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August 31, 2011 / archivalerie

The Post-Library School “Gap” Year (or two or three)

Well, you did everything you were supposed to do. You researched schools, found the best fit. You applied for loans and worked part-time jobs to get by. You signed up for the most challenging, engaging classes you could find in the online course catalog also based on advice from your peers and developed amicable relationships with your instructors. You stayed on top of technology trends and learned the importance of stretching a dollar in these “tough economic times” as well as the importance of building interpersonal relationships not only with users, but also with donors, funding bodies and other stakeholders. You learned these things either in class or at the various professional organization meetings. You attended these meetings in order to learn more about archival practice, meet professionals in the field and get your face and name recognized, perhaps even presenting at conferences or publishing papers. You worked various internships gaining valuable experience.
So, now what? You’ve got a head full of knowledge, the eagerness of a spring lamb and fingers just itching to process boxes and folders of documents, ephemera and other archival materials, just twitching to type up finding aids.
Two dogs scuffling in a pile of leaves.

Easy there pups, there’s enough backlog for all of us... just not enough funding. Image courtesy of Candice Johnson/Secret Pineapple on Flickr.

Have you only been called back for an interview a scant couple of times only to have that coveted first professional position fall just out of reach? Have you not been called or emailed back at all?

You’re not alone.

It’s been about a year since I wrote my “Let’s play the glad game/Do what you love, love what you do” post. I won’t lie to you and say that I’m just as optimistic and “enjoy the present for what it is” as I was then. The me from a year ago didn’t have thousands of dollars of debt and an ever-shrinking job market waiting for her. It could have been there waiting, but she either chose not to see it or just could not see it while working on the immediate deadlines that were in front of her: papers, projects, internships, things that seem significantly less-important now.

Enough referring to myself in the third-person (and previously, the second person). Perhaps I just felt a need to distance myself from this, to process it. It doesn’t help that my fears were confirmed when I spoke with colleagues at SAA 2011 recently, some had peers or former students who had been looking for work for the past 18 months or longer. When I referred to trying to prepare for my “gap year,” I was told that it was more than likely that students would experience “gap two to three years.”

So while it is frustrating and disheartening to apply for jobs and see your friends and peers apply for jobs, but rarely get that all-important foot in the door, simple kvetching like the top half of this post is not constructive. It only acts as cold comfort when we commiserate over the state of the archives job market. While I certainly feel better getting it out there, all it does is make me seem bitter. I resolve to not let the bitterness get in my way. There are enough obstacles in my way as it is, I do not need to be another one of them. While I might not have the energy to play “the glad game,” there are other options available.

For example, others in my position are working to get their concerns heard by the profession in a civil and constructive manner, by lobbying to create a New Archivists Round Table. We need an official voice, especially considering our lack of visibility despite being the future of the profession. A round table would not only provide a unified voice, but also provide leadership experience to new archivists, whether they are students, recently-graduated, or working in their first positions post-graduation.

Also, as briefly touched upon earlier, I am planning out my “gap year.” One of the most dangerous things that can happen to us new grads is to let slip our skills. The last thing we need to happen is to have search committees and hiring managers glance at our resumes and ask “Well, so-and-so graduated X months ago. What have they been doing since then?”

As I learned in my Management class, planning is key to the implementation of things. However, as I learned from experience, the best laid plans…

Thus I choose to undertake more of a general strategy for the next year (or however long my “gap” will be).

  1. Learn something new every week.
  2. Volunteer in a professional capacity.
  3. Continue leveraging “soft-skills” in my part-time, pay-the-bills, gig.

In all truth, these may generally be good tactics even if/when I have successfully acquired a job.

1. Learn something new every week.

I could teach myself programming languages or learn about new metadata schemas. I could put my SAA Membership and continued access to electronic journals at school to use by reading the latest articles in professional publications. Just because my formal education has ended for now doesn’t mean I should get complacent. As my older bro says, “haud sileo,” which is Latin for “without rest.” If anything, I should continue challenging myself intellectually. Not to mention, it will prevent me from getting too bored.

Caption: I would never go all Sherlock-shooting-the-wall when I get bored, even if I didn’t put in a security deposit at my apartment. Video courtesy of BBC and Youtube.

