Chris Burns and the Library Job(s) Project

Community Profile

San José State University School of Information alumnus Chris Burns gets a taste of library life, working several jobs at once.

Upon graduating in 2012, iSchool alumnus Chris Burns developed a strategic approach to employment by working at several different part-time and on-call positions as way to explore career opportunities in the information profession. The result is employment in different areas of librarianship including public, academic and a little bit of writing on the side. He’s making the most of his degree, experience and interests as he makes his way through library life.

Deciding to Become a Librarian

Burns was a high school teacher and writing manager for a tutoring center and was familiar with budget cuts and layoffs common in public education. After several years, he found that never knowing if he would be rehired after a summer break, or laid off at the end of the school year, made life increasingly unreliable.

Burns’ aunt, a law librarian, saw his frustration with his teaching job and spoke to him about the positive aspects of life in the LIS-lane.

“She pointed out the ability to move around and find a place that works,” Burns says. “The work aspect [of librarianship] that attracted me was that it wasn’t stereotyped: there’s lots and lots of library work, there are hundreds of kinds of librarians and you can decide what you want to do. It’s a stable job that you can make what you want it to be.”

It was enough to convince Burns, so he applied and started his education at the iSchool.

“I studied academic librarianship, reference services, [learning] what librarianship would be like in a college. I spent a lot of time studying digital preservation,” he adds, “which is not the direction I’ve gone, but I liked the idea of working in preservation in a museum.”

Burns participated in several internships while at the iSchool, learning more about specific work environments. He interned at SFO Commission Aviation Library and got a paid Integrated Logistics Management System (ILMS) internship at the San Jose Museum of Art, digitizing all their work.

“I was in the right place at the right time,” he notes. “I couldn’t have done it if I wasn’t in school.”

The Working Librarian

After graduating, Burns’ first paid library role was performing research for reporters at The San Francisco Business Times. “My job was to call up companies and produce industry lists of things: the top 25 law offices in San Francisco, or the top 25-50 whatever in this region. It was interesting to work in a newspaper office and help research with reporters.”

Next Burns worked at the Federal Archive in San Francisco, among a group of librarians hired to organize and manage files. “They still had old floppy discs in boxes that they had to legally preserve,” he adds. “So we also did a bit of digital preservation, and custom photo projects scanning things into the archive.”

Building on that momentum, Burns found work in not one but four library environments. He’s currently an adjunct faculty librarian at Cañada College Library and the College of San Mateo (CSM) Library; on call at the San Mateo Public Library; and he recently started writing for Public Libraries Online.

As an adjunct faculty librarian, Burns helps students with reference work, connecting them with information using library databases, and creates and maintains library libguides. Another big part of his job is doing library orientations for students.

“A teacher brings the class to the library and I do lectures, show them around, walk them through databases, give them a tour—all based on the particular class—science, literature,” he explains.

Burns gets hands-on responsibilities from directing the work of library aides and volunteers, to supporting users in their information seeking needs at the reference desk. And he teaches classes in library and information research, and helps patrons use the library’s technology offerings, particularly the 3D printer.

Writing About Library Life 

During his downtime, Burns (pictured right) started looking for other things to do in the library world, including getting involved in professional library organizations like the American Library Association (ALA). He soon found Public Libraries Online, and, with a bachelor’s degree in writing and practical library experience, began writing for their blog.

“It stemmed from a need to have something to do in my downtime at work that’s library related,” he explains, “to keep up to date with librarians and the community, to get more involved. It’s been really interesting and I like it. We end up doing a blog every month or so as contributors; it’s good to be part of a writing environment that’s very structured.”

At the end of the day, Burns says he’s still looking for that perfect full time library job, to gain medical benefits and more stability in his professional life. And he’d love to be able to attend professional events and conferences as a representative of a library organization and take what he learns back to his workplace. But he continues to gain experience from his multiple roles and is able to use his writing to talk about issues in library hiring practices and let other recent MLIS graduates know what the job market is like for new professionals.

“I definitely have no regrets,” Burns emphasizes. “I like working in libraries-I like what I do. I liked the iSchool, the learning and what it’s done with my life, and how I’ve become different because of it.”