While for many people September means going back to school–either back to working at a school, back to classes of their own, or just back to learning things on the job after summer vacation or summer reading programs–for recent graduates who are still looking for their first professional position after getting their MLS, September means it’s now been two or four or more months of being out of school. In fact, this is the first fall in 20 years that I haven’t been headed back to the classroom. While some of my classmates got lucky and were offered a new position or a raise or more responsibilities at the job they already had, there are plenty of us who are still looking.

I started my job search a few months before graduating, sending out applications for every single youth services position I could find. My husband and I were willing to move once I’d finished my degree and since we’re young, it felt like a great opportunity to have an adventure somewhere totally new to us. But every single application I sent out was answered with a form rejection letter or email months later–or sometimes nothing at all. I kept telling myself that since libraries are so strapped for cash, out-of-state applicants were especially unlikely to get serious consideration since setting up an interview would be more complicated, but it was hard to keep telling that to friends and family members as the rejections (or silences) piled up.

Once graduation neared and I hadn’t gotten so much as a phone interview, my husband and I realized we’d be moving to Connecticut to follow his job, so I started concentrating my applications near where we’d be living. It was kind of frightening to suddenly have geographic limitations to where I could apply since a nationwide search had netted me nothing, but it was also something of a relief because there were fewer jobs to apply for and I was starting to feel burned out on cover letters. I joined the Connecticut Library Association and signed up for their listservs to start getting a sense for current trends and issues in Connecticut libraries, but it was frustrating to know that I’d be leaving behind my connections in Indiana: after two years of working on my MLS, I’d made a lot of contacts–instructors, classmates, bosses, internship supervisors–across the state and I knew I had references who would make stellar recommendations for me to people who might even know them personally. I knew I’d eventually make professional contacts in Connecticut, but having to start fresh when I was only just beginning seemed almost unfair.

Once we found an apartment and I had a local address to put on my resume, I got a callback right away and wow, I think that was the proudest, most relief-filled moment I’d had in months. It almost didn’t even matter whether or not I got that particular job; just having someone be interested in me based on my resume was so encouraging. The line about needing a local address felt so much more believable, both when I said it to myself and my family.

And in fact, I didn’t get that job. It was a full-time position that attracted 40 applicants. Forty! They selected 15 to interview in a first round and even fewer for a second round before finally selecting someone to fill the position. I was disappointed that I didn’t get the job, but even getting an interview felt like an incredible achievement at that point. This huge applicant pool is great for libraries, but it can be frustrating as a job-seeker because making it past the first hurdle–having your resume stand out enough to get you an interview–can seem almost completely out of your control. And even if you can get an interview and show off your enthusiasm or your previous work, there might be someone else whose personality just fits that library or the existing staff better, so your rejection might not have anything to do with deficiencies in your work history or skills. Especially in such a competitive job market, there’s such subjectivity in who moves forward, and good or even excellent candidates won’t be offered positions.

And while the private sector seems to be recovering, it’s going to take time for tax-funded organizations to start seeing budget increases (or even stabilizations), so there are just fewer jobs to apply for. One of my friends and SLIS classmates–I’ll call her Angie–is still looking for a job as a school librarian because only four jobs have been posted in all of 2010 in her area. And the really crazy thing is that while two of them were filled by licensed, MLS teacher-librarians, one was filled by someone without a license for library/media specialist work, and one was filled by a volunteer. I suppose that school is relieved that they were able to make budget cuts without having to fire someone, but losing out to a volunteer has to be heartbreaking. Angie’s still looking for work as a school librarian, but in the meantime she’s cobbled together some volunteer work, a part-time job working with kids, and some online tutoring to make ends meet and try to stay in the education world.

I have another job interview tomorrow. It’s only a part-time position, but looking over the job description they recently sent me, I really do feel like I’m a fantastic match. It’s the first time they’ve had a dedicated YA librarian and I think that my experience in building up a library from dormancy at a synagogue where I worked during grad school and the way I’m just spilling over with ideas I’ve had in the last few months but haven’t had the opportunity to implement make me well-equipped to build their program into a successful one. I’ve been reviewing what I know about the library, putting together sample program ideas based on their previous programming and the demographics for their town, reviewing YALSA’s competencies for librarians working with teens, curating my portfolio, and making a list of questions I want to ask during the interview. I really want this position, but even if I don’t get it, I’m determined to remain hopeful about my job search process as we move into the fall.

So if you’re not going back to school or back to work this fall, fear not–you’re in good company. Do what you can to keep your skills fresh, participate in all the professional development you can, and don’t give up hope!

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