I recently received my MLS and a few weeks later relocated to a different part of the country where I’m now searching for a job. Many of my fellow graduates are still looking for full-time employment, and library cuts continue across the country, perhaps leaving some jobless. While I was still in library school, I was constantly ingesting new information and synthesizing what I was learning in the classroom with what I was learning on the job, but now that I’m finished with my degree and in a new city, I’m having to think about how to keep my skills fresh until I find a library where I can put those skills to work and continue to develop them. Here’s what I’ve been doing.

Reading lots of YA lit
A library’s collection is the backbone of its services, but it seems like there’s never enough time to read everything. Now that I’m unemployed, I’m able to spend a lot more time discovering new books and catching up on old titles I missed. I’ve also been working my way through the current contenders for my new state’s youth book awards. But to really take advantage of the extra reading time I have, I’m concentrating especially on genres I don’t normally read like romances. When I’m in interviews, I’ll have plenty of titles–books, audiobooks, manga, and graphic novels–to talk about when they ask what I’ve been reading lately, and once I land a position, I’ll have a broader knowledge to inform the readers’ advisory and collection development that I do.

Keeping up on listservs, blogs, and Twitter feeds
While I’ve lost my immediate library connection, I’m still plugged in to what’s going on in the library world by observing what other librarians are doing and thinking. Listservs are full of discussions about upcoming programs and recently published books. Bloggers write book reviews, postmortems for programs they’ve done, interviews with authors and other librarians, and their thoughts on the profession. Twitter feeds offer shorter bites of information but are a great source for links to more in-depth articles on relevant subjects–and Karl Siewert recently compiled a list of YALSA-bk members who tweet, so if you’re new to Twitter, that’s a great place to get started. Observing, reading, thinking, and commenting on all of this helps me stay connected to the profession.

Nancy Bertolotti wrote earlier this spring about blogging as a professional development tool and while I’m not sure blogging has the scholarly heft of peer-reviewed writing, I agree that it’s a great way to practice writing, to develop a professional network and to pursue mutual interests, to develop our thoughts on the profession, and to become or stay comfortable with social networking tools. If you’re thinking about blogging, Blogger and WordPress make getting started easy.

Reading things I missed in library school
This is a little heavier than reading YA lit or blogs or short articles, but since I wasn’t able to take all of the electives that I wanted while I was working on my degree, I’m revisiting some of those topics by reading textbooks and longer discourses on library and information science topics. I’m currently working my way through Thomas Mann’s Library Research Models, will then read my former professor’s textbook on library ethics, and then am going to find something technology-oriented to read and maybe finally learn CSS. These reading assignments appeal to my nerdier side, and they’re introducing me to complex new ideas.

Participating in professional development
I’ve registered for the YA Lit Symposium in November and I’m so psyched about connecting with other librarians and hearing about the newest trends and thoughts in YA lit. In the mean time, I’ve also been attending Booklist’s free webinars. Stephanie Kuenn’s recent post on YALSA’s upcoming professional development opportunities is also full of ways to keep stretching yourself and learning new things. Some schools also offer LIS classes that are completely online and don’t require you to be pursuing a degree to take. The cost for these classes is higher than most webinars or conferences, but you’ll be going into more depth on the subject.

Okay, I’m still figuring out exactly where I’m going to do this, but volunteering is a great way to address the more practical, hands-on side of keeping your skills fresh. You might volunteer at your local library or give your time to a local youth organization to keep that connection with teens. A lot of the other things I’m doing tend toward the theoretical, so it’s important to me to address the practical side, too.

So that’s my plan to tide me over until I find a library for which I’m a good fit. Are you in between places of employment or freshly graduated from library school and looking for your first job? What are you doing to keep your skills and knowledge fresh?

3 Thoughts on “Keeping Skills Fresh Between Jobs

  1. Great post! I finished my degree last May and am still looking for a professional position. In the mean time, I’ve been trying to read as much as possible (although I don’t always branch out into different genres!), keeping up with committee work (both for YALSA and my state library association), blogging, and finding ways to expand my skills.
    I recently wrote a blog post reflecting on my grad school experience: http://www.juliakriley.com/?p=73 . I recommended two books that I think are useful when considering career options or job hunting: What’s the Alternative? by Rachel Singer Gordon and Rethinking Information Work by G. Kim Dority are both great and will get you thinking.
    I would maybe also add reading The Horn Book (if you don’t want to spring for a subscription, you might find it at a bookstore– my Barnes & Noble stocks it) and School Library Journal (their content is usually available online, but their website is kind of a mess at the moment) to keep up on trends and new releases.

  2. Amanda on June 12, 2010 at 11:07 am said:

    Excellent post! The volunteering idea I have heard before and it’s a real important idea. Volunteering showcases your interest and libraries love people who are in it for the love of it. By volunteering your time you are showing future employers that the experience is worth more than the dollar amount. I know I have told many of our unemployed patrons to volunteer and stay abreast of the latest conversations in their respected fields. The same is for libraries.

  3. Matt Moffett on June 12, 2010 at 3:29 pm said:

    I can’t suggest volunteering enough. I was working as a circulation employee for a year after getting my degree. I begrudgingly started volunteering—-and three months later I had a full librarian position. It not only builds practical experience, it gets your foot in the door. You’ll hear about jobs sooner and have reference from within the system. Some systems will even let you apply to in-house opportunities if you’re volunteering.

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