Further Questions: Would you Hire Someone Without Library Experience for a Librarian Position?

Welcome to a new Hiring Librarians feature, which looks at a single hiring issue from multiple perspectives.

This week’s question, inspired by comments and tweets following this post, is:

Would you hire someone for a librarian position if s/he had no library experience? If yes, under what circumstances? If not, why not?

Barbara Stripling

I would hire someone without experience, but not without ideas.  I expect any new graduate to come to an interview armed with high-quality projects completed in school or at least firm ideas about beliefs, vision, goals, and strategies.  I expect anyone I am interviewing to have self-confidence that he or she can build an effective library program.  I also need to know that the applicant can get along well with others, so if there are no job references, then I would hope to see other references to contact, recommendation letters from college professors, volunteer or student teaching experience, or some other way to determine the applicant’s ability to work with others and contribute to an organization.

– Barbara Stripling, Asst. Professor of Practice at Syracuse University iSchool, Former Hirer of School Librarians

Marleah AugustineI do more hiring for librarian assistants (more of a page/clerk/shelver/desk work position). If the individual had previous customer service experience, I would consider that in lieu of library experience. Additionally, if they had no library experience but they answered the library-specific questions in the interview well, then I would consider them. Now, for an actual librarian position, I would expect at the very least some library work experience at a lower level, or an MLS.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Yes, I have hired someone for a librarian position who had no library experience. It was for a part time position at an institution that most librarians from outside the province may not even have heard of. It actually ended up being the one of those “beggars can’t be choosers” situations.  We received applications from a lot of under qualified librarians (including a hand-written one from a member of the community who felt he was suitable for the position because he loved to read) and it was a very difficult decision because the budget did not allow for more than the 40% part time hours, we were desperate to fill the position and hoped that the relatively new grad without experience would be able to grow with us. And it actually worked out nicely.
 – Anonymous (Public Libraries)
Colleen HarrisIt depends, and having no library experience is a definite severe hurdle. To impress me enough to make it into my pile of maybes, you would have to very clearly and concisely demonstrate to me that the experience you do have is utterly translatable to the library position you want in terms of being able to pick up new software and processes quickly, customer service experience on a front-line service desk, and you would have to have a really, really good reason for never having stepped foot in a library as a volunteer or unpaid intern. You need to do this concisely (cover letters shouldn’t run overlong), with personality, and while connecting yourself to every single one of my required qualifications. It can be done, but it’s rare, and difficult. I’ll also note that it may be easier to land a staff level position with no library experience than a professional librarian position (at least in academic libraries, in my experience across four of them).
(Some background for discouraged seekers with no library experience: The problem nowadays is that the economy is so poor still that you are competing with folks with tons of experience. For instance, a recent  poorly-paying open ILL staff-level position garnered more than 50 applications, at least half of whom had the MLS, there were a handful of MLS/JD and MLS/PhDs, many were from out of state and willing to move – for a  staff level slot! – and there were at least 7 people with significant and immediately transferable ILL experience which is both rare and hard to beat as a non-experienced candidate. All of this stacks up against the no-library-experience candidate in a big way. I don’t mean to discourage, but having an accurate picture of your competition is really important when you’re on the job hunt.)
– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Toby Willis-CampI would hire someone with no library experience if they could showed a good customer service work ethic, a dedication to learning new skills, and the demonstrated ability to commit to something (a job, volunteer experience, degree program, etc.)  Sometimes you have to be willing to take a risk on someone that doesn’t have all the skills on your list, but they come to the interview with new ideas and a true passion for the organization’s goals and how they would work within those goals.  I’ve had people take chances by hiring me for jobs I wasn’t exactly qualified for so I feel that I should pay it forward where appropriate.
– Toby Willis-Camp, Director of Libraries for The Law Society of Saskatchewan
John StachaczThe answer is depends….I’ll gamble on someone who I think may be very good.
– John C. Stachacz, Dean, Farley Library, Wilkes University
I would definitely hire someone with no library experience for a library assistant position. I would not rule out hiring someone without library experience for a librarian position, but in this environment it would be very difficult for them to be successful. We work in a high stress, short deadline kind of environment and sometimes there are just no spare seconds to answer questions. There is also a steep learning curve. In order to be considered, the person should be smart, willing to learn, be customer service oriented and be committed to working as part of a team. I would not hire someone who had no library experience and no MLS even if they had a JD unless I was forced to do so. If you want to work in a law library, work as a library assistant, so you can see how the processes work and learn the terminology.
– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP
Marge Loch-WoutersI would consider hiring someone who has no library experience (and I am assuming no MLIS) if their skill set closely matched what we are looking for and I felt that the candidate would bring something to the position that we were sorely lacking and were not finding in our MLIS candidates applying.  I would be aware that the training for the new hire would be much more time and information intensive to help them develop library skills/philosophy (intellectual freedom; information access; service equity; programming and service philosophy; daily oversight/understanding of library processes and reference and reader’s advisory, etc etc). They would not be paid at the level of an MLIS hire – the degree definitely improves the wage no matter how much MLIS librarians complain about low salaries.
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
Photo of Daveta CooperOur library requires the MLIS degree, although some institutions will accept work experience in lieu, so the degree would be a requirement. Most degree programs now require some kind of coop or intern experience in order to graduate, so I would consider that library experience. I would hire someone with the degree but without library experience if they had experience that demonstrated an ability to solve problems through research, or deal with people in difficult situations, or if they possessed technology expertise that the organization lacked. In hiring customer service paraprofessionals I have observed that the best employees often have had successful retail rather than library  experience.
– Daveta Cooper, Library Manager,Technical Services, Benicia Public Library
Yes, if they are able to produce acceptable AARC2/MARC21 records in English and French.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging
Terry Ann Lawler
Yes, I would hire someone with no library experience.  There is a wealth of experience to be had at other jobs in other industries.  If, for example, I was looking for a storytime presenter, I might pass on someone with 15 years of cataloging experience in favor of someone with 15 years of grade-school teaching experience, MLSs being equal.  It all depends on two things: 1) what I need as far as job duties and 2) who you’re up against.  I certainly would pick someone with 15 years of actual library storytime experience over the above two examples.
– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
Laurie PhillipsI would, in general, not hire someone who had no library experience. I think it would be odd for someone to decide to become a librarian if he or she had never worked in a library. That said, we did not require library experience for the position I recently posted. We would have looked at someone who had publishing experience or had worked for a vendor, but a person in that position would really have to work hard to sell his or her experience and skills for the position. That is key. Too many people use the cover letter to reiterate their resume. What they need to do is to use the cover letter to show how their skills and experience fit the position being advertised.
– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans
Thank you so much to these Hiring Librarians for answering my question!
If  you would like to participate in this feature as a manager, the manager or director of a manager, a member of a search committee, a hiring committee member, a human resources professional, or a hirer of librarians in some other capacity, please contact me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.
If you are a job hunter with question suggestions, send ’em to me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.
Thanks for reading!  The comments are open and waiting for your opinions.


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

5 responses to “Further Questions: Would you Hire Someone Without Library Experience for a Librarian Position?

  1. The explanation Colleen Harris gives is very useful, especially when trying to explain to people who haven’t job hunted in years why it is taking so long for me to get hired. Specific numbers carry more weight than a general “there are too many applicants for each position.”


  2. Pingback: Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

  3. Pingback: Further Questions: Would you hire someone for a librarian position if s/he had no library experience? | Hiring Librarians

  4. Pingback: Job Experience Outside of Libraries is Valuable – hls

  5. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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