Getting your foot on the career ladder in the Library, Information Services and Archives sectors is often a combination of academic study and gaining relevant work experience. Certainly, some roles, like archivist, are accessible purely on the basis of your training and qualifications.
However, employers are likely to rate those that demonstrate a certain element of ingenuity and commitment. The more work experiences you’ve harnessed, whether it’s volunteering during a summer break or a year out, job shadowing someone for a week, or securing a formal training scheme, the higher employers are likely to rate your applications for permanent employment.
As you’d expect, the larger, more prestigious employers get inundated with requests. The romanticised idea of working in museums means that these areas tend to pull in more punters. But libraries and other information and records management employers can offer a well-rounded insight to this field also. Keep your eyes peeled for opportunities, or get out there and start knocking on doors. After every placement, always remember to ask for a reference, which may help you to secure bigger and better things later on.
Work experience is not about cheap labour or spending countless hours envelope licking. Whether you’re on a short school placement, or volunteering for a longer duration, plan and make sure you’re going to get the most out of this experience.
To help, Lifelong Learning has developed a work placement toolkit. Its aim is to help employers to effectively plan productive and positive placements, ensuring you get exposure to plenty of different experiences. Ask them about it early on, making sure they have a copy close to hand. Here are some other volunteering tips to kick things off:
Tips on volunteering
- Don't limit your efforts to national and large regional museums and galleries. They are probably overwhelmed with requests for voluntary work.
- ‘Google’ library or museum work placements, and bingo, you’ll probably unearth about 150,000 matches
- Make speculative approaches to smaller local museums and libraries. You are likely to get a broader range of experience, which can give you a true idea about what jobs are really like.
- Treat your request as if you are applying for paid work. Find out about the work environments you are interested in, visit them if you can and when you contact them explain why you want to volunteer for them.
- Be creative when making approaches. The personal touch is often valued more than ‘round robin’ e-mails, so pick up the phone or better still, drop by and speak to the Librarian, Archivist or Department Head, face-to-face. You may get the answer you’re looking for there and then, saving precious time.
- Be honest about how much time you have available - you're more likely to find an opening if you are available for the same amount of time each week.
- Remember quality not quantity. It's not always the amount of experience you gain through volunteering but what you make of it that will count in your favour when looking to progress your career.