Dear new grad:
Welcome to Libraryland. I enjoyed our conversation at the OLA reception in January – your energy and eagerness were wonderful to see. I also appreciate your concerns about your career, and especially this first step. Landing the first job can be tough, and it takes a lot of fortitude to get through the dry spell that proceeds that first day on the job.
Of course, I was particularly pleased that you are attracted to a career in law libraries. I have worked in legal environments of one kind or another for many years, and have found the work to be intellectually challenging, varied and an endless source of learning. One of the neat things about librarianship is the ability to piggyback on the imaginations and interests of your clients, and lawyers (and their clients) do and investigate things that would never in a million years occur to me!
I’ve given some thought to your question about whether you need a law degree in order to make yourself more credible as a law librarian. You’re right, the JD is a requirement in the United States. But aside from academic law libraries, I still feel that the extra degree is an added expense you probably don’t need to incur right now.
I took a straw poll among some of my colleagues, and we all agreed that job experience is a more useful acquisition for you at this point. You need to move from theory to practical experience now – to get your hands dirty. And even in this shaky job market, there are ways to acquire that experience.
Both Western and the University of Toronto programs offer work experience programs – coop or internships. I have been asked by both programs if I would be willing to consider a new grad if my project is not picked up by a student. Get in touch with the programs to see if there are surplus proposals available. Lots of law libraries – firms, courts, government and parliamentary- send proposals in, and I hear that students have a wealth of choice, leaving several orphan projects every term.
Be prepared to be flexible. Yes, you said you want to be a reference librarian, and you seem pretty wedded to the law firm environment. Don’t lock yourself in a box. You can pick up valuable experience, building your resumé and your credibility, by taking jobs you don’t plan to keep forever. Look into temporary placements, maternity leave contracts and short-term projects. Look at non-traditional jobs – you may find that a year as a business analyst for an IT consulting firm will help you develop reference interviewing skills, and will certainly add to your knowledge of systems. And understanding systems is always valuable.
A lot of reference work in law firms includes teaching – coaching an articling student through the research process, conducting classroom sessions for new hires or for new tools. Taking a job as a trainer for a database vendor, for example, will not only make you an expert on their services, it will give you valuable insight into the interests and concerns of clients, and literally opens the door into every law firm that company deals with.
The Ontario government offers a two-year internship program which has been an excellent jumping-off spot for several young professionals I know. Yes, the number of real library jobs is minimal (and shrinking), but grads have wound up with permanent jobs in information management, accessibility and information policy thanks to the experience they gained in this program.
So, welcome to the world of the information professional. Yes, it’s a turbulent place, and certainly fear-inducing for someone in your position, but with imagination, humour and flexibility, you stand at the edge of an exciting and innovative career. I think I’m a little jealous, and I’ll be watching with interest as you go.