Along with professional career-related learning, I should also take whatever free time I have for things I can enjoy. For example, I’ve recently taken up baking again. Fortunately, the materials for making bread are rather cheap. However, it is just the sort of time-intensive process that can help teach me patience and keep my analytical, science-type skills honed. I might not ever be able to perfect the baguette, but it is still a worthy venture. Of course, I know I’m not the first to go down this route of “enlightenment through cuisine,” but I’m also not the first archives student to deal with a gap year either. I’ve also recently taken up spinning, not the one with the bicycle where you pedal really fast until you fall off the bike a sweaty mess, but the one where you spin wool from various animals into yarn for knitting. I’m still working on the straw-into-gold thing though.

2. Volunteer in a professional capacity.

At SAA 2011, I found out about an internship for an evaluation project and heard about several newsletters in need of an editor. I figure I ought to put that BA in English and Creative Writing to good use and apply. Volunteering at physical institutions may be a bit of a challenge in Boston since most places seem to require course credit for unpaid positions. Still, I’ll continue trying to serve in any capacity I can find.

Along with applying for jobs, I also have provided feedback to peers about their resumes and cover letters. I am not sure how helpful I am, considering I have not had much luck, but I do feel better when I am helping people. It also provides additional practice in wording for my own application materials.

3. Continue leveraging “soft-skills” in my part-time, pay-the-bills, gig.

Chances are, the “just pay the bills” gigs are what helped me get into school in the first place. If you’ve ever worked in food service, retail, customer services or technological support, you’ve already got an arsenal of skills to choose from. Can you talk down someone who is yelling at you or is otherwise clearly frustrated with what they feel is a failure in you or your company in providing them with the goods or services that they need? Can you unjam a printer? Can you reset a wireless router? Can you string words together in a way that is meaningful to the person who is reading or hearing those words? Are you able to collaborate on a project with people without getting sidetracked about the weather and sticking to an agenda at meetings? Of course, we discussed the importance of things like this in class, despite the fact that interpersonal and communication skills aren’t necessarily something taught in library/archives school.

And yes, I know that I randomly switched to the second person again. It’s been a long week.

I’m not claiming that this strategy is the “magic bullet” for finding a job. I’m not sure I’m claiming anything at all. We’ll see what happens in the next year or two.

18 Comments

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  1. emilysingley / Aug 31 2011 5:22 pm

    It is so totally frustrating that here at my academic library we have a storage closet in the basement full of moldering, uncataloged institutional history packed in non-archival boxes on a damp floor desperately in need of an archivist and there you are, a highly-trained, intelligent, tech-saavy archivist in need of some moldering institutional history! Aargh! And it’s not like this institution doesn’t have the money: we just hired a Zamboni driver for the brand spanking new state-of-the-art hockey rink. It’s all about priorities. I think your point needing a voice is a good one: we need to advocate for why archivists are important!

  2. librarianmaybe / Oct 17 2011 5:18 pm

    I can totally sympathize with you. I was lucky enough to find a full time, well-paid job immediately upon graduating from Simmons GSLIS.

    For me, the key was applying for literally every position I was interested in, or even remotely qualified for. Eventually I sent out over 300 resumes in 2 months and received 5 interviews.

    The only thing I can urge you to do aside from what you’re already doing is be persistent and imaginative.

    If I can help in any way please message me!

    • archivalerie / Oct 17 2011 7:00 pm

      Thanks for the words of encouragement. I’m pretty much following the “if it looks interesting, apply for it” even if I’m unsure of my qualifications level. 300 resumes? Wow. I definitely feel like I haven’t been doing enough now. Did you tailor each resume to each position or did you just have a general one you were sending out? For the most part, I tailor all of my cover letters, but a lot of the skills/positions on my resume are usually apply to most of the things I’ve been applying for.

      • Nena Schvaneveldt / Nov 8 2011 2:26 pm

        I didn’t do the “send out all the resumes” thing, just applying to what was interesting to me & customizing cover letters and – to a lesser degree – resumes. What’s worked so far – and this is 8 months out of library school – is taking a Library Assistant job. It’s along the right path (my old job, though good for soft skills, was not in the library field). Is it what I thought I’d get right after school? No. Am I going to make the best of it? You bet.

      • archivalerie / Nov 9 2011 12:11 am

        Admittedly I only tailor the skills list on my resumes and spend more time customizing the cover letter. I pretty much look at the cover letter as being like a college personal statement, sometimes writing multiple drafts, which is probably why I don’t crank out as many applications as I should. However, I feel that it’s important for me to be legitimately interested in the work and like the institution. Otherwise why would I pull up stakes and haul across the country for a position that won’t hold my interest? My management professor aptly compared the job search as being sort of like dating. Granted, not all relationships result in life-long marriage and not all jobs result in life-long careers, but why would you want to spend time with someone you don’t like or in a job you won’t feel fulfilled by (other than the usual “I’ve got to pay the rent” reason)?

