In the August 15, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader wants to know why I say your local library is a better job hunting tool than the Internet.


I purchased and read two of your books, How To Work With Headhunters and How Can I Change Careers? You have a great business here. Kudos to you!

I have a question about your coaching regarding “The Library Vacation” in How Can I Change Careers? (pp. 15-22). You advise actually going to libraries to explore job and career possibilities. Given that technology and the Internet have changed significantly since you wrote your book, do you still recommend going to a library versus working on the Internet to explore careers, employers and jobs? Thanks in advance!

Nick’s Reply

Thanks for your kind words and for purchasing my books.

The Library Vacation is a thoughtful, deliberate method for exploring careers, industries, jobs and employers that flies over all the popular, automated, high-speed, mindless Internet surfing that passes for job hunting today.

For those who don’t know anything about The Library Vacation, I’ll quickly summarize. The idea is that changing careers (or employers or jobs) should not be restricted by what job boards, employers and search engines serve up to you. Your field of exploration should be wider and deeper. I think you can get that only at a good library.

We’ll talk more about The Library Vacation in a minute, but first I think it’s important to step back and look at the Internet as a jobs resource from a higher vantage point.

Lose the brainwashing


The dumbest way to try and find a job is on Internet job boards. You might as well stick your hand in the ocean and try to catch a fish. Yes, it’s that dumb. The job boards promise one thing: The jobs are all in there. So are all the fish. Good luck.

Having access to all jobs and employers is meaningless. If it worked, you wouldn’t be reading this. Or fretting. Or getting depressed. Or wondering why all those jobs you keep applying for — jobs you’re perfect for! — keep slipping through your fingers like so many molecules of water.

The Internet is a great source of information about careers, employers and jobs. But it’s mere brainwashing and marketing that have trained you to trust it’s the best way to find the right job for you. It’s not — not by a longshot!

In How Can I Change Careers? there’s a section titled “The Library Vacation” where I offer this message:

“[Your job] search has to be self-directed. In other words, you’ll never find what you’re looking for if you let someone else point you toward what they think you’re looking for.” (p. 15)

The Library Vacation

Here’s the simple idea:

“Take at least three days off and spend them at the library. (A week is better.) Go into the periodical stacks. Forget about job hunting or careers. (This is the vacation part.) Read whatever you feel like. At first, you’ll start with magazines like People, Newsweek, Rolling Stone, foreign newspapers and so on. Then you’ll start checking out various specialty and industry-related periodicals. Just read stuff that attracts you… As you follow your gut, you’ll start to see trends in the sorts of industries and product areas you’re reading about. That will tell you something: This might be your path.” (p. 16)

Does that sound retro? Low-tech? Too cumbersome? Too time-consuming? Well, how’s online job hunting doing for you?

Even with all the resources the Net offers, I still advise people to visit a good library for a Library Vacation. There are several reasons.

Wandering in the library is good

Serendipity is a big — and very important — part of exploring careers and jobs. In the library you’ll find industry and professional publications you’d never search for because you don’t know they exist. Those publications will lead you to industries, products, companies and people you’ll never find online because you didn’t search for them. Your wandering eyes will turn up surprises that only your hunches can exploit.

When we’re looking for a career opportunity, wandering is the point! Algorithms limit us. Libraries set us loose.

Most important, unlike that ocean of job postings, the library will reveal problems and challenges those industries and companies face. And therein lies the opportunity for you to step in and be the solution.

Reference librarians beat Google

Libraries have a precious resource you can’t find online – a real, live reference librarian. I’ll take one reference librarian over 10 search engines or algorithms any day. (See Get thee to a reference librarian.) They’re the real semantic processors! They actually understand you, and they ask good questions no algorithm can, to help you explore in productive directions.

I still pick up the phone and call my local library reference desk for certain kinds of research. Those librarians are really good at what they do. And they ask good questions to help me explore and drill down into an industry, company or professional community more intelligently. Google can’t do that. And job boards don’t even try.

Get up, get out!

There’s one big reason for going to the library that’s lost amidst the “convenience” of the Internet. It’s just good to get out!

