As many readers of my blog know, I’ve had a mixed experience with library jobs. For most of the eleven years in the industry, I worked casually and had stints of being unemployed. The most devastating was in 2017 when after working 18 months at an organisation they gave the permanent job to someone else. My contract ran out at Christmas.
In this Covid world we now live in, it’s going to be harder to get jobs in libraries, not easier. So many people already lost positions and employers can afford to be fussier than ever. Also libraries are super easy to cut budget and positions.
So, if you find yourself unemployed, yet to get your first library gig or wanting to do something else…. here’s some tips from my experience.
It’s not personal but it also is
For the organisation you worked for, it’s a business decision. But for you it’s going to feel like you have been stabbed in the heart by a blunt spoon. Having said that – you need to know that you did nothing wrong, you didn’t deserve to lose your job (not get the job) and you aren’t a bad person. Take some time to grieve and process, do nice things for yourself.
You’re going to feel super anxious
There are multiple ways in which suddenly finding yourself unemployed sucks – the worries about money; the loss of relationships, a career and purpose. Frankly it’s terrifying especially when you have no idea what to do next or where you next job will come from. First and most importantly please seek medical help if you need it. To be able to get through this, you need to be able to think clearly in the midst of one of the shittiest times of your life, if your anxiety is preventing you from doing this then you should see a doctor. You will also need the support from family and friends – never underestimate the power of a text message saying “how are you doing today?”, these can be a lifeline. Utilise these people, for career chats, perspectives and time outside your own head.
It’s a good opportunity to try something new
I’m not going to pretend for a moment being unemployed is anything other than crap but it’s also an opportunity to try something else. You really have nothing to lose at this point, jobs are not forever, nor do they define you, so be bold and consider taking your librarian skills out into a different sector or into the wild.
De-library-ify your skills
This is one of the hardest bits to do but it’s time to think of yourself not as a librarian or GLAM worker but as a person with skills, experience and knowledge. You need to take the library out of your CV and selection criteria responses. Yes, even if you are looking for a library role.
There’s a couple of important reasons for this: firstly, you might or want to look at work in a different sector like information management, or outside GLAM all together. You are not going to be appealing to potential employers if you’re using lots of library jargon that they won’t understand to describe your skills.
The second, being unemployed is awful, but if you breakdown your roles into skills you will have a long list of things you know you can do and you can be way more confident in yourself – you can’t sell yourself if you don’t know your value. Even when looking for work in the GLAM sector, reflecting in your CV that you have thought about your skills shows someone who understands libraries, is mature and likely to be an asset to the team.
Here’s how to go about it….
Look at your roles in and out of libraries and break down the roles into skills. This requires analytical and reflective thinking, it’s also really useful to do some research to see how people in similar industries might describe their skills.
I’d suggest a piece of paper or post it notes is good for this. If you have copies, it’s useful to pull out any position descriptions you have for your roles, as they often list skills required.
Here’s an example of what I mean. Many librarians would list preparing and delivering story time on their CV. It’s perfectly fine to do this but you’re assuming that the person reading it knows what that involves – maybe they don’t. So, thinking about what knowledge and skills are being drawn on to create story time is important.
Here’s a list of some of the skills that are involved in delivering story time – agile thinking, creating engaging content, managing interactions, public speaking and teaching literacy through stories and songs. The even broader skills here are around communication, time management and people skills e.g. clear communication and ability to engage a diverse group of people.
Obviously the point of this isn’t to list a whole bunch of skills on your CV, it’s to be able to market the skills you have in a way that makes you appealing to employers in different library, GLAM or outside sectors. Library skills can be a bit niche, so being able to make them relevant in a broader context is really important.
Which leads me onto…
Putting your CV together
You have now gathered and understand your skills. Great! Hope this has makes you feel empowered.
I still have no idea how to set out the perfect CV. There’s a million different ways and everyone will tell you something different, so, take your pick. My advice is to be concise, use bullet points if you can – a lot of dense text will be hard to read and the selection panel might miss the gems in your experience.
In mine, I have a career summary and list my achievements under each role but that might not work for you so just find something that’s going to show off your skills and experience. I’m personally not a fan of career goals because I feel they often unfortunately highlight the lack of experience rather than what the candidate could bring to the role.
It’s really useful once you have done your CV to see if someone who’s been involved in recruitment outside of libraries (and inside too) takes a look at it. It’s a hard time to get feedback but it’s also necessary to make sure your CV is the best it can be. Also CVs are never done, it will always be a matter of updating and refining it.
(In part two I’ll talk about job searching strategies)