Landing your first job as a librarian can take longer than expected. Many MLIS graduates find themselves working multiple part-time positions in and outside of libraries as they doggedly apply for professional level positions. Here’s some good news! If you’re working as a paraprofessional or you’re still in library school, you don’t have to wait to start building your professional experience and making a meaningful impact through librarianship. Professional associations like ALSC offer a myriad of opportunities to participate in meaningful library work while building a stronger resume, discovering opportunities, and growing your network.
Here are a few ways to engage in the library community and start your professional career on your own terms.
Become a member of ALSC: The organization offers reduced membership dues for students and non-salaried staff. Just by joining, you’ll get a subscription to Children and Libraries: The Journal of the Association for Library Service to Children, free and discounted webinars, and eligibility for grants, awards, and scholarships. Bonus: you can list membership affiliations like ALSC on your resume.
Get curious: Library associations offer continuing education in the form of webinars and online courses. A lot of these are free or discounted with membership, and many libraries will cover the costs, even for paraprofessionals. These resources help you continue your professional development and stay up to date on library practices, trends, and issues that affect the profession. Not only can you include this professional development on your resume, but you may discover a new focus or aspect of librarianship you hadn’t considered. Interest and knowledge in a specific area will help you stand out in the application process, too.
Network: It’s all about who you know. In addition to national associations, see what’s going on in your state or region. The easiest way to find out? Ask a librarian! Most folks working in professional positions know what the local organizations and resources are. They may also know of job or volunteer opportunities. Offer to take them to lunch in exchange for an informational interview about how to get involved locally. Hopefully, this will lead to the phrase, “You know who you should talk to?”
Volunteer: Don’t wait until you’re getting paid to start being a librarian. The American Library Association and its divisions like ALSC are fueled by a network of volunteers, many of whom are students and paraprofessionals. Volunteer for a committee or task force, and you’ll have more mentors and colleagues than you know what to do with. Another benefit of volunteering is camaraderie. The process of applying for library positions can be exhausting and feel discouraging. The relationships you build through volunteering, not to mention the positive difference you make, can help sustain you and prevent burnout while you’re pursuing your dream job.
Get ready to shine: Involvement in professional associations will allow you to speak from a professional point of view in job interviews. And, when you land that perfect job, the experience you’ve gained will supercharge your confidence and performance. Don’t wait – get your career started!
Sarah Jo Zaharako is a youth services librarian at Wilmette Public Library in Illinois. She is passionate about community engagement around social justice and accessibility. Sarah Jo has been a member of ALSC since library school.
This blog post relates to ALSC Core Competencies of: VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.