For the same reason it’s good to aimlessly scan the stacks of publications in a library, it’s good to sit in a comfy chair and leaf through a series of surprising publications that catch your eye.

The point is not to find what you’re looking for. It’s to find something new that you were not looking for. The same is true when you’re networking among people (rather than information collections).

To understand this better, check out Duncan Watts’ excellent book, Six Degrees: The science of a connected age. Like some of my books, it’s a few years old — but it’s “evergreen” and the ideas will always be incredibly valuable. Watts talks about how the value of a network connection goes up the farther on the periphery of a network you go – simply because the odds are higher that you will find an unknown, unexpected, untried node of high value. When we stay too close to home, we encounter mostly our friends – whether they’re people or publications. Likewise, when we rely on algorithms, we are stuck with only limited search results.

Get motivated!

While the Internet promises results, the library delivers vistas you never considered exploring. The library lets you stumble into unanticipated connections. When your brain exploits these connections, you get a rush of adrenaline at your success — and this in turn motivates you to drive harder toward your new objectives. For my money, the library is the best way to track down the job that you will then stop at nothing to win.

I wouldn’t be in business without the Internet. I love it. But it’s not the only, or even best, tool for certain kinds of research: Highly motivated exploring.

I hope you find something helpful in what I’ve said. By no means do I think you should not use the Net to explore. But get up, get out, go bump into the unexpected at a good library. Lounge in a chair with something good to skim, new possibilities to alight on – and let your mind wander away from the glow of a display.

And tell the reference librarians you meet that I sent you.

Find something that drives you

There’s more to this, of course. The Library Vacation is just the first step. It helps you identify your goal — a new career, employer or job that you become incredibly motivated to win. It also emphasizes the freedom you need to change your mind:

“The only rule is that you must drive your interest until it dies, or until it gets you to your destination.” (p. 22)

What do you do when you find the job you want? How Can I Change Careers? shows you how to walk into the hiring manager’s office and demonstrate, hands down, why you’re the most profitable hire.

Do you use your local library to explore industries, companies, products and jobs? What trade-offs do you see with the Internet? What constraints does each research tool impose? How should this reader use both?

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  1. I just returned from the library now and I saw your email I totally agree it gets you out of the house you get assistance from knowledgeable and caring people it is a comfortable environment we have access to complimentary meeting rooms and as you state there are a wealth of written resources. You so right about internet job boards. Do not expect immediate or positive results the number of applicants is too vast. Nick you really know your stuff and I greatly appreciate learning from you. Viv

  2. My web access IS at the town library, They both have their advantages, but google maps can’t be beat for finding out exactly where an address is and street-view gives you a virtual view of the street and aerial view of the plant and land marks to look for. Sometimes it will provide the “would I really want to work there” answer, like landlocked highway only access or wrong side of the river, traffic issues etc. But I am waiting for Donald Trump to comment on the Fake Jobs on the bogus job boards.

    • Google is excellent at the nuts and bolts, of course. Maps. Data. News about companies. But I’m talking about selecting the companies,(/i> not applying for jobs. The library offers something special: the chance to scan, skim, and find stuff you didn’t know you were looking for.

  3. My wife is a librarian, and I thank you for this column about libraries. Many people I talk to think that libraries are obsolete because of the internet. When I was a kid (I’m 51 now) people thought libraries were obsolete because of television. My wife worked in one library for 16 years as a children’s and young adult services librarian, and is also a whiz at reference work. What I discovered is that librarians are skilled at performing internet searches to find exactly what they want (such as using boolean operators, etc). They have access to databases as well as non-computer references. Like it or not, there is much material that is not digitized and will probably not be digitized.

    My wife has had great difficulty becoming re-employed in the library profession after a cross country move 5 years ago (we live in a small California town with a thriving high tech industry, but we are also somewhat isolated). In fact, there are lots of out-of-work librarians in this town. Libraries here are always busy, but the government funding they depend on keeps being cut.

