Have You Voted? Barbara Stripling Talks about Hiring Librarians

It’s election time!  Barbara Stripling and Gina Millsap, our two ALA presidential candidates, have graciously agreed answer a few questions about their thoughts on ALA’s role in library hiring AND take the survey. Voting will be open through April 27th. Visit this page for more details.

Barbara Stripling

Barbara Stripling has done something we haven’t yet seen on Hiring Librarians: as a former Director of both Chattanooga’s Library Power program and New York City’s Office of School Library Services, she has hired school librarians!  She also brings an Academic perspective, based on her current experiences as a faculty member helping prepare Syracuse University library students for their futures. Ms. Stripling is running on a platform of transformation and empowerment.  I will let her tell you more about it.  If you have questions, you can find more information on her website or you can post them in the comments and she will address them as time allows.

Questions about ALA:

In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?

I see ALA’s role in five main areas:

  1. Professional development.
  • ALA can offer a robust array of professional development opportunities, in both face-to-face and virtual venues.  This professional development should target all levels of expertise, all different areas of librarianship, and the latest issues in the field.  Professional development is a powerful way for ALA to support our members in positioning themselves as the most qualified applicants for a library position.
  • Certification programs offered through ALA-APA provide an opportunity for librarians and library workers to earn a certificate of advanced studies, which provides a public validation of quality and should influence hiring decisions.  I hope that ALA can continue to develop certification programs in other areas, for example, young adult librarianship.
  1. Opportunities for leadership development.
  • ALA can offer many opportunities for members to build their leadership skills, both in producing high-quality collaborative work on committees and task forces (which becomes a part of a member’s body of work) and in taking a leadership role as a member or officer of a committee or task force.
  1. Networking, job fairs/interviews, support for resume building.
  • The personal networks and relationships that can be formed through ALA are powerful ways to find new job opportunities.  ALA holds job fairs and interviews, as well as opportunities for guidance in resume development, at its conferences.  These can be very effective in connecting to the jobs that are available and developing effective interview and application skills.
  1. National advocacy, lobbying.
  • ALA has a big role to play in setting a national landscape of support for libraries and librarians.  Part of that role is advocacy with strategic partners and government.  Another part of that responsibility is strong lobbying for legislation that supports the value of librarians (for example, the reauthorization of ESEA to include school librarians).
  1. Support for local advocacy, lobbying.
  • ALA must provide materials, information, and strategies so that librarians can advocate and lobby effectively at the local level where hiring decisions are made.

How can ALA serve unemployed librarians?  Please name specific programs or services that exist, or that you would like to see enacted.

ALA offers a number of services to help unemployed librarians.  ALA Placement Services offers online job lists, opportunities for employers to post a job and communicate directly with applicants, workshops and webinars, employment blogs and guides, space and support for interviews at conferences, and a connection to the resume review services of NMRT.

NMRT is the unit of ALA that provides the most robust support for unemployed librarians, including workshops at conferences, mentoring and networking connections, and support for the whole process of searching for a job.

Because of the nature of hiring for school libraries (school librarians are hired locally by school districts who don’t have any connection to ALA and don’t usually advertise openings beyond their local community), ALA does not support job seeking in school libraries very well.  Jobs are occasionally listed on the listserv of AASL.  The personal networking that is made possible through ALA is helpful to unemployed school librarians, but not enough.

One possible avenue of increasing the awareness of job openings is for ALA to work with the state chapters to elicit announcements of open positions.  State chapters are often aware of vacancies within the state.  Then ALA should set up an active database that can be searched by type of position/library and by state.  For school librarians, the database can be supplemented by tapping in to the supervisors’ section of AASL.

To further support the unemployed, ALA should pursue research and advocacy around the value of libraries and librarians.  That information should be readily available to anyone who needs to justify the hiring of librarians to boards, administrators, government officials, or the community.

How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?  Please name specific programs or services that exist, or that you would like to see enacted.

I have several ideas about how ALA can and does support library students.  The Committee on Accreditation is especially important, because the work of that committee ensures that every accredited library program offers a substantive and high-quality education.  There is no substitute for situating library students for future employment.

ALA offers other opportunities as well, including reduced membership fees and conference fees so that students can participate fully in ALA experiences, mentorship, internship on various committees, new member guidance and support, and support for library educators.  ALA encourages graduate schools to form student chapters of ALA, and those chapters provide opportunities for professional development, networking, mentorship, and leadership development.

ALA can do more to support library students in their preparation for their careers.  First, ALA needs to be more inclusive of the voices and opinions of library students.  They are the future of the profession and what they know and care about matters to all of us.  In my campaign for the ALA presidency, I have been conducting a series of virtual town hall meetings with graduate student chapters.  I would hope to continue those connections if I am elected president.  Second, we need to develop many ways for library students to contribute their ideas and expertise to ALA.  They will be developing their leadership skills at the same time.  These opportunities might include the appointment of library students to task forces about specific issues, the nurturing of interest groups, increased opportunities for presentations and poster sessions at conferences, and mentorship and new venues for professional publishing.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy?

