Further Questions: Does participation in the ALA Think Tank Facebook group hurt a candidate’s chances?

This question was inspired by the ennui of Andy Woodworth.  In his holiday post, he asserts that people who hire librarians will be reluctant to hire applicants who are members of the ALA Think Tank FaceBook group**.  

**One thing that I did not make clear to respondents, but that we should all know and understand, is that ALA Think Tank is not affiliated with the actual ALA.

Would participation in ALA Think Tank hurt a candidate’s chances with you? Why or why not?  (Feel free to say, “What’s ALA Think Tank?”)

Jacob BergMembership in the ALA Think Tank Facebook group won’t hurt a candidate in my eyes, but participation is another story. Ninety-five percent of what goes on in that group is fine by me, so if you use the group to “make it happen” and get ideas/feedback/discuss the issues of the day, that’s great. But the remaining five percent gives me a great deal of pause. If your participation in ALA Think Tank includes making fun of South Asians, being sexist and using the group to create gendered spaces, subtweeting and bickering with your peers as if librarianship is junior high school, and generally acting like a “drunken embarrassment,” then yes, participation in the group is going to hurt a candidate’s chances with me.
Feel free to quote me in full and put my name on that, noting that I belong to said Facebook group and have been critical of it in the past.
-Jacob Berg, Director of Library Services,  Trinity Washington University

Marge Loch WoutersWould participation in any online group, among them ALA Think Tank (btw, not associated with ALA), hurt a candidate’s chances with me? No. Can an inability to be collegial, reasoned and supportive of colleagues on any public forum on social media hurt a candidates chances with me? Most definitely.

You know in college, how many people changed their name so they could say whatever they wanted without fear of fall-out from hiring managers when they graduated and got suddenly grown-up? Well, the same set of protocols really apply here. The biggest difference is, you are playing in a pool with librarians (a VERY small world) who are known for research skills (yes we can link back about twenty ways to the real you and don’t think we don’t) and who are networked into each other with iron webbing. Like many hiring managers and librarians active on social media, I keep my fingers in many groups. Those who can’t play well together are noted.

I suggest the same rule to candidates who post as I do to those who are active while they are on work time: the expectation is that you will represent yourself professionally. Flame wars, snark, inability to argue logically and cogently, name calling and other poor behaviors put a candidate at high risk in our hiring process. Why would I want to saddle our institution with that kind of personality? Work life is challenging enough.

- Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

angelynn king

Ha ha.

What IS ALA think tank?

- Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

I don’t know anything about the ALA Think Tank.  If a candidate talked about their experiences, I’d look it up and find out some information.  I don’t think it would matter so much what the Think Tank does so much as what the candidate did while involved: marketing?  Working in groups? Organizing people or information?

The only thing that would make me dubious is I think the ALA operates with an ideal idea of what public libraries are; I would be worried that anyone coming from ALA would have not enough actual library experience and the first few months would be tough for them (and for us).

- Anonymous

First, I really don’t think membership in ALATT belongs on someone’s resume, I’m wondering if Andy was only pondering this or if some have actually done this. That being said, it would be fairly easy to find out if someone was a regular poster in the Facebook group.
I wouldn’t judge someone solely on their claimed “membership” in the ALATT. But I would check to see what kind of posts that the candidate made there. Is everything a joke? Do they tear down others? Are they dismissive of the profession? I wouldn’t want someone who is careless with their public social media persona to work for my organization.
I’d be pleased to see if a candidate has posted and contributed to the community in a useful way. I believe ALATT was originally created to connect people and ideas in the profession, and there are some who continue to use it that way. They should not be punished for the poor choices that others have made in an enormous unmoderated forum.
Disclaimer: I was once a member, but left in early 2013. There was too much drama for my tastes, and reading all the posts to find the useful bits became too tiring.
- Anonymous

Dusty Snipes GresWould I hire someone with ALA Think Tank on a resume? Sure. Would they want to come and work for me after having participated in something like that? Probably not. I am old school and old fogey and it is pretty obvious when I interview someone. Not that I am against innovative and forward-thinking  staff. But, I do have to deal with reality and so do my librarians.  And reality is little money, few staff members, and lots of patrons who want lots of services and are rather testy when they don’t get what they want, when they want it.  If a librarian can be innovative and forward-thinking and still deal with that kind of reality, I am all for them!

