Prior to starting at McGill’s School of Information Studies I had no experience working in a library. When I began my studies, I realized that a lot of my fellow classmates had worked in a variety of positions either at public or academic libraries and I was concerned that their experience would put them at an advantage when we applied for jobs after our graduation. Therefore, in October of 2008, I jumped at the opportunity to work as a librarian assistant at La Bibliothèque des Jeunes de Montréal. I love children’s literature and I have lots of experience with kids so I figured that this position would provide me with a great way to get my foot in the door and gain exposure to working in a library. This past summer, I worked at a library at Environment Canada which allowed me to get a feel for what it is like to work for Canada’s Federal Government. Now, at the same time that I am completing my second year of my MLIS, I am working part-time at both McGill’s Education Library and at the Westmount Public Library.
I cannot stress how much I have appreciated my work experience in all of these libraries. Although I have perhaps not dedicated as much time to my school work as some of my classmates, I feel that my real-life work experience is more valuable than getting straight As. In fact, one of my early memories of McGill’s SIS program was being told by our program director that our marks tend not matter when we are applying for jobs. What does matter is that we can demonstrate that we are the best possible candidate for the position. The skills that I have acquired while working on various library projects and while interacting with patrons will hopefully demonstrate my potential to work as a professional librarian.
One of the most important things to keep in mind when working part-time at libraries during MLIS studies is that you can always enrich your experience by asking your supervisor to get more involved. Some people tend to go to work, do their job and then rush to get home. This has never been part of my work ethic, I’m always trying to see what else I can do or I ask my supervisors for additional projects. For example, although I am part-time at Westmount Public Library’s circulation desk, I have also created book displays, hosted the readers-to-readers teen book club, participated in activities like the recent tree-trimming, and written several book reviews on the library’s catalogue. Taking initiatives like these demonstrates my high level of motivation and has provided me with additional learning experiences.
Many first-year MLIS students that I spoke with this fall were hesitant to try and find a part-time job during their studies. It is true that the amount of work in the first semester is daunting and there can be a huge learning curve that requires lots of extra time outside of class to study and work on projects. However, I promise that learning to balance school work and a library job is the best possible way to demonstrate to employers your motivation for working in the field. When an employer looks at a C.V. and sees that you have not only attended school but that you were also working in a library, it shows that you possess much valued ambition and this will help you find a job after graduation more quickly than your classmates who have done nothing but study for two years.
So start networking and get your email address on library job listservs in order to find out about potential positions of interest to you! Good luck and have fun gaining experience at a library, I’m convinced that they are the best places to work!