One piece of advice I got during library school that I think was really smart is: look at the jobs that are being advertised that you think you might want, and do what it takes to acquire the skills and actual experience necessary to say that you’re qualified to be able to do this things, and to be able to intelligently discuss them during phone interviews and on-campus visits. You may need to pick up extra hours to do so, or you may need to specifically organize internships or field experiences around these aims (which, in my experience, people are definitely willing to help you do); however you do it, it’s a great way to make yourself competitive on the job market. Although I’ve touched on this before with students who are still in library school, I’ve actually come to think of this as a pretty good strategy to keep up while you’re a professional librarian.
Even though I’m not looking for a job, I’ve never gotten out of the habit of regularly looking at the ALA JobList website, which was my go-to site when I was looking for jobs out of library school (Also recommended: I Need a Library Job, which I looked at from time to time as well, and catches a lot of stuff the ALA website does not). I think that this is a good thing to do, because one thing I realize I’m still (albeit sort of unconsciously) always doing is making sure I’ve got the skill-set that some of these successful young up-and-comers fresh out of library school are going to have. I’m always trying to work on my game.
This is obviously valuable, not just in terms of your own professional development, but in terms of keeping your library current. At many libraries, there may be long times between hires; the times between hires for the same kinds of position will probably be even greater. For example, when’s the next time we’re going to hire a straight-up instruction librarian? Probably not for a long time, for even if we do get a new tenure-line, I doubt it’ll go to instruction. This being the case, it falls to the current instruction librarians to keep their game sharp. One obvious way to do this is regular PD: attending conferences, reading journals, and publishing your own stuff. But the other, perhaps less obvious way, is the one I’m suggesting: learning the stuff that new librarians are learning as well.
So far this has been backwards looking, i.e., looking to acquire new skills for a position you’ve already got. But this approach makes sense looking forward as well. If, say, you want to be a leader in your library some day, it makes an awful lot of sense to see what ALA Job ads for library leaders are requiring, and seeing what you can do, now, to seek out that experience. This will allow you to be active about your own professional growth, rather than just sort of hope through time and experience that you’ll be qualified for a position of greater responsibility.
For example, I remember watching a job talk for a Head of Public Services-type position during library school. The position would be in charge not only of reference and instruction, but circulation as well. One of the candidates had a lot of leadership experience in RIS, but zero in Circ at all. And they were explicitly asked a question about that lack of experience during their job talk. Now, I can only imagine how many questions they got about that during the other million hours they were being grilled while on campus. This caught my attention. When thinking of better ways the question could have answered, it certainly occurred to me that this information was in the job ad, and that it would have been easy to not only prepare for that question with some sensible response, but to have been looking at job ads of that kind for a while, and gleaning from them the notion that you may want to acquire some experience in all of public services.
For these reasons I think the ALA JobList, and sites like it, is actually a pretty valuable professional development resource for librarians, both during, and after library school.