Working Part-Time After Retirement

Whether you work by choice or out of necessity, you’ll find that opportunities abound for library retirees

August 27, 2012


Art and books have been two big passions in my life, but I was not able to combine them professionally until after I was into my seventh decade. I enjoyed the 40-plus years I spent working in an academic library, but before I knew it, I was 68 and past due for retirement in 2004. I enjoyed relaxing and traveling for a while, and then tried various volunteer jobs but found them unfulfilling. I had stayed busy all my life and was bored with that much free time. So when an old friend called to ask if I would be interested in helping out with cataloging a gift collection at his library, located in a prestigious art museum, I chose to return to work.

The advantages? I set my own hours within the allotted time per week and take vacation or a day off whenever I want (with enough notice, of course). I don’t receive health care or retirement benefits from the museum, which works in the organization’s favor. But because I already have Medicare, Social Security, and a pension, I don’t need additional benefits. Taxes are deducted from my biweekly paychecks, and the extra money I make helps me pay bills and allows me to travel. Most of all, I like keeping my mind active. Because I love art, I visit the museum galleries when I need a break, and I enjoy special tours and employee discounts at the museum bookstore.

You may say that it was easy for me to find employment after retirement because I had friends. That is called networking, and I’ve been doing it for years. But there are other ways to find work, too. Over the years I often had to work more than one job (I was a single mother of three), as did others I know. As a result, I can offer real-world suggestions for finding library-related employment.

First, you must decide how many hours you would like to work and then decide the number of hours you would actually be willing to work. Next, determine what pay you deserve based on a lifetime of experience. Don’t sell yourself short; start high then negotiate. Once you start working it will be more difficult to ask for an increase. I didn’t ask for enough at the museum library, but I have received two substantial bonuses—something that never occurred in my academic career.

And remember to update your résumé before you begin your search. Make it simple but as impressive as you can. If you have a second master’s degree or job experience in a specific field, those qualifications may open up even more possibilities. The following are several ideas to get you started in your new post-retirement job search.

Tips to get started

School libraries often need extra library help for a few hours a week. They need catalogers, someone to manage the circulation desk and answer questions, and someone to read to children. Go to a nearby school library and ask around. It helps to be a grandmother, but that is not as important as the years of experience you have to offer.

If public library work appeals to you, inquire at your city or county library. They may have limited budgets, but they may also be more willing and able to hire a non-benefits-eligible part-time employee. These libraries especially welcome extra help during after-school hours.

I once worked part-time for our local community college as a substitute reference librarian. Community colleges hold classes at various high schools around the city and place their own librarians in the school libraries in the evenings. If the librarian assigned to that campus couldn’t make it one evening or was on vacation, they called a substitute librarian. It entailed going in to work on short notice and then being able to enter a strange library and immediately start answering reference questions, even if you didn’t know your way around that particular library. It was a challenge, but fun. I also worked for a community college as a cataloger during a retrospective conversion, but I suspect this is no longer an option.

If you are able to work an evening shift, you may find a part-time job as a reference or circulation librarian in a university library. It might be only one evening a week and not too late. Saturday or Sunday afternoon shifts may be available as well. I worked like this for three years at a small private college. Remember, being around young people can help keep you young!

Being a cataloger can land you all kinds of jobs. Providing services to a private collector can be highly profitable. Many wealthy people have collections of books that have grown so large that they are unable to find the book they want. As their cataloger, you can more or less set your own price and hours. What’s more, you can use simple software programs to do the task (so try to avoid typing cards). Sometimes people want only what amounts to a bibliography, with books arranged by title or by author (though it is usually helpful to have them also arranged by subject). You don’t have to use LC or Dewey; a simple Cutter Table will do. I once arranged books for an art patron. She didn’t want any marking on her books but wanted them grouped by art movements. This task didn’t take long, but when she called back a couple of years later and complained that the books had gotten out of order and needed to be arranged again, I declined. Another collector who didn’t want his books marked was happy to have labels on his shelves.

Branch out

Don’t forget special libraries. I once paid off some legal fees by cataloging a lawyer’s library. For a number of years I worked as a cataloger for an office of psychiatrists for several hours a month. I also worked for many months at a well-known engineering firm while its regular librarian was recuperating from an automobile accident. Special libraries sometimes receive gift collections that can’t be processed in the normal workflow. The keys are flexibility and experience.

If your specialty is reference, you can find people who want research done or bibliographies prepared. You can work for authors by proofreading their work or cross-checking their citations. Genealogical research is yet another possibility.

Although medical libraries are a special field, they have many traditional library tasks and may welcome part-time employees.

Church and synagogue libraries depend heavily on volunteers, but when they grow large, they may welcome some part-time paid help for acquisitions and cataloging.

Many organizations have archives—rather than libraries per se—but library skills apply in organizing these as well. Some examples are local art venues such as theaters, symphonies, operas, historical organizations, and specialty museums. All of them have documents they want to keep and that need to be organized. They will also likely have some book collections. I once cataloged a library for the use of the docents at a local house museum.

If you have the necessary skills and patience, there is a big demand for book repair. Ask your local libraries to keep your name on file to offer the many people who call them for help with repairs. I had one friend who repaired the spines on the hymnals for her church. Book repair professionals usually charge by the book.