- Dusty Gres, Director, Ohoopee Regional Library System

Participation in the ALA’s Think Tank would not automatically make a person less desirable during the hiring stage.  I do look at candidates online presence when considering someone.  But I look at the whole picture not just one portion of their participation.  If they participated in some kind of controversial or any other kind of  discussion on Think Tank, I would be interested in their kind of participation – were they a bully or voice of reason.  I would also look at the rest of their online presence to see if these are similar traits (good or bad ones) everywhere.  The general picture might influence me, but not just one forum.

- Anonymous (Oregon)

No, participation in that group would not hurt anyone’s chances to be hired.

I do google applicants (I think hiring personnel are stupid not to these days). If the nature of their social media postings was constantly negative or unprofessional, that would influence hiring decisions, no matter what social media site they were on.

But if someone contributed to healthy discussion and showed knowledge about what’s going on in libraries these days, then their participation would probably be an asset—so it could work both ways!

-Anonymous

Yes, I would advocate that ALA Think Tank would not hurt a candidate’s chances. I feel it is a wonderful forum for networking and benefits librarians more than not.

- Howard C. Marks, Director of Library Services, Western Texas College

There’s such a difference between cultures, organizations, and hiring managers that no one should count on being treated consistently when applying for a job.  My hope is that librarians working in a position of authority are putting aside prejudices and opinions for the good of the enterprise when they hire people (ever read the ALA Code of Ethics?).  On the flip side, I expect staff to put personal opinions aside when working.  Not hiring someone who participated in a think tank because of the discussions and debates held there?  Ridiculous!

- Nancy G. Faget, Federal Librarian

judy schwartzI looked up the ALA Think Tank to find out what it is, as I didn’t know. I can’t imagine why a hiring person would automatically discount either a Think Tank member, OR a Mover/Shaker.
I WANT a librarian who thinks, questions, follows through, comes up with innovative ideas – even those so far out I could never have imagined them myself. At the same time, my choice for a library team member has to know – or be willing to learn – how to actually BE a team player. Not be a person who is so focused as to run roughshod over others, including me! Not someone who doesn’t know how to listen, or give ear to other ideas, but someone who does know how to listen, how to temper their knowledge and / or past accomplishments – someone who brings valuable KSA to enhance and expand our services.I’ve been a librarian sine 1999, and a boss since 2000. We’ve grown from .5 library tech, .5 MLS and me (MLS), full time for 450 FTE students in 2000, to three FT librarians and three half time librarians and me, for an FTE number hovering around 1000. We have approximately 1400 full and part time students, another location, and three additional programs in the last 10 years.
We’ve weeded much of the print collection, removed shelving and combination desk parts to free up room for more tables/chairs to increase quiet study space, AND increased the type and number of electronic resources and tools to use them.
It’s been a good ride.
- Judy Schwartz, Senior Director of Library Services, Trocaire College

Really, it’s like Newlib and Nextgen back in the day. Sometimes people absolutely make themselves unhireable with what they have to say. Usually in the context of attacking other posters. And not everyone thinks that is fair. There were a few flameouts on those boards where someone consistently vicious was informed that their name would be remembered and there was shock and outrage about how the forum should be a safe zone where anything goes.

But as managers, we have a responsibility to both our patrons and our staff to not hire known jerks. Not to mention other ethical weaknesses.

That said, just being one of the general 5,000 on ALATT is not a negative. Yes, there has been some very bad behavior on there. And there always will be. But again, 5,000 people on the internet. I’m at a library of 35 people in the middle of nowhere. The range of experiences on there is invaluable. I don’t have many alternative networks, and that is true for many participants. Absolutely there are individuals on there who I wouldn’t consider bringing on board. But I don’t hold anything against the group.

