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Rachel Slough

Interview with Brand-new Librarians I – Rachel Slough

In my last blog post, I talked about how soon-to-be librarians lacking professional involvement and networking can build a good foundation for their post-MLS job search through the work itself.  I also thought about adding some practical tips about the post-MLS job search. But having worked as a librarian for almost two years, I realized that I may not count as a really “brand-new” librarian. So instead, I decided to interview three brilliant “really brand-new” academic librarians who successfully got their first librarian position shortly after their graduation.

This post features the first of this series, the interview with Rachel Slough, the E-Learning Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. I met Rachel at the ACRL New Members Discussion Group meeting at ALA Midwinter 2010, where she gave a wonderful presentation. “Hot Starts for Hot Shots: Using Technology to Start Instruction.” At that time, she was a graduate student at Indiana University School of Library and Information Science and also the Graduate Assistant for Teaching & Learning.  Now, she is in her first professional librarian position which she started less than a month ago. Rachel writes at her blog, Lib and Learn and tweets as @rslough. Below she talks about her post-MLS job search, the challenges, and the importance of self-care.

Rachel Slough, E-Learning Librarian

1.  Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Rachel Slough, and I am the E-Learning Librarian at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

2. When did you get your MLS, when did you start your first professional librarian position, how long did the job search take, and how did you prepare yourself for it?

I received my MLS from Indiana University in May 2010, and started my first professional job in August. I started applying for jobs about six months before graduation, and received my first offer (which I accepted excitedly!) on graduation day.

I got the librarian “bug” as an undergraduate through an internship with the Writing Center and two librarians to help provide instruction and guide students through all steps of the research process. In library school, I worked for the head of the Teaching and Learning department, for the Reference department, and the Government Documents department. After my first semester of library school, I took a leave of absence to spend a year in Chile teaching on a Fulbright grant, which also gave me a chance to volunteer with several library-related projects. When I returned to library school, I volunteered for a committee with the Society for Scholarly Publishing and participated in the ALA Emerging Leaders program.

I really believe in applying and putting yourself out there for things that spark your interest, and maybe even scare you a little, because you never know what will work out or where you’ll find joy, inspiration, and new perspectives. I was really excited about libraries when I started library school–and still am!–and finding ways to get involved and be active within the profession connected me with inspiring people and gave me energy.

3. How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?

I subscribed to RSS feeds with job postings: LISNews, ALA JobLIST, Chronicle of Higher Education, University of Texas LIS program, etc. Everyday I went through and starred ones that were of interest, and blocked off 3-6 hours one day each week to go through and apply to whatever ones that I’d marked. I also would have some kind of reward for myself after I finished applications for the week! For me, blocking off a specific time every week, rather than doing it every day, and having a set space in the library where I only worked on job applications really helped. Most of the job search happened my last semester of library school, and my adviser recommended taking an internship and an independent research course, which allowed me to be a little more flexible with my time. This was great advice that I would highly recommend.

One of the hardest things for me was that the dynamics with my classmates changed. There was definitely a divide between those of us who were on the job search and those who weren’t, and things were different with my classmates graduating at the same time. It’s just very hard when we’re all applying for the same jobs, and we want to talk about it because it’s stressful and scary, but at the same time, you may or may not want to know that your classmate has been offered an in-person interview for your “dream” job or that your best friend has an on-site interview for the same place you do! As people started getting jobs, it got easier, but there was definitely a period where it was particularly difficult.

I also found it tough to not get discouraged or overly anxious. Everyone told me that it really would be ok, that I would find something, etc., but it’s very hard to believe this when you’re wrapped up in the process and receiving rejection letters left and right, or worse, not hearing anything at all. Once the interviews started, it was hard to keep up the energy and stamina, as well as to devote the time for preparation while still applying to other positions.

4. Is your work as the professional librarian what you expected and prepared yourself for while you were in the MLS program? Otherwise, what would you have done differently if you knew?

I have been a professional librarian for less than a month, so that’s a hard question to answer. While in library school, I spent a lot of time and class work on the areas that most interested me. I wish that I could have also taken a greater variety so that I better understood what my colleagues do. I’m not sure how to find that balance, but I would encourage any MLS student to seek it. I think I also would have tried to spend more time with PhD students. Much of my work, and I think this is true for many of my colleagues, is working with faculty and finding ways we can support their teaching and research needs. Finding ways to connect with them, and knowing their needs even as grad students in other disciplines, would be helpful.

5. Any advice for many MLS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional librarian position?

My friend and classmate Steven Hoover wrote a great piece for Library Journal that I found immensely helpful. You can find it here: http://www.libraryjournal.com/article/CA6697547.html?nid=3309

I would encourage students to think of themselves as “real” librarians as much as possible: submit articles for publication , look at grant opportunities, apply to present at conferences, attend webinars or take online training to supplement your library school coursework, get involved with library organizations at the local, state, and/or national level. I know some of these can be expensive, but there are also scholarships, and I found the investment well worth it. My conference experiences were valuable, and getting involved with organizations gave me new perspectives that were helpful in interviews, and made it easier to get committee appointments now when they count toward my retention. Conferences and committees also helped me build a professional network, which was immensely helpful during the job search, and I’m sure will continue to be throughout my career.

I would also really emphasize the importance of self-care. Working out, eating chocolate (but not exclusively), and finding ways to remind yourself that you are a person outside of your librarian-self are also really key during this process. And hang in there!