There are places other than libraries where you can seek employment. A library background is obviously an advantage if you would like to work part-time in a bookstore. A bonus: You often get discounts on books. If you want to do something completely different, go ahead, but you may as well take advantage of the skills you have.

Work and travel

Now the fun part: travel librarianship. If you know libraries and you like to travel, why not combine the two? There are libraries all over the world that might be interested in hiring a consultant, especially librarians with strengths in technological applications. Knowing the language of the country where you would like to work can be helpful, but it is not always a requirement. I have a friend who spent three months in Taiwan as a consultant. She had formerly been a government documents librarian and knew no Taiwanese or Mandarin. Consultants sometimes receive transportation and living expenses in addition to a fee. Another friend and her husband went to Scotland for a year after both had retired, and she cataloged the library of a nobleman. The two of them lived in a cozy cottage (rather than a drafty old castle), and weekends were open for travel. Opportunities of this type abound and are just a click away online.

Did you realize cruise ships have libraries and therefore must hire librarians? While still employed, I once investigated the possibility of working for a program that catered to college students from wealthy families who spent a semester cruising around the world while having classes on board the vessel. They of course needed lots of books and required a librarian to acquire, catalog, and circulate them.

Volunteer gigs

If you are not interested in working for pay, volunteer opportunities abound for you to use your librarian skills. The following are a few:

Before I found my current part-time job, I volunteered every other Saturday morning at a nature center, where I could draw on my reference skills to answer questions. (For me, this was much better than the volunteer job I had at another museum, where I was asked to help create an image database.)

Are you interested in history? Librarians are often good at gathering and organizing oral histories. I live in an old section of my city and think that it would be great to interview some of the old-timers before their stories are lost. A young librarian at the academic library where I was formerly employed recently organized a project to gather videotaped interviews of retired and longtime employees. It turned out to be fascinating.

Start your own book club in your church or neighborhood. You already know how to find the best books for your group to read.

Now, aren’t you glad you got that MLS? You’ll never need to worry about being unemployed. On the other hand, you may never find time to read all those wonderful books on your own shelves.

In a couple more years I will be 78, and that seems like a good age to retire again. Or maybe not.

RITA MARSALES is a retired preservation librarian from Fondren Library, Rice University in Houston, Texas. A longer version of this story first appeared in Pre- & Post-Retirement Tips for Librarians (ALA Editions, 2011), edited by Carol Smallwood.


Ready to Retire? Here’s What You Should Know

By Laurie D. Borman

Whether you’re just starting your library career or several decades into Libraryland, retirement is likely to affect you at some time. Recognizing this stage of life is the ALA’s Retired Members Round Table (RMRT), which exists to “develop programs of particular interest to retired persons from all types of libraries and all forms of library service, including formal opportunities for continued involvement and learning; a variety of leadership training and opportunities for mentoring; lifelong professional involvement and networking; and active engagement in the American Library Association and the profession of librarianship.” About half of the current group is not yet retired, and half already retired.

American Libraries asked members of the group to provide their favorite tips and advice to readers. Here are a few of their suggestions:

Carolyn Caywood

“If you’re like me, start cleaning out your stuff early. I had 25 years of program ideas and props, and sweet notes from 3rd graders [to box up]. Also, get a personal email account and copy your address book and your bookmarks. You might want to think about getting new business cards if, like me, you’re not really planning to work but you do want to keep your hand in, so to speak.”
Carolyn Caywood, Virginia Beach, Va., Bayside and special services librarian with the Virginia Beach Public Library

Sue Kamm“One difficulty I’ve had over the years is using retired librarians as volunteers in public or school libraries and asking them to perform professional work without being paid for it. We have all heard about people who think libraries can be run by volunteers, and we shouldn’t give them ammunition for trying to do so. But churches, synagogues, and mosques could probably use a librarian’s expertise.”
Sue Kamm, Inglewood, Calif., former head of audiovisual services and reference librarian at Inglewood Public Library

Nicholas Spillios“While you may look forward to withdrawing from the rigor of a working life, you may find that the rest you looked forward to is not rest but isolation bordering on boredom. Remember that the second half of your life (retirement) should prove to be the most important and rewarding part of your life. Now is the time to plan for related activities such as becoming a library trustee, joining a Friends of the Library group, or a literacy improvement group.”
Nicholas Spillios, Edmonton, Alberta, former supervisor of learning resources for the Edmonton Public School Board, former chair of the Edmonton Public Library, and current member of the Edmonton Friends of the Library

“I was very surprised when I received my first retirement check. The only deductions are for taxes, and in the case of Social Security, Medicare premiums. I have mostly paid my own way to ALA Conference (my former employer paid people $500 for ‘professional development,’ which took care of my hotel expenses), but because I have more discretionary income, I can afford to stay at better hotels.”—Kamm

“Because of the economic downturn, the time you set for retirement may not be practical. What you plan in advance may be your best ally. Your pension will never keep up with the cost of  living—try to admit this early as it may come as a shock to you later.”—Spillios


Planning Guides

The average American spends 20 years in retirement, so it’s important to plan and sock away money as Working Part-Time After Retirementearly as possible. Here are several links that can help you prepare for your post-work life:



An Old Friend in the Library

When rethinking service imperatives, let compassion be your guide

The Library Is the Real School

Back to school time means back to library instruction and information literacy