    Many of my friends and colleagues believe that libraries are no longer needed. The problem is that internet search engines censor what you see (one of my common searches now yields totally different results than it used to), and bookstores including Amazon only stock what sells. Internet music services only make things available that sell – and they highlight what they think the market wants.

    Libraries are storehouses of all kinds of media. A free and open society needs this kind of access. Also, librarians are talented at working with this. In a town bursting with librarians, I would think that some wise companies would hire them to sort their information. My high tech company could certainly use librarians on staff to manage our computer file system!

    • Where I live, funding for our libraries is constantly under threat because elected officials have no idea what libraries are. “The Internet has replaced libraries!”

      These are walking dopes talking.

      • Update: My wife got a library job in March 2018 and they love her – it is in a southern California city an hour away from where we live, and a beautiful commute. Plus, our bank account is happier! The internet went out one day. It was hard, but they had work arounds.

  4. My community’s library system increased the number of hours for our local branches a few years ago because the place is so popular — not just for the Internet, either. Lots of people, of all ages and backgrounds, take advantage of fabulous cultural programs, books, periodicals, the children’s library. Everything! Bonus: One of our branches has a magazine exchange where patrons can recycle past issues. It’s been a boon for me. I get to read everything from The New Yorker and Economist to Vanity Fair, Town and Country and The Nation, among others, for free! Love, Love, Love our public library system and the wonderful librarians who serve in them.

  5. Totally agree with how wonderful libraries still are. Additionally, once you narrow down your choices, finding someone in the chosen field to discuss the reality of the profession is very helpful. I changed from law enforcement to commercial real estate finance 30 years ago with the help of professionals in finance/banking. Hopefully your chosen field has open-minded individuals remaining. That may be the biggest barrier to overcome :(

    • “open-minded individuals” as in those who do not only want experienced people. Granted, if you’re going to have an operation, you don’t want someone without experience doing it. I’m so frustrated with companies always wanting experience for job ads. At some point the experience pool has got to dry up and then what are they going to do? Another pet peeve is wanting a degree for a job that doesn’t require a degree, like accounts payable. You don’t need an accounting degree to perform accounts payable.

  6. This is such a great topic and Nick’s summation so on the mark one can only emphasize them

    First, I love libraries…and the internet…but libraries more so. Nick noted career development, which I’d like to emphasize. Everything said to job hunters about libraries applies to your career development or simply helping you to do a better job. I can’t count the # of times when browsing the stacks of periodicals I just stumbled on something really neat (ideas and/or factoids) that fit nicely into a project I was working on. On definitely from a source I was unaware of or didn’t conveniently have access to (e.g. professional journals). And tons of ideas. Hence a good way to look at libraries, is a repository of epiphanies. Where your AHAs! are.

    And nothing like an epiphany to recharge your job hunting and career batteries. Nick used the term Serendipity. Another way to view it is dumb luck. While not methodical, scientific luck (good & bad) is in play. Ask any sales person & they’ll have a luck story. Serenity is at play too.

    Browsing and browsers. That software we use…really a misnomer. Browsing is the random wandering Nick referred to, where you have no idea of what you’re looking for..until you see it. The software browsers we use are just searchlights you use for what you know you are looking for. Not the same thing.

    The 1st major company I worked for back in the day was Dayton their HQ. I suppose one could argue that as about a 100 year old company they were stodgy. But in another sense not so. at least when discussion the topic of libraries. NCR owned 2 major library systems available to everyone. One that bested the public libraries, with popular periodicals and novels etc. (& a lot more $ to draw on) and a 2nd multistoried professional library, full of material of no interest to mere mortals, but the playground of engineers and such. Both staffed with knowledgeable librarians. From here, I stumbled on ideas of how to apply known Mfg QA techniques to software.

    The 2nd company I worked for Data General, though much smaller, also sported libraries, though not nearly as lush as the aforementioned, leaning to the professional needs.

    In this company I worked for a satellite facility in NC. Less than 100 people when I arrived. I was amazed to find that it too had a library and a professional librarian. After a couple of reorgs I ended up the responsible manager. From here I picked up 1st hand much of what Nick noted about reference librarians, since one now worked for me.

