with being a specialist.  Here in the public arena, I need to be able to put you at whatever desk needs to be staffed at any given time. 

So, be versatile.

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