        However, my words can be taken with a margarita glass rim’s worth of salt considering I am still searching for a job. Perhaps I’m being too picky. Making the best of it is a great tactic. At least the Library Assistant job is another “foot in the door” you can leverage later as being relevant experience especially considering how a lot of library assistant and tech positions get assigned additional duties when the budget tightens and other positions get cut. Best of luck to you as well.

  3. Tammi (@tammiyk) / Nov 8 2011 10:23 am

    Just found this post through the interwebs grapevine… and I completely echo all of your thoughts in this post. It’s incredibly disheartening to hear about library school graduates who are still searching for jobs 1-2 years after completing their studies. I can definitely relate to the (sometimes bitter) sentiment that I did what I was told: I was active in my MLIS program, I interned at a bunch of different places, I did what I was told and I still don’t have a job.

    However, I applaud your “gap-year strategy” and I am also doing the same type of thing. In fact, I completely forgot that Stanford was offering free enrollment for their database course until I came across your blog. Now is definitely the time to develop additional skills if you can afford to. Of course I would prefer to have a full-time job, but in the meantime I think we all need to be in for the long haul and adopt our own strategies to stay abreast of issues in the field, volunteer if we can, and not give up. I think a New Archivists Roundtable is absolutely necessary. We have the tools and resources to form our own networks, and it’s time that we have a unified voice.

    • archivalerie / Nov 9 2011 12:17 am

      I definitely feel guilty for not blogging more, especially considering how many friends link me or how many social networks I have my blog linked on. It is hard not to get bitter, but as long as you have a good support network to kvetch with on occasion, I’ve found that I can still hold my head up and get through.

      Recently a friend of mine from library school got a job at a special effects software company just because he was able to leverage his existing technology skills. Other people I know have gotten non-library jobs by using skills that they had picked up while in library school or afterward. So it might not only be a matter of staying abreast of our own field, but being able to make other fields “think archivally.” (Sorry, I can’t think of a way to make “librar*” into an adverb without sounding odd… librarianly? librarily?)

      • Tammi (@tammiyk) / Nov 9 2011 11:56 am

        I agree! I think convincing others to “think archivally” is actually very smart. Of course we need to justify why organizations needs archivists, librarians, records managers, etc… I think everyone coming out of an MLS degree these days can utilize skills they have learned and apply them to other non-LIS jobs. I found that my program was so interdisciplinary and diverse (in specializations and student body) anyway that it kind of makes sense that we won’t all necessarily work in a traditional archives or library. Now is definitely the time to “think outside the box.” Sure we may all want to work for NARA or a special collections somewhere, but that doesn’t mean we will all end up in those types of places.

  4. Hannah Q. / Nov 8 2011 7:10 pm

    I’m 10 months post MLIS and can definitely relate. My situation gets even more complicated by adding in my husband’s career, which has moved us twice in the past 18 months. We are now settled, and I have been applying for everything that is remotely related to libraries & archives. Although my real interest is in academic, research, special collections, and archives, so far I am a substitute librarian with unpredictable/inconsistent hours at a public library. Meanwhile, I went to the local university and set up an unpaid archives internship along with some projects in Special Collections. Since I already have my MLIS they are pretty flexible about what I choose to work on, and I’m happy to gain more experience, and ‘get my foot in the door’ by getting to know them & letting them see my work. Unfortunately I’m also hunting for seasonal retail employment…have to face the financial realities, too.

    • archivalerie / Nov 9 2011 12:03 am

      Even though your hours are sporadic, at least you’re staying active in the field. While I work in academia, I worry that the rift between academic technology and academic libraries is too wide (especially considering how rarely I interact with the librarians… although it is reassuring that many of them are more tech savvy than other faculty members ^_^). My hours are pretty much half-time and am thinking about working the hectic holiday retail season to try to get a bit more income as well. Thank you for commenting. Best of luck to you and your husband.

