As a December 2021 graduate of the University of Illinois with a master's degree in Library and Information Science, I spent much of the last six months on the job market. I had decided I wanted to work in an academic library (a library serving an institution of higher education), and I had the added challenge of finding a position close to my family in Wyoming. Finding a job is a grueling process—I spent hundreds of hours sifting through job boards, seeking advice from people working in the field, writing and re-writing cover letters, and preparing for first- and second-round interviews. Thankfully, my work with the Center for Global Studies (CGS) over the past several years has given me a variety of skills and experiences to prepare me for the job market.
From January 2020 to December 2021, I was the Graduate Assistant for Global Studies Services at the University of Illinois International and Area Studies Library. CGS funded my assistantship. Although I had worked in academic libraries as an undergraduate, I relied the most on my graduate assistantship experiences to supply information for my cover letters and interviews. These experiences included many of the core responsibilities of librarianship—answering reference questions, teaching instructional sessions about library skills, finding books and other items for the library to acquire, etc. In this work, I supported the duties of the Global Studies Librarian, Steve Witt. Furthermore, my connections with the Library and the Center opened opportunities to work over the summer and to dedicate time to specific projects, like a Microsoft Access database for tracking alumni and a video about digitizing a historic Japanese scroll.
My time at the University of Illinois was synchronous with the COVID-19 pandemic. In some ways, this was extremely difficult. I had to adjust to a "new normal" even as I was just beginning to get into the flow of life at the university. I had difficulty switching to "work from home mode" and struggled to connect with my coworkers in an online-only environment. In addition to these struggles, the pandemic triggered retirements at the university, causing shifts in upper management that required me to report to a new supervisor. However, during the job hunt, these experiences provided fodder for talking points about my ability to adapt to these challenging circumstances. Furthermore, with the autonomy to complete work on my own time, COVID made me much more aware of my own work style. I had to learn to self-impose deadlines, juggle multiple projects and priorities, and keep myself on track. While interviewing, I talked about my pandemic job experiences at CGS to illustrate my ability to balance a variety of projects and meet deadlines efficiently. Being self-driven and adept at multitasking are valued skills in the library job market.
One of the primary responsibilities of my assistantship was coordinating the annual International Studies Research Lab (ISRL). The ISRL gives community college faculty an opportunity to conduct global studies research and projects that will inform their work at their home institutions. My responsibilities included corresponding with the ISRL Fellows, staying in touch with the librarians assisting with the lab, managing lab deadlines and submissions, and scheduling workshops and other events. These experiences taught me how to carry out communication with internal and external university stakeholders in support of library initiatives–skills that are prized at my current position. Academic libraries, and universities more generally, rely heavily on cross-departmental and cross-institutional collaboration to generate innovative programs and events for faculty, students, and staff. Of course, the ISRL was also a great opportunity to meet a variety of interesting people and learn about their research, which helped me expand my own knowledge in areas to which I otherwise would have never been exposed.
Numerous positions for which I applied including responsibilities for managing digital content, either for institutional responsibilities, library catalogs, or archival platforms. When prompted to discuss my content management skills, I talked about helping to develop a web archive for the International and Area Studies Library: Global Civil Society Organization Responses to COVID-19. A large component of my work with the web archive was building metadata—entering information about the websites in the archive that describes them and makes them easier for users to locate. During summer 2020, I also supervised an undergraduate student who helped flesh out the metadata and find new websites to add to the archive. Some entry-level librarian positions included supervisory duties, so I was glad to have this experience to discuss in interviews.
In late February, my long search for a full-time position finally culminated in a job offer. I am excited to start working as a librarian at Montana State University Billings in April! Although I will miss the colleagues and friends I met both at the iSchool and the Center for Global Studies, I am grateful for the relationships I have built here at Illinois. I have done my best to make the most of the fleeting few years I spent here, and I am so glad I did. The job-hunting process can trick us into believing that finding a full-time position is the culmination of all the work that has come beforehand, but it is only the next step in the lifelong process of learning and growing while supporting the work of others.