I tried to lay out my presidential focus on my website (http://www.barbarastripling.org), but I will emphasize some of that content here.  I am focusing on Transforming Libraries, Empowering Individuals, and Transforming Communities.  Libraries are on the cusp of greatness.  We must seize the moment by re-defining ourselves and capturing the exciting possibilities offered by technology and social media; the explosion of information; and the challenges of maintaining a strong democracy while nourishing the expression of diverse viewpoints.
Strengthen ALA support for transformation process

  • Foster a dialogue that engages all ALA members.
  • Promote integration of electronic content, technology, and future trends through flexible and rapid research and response.
  • Support sharing of innovative practices.
  • Strengthen connections among all divisions and types of library.
  • Build coalitions and relationships with external agencies.

Champion the values of intellectual freedom, equitable access to information, and democratic conversation

  • Promote a public agenda for intellectual freedom and privacy; support members in implementing these values.
  • Demand equitable access to information, technology, and infrastructure, particularly in our most underserved rural and urban areas.
  • Actively provoke civic engagement by fostering conversations among diverse members of our constituencies.

Empower community voices

  • Support the leadership and training of youth librarians for school and public libraries.
  • Implement a national agenda to strengthen school libraries.
  • Enable librarians and library workers to engage all constituencies within their communities and design services with their community members.

Foster diversity in library leadership

  • Strengthen opportunities for mentoring and leadership development, both as professionals in the field and as ALA leaders.
  • Develop strategies for increasing the diversity of librarians in the field and in leadership positions in ALA.

Build a strong ALA voice and a public will for libraries

  • Support a strategic legislative agenda.
  • Engage ALA members and our communities in advocating for transformed libraries.

Questions from the survey:

What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

I think the top three things I look for are:

  1. Clear vision of role.  I expect a librarian to focus on the user/student and to demonstrate an understanding of how libraries impact the user.  I expect the candidate to convince me that librarianship is not just a job; it is a profession about which the candidate is passionate.  Finally, for school librarians, I expect the vision to include teaching.
  2. Interpersonal relationships and communication.  In an interview, I am looking for the candidate’s ability to listen, be respectful and thoughtful, show an openness to collaboration, and display self-confidence and a sense of humor.
  3. Evidence of effective practice.  I will be looking for evidence of effective practice, either practice that has happened in the past (conveyed through verbal responses and/or a portfolio) or practice that the candidate envisions for him or herself in the future.  I want to hear specific examples of how the candidate would bring vision and theory to life.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

I do have dealbreakers, but not actually a list of them.  In the past, I have crossed a candidate off the list if he or she displayed no passion for librarianship, showed too much ego or arrogance, focused totally on resources rather than services and instruction, made disparaging remarks about a current or former employer or colleague, or referred me to a personal website that was not professional.  Although I do not actively seek Facebook or blog pages, I will look at them if the candidate provides the link.  I will not hire anyone who presents him or herself in a flippant or sarcastic way.

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

I can’t think of anything.

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?

The following is a short list of some things that I have seen on resumes occasionally, but not consistently.  I like to see resumes that include:

  • Publications, presentations
  • Involvement in professional organizations
  • Areas of responsibility listed for each previous job
  • Internship experiences, especially if never had a job
  • References

How many pages should a cover letter be?

 √ Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

As many as it takes, I want to look at every accomplishment

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

Other: No (I assume that their objective is to get the job I’m hiring for.  If that is not their objective, then I likely will not hire them – so they are definitely better off just skipping the objective.)

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

As an attachment only

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

I have already listed some of the characteristics that I look for, but I am “won over” by the following:

  • Honesty about strengths, areas in which to grow
  • Ability to listen and respond in a focused way to questions
  • A sense of humor
  • Preparation – the candidate has done his or her homework by reading the website, application, and any other materials to find out what I’m looking for and what I consider to be top priority
  • Self-confidence without arrogance

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

The most common mistakes I have seen are that the candidate talks too much, doesn’t answer the questions asked, and doesn’t show how his or her strengths will fulfill what I need.

How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?

The greatest change I have seen in school library hiring is a hiring freeze, so that no one outside of the district can be hired for a vacancy.  The district instituted this policy to avoid laying off current employees while it was dealing with terrible budget cuts.  The change that I instigated was to set the performance expectations higher, to develop some reflective practice instruments so that librarians could get a clearer picture of where they might shine and where they need to grow, and to talk to principals about the responsibilities of a school librarian so that when they hired, they asked the right questions and hired the most capable people.

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

First, please don’t get discouraged.  This is a great time for libraries and librarians and the job market will pick up.  Be flexible in the type of position you accept – maybe it’s not exactly what you want or in exactly the place you were hoping for, but you can make it a very positive and enriching experience.  Get that first job, even if you have to compromise a little.  Once you have that experience, you can move on to a position that is closer to your area of expertise.

Be willing to learn.  No employer expects a new employee to know everything already, but every employer expects that the new employee will jump right in and learn everything it takes to do an outstanding job.

Be willing to start at the bottom.  You will not walk into a situation that has perfect hours or ideal job responsibilities.  No matter what position it is, do the absolutely best job that you can.  You will develop confidence in your own ability and respect from your colleagues and supervisors.  The advancement will come.

I’d like to thank Ms. Stripling for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly! I encourage you to visit her website, or to use the comments section to ask any questions you might have. Most of all though, I encourage you to make your voice heard and VOTE!

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