    I spent most of my career in computer R&D organizations. It wasn’t long before I learned that the R was really a small r as in r&D. One reason as my librarian pointed out, not much research took place. the place under utilized. I suppose you could assume that’s because the primary population of engineers, being engineers, knew everything they needed to know already. Believe that, & I’ll sell you a bridge. So I started prodding them to bring the librarian into play, & to their amazement found, as Nick pointed out, she delivered some very helpful research material. Then she got busier.

    As I worked through my career I’ve also noticed how few people read to any extent, business material, even material related to their fields to keep current.

    So I’d add to the points, make it a point to keep visiting libraries, even when you have that dream job, even when you see you’re on track. You won’t regret it.

    • @Don: Not many people today realize that the birth of the Internet was midwifed by librarians. Before information was online, it was in databases managed by Lockheed. Dialog. Lexis/Nexis. Those systems were coded by programmers but designed and developed by library scientists.

      Today, library science is largely information technology in terms of skills and functions. It’s not spinsters with their hair up in buns sitting behind a circulation desk asking for your library card.

      • True. The Library Corporation came about in the 1970s to create unique software for the libraries to replace the traditional card catalog, among other functions.

        Although people say that Internet is the source to go to (“Go google it!”), my city is putting on the $900+ million bond for voters to vote on one of the items: improve and upgrade all city libraries. Over the years, I always vote for the library bond, as everyone uses it one time or another in their lifetime.

  7. I really like what everyone is saying about libraries and librarians. I have kissed a librarian today, but then I am also married to her!

  8. Touched another nerve with this one, Nick.

    I took the Library Vacation a number of years ago, when I was still a programmer looking to make a change. I didn’t find it in my first Library Vacation. Nor my second. I saw the writing on the wall, that eventually my programming career was going to come to an end because of the dynamics of the job market and that I wanted out for quite some time, so I needed to start thinking about my next act (programming was actually my second act). It actually took a couple more years of puzzling, thinking about what kind of business I wanted to get into and would make me happy. I found it all right, but it wasn’t something I picked up in a few days at the library. So anyone who uses the Library Vacation shouldn’t expect miracles the first time. Maybe not even the second, if you’re anything like me. You may need to do the initial homework and go geek on it for a while, then go back for another helping and puzzle over it some more until it hits you.

    However, having said that, I’ve made and continue to make heavy use not just of public libraries, but specialized ones. When I lived in the Plains, I went to the local university library. Similar to the specialized libraries mentioned above, a university library can allow you to drill quite deep into your subject of interest at a scholarly level. Also, my interest today is in horse racing, and I made the move to Lexington, Kentucky to get into it. Keeneland race track has a marvelous (small, but still…) library that’s open to the public, containing rare old books on everything horse (as well as a lot of newer ones). I was recently looking for information defining class in a racehorse, what’s really meant by that, when I found a book at the Keeneland library written in 1947 that can’t be found on Amazon that had the answers I was looking for. Libraries rock, and I hope for the sake of the world they never go away.

    • What’s the deal with programming? Is it strictly a young person’s gig? Where I work we do embedded systems which are both hardware and software. In fact, my company uses me for both although I am primarily hardware. Most engineers here are over 50, and have been here for some time.

      • What’s the deal with programming? Gee, how do I say this and maintain any kind of political correctness, politeness, or whatever? How about Mark Zuckerberg with his “young people are smarter” crap ( Or the H1B’s, of which the last company I worked (a major health insurer in a middle sized city, right down the road from the local university) tapped to fill a full 1/3 of the IT department? Need I go on?

        As I approached 50 and was increasingly feeling left behind in the job market, I saw the writing on the wall. Simply do a web search for “programmers over 40” or similar and you’ll see the warnings, along with a handful of anecdotes such as yours. I and several of my peers (in both age and experience) could see this coming. I’m currently out with no intentions of going back, one fortunately had a side business with his wife and could probably afford to get out, and another had to take a job at Home Depot to survive, all the while wishing he could get back into programming. All of us had the same increasing difficulty maintaining a programming career as we approached and passed the 50 mark.

