It’s election time! Gina Millsap and Barbara Stripling, 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.
Gina Millsap brings a perspective gained in more than twenty-five years of hiring for libraries to this interview. She is the current CEO of the Topeka and Shawnee County Public Library, and has also been a library director. She has been recognized for her leadership as a 2007 Mover & Shaker, and a past president of LLAMA (the Library Leadership and Management Association). Ms. Millsap’s candidacy is based in her desire to expand ALA’s tradition of service to members, to make progress on issues such as e-books and digital content, and to ensure that the value of libraries is deeply understood in our communities. 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?
ALA’s primary responsibility is to serve its members and demonstrate the tangible value of membership through programs and services. An important part of that is assisting its members in achieving their career goals. ALA provides very good information on job searching, has a clearinghouse for job postings and offers placement services at conferences. Those are all key aspects of finding the right job.
That isn’t the whole picture and what is confusing and perhaps frustrating for many librarians who are looking for their next career opportunity is the myriad channels (beyond ALA) in which jobs are advertised. There are a number of variables affecting someone’s ability to find that perfect job, depending on library type, alternative connections (for instance to other professional associations) and the policies and practices of the particular institution that is hiring.
One possibility is for ALA to look at the other job and career information and services that have developed over the years – many times by innovative librarians working on their own initiative (like this blog) — and begin to fill in the gaps in its own services.
There also needs to be information on and best practices for hiring on the library side. It doesn’t work if librarians and other library job seekers are following best professional practices as an applicant and the institutions they are applying to don’t have excellent recruitment and hiring practices in place. And that happens too often.
Having hired a number of librarians, managers and library staff over the years, I believe that libraries and their parent institutions, whether that’s local government, a school district or a university, have a responsibility to review and improve their recruitment and hiring practices. I’ve been an applicant myself enough times to know how inconsistent the library job market is in its treatment of applicants. The experience can be professional and inspiring or it can be unresponsive and discouraging.
I think ALA can also facilitate the hiring process for employers by developing information and standards for recruiting and hiring librarians and other library professionals.
How can ALA serve unemployed librarians? Please name specific programs or services that exist, or that you would like to see enacted.
I’ve already mentioned that ALA provides information on job searching, a clearinghouse for job postings and offers placement services at conferences. Something else to consider would be year-round, digital placement services. We joke about sites like match.com and eharmony, but the technology does exist to help connect librarians with prospective library employers.
Job counseling and testing are other components of a comprehensive approach to helping people and organizations find the right people.
And building a network and making contacts is also how some of the best jobs are obtained. ALA offers ALA Connect as a means of helping members develop online relationships and learn more about each other. It has been a challenge to get the membership to embrace it the way many professionals have, say, Linkedin.
So, what are the possibilities of incorporating more Linkedin-type features to ALA Connect, to incentivize the use of member communities? Let’s explore that. It’s also possible to build on the success of existing online networking systems. What if ALA developed a formal relationship with Linkedin to establish a networking site for the library profession?
Here’s another one — job fairs. I’m aware of at least one ALA roundtable, the Federal and Armed Forces Libraries Round Table, that has sponsored a successful job fair in the past two years.
So, there are many ideas worth discussing and some worth piloting. I’d welcome the opportunity to help facilitate those efforts.
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 frequently say that those of us who currently lead and manage in libraries of all types are the second-tier clientele for library schools. All three states I’ve live and worked in have ALA-accredited graduate library school programs. And, yet, I’ve never been asked what I look for and why I would hire a new library school graduate, especially one with little or no library work experience.
Clearly, the accreditation process for library school programs that ALA oversees is a critical part of assuring that library education is serving the interests of library students and the institutions they may work for. I also think there needs to be a bigger feedback loop that includes employers that lets library schools know how they’re doing, so that each class of faculty and students has a better idea of how to educate a librarian who is ready for the workplace.
Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy?
ALA has an ambitious and on-target strategic plan that runs through 2015. It provides a broad blueprint for some of the issues, ideas and possible initiatives I’ve mentioned. I am an experienced facilitator and would love the opportunity to draw on the collective expertise of our association to continuously improve the environment for library job seekers and libraries looking to hire the best our profession has to offer.
For more information on what I would do to serve our members and our profession as ALA president, please visit www.ginajmillsap.com
Questions from the Survey
What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?
- a passion for libraries and the difference they make in communities
- the ability to work in a team environment, where adaptability and capacity to be flexible and manage change well are essential
- a commitment to customer service and continuous improvement
Do you have any instant deal breakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?
- Failure to read or meet minimum qualifications
- Failure to follow simple directions or answer questions. If we ask for a completed application, cover letter and resume, please do it.
- Submitting what is clearly a form letter or resume that has not been developed or adapted for the specific job being applied for.
What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?
Resumes that are just chronological lists of jobs. I want to see what you know and what you can do. Tell me about projects you’ve done — even as a volunteer and/or student or intern. Tell me how that’s better prepared you for the job you’re applying for.
Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?
Graphics or a sidebar that highlight the one thing you want me to remember about you.
How many pages should a cover letter be?
√ Only one!
How many pages should a resume/CV be?
√ Two is ok, but no more
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?
If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?
√ Both as an attachment and in the body of the email
What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?
Come prepared — dress professionally, have done a lot of research about the library so you know why you’re the best candidate, and so that you can reference specific examples (e.g. the library’s strategic plan, the services offered) when answering questions. When information is so readily available through the web, lack of preparation isn’t acceptable.
What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?
Not preparing or doing the background research on the library. Talking too much or not enough. Making assertions of skills and abilities, but not backing them up with real life examples.
How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?
We do what we call organizing around the work, so we don’t often do a one-to-one replacement of an existing position. We evaluate each position as it comes open to determine if it’s needed and how it will contribute to the library’s strategic goals. We are also much more likely to do an executive recruiter-type hiring process in which we identify the people we think are library “rock stars” in particular areas, or in other professions, if it’s a non-librarian position. We identify and pursue the people we want to work with.
Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?
Right now we’re graduating more entry level librarians than there are entry level librarian positions. Many of the available jobs are in supervisory or management level positions. Don’t automatically rule those out, and if you’re in library school right now, make sure that the curriculum is helping you gain some knowledge and skills about organizational effectiveness and management. And let’s face it, there’s no replacement for experience, so volunteer, find a mentor and work with your professors to ensure you’re getting what you need in leadership and management training.
For more experienced librarians who are unemployed, or looking for that next professional opportunity, find a mentor and challenge yourself by volunteering for projects or activities that aren’t in your current job description. The librarians I hire have to demonstrate initiative, energy and the ability to lead and facilitate excellence in themselves and others, as well as the theory and practice of library and information science.