I'm a recent MLIS graduate from the UNO/MU program, and though I have the library degree, my experience is spotty and not very cohesive: I've worked as a circulation page, in a student archivist position, and as grant manager at my local historical society, where I've worked with volunteers- which were all temporary, part-time positions. My first thought was to look for jobs in archives, but most are way beyond my experience level. I'm not sure where to put my focus or where the experience that I do have would be most valued/relevant. My experience with reference is pretty minimal, although I have a few anecdotal examples of when I've provided reference and instruction. Is there any way you can gain reference experience from volunteer work? How can I move forward with my less-than-ideal situation in a tough climate for even the most experienced librarians seeking employment?
I believe volunteer work is essential in getting your foot in the door! However, it depends on what library type you are looking at. Academic libraries may not allow volunteers to do reference unless you are willing to go through some training (which would be great for you!). Smaller public libraries might (I know we allow volunteers to help answer certain types of questions, depending on their qualifications). If Archiving is your love.. then volunteer at archival institutions, including museums! When I worked for several years at an academic library, I asked one reference librarian how they chose the specialist area she worked in. Her answer was: it chooses you! You apply for the job and are assigned different fields. We, as information specialists, know how to find information, no matter the area. It’s just a matter of what you end up with. Amazingly enough, I found that to be true. I certainly had a preference for history and law, and women’s studies, but ended up doing Children’s programming and service. That position helped me into the Director’s position I now hold. Choose your library and “sell” yourself and your services. Most of us in the field believe in mentoring! Good luck!