  5. Librarian on the Run / Nov 11 2011 9:17 am

    Sadly – I fall into this category WITHOUT having the MLS degree! My husband’s job has moved us all over in the past 3 years – and for those 3 years – I’ve been out of a library job for the first time in my life. My job searching has been a mix of both worlds; the more research I do, I find that libraries are trying to bite MLS and non-MLS people in the butt! Most are requiring that MLS AND a crazy level of professional library experience – which most straight-out-of-MLS librarians just do not have? Who the heck are they thinking they can get for these jobs? Are they going to keep rotating all the old folk around until they have to finally “give in” and hire a younger person without the 5 years of professional experience and the $60,000 debt from library school? I have been waiting to go to library school for well over 5 years now – partly due to moving all the time (and it doesn’t help that there are hiring freezes all over the place) – plus – does anyone blame me for NOT wanting to be in debt that much right now in this economy, getting my MLS? Seriously? I have found that some places will take you with your library experience over not having your MLS- I got contacted by Georgetown and CUA (not bragging here – just showing who’s out there looking for librarians and will take you even if you don’t have the MLS) – but then some places won’t budge over you not having your MLS – even if you have 10 years of library experience (that’s me here) – one of my hometown universities pulled this! I started to think, “I’m good enough for this place, but not my university back home??” -And don’t even get me started on the job openings/positions requiring a MLS – but not even being “librarian” jobs. A library assistant? And you want me to have a $60,000 degree?? And not even have the balls to call me a librarian? I don’t think so. Or at least pay me for the master’s that you so require!

    I’ve bounced back and forth wondering what’s worth what anymore: Having the degree and having sat through class – or – having the experience and actually doing what some just have learned sitting in class (and have the degree but no experience)?? I’ve had kids interested in going to library school think that it’s almost pointless now (especially with all this talk about not needing libraries/librarians anymore and cutting funds) – it’s so sad. I’m starting to get really – really – angry. It’s not like you can just go to any university and get the required MLS degree (which you need for pretty much any job) – like you can for Psych or History – we are limited to where we can go for this schooling – limited to having to move if we want to go to the campus (if those can even do such a thing) OR do the degree online – and pay even MORE money for it. I just, don’t know. It’s very frustrating.

  6. Jennifer Gravy / Nov 12 2011 12:10 am

    But there are TONS of available positions! The baby boomers are retiring in droves! And statistics don’t lie! It shouldn’t take you a year or more to find a job, that’s just crazy talk!

    Keep paying your library association dues. And maybe pay to take another class or two. But if you can’t find a job after a few short months, you need to look deep inside of yourself… and realize the problem is you! There must be some inner flaw to your personality that is reason enough to exclude you from the wide-open world of librarianship!

    Jennifer Gravy
    APA-ALA

  7. Pam / Nov 21 2011 2:17 pm

    To Ms. Gravy – where do you live? Are you being facetious? There may be pleaty of openings, but almost none for newly qualified students. I graduated with my MLS in 2008 and was lucky enough to find a part-time job at a community college in 2010, but I am still looking for a full-time position. I have found most positions, weather or not they are acedemic or public library positions, are requiring at least two or more years experience! We had an opening recently for a part-time reference associate (not a librarian) and we had many, many resumes from MLS graduates, some with 2 masters degrees, just for a part-time, paraprofessional position!

    Now, granted I am place bound in the Dallas area, but even so, there are very few if any positions for which I can even apply. I only have two years experience and most require more, or require specific, specialized training – ie specific programing experience or a computer background, for example.

    I do believe that some postings are asking for a lot of experience becasue they want to keep from getting tons and tons of resumes to weed through; and becasue, with so many MLS people looking, they can ask for and get the cream of the crop, so to speak.

    I really believe the universities have to stop just filling the chairs in the MLS and archives programs and start making sure their graduates can get jobs. I can easily believe it can take years to get a full time position, as I am still looking for one 3 1/2 years later.

  8. Pam / Nov 21 2011 2:19 pm

    Sorry about the typo, I do know how to spell plenty. If there are any others, pray thee hold me excused.

  9. Pam / Nov 21 2011 2:21 pm

    Dang, just found another one – whether, not weather. I guess I was in too much of a hurry.

  10. Nona / Nov 22 2011 2:57 pm

    i graduated in 2008 and STILL have not worked in a library (i have a decent-paying job but it’s not what i want). after graduating, i hit the library job searching pretty hard for the first year and a half and had and ended up being one of three final candidates for a librarian position …until the position itself was cut from the budget. but as ms. gravy pointed out, the problem is me. good to know.

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