Guest Post: Recapping OpenCoverLetters LIVE!

Have you visited OpenCoverLetters?  This site, run by Stephen X. Flynn, presents anonymous cover letters from hired librarians, allowing job hunters to learn from their peers’ examples.  Flynn paired up with Emily Thompson, host of LiTTech, to recreate this resource in real time, face to face, with live persons.  They graciously agreed to recap the experience for today’s guest post.  Please enjoy!

On the June 24 we had the exciting opportunity to present “OpenCoverLetters LIVE!: Writing a Cover Letter that Will Get You Noticed” an interactive workshop on cover letter writing at ALA Annual 2012. This is our summary of what we did, what we learned and what we hope to do next.

What We Prepared:

We prepared a 45 minute presentation and interactive workshop. To facilitate audience participation, we created a traditional packet with a worksheet and 3 example cover letters from and 2 current job ads. For the majority our time, we led attendees through reflective practice exercises, asking the following questions:

• What makes a successful cover letter sing?
• What are the keywords you should look for in a job application?
• What are qualities of the ideal candidate for a given job?
• What are 5 things that make you awesome?


We deliberately blocked out time after the session to allow for individual consultations and conversations.

Why We Did It:

A year ago, we were in the same boat as attendees: applying for dozens of jobs and thus writing dozens of cover letters. We wanted to provide the kind of support and tangible advice to current job-seekers that we would have found useful at the ALA we attended.

Networking is something people usually associate with job seekers, but as hired librarians, we are similarly interested in networking with other librarians, current and future. This workshop provided us an opportunity to meet library job seekers, especially those who had used Open Cover Letters.

As new librarians we also wanted the experience of presenting at a national conference. Now having gone through the cycle of submission, preparation, execution, and post-reflection, we will be even more prepared for future conference presentations, that especially in Emily’s case, will be required for promotion and tenure.

What We Learned:

It’s really hard for people to admit that they’re awesome – including the presenters. We asked everyone to put down five things, but most could only come up with two or three.

If you do a workshop for job seekers, hiring managers might show up and provide valuable discussion points. They added clarification and insight that new librarians like us could easily miss. It also felt great when the comments were more “Yes, and  . . . .” than “You guys are wrong.”

Workshops don’t record well. We wanted to have an audio recording, but since most of the time was spent with smaller groups buzzing in conversation, it’s not very listenable.

Sometimes you don’t need slides in a workshop. We could have just used Poll Everywhere and been good. We had to keep running up to change the slide. It would have been better to just have a space for the attendees to post comments.
Don’t forget to give out your business cards. We had them on the table in front, but we both got so into the workshop that we forgot to invite people to take them.

What We’re Planning for the Future:

At the end of the session we conducted an informal and anonymous assessment. Our most frequent suggestion was for more time: 45 minutes simply flew by. We are exploring ways to expand our workshop to a larger and more diverse audience, and for a longer period of time. We want to give attendees a chance to delve into the process more meaningfully and hone their cover letter writing skills.

Emily Thompson was born in Helena, MT and worked as a costume designer in Texas and an  English teacher in South Korea and Taiwan before she became a librarian. After getting her MSI at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2011, she started as the Learning Technologies Librarian at SUNY Oswego. Now she spends her day exploring apps, researching gadgets, and teaching students how to get the most out of their studies. She also can’t believe she gets paid for such a great job! Her podcast, LiTTech posts every Wednesday at (and you can also find it on iTunes and Stitcher).  You can contact Emily at or on Twitter at @librarianofdoom.


Stephen X. Flynn is the Emerging Technologies Librarian at The College of Wooster.  He founded Open Cover Letters following his own (successful) job search, in order to provide job hunters with something other than generic examples.  The innovative site landed him a place as one of Library Journal’s 2012 Movers & Shakers.  Flynn also earned his MSI at the University of Michigan, where he specialized in Library and Information Studies and Information Policy.  In addition to Open Cover Letters (on Twitter at @OpenCoverLetter), he blogs at and tweets at @sxflynn. You can also contact him at


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Filed under Job Hunters Web Guide, Researcher's Corner

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