I would roll my eyes a little at someone putting it on their resume or application as professional development/participation/etc but that wouldn’t actually be a mark against. Especially someone entry level.

- Kristen Northrup Head, Technical Services & State Document Depository North Dakota State Library

I’m not familiar with ALA Think Tank. I do search around online to see a candidate’s online reputation before considering the candidate for an interview.

- Anonymous

Jason GrubbParticipation in an ALA Think Tank would not hurt a candidate’s chances with our organization, but I’m not sure it would help it either unless participation resulted in something tangible, i.e., a new service, process, way of doing things. Membership alone in something with name recognition doesn’t interest us. We hire innovative doers. A proven track record of success speaks louder than membership.

- Jason Grubb, Director, Sweetwater County Library System

Everything else being equal on resumes, I think my director would be impressed. Depending on who else was on the search committee, some people might feel threatened.
-Anonymous

I live and work in a very conservative community. I am not at all a conservative person. That said, what is important to me is being effective in my job. That means that I put the principles and mission of the library before my own wants, needs and, yes,  personal expression.  I don’t share my thoughts on politics or religion in my workplace – not with my coworkers or the public.  I believe, based on the careful observations I have made of the community where I am working, that I need to stay very neutral so that ANYONE in the community I serve can feel comfortable asking me for information or help on ANY topic. And that happens. Because I live in a small community, that means I don’t show up at political rallies or functions very often at all. I would never write a letter to the newspaper espousing a strong personal opinion.  I think that potential library hires need to think about what sort of culture they can tolerate in a workplace.  The super-liberal enclaves in the USA are not very abundant and the library jobs there are competitive. Which means that even in these places potential hires will need to put their library skills on display more than their opinions.  I have tailored every resume I have ever written to match what I think (based on research)the needs and skillsets might be of the workplace with which I am seeking employment. That means that even though I am on a statewide intellectual freedom committee, I might not put that on certain library resumes.  I realize it could work against me.  Some people couldn’t tolerate that sort of work culture and I really understand that. It’s NOT easy.  Years ago I attended a lecture where Sanford “Sandy” Berman, the renowned liberal cataloger from Minnesota was talking about workplace freedom of speech.  What I gathered from that is that librarians protect freedom of speech for others. But in doing so, we rarely secure it for ourselves. Do I think that should change?  Yes and no. As conservative as it sounds, I actually think that staying neutral – working hard to be skillful conduits of information – is more valuable than espousing viewpoints that may be considered outspoken, radical, or otherwise highly personal.

- Anonymous

Celia RabinowitzThe short answer to this question is “no.”  I am a member of ALATT and I am sure there are at least a few other director, manager, supervisor types among the over 5,000 members. Posts and responses are often informative, provocative, and sometimes just silly.  I don’t agree with every opinion I read.  I would not expect to see ALATT, or any other FB group, appear on a candidate’s resume.  Right?  Andy Woodworth mentions the liability of having ALATT participation on a resume.  I’m having a hard time figuring out why anyone would put the ALATT or any other Facebook group on a resume. Don’t do it.

So – either a candidate mentions their participation during an interview or a search committee goes looking.  I might do a Google search on a candidate, but it had never occurred to me to get on Facebook to check the ALATT membership, and I read most of the posts.  But I am interested in who you are as a candidate and why you want to join my library.  Unless you have posted that you hate college students and the water (see http://www.smcm.edu) I’m not sure you ALATT contributions will turn me off.

The same guidelines apply here as to all social media.  Join, make virtual friends, get advice, voice opinions, and yes, post that photo of your Friday night libation of choice.  But be smart.  Your next hiring manager might be lurking.

- Celia Rabinowitz, Director of the Library, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

It wouldn’t hurt a candidate’s chances just by belonging to the group. I am the only MLS in our system, even our director doesn’t have one, and my pay doesn’t reflect my education and experience.  With that in mind, I would be surprised if anyone of that caliber would even apply for a position in our system, let alone a position for which I would be hiring!

