Cover Letter Tips for the Job Hunting Librarian

In October I wrote a post called “Interviewing for a Cataloguing Position: A Two Way Street“. In one of the comments, I was asked if I could write something on cover letter and resume writing.

While there’s a lot of information available in our profession about this, I found that, in the end, it wasn’t until I found my own personality and “voice” within my cover letter that I finally received call backs for interviews.

It isn’t an easy thing to do, applying for a job. You’re nervous, wanting to fit in as much information as possible, follow all of the rules and tips you’ve been told and read about and STILL, once you hit send, you find that error, misspelling or incomplete sentence. It happens to all of us. But, what stands out in a cover letter is the homework you’ve done on the position or organization you’re applying to, and your personality.

Hiring is an interesting thing. I may be hiring a cataloguer, but it might be your experience as a professional musician or freelance writer than really attracts me. If you don’t pull out some unique tidbits about yourself and figure out how it fits into the position you’re applying for, you may miss out on a fantastic opportunity.

For instance, an applicant with a background as a musician tells me you’re creative, dedicated and self-disciplined. A freelance writer tells me you’re good at description, editing and pulling out interesting facts/details that will benefit a bibliographic record. While at first your background may not appear relevant – many times, it is. But I like to read about how YOU feel your background makes you a unique and better candidate that someone else.

The worst thing an applicant can do is summarize his/her resume. If you’ve provided your resume, I can see what you’ve done. But, how does it apply to what we’re looking for? Can you address a need that you’ve recognized in our system?

It takes a bit of homework and extra effort, but the work pays off. Once you hit on a “voice” in your cover letter that works for you, you will find that employers will start to call. It won’t happen over night, but it will happen.

In the meantime, I’ve created a Sample Cover LetterSample Cover Letter with comments in the margins. Feel free to take a look at this cover letter, with my own opinions on what I think are important. All of these comments helped me find my “voice” and I went from not receiving any phone calls for interviews, to receiving a phone call for almost every place I submitted a resume.

And, in addition to your cover letter, here are a few things you should think about doing while looking for a job:

1. Book reviewing. Get yourself out there and publish! Not only do you build your professional book collection, but you’re learning about other professionals’ work in the field and practicing your writing skills.

2. Submit articles to journals on professional areas of interest. Whether it’s a short piece for a small journal or a large, scholarly piece, try submitting an article for publication. This alone will impress future employees. If you aren’t sure how to do it, try to collaborate on an article with a professional working in the field.

3. Attend local conferences and/or workshops and make it a point to network.

4. As crazy as it sounds, offer to work for free for a week or two. In a non-union environment, this is a great way to make connections, learn, show off your own knowledge and, not only gain a potential reference but, perhaps even a future job.



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9 responses to “Cover Letter Tips for the Job Hunting Librarian

  1. A very informative post, Laurel, especially the part about background information such as music. I am often in the position of interviewing business candidates, and their resumés are often so dry, anything that makes them stand out as a person will increase their chance that I will interview them.

  2. KSamel

    Hi Laurel,

    Thank you for this tip. I wish I thought of volunteering in a non-union place.

    BTW, do you have any tips for someone who is trying to refresh themselves on cataloging. I use to catalog and copy catalog when I was in a middle school library but that was a couple of years ago. It is very difficult trying to get a librarian position without some catalog experience.


    K. Samel

  3. Laurel Tarulli

    Glad you found the information helpful!

    As far as tips for some cataloguing refreshers – here’s a list of some that you may find helpful:
    1. ALCTS has a number of great webinars (some free, some require fees) that are often helpful.
    2. Free professional development webinars
    3. Reviewing the MARC standards page and Library of Congress site (when I was looking for a position, I actually practiced cataloguing by taking my own books, cataloguing them according to the standards and then comparing them with online library’s MARC records)
    4. Follow some of the main cataloguing listservs, like AUTOCAT
    5. Read blogs and professional literature – which you seem to already be doing if posting here is any indication 😉

    All or some of these options should help as a refresher and offer some insight into new cataloguing practicing and ideas. I hope this helps! Good luck with the job hunt.

  4. Pingback: The Eternal Cover Letter Angst of a Librarian // Drop the Reference Bomb

  5. Thanks Laurel am Abraham a BLIS student at kenyatta university Kenya and you have really mentored me in cataloguing.I would wish to specialise in this,thanks a lot.

  6. DRoberts

    Thanks! This helps a lot!

  7. beth

    Thanks for this! I have a question about breaking into cataloging, though – I’m an MLIS student who’s only done copy cataloging as a volunteer. I’m noticing that almost all tech services jobs (except for department heads, which I’m obviously not qualified for) are paraprofessional. Would you recommend taking a parapro job upon graduation if this is what I’m really interested in? Is it good experience/a good “foot in the door” for getting promoted later on? I had no idea I would be interested in cataloging until I started my master’s degree, and now that I’m almost finished it looks like I don’t have many options if I want a career in tech services/cataloging/metadata.

  8. Laurel Tarulli

    Hi Beth – thanks for writing.

    First, don’t sell yourself short. If you’re graduating with an MLIS and you have cataloguing experience, you might be able to get a position as a department head. Some of this depends on past professional experience – if you have supervisory experience, training experience, etc. Always consider how past employment can transfer over to the jobs you’re looking for. I would encourage you to apply to those jobs.

    If you’d like to apply for paraprofessional jobs, you can do that too. Sometimes libraries have hiring policies (union) that don’t allow them to hire degreed professionals in paraprofessional positions, so that is something else to consider. There are also numerous other opportunities to gather experience – volunteer opportunities, professional offices, museums, etc. that are looking for skilled professionals who know how to organize information.

    I don’t know what your interests are, but at this point in your career, I’d suggest spreading your options far and wide. See what opportunities present themselves. You might be surprised!

  9. jessp22

    Hello Laurel,

    It is a pleasure to read your blog on cataloguing and the work you do. Thank you for posting advice on cover letters and on the job hunt. I am currently on the job hunt, and am contemplating applying for a Metadata Specialist position. However, I graduated with my MLIS in 2010, and haven’t used my cataloguing knowledge since then, at least not the academic standards like AACR2R, LC, MARC21 and RAD. I have mostly worked in Access and Public services in academic libraries, with some non-profit, special library experience. I’ve been brushing up on my cataloguing skills in terms of webinars and tutorials. But I am not sure how to convey it in my cover letter to show that I am taking the initiative to learn on my own time. I am concerned that it is an indicator that I am not a good candidate if I don’t have immediate experience. Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you.
    Jess P

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