Author Archives: Ralph Baylor

Field Notes: A Freelance Librarian?

What the heck is a freelance librarian?  Eighteen months ago I was not sure myself, I had just graduated from my MLIS program and was working two rewarding but part-time jobs in special collection libraries.  The work was paying my bills and put extra cash in my pocket. I was happy but I knew that in my first year of professional work I wanted to get as much experience as possible.  And while my two jobs were different (I was a cataloger in one, a reference librarian in the other), I had the time and interest to pursue other work.  I knew I had a marketable skill set but I did not know if I could use it outside of an institutional collection. I never heard of anyone contracting a librarian.  Though I had my doubts I went tried to see if anyone wanted take me up on work.  I want to share my freelancing experiences and share some useful resources to check out if you decide to strike it out on your own.

After reviewing my employer’s policy on being contracted for outside work and got the approval of my supervisor I was ready to look for work.  Often time institutions have clear policies about employees being contracted out for work, be sure to review these or ask your Human Resources department if there is not a policy in place.  

I began by tapping into my professional network to let them know I was available if someone they knew had need of my expertise in information classification and organization. I also contacted experienced catalogers, whom I met through internships and conferences, to get an idea of what I can charge as a new professional freelancer in the field.  I was not under any pretensions that I could charge what they might have but I also did not want to undervalue my services and by extension my profession. They helped me work out a hourly price that my client also felt was fair and landed my first freelance job organizing and classifying a collector’s books on the history of the book and printing.  I used free software to build a catalog for her personal use.

It was this contact that led me to my next job and while I was not actively seeking out work at that time the opportunity — assisting with creating bibliographic descriptions of text from the early hand-press printed period — was too intriguing to pass up. I saw each contract as a little experiment, a way to try new things in the field and see if I had a desire to pursue them in my career.  

It is important to set clear expectations about what you are getting out of freelancing.  For example, I knew I could not take long-term or intensive jobs. I turned down opportunities when it was especially busy with my steady jobs. In other words, I did not try to become a professional freelancer and I did not let the opportunities presented to be take priority over my main sources of work.  Being honest about my goals allowed myself and my potential clients to hone in on projects that could work for both parties.

Currently, I am finishing up what will be my last project as an independant contractor for the foreseeable future.  I am now employed full-time and that work and my scholarly interests are more of a priority at this time. Besides, this type of work was never meant to be a permanent lifestyle for me.  Despite the complexities that are involved with freelancing, the projects I have undertaken were wonderful. I believe that librarians often lean toward modesty when assessing their skills. The most rewarding thing about freelancing has been the opportunity to discover new things about my value as a librarian and about the value of our profession as a whole.

As information professionals we have a necessary and valued set of hard and soft skills.  However we do not always know how to market our abilities outside the institutional framework. Freelancing was able to get me thinking about how these skills transfer to other types of work.

If you are thinking about freelancing here are a couple of resources you may find interesting, including resources on paying taxes from your earned income.  Don’t forget that you have pay taxes on any income you earn over $400.00 so keep meticulous records.



Association for Information Professionals

Tax Resources

Tools — I used LibraryThing to assist clients with their collections, it is free for private use.

Ralph is the Social Media Coordinator for ArLiSNAP and the Assistant Librarian for Public Services at the Frick Art Reference Library. He runs, he bikes, he thinks about libraries and librarians. You can find him tweeting and sharing pictures about all of those things under the handle @hafabe.

Call for Proposals: ArLiSNAP/VREPS Virtual Conference

ARLISNAP Conference 2016

Proposal deadline has been extended, please submit via this link by Friday, April 8th

ArLiSNAP (Art Library Students and New ARLIS Professionals) and VREPS (Visual Resources Emerging Professionals and Students) are joining forces to host a virtual conference this May! The conference, Future Perspectives in Art Librarianship: Digital Projects and Initiatives, will take place at 12pm CST May 21, 2016. The conference will consist of a keynote speaker followed by 1.5 to 2 hours of presentations by students and new professionals. This is an excellent opportunity for those who cannot be physically present at our annual conferences to share projects and ideas.


Our keynote speaker will be Sara Rubinow. Sara is a Metadata Specialist in the Metadata Services Unit of NYPL Labs, The New York Public Library’s digital innovation unit. Prior to NYPL, Sara worked on projects involving the collections database, digital initiatives, and printed matter at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Sara will discuss her role at NYPL Labs and showcase initiatives intended to engage developers, scholars, artists, and the general public in exploring—and transforming—NYPL’s digital resources and open data sets.


We are looking for students and new professionals with an interest in art librarianship or visual resources management to present their work. The theme for this year’s conference is focused on digital projects and initiatives. Have you been working on a project using technology in a new way? Do you have thoughts to share on topics such as metadata and visual resources, copyright and the arts, digital collections, or visual literacy? Would you like to share your work with the ARLIS and VRA communities? Submit your proposal, and add your voice to our discussion on the future of the field!



  1. Presenters must be MLIS students or new professionals with fewer than five years of experience in the field.
  2. Presentations will be between ten and fifteen minutes in length.
  3. Presenters need to be available for a live presentation and brief Q&A session on the afternoon of Saturday, May 21, 2016. Presenters need to be available for a practice session the week before to test equipment. A date and time for the practice session will be determined at a later date.


Submit your proposal via this link by Friday, April 1st.


If you have any questions about this event, please don’t hesitate to contact Breanne Crumpton, ArLiSNAP Conference Planning Liaison, at becrumpton [at] gmail [dot] com.