Get as much work experience as you can! I would put ten more exclamation points if it would actually help emphasize how important this is. Everybody is graduating with the same degree and there are way more librarians than there are jobs and so work experience is the best way to make yourself stand out. There are generally a lot of good opportunities to get student librarian jobs during your MLIS. Even if cataloguing and digitizing a collection of croquet images doesn’t sound AMAZING* to you, go for it! You never know what skills you might pick up or realize you enjoy. All library work experience is good experience.
I learned more from my work experience during my MLIS than I did from the class work. The jobs I had solidified that I truly enjoy the work librarians do and helped me realize what sort of library work I wasn’t interested in, which is equally important. It totally astounds me when people graduate with an MLIS having no experience actually working in a library environment. How do you know you even like it?
Classes & Grades
Future employers will not care about your grades or which classes you took. This is true of my job hunting experience. I think I’ve only heard of it coming up once or twice among the librarians I know.
Asking Librarians Questions
When you contact a librarian to ask them questions about their work/workplace, think about what you’re asking. Have you looked for this information yourself, already? You are asking a busy working person for their time and they may be annoyed and wonder how you got into library school if you’ve asked them for something that is easily findable (ie. What is the library’s borrowing policy?). Ask a reasonable number (in most cases, no more than 5) of thoughtful questions that you cannot find the answer to yourself. Also, do not ask personal questions about topics such as salary and benefits. If you want to know that information, look at a job posting site. That said, librarians are generally very nice and happy to answer questions, we are in the business of helping people, after all.
Be Nice to Your Classmates
The librarian community is small and these will be your future coworkers and employers. If you are in library school, you are probably a nice person already, though.
On a social level, I met some of my closest gal pals in library school and still regularly hang out with my former classmates.
Conferences & Associations
I did not go to any conferences or join any associations during my MLIS and it did not affect me negatively during my job hunt. That is not to say that these don’t provide valuable experiences, I just wouldn’t worry about it too much or prioritize it over work experience. I know a couple of librarians who have gotten jobs from joining an association and getting to know professionals already working within that area. But I didn’t have a specific area of librarianship that I was interested in above all else. If you have a specific interest, it may be worth your while to look into events and opportunities to connect with that community.
As a professional, I now go to conferences and am a member of various associations relevant to my work.
Keep Busy With Other Skills
Library school students are busy. But keep other interests and pick up some other skills. There are a surprising number of skills that are applicable to library work. I wrote for a friend’s arts & culture magazine while I was in school, which led to eventually being the editor of the magazine’s website and to paid freelance writing gigs. In my current work, I write articles and information resources for our website, write scripts for video tutorials, and help my coworkers edit their resources.
Having non-library skills that are still relevant to libraries makes you stand out in the job hunt.
Job Hunting Post-Grad
This is hard for all professions right now. You may have to apply over 100 times before you get a job (apply for absolutely everything). It may take you a year or more to get a job as a librarian. You may have to move. You may have to consider working in an environment you never thought of or pictured yourself in before.
If you have a period of unemployment after graduating, keep busy with related work.
- If it is non-library related: Being unemployed is a hard job. Whatever keeps you busy is good.
- If it is library-related: Doesn’t matter if it’s paid or unpaid. I kept up my freelance writing gigs, which was nice because it was library-related and paid. But I also kept my volunteer job as an audio narrator at a library that served students, faculty, and staff with print disabilities. For two hours a week, I would record myself narrating a required text. It was interesting, relevant, and weirdly meditative. And it gave me a skill that comes very much in handy for my job now: recording my voice for video tutorials.
Be Up on Your Animal Memes
Don’t question me.
*It did sound amazing to me, and I did it for my entire degree.