The Post-Library School “Gap” Year (or two or three)
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).
- Learn something new every week.
- Volunteer in a professional capacity.
- 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.