        For what it’s worth, I was starting to get sick of programming about 15 years before I left it. Fortunately my life is such now that I won’t have to struggle for too much longer before I can have the career I really want. I’m not so sure about my friends.

        • There is a software-as-a-service company next door to mine, and I don’t think anyone who works there is over 40. Their employees look so young! I know a guy near my age who left that company to found his own company. (He is well past 40)

          It does sound like you didn’t enjoy software development, and it probably shows up in interviews. On the other hand, I would think a hiring manager would want to hire someone who can do the job – I’m sure you can.

          With our software engineers, the experience does pay off, and I certainly hope we don’t lose any of them any time soon! We also have some younger software engineers, but most are over 50.

          I’m no expert so I won’t give advice, but I hope you have found something more fulfilling.

          PS: The job market in my midwestern city was contracting severely so I took a position on the west coast. Since my wife is having trouble finding a library job here, we may start looking around some larger west coast cities – one geographic area looks promising. I love my current job, and my present company does have offices in these cities of interest.

        • I sure can relate Jim. I love programming as a creative art/science, but have been so thoroughly turned off by the corporate world that I would never work for another one again:

  9. I currently work in an academic library, and although I’m at circulation, I do much more than ask for your student id (serves as a library card too). We’re the first ones students, faculty, staff and community users see and often do as much reference work as the reference librarians and as much computer troubleshooting as the computer help staff. It is different everyday because I never know what people will need help finding–books and articles on engineering, on pediatric nursing, on criminal justice, information about Emily Dickinson and Chinua Achebe to help with the basics (English and math). Last semester I had a student ask me for books and articles about surgery and after feeling like I’d turned into a prosecutor (is this for a class assignment, what kind of surgery, etc.) I finally pulled up some articles and directed her to several books (medical as well as career) that could give her an overview. Many times students don’t know what they need and part of my job is to figure that out and point them in the right directions.

    I love Nick’s idea of browsing not necessarily to find something specific but just to look and see what you can find. I also like the idea of taking a library vacation–and wish that more students at the community college where I work would do that instead of relying on the internet (we teach research classes so students know how to use the internet better) or waiting until the last minute to begin their assignments.

    Even though our first priority is students, those who aren’t members of the college community use our library. There’s a bigger public library just down the street from us, but they get more attention from us. Ask us questions, ask us for help–it is what we do!

    We, too, face constant budget cuts and far too many politicians think libraries are obsolete because “everyone has computers and smartphones and you can get whatever you want from Amazon”. We have students who can’t afford computers and thus use ours. We have students who commute to campus from towns that don’t have broadband or where the only places they can get internet connection is at the library, which may only be open 10 hours per week. We won a grant and now have Chromebooks and Hot Spots to lend out to students. They’re thrilled, and we’re hoping to be able to buy more.

    I’m going to share Nick’s Q&A with my colleagues–it is nice to be recognized for what we do AND for acknowledging that most people need help with the internet and wading through sources.

  10. Definitely sounds like a good idea. I probably would go off on tangents too easily though since I love books and magazines and have many interests.

    One big difference between the Internet and a library and librarian is that the Internet is available 24/7/365.

    I would also like to recommend the services of Pathfinders Career Design ( You take an aptitude/personality test and then spend an hour in person or via Skype with Anthony to discuss the test results and careers that would be a good match based on the results. It does cost money though. Note to Nick: I’m just a satisfied customer. I will not benefit in any way from making this endorsement.

  11. I went to my local library (Toronto Public Library) but all they could offer me was Scott’s Business Directory. It is very useful but I’m looking forward to exploring the city’s reference branch–I’m hoping they still have the various industrial periodicals, and not just online.

  12. I just got the book mentioned in this article, ” Six Degrees: The science of a connected age.” This book is a great read for anyone interested in understanding why social networking delivers great results to the job seeker. Nick, thanks so much for sharing this info.

    • @Jason: “Six Degrees” is a hidden gem of a book! Glad to hear you like it!