ASSOCIATES (2012, March, v. 18, no. 3)


What Your Library Skills are Worth on the Open Market

Vivian Walker
British Columbia, Canada

Most of us in the public sector have experienced it at one time or another: government cutbacks, funding shortages, budget shortfalls, and then the aftermath – layoffs and cut hours. In my position working for a school board outside Vancouver, British Columbia, the gut-clenching hints would come every spring. Every year I’d hang on, but my hours would be consolidated. Two years ago I fell below the cut-off for employer funded benefits and had to pay both portions on my own. Finally, last year, when my 25 hours a week were down to only 13, I got bumped out of a school that I loved and into the casual pool. Rather than commute for shifts as short as four hours, I took a personal leave of absence and decided to regroup. And the first question I had to face was this…. just what were my skills worth on the open market? There aren’t many business jobs that specifically ask for accurate cataloguing or the ability to create stunning bulletin boards that have kids begging for the latest Mo Willems. I needed to dig deeper to look at the core competencies of the library world and how they translate. What I found was that my skills were most definitely transferable once I was able to define their equivalency.

Acquisitions – You find out what’s needed, source the item, evaluate, find a great price, and arrange for billing and shipping. Outside of libraries this is called, “Purchasing.”

Cataloguing – You examine the item, analyze the subject, and describe it in detail, using established rules. This uses critical thinking skills and entering data within defined parameters.

Circulation – This process is quite similar to point of sale systems and even customer relations management software. You enter a number of facts about your customer, manage accounts receivable in a tactful way (collect overdues) and alert them to items in their area of interest. You sometimes need to handle long lines while doing so, which is called managing multiple priorities in a fast-paced environment. Oh, and everybody loves someone who can trouble-shoot jammed photocopiers and computer problems.

Reference – The skill of assessing patron needs, doing a reference interview, and providing the right information, vetted for accuracy and currency, is also at the heart of sales and marketing. It requires knowledge of multiple sources and systems, as well as critical thinking and communication skills.

Library Programming – This requires needs analysis, program design, public relations, promotion, and post-event evaluation. Event planning, public relations, and marketing all use these same skills.

Library Promotion – Designing catchy brochures using a variety of software, updating websites, and exploring the relevancy of using Twitter and Facebook feeds to reach target markets is a skill that can be used in-house and externally in almost every organization. If you are older and looking for a job, it is a huge assurance to potential employers that you have kept up with technology.

Fundraising – Whether you’ve been writing grants, running a book sale, or helping to lobby governments for a bigger budget, being able to find money is a skill that interests every employer, but especially non-profits.

When you go beyond titles to core library competencies that translate into catch-phrases such as detail-oriented, client-focussed, works well under pressure, handles interruptions well, excellent project management skills, and adapts easily to new systems and technologies, you realize how truly transferable our skills are.

So, what happened to my career in the last year? I got a job working full-time on a fourteen month maternity leave contract. Half of the job was working to develop a searchable database for a non-profit and to design criteria so staff with few information skills could vet and gather information. So, I was doing a traditional library job in a non-traditional setting. The other half of the job was working to administer a database that contains a registry of service providers and ensure they meet experience and education qualifications and all their details are properly entered and accessible. (Like cataloguing, but for people!)

Eight months into the job, due to a retirement, I was offered the chance to work in our event planning area, producing eighteen conferences/workshops a year. I am now a full-time regular employee with full benefits. The work I did to make sure I was at the forefront of technology, my attention to detail, and my willingness to design new systems and processes got me the job. At least that’s what they call it in my work place. You all know, though, that the job is really just Acquisitions, Circulation, and Library Programming and Promotions.