Author’s Corner: Making the Most of Your Library Career

This excerpt is courtesy of Lois Stickell and Bridgette Sanders, the editors of Making the Most of Your Library Career (available Fall 2013 from ALA Editions).  If you’re looking to expand your focus from getting a job to building a career, you might want to check it out:

MAking the Most of Your Library Career Cover 


This book explores how things work in the real library world in chapters written by practicing librarians in stages of their library career from new hire to manager to director.  The chapters cover first impressions on a job, ways to distinguish yourself from the herd, assessing the job, the lifecycle of a librarian’s year and, finally, what to do if the job just doesn’t work out. In this excerpt, two library directors talk frankly about what they look for on a resume and during the interview.

Excerpt from Chapter 2: The View from the Top

By Theodosia Shields of North Carolina Central University and Annie Payton of Alabama A&M University.

Good library directors pay close attention to the résumés of the final candidates. Unfortunately, most MLS (master of library science) résumés read very much the same. While it can be hard to distinguish yourself in a résumé, try to include some significant aspect about yourself or your work experience. We look for candidates who stand out with unique skills that could be beneficial to the library. For instance, a candidate for reference who also has public relations experience has assets that make us take a second look. The candidate does not need extensive experience, but something as simple as an internship or course work in a desired area could precipitate an interview.

On the subject of résumés, long ones are never advisable. These do not impress the committee and are not likely to get passed on to the library director. Rather, they send a signal that the applicant is not able to be concise and cannot highlight his or her most significant achievements succinctly. We have read résumés where a candidate lists achievements from 15 and 20 years ago or lists far too many accomplishments. Including too much information may cause a reader to miss something important in your résumé that would give you an advantage over other candidates. Be judicial in what you choose to include. It is also helpful to group experience and skills under subject headings rather than placing them together. Remember, you want to present yourself as positively and simply as possible. When there are many applicants for a position, even the smallest misstep can lead to your being eliminated from consideration.

In today’s world, every library director is looking for an individual who can be flexible. The job that you are hired for today will probably change, sometimes drastically, over the next three years. Libraries are changing very rapidly and every part of the library is changing with them. While we are not going to make new IT (information technology) person work on the reference desk, we will expect that they are able to rethink their position as the needs of the library change. It is therefore important to show that you possess flexibility in your résumé, so be sure to include past examples of this on your résumé.

Up until this point, the only knowledge a library director receives about a candidate is information presented on the résumé. Be neat, concise, and informative. Easy, huh?

If the resume works and you are contacted for an in-person or phone interview, start preparing early. There are certain time-honored questions most candidates are asked at every interview. Although it can be tempting to regard these as “boilerplate” questions, most library directors take them seriously and listen closely to the responses. Library directors have heard these questions answered a number of times and look for certain key elements. As a candidate, try to avoid a canned response to these standard questions. Instead, make the answers your own while still addressing the question. Short, targeted examples are always helpful. A certain amount of library jargon is expected but don’t go overboard with it.

Almost every interviewer asks a candidate if he or she is a team player. We want to hear the interviewees articulate philosophies about how they work with others. “Yes, I am a team player” is not a sufficient answer. How? Give examples. The responses help a library director determine if candidates have personal agendas they are seeking to advance. We generally pursue the “I am a team player” answer with additional questions to ascertain whose team you are on; that is, whose agenda will receive focus—yours or ours? Since each library entity is dependent on the others, it is important that everyone works together to fulfill library goals. In a well-run library, employees share interdependent goals. This helps ensure that the employees and library directors navigate on the same agenda. If we determine a candidate has a different focus and will not be able to fully engage in the library’s goals, it is a clear signal that this is not the right person.

You will be asked several times throughout the day if you have questions. Often you will be asked the same question more than once. This is not designed to trip you up to see if you answer the same each time. The questions are probably from two different people. It’s fine to say, “As I told Sally earlier . . .” and then include something more: “I’d also add that . . .”

If you have questions, by all means ask them. This is not just about people making decisions about you. You are the primary decider here and should be determining if this is the right job for you. If you don’t have questions, say politely, “Not at the moment.” However, anyone who goes through the entire day without asking questions is sending a signal that he or she is not very interested in the position. If you believe you are interested, or even if you are not sure, ask some questions. Maintain a calm, friendly demeanor even if the interview does become tiring. Everyone there has been through the process and they empathize, but they also want to see how you perform under a certain amount of stress.

In the end, making a determination about a candidate comes down to a gut reaction for most library directors. We ask ourselves, “Do I believe that this person has the skills and traits I am looking for in a particular position? Do I believe this person will work well with others?” Working well with others really supersedes all other characteristics. The most brilliant subject specialist who is difficult and who will bring a lot of high drama to the library is simply not going to work. This doesn’t mean we demand an extrovert. Introverts are fine as long as they can fulfill the requirements of the job. We are looking for the individual who will bring the least amount of drama into the workplace. We are here to accomplish a job and have our antennae up for those who will make accomplishing that job more challenging.


bridgette SaundersBridgette Sanders is the Social Sciences Librarian at Atkins Library, University of North Carolina Charlotte in Charlotte, North Carolina. She received her MLS from Atlanta University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her areas of interest are Africana Studies and Diversity. Bridgette recently added managing the Information Desk to her duties. She and Lois Stickell have presented at several conferences, including the Southern Historical Association’s annual conference and ASALH (Association for the Study of African American Life and History).

lois stickellLois Stickell received her MLS from Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. She has written about a slave revolt in South Carolina and contributed a chapter about grants to The Frugal Librarian: Thriving in Tough Economic Times. She has worked at Indiana University, Winthrop University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

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2 Comments

Filed under Author's Corner

2 responses to “Author’s Corner: Making the Most of Your Library Career

  1. Anonymous

    Thank you for posting this excerpt. The authors offer some of the most effective strategies I’ve read, especially in relation to creating resumes.

  2. Pingback: Authors’ Corners: A Job Hunter’s Booklist | Hiring Librarians

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