- Holly Parker, Thayne Branch Librarian, Lincoln County Libraries

1. “What’s ALA Think Tank?”

2. After a tiny bit of research, I certainly wouldn’t assume that participation in ALA’s Think Tank was a negative (at least they’re paying attention and are involved in ALA!). But if someone listed their participation in Think Tank on their resume, it’s fair game to view any public version of that participation (as it is with anything listed on a resume). So hopefully their participation would be professional, appropriate, thoughtful, and in the interest of making contributions to advance the profession and/or ALA and thus reflect well on their candidacy.

3. I would expect the candidate to be able to field questions about the value and controversies around Think Tank in conversation during interview. Why do you think some people view Think Tank as a negative? Why are you a participant?

- Anonymous

Although this question is specific to the ALA Think Tank, I believe it points to the larger issue of how social media can affect hiring decisions.  It seems to me that participation in a social media group such as the Think Tank is fine.  I’m a member of the group on Facebook myself, but I don’t have the time to read many of the discussions.  The only way that participation in this group would hurt a candidate’s chances for employment would be if I or another member of a search committee (we hire by committee at my academic library) discovered a sustained pattern of highly negative or offensive postings in the group.  Note that this line of thinking would apply to *any* social media outlet.  As a hiring manager, it is important to me to know that I hire individuals who will project a positive image of our profession generally and of our college specifically.  If I see postings on a social media outlet that are consistently negative, contentious, disruptive, or offensive, then I question what that person’s behavior would be like in person, and I also question how that person’s behavior, both in real life and online, would affect the overall morale of my library.

If I could give people in our profession two simple pieces of advice about social media, they would be:

First, keep it positive and keep it professional.

Second, don’t put ANYTHING in an electronic format (email, facebook, twitter, etc.) that you wouldn’t be comfortable having posted on a billboard on the interstate closest to your home.

Follow those two guidelines in your online life, and you’ll have no worries.

-  Elijah Scott, Director of Libraries, Georgia Highlands College

Search committee members at our institution (which usually includes the supervisor) are not charged with looking for online posts by applicants, but they aren’t prevented from doing so either. Information uncovered this way would never be used to disqualify a candidate, but if it raised questions about a potential candidate’s interpersonal skills or work habits, the committee would find a way to explore the topic during phone/campus interviews or in conversations with references. The general issue of a candidate’s online “brand” has come up more than once in the past few years, but never over a post in the ALA Think Tank. So, to answer the question, involvement in the ALA Think Tank or any online venue would not be a deal breaker, but it could get the committee’s attention, and not necessarily in a positive way. I would probably be more concerned about a candidate with no online presence than an ALA Think Tank participant. It is my observation that our best candidates are sophisticated users of social media and know how to manage the image they convey to their professional community.

- Melissa Laning, Associate Dean for Assessment, Personnel & Research, University of Louisville Libraries

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!   Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never commented upon; The flames of Love extinguished, and fully past and commented.

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2 Comments

Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Other Organization or Library Type, Public

2 responses to “Further Questions: Does participation in the ALA Think Tank Facebook group hurt a candidate’s chances?

  1. I’d be really interested to see a quick poll to jobseekers (and others) about whether people really are listing/would list ALATT on their resumes. I’m not a member (I didn’t know what it was before Andy Woodworth’s post), but I can’t imagine listing an informal Facebook group on my resume and wonder if there’s some way to easily find out other views.

  2. Bette

    While at PLA this week, I was witness to three separate conversations about someone on ALA Think Tank that all involved in the conversations agreed they would never under any circumstances want to hire or even work with because of the mentioned person’s behavior on ALATT. Names were mentioned. The same name was mentioned in two of the conversations. Pretend all you want to that this doesn’t affect your career, but you show your ass often and spectacularly enough to 5,000+ people, and you’ve damaged your reputation.

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