Further Answers: Are People Just Applying for Everything?

Someone who hires librarians recently contacted me for some answers about what job hunters want.  If you’ve got opinions, she’d love to hear them.  Comments are open.

The background:

This person is about to have an opening for a tenure-track, faculty-status, entry-level academic librarian job. Currently the title is Collection Development librarian (a stretch as an entry-level position but with a lot of support and participation from three more senior librarians, and providing an opportunity to grow into the job). When they last filled this position, despite a careful search process, they found someone who has ultimately been less interested in collection and the publishing, etc. required for tenure, and more interested in the reference and teaching aspects.

The question:

Are people just applying for everything? How can this library be sure to are hiring someone who is interested in technical services? The other option is to move another librarian into this position and create a new User Experience Librarian position that would include systems and usability. Would that be a sexier position for a new grad?

fallon bleichI would say, as a job hunter, the longer you are in the job hunting game, the more desperate you are, especially in the LIS field. I try not to apply to jobs that I’m not suited for, but if you aren’t getting any results from applications, it becomes less about THE job and more about A job to get your career started. That being said, I don’t think changing the title of a job will help these employers find someone better suited to the job, unless they completely overhaul what the duties are for that job. A title does attract me to a job, but a well-written job description is even better. Don’t just tell me that I will be doing “library duties”; if the job is primarily collection development, stress this in the job description. That way people who are applying to the job know what you are looking for and you might get better suited candidates. Brief job descriptions are the worst and are becoming a giant pet peeve of mine. And as a side note: I would love a job that was entirely based on collection development! I don’t know what that last person was thinking, but there are plenty of us who love that particular skill that they don’t need to worry about changing the name of the job. We’re out here and we want to work for you!

– Fallon Bleich, MLIS

Leigh MilliganFrom my own experience, library students are very anxious to get a professional position in the library. I was given the impression when I left school that there were not many jobs available, so I can imagine library students and new job seekers in the field could be applying for anything or everything whether the interest is there or not.

Since applying for jobs, I have learned to only apply to jobs tailored to my experience, my interests and me. I feel I will find a job that fits this way, even if it takes a long time, and I won’t be wasting my time or the search committees time if I apply for something I am not interested or qualified for. If you are looking to hire someone for a position geared towards technical services, gear the description towards technical services versus an entry-level librarian position. I personally feel that the User Experience title would be a sexier position geared towards a grad. I feel that Collection Development title can be misleading to newer librarians as they might think Collection Development goes hand and hand with the Reference Librarian field even though in the academic library, Collection Development is part of technical services. User Experience Librarian sounds more geared to those interested in technical services.

-Leigh Milligan, Librarian, Magee Rehabilitation Hospital Patient Resource Center in Philadelphia, PA; Head Editor of INALJ PA

 

I fully understand the trajectory that unfolded with the previous situation. I think there is a tendency for those who want to work in a specific type of library–whether academic or otherwise–to apply for whatever role they think they can reasonably get. That way they are gaining experience and have a chance for internal jobs that suit their fancy more when they come up.
I don’t get the impression from recent graduates of my program that they are particularly picky–it really does seem that they are applying for anything and everything. I think that (aside from the generally lacklustre job market) a huge part of this is because graduates honestly don’t know what they want to do (especially if they have no prior experience in a particular type of librarianship, such as cataloguing or collection development). I’m not sure what types of questions the interviewer asked with the previous applicant, but I think general questions such as “why do you want to be a librarian?” or “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “describe your career goals” would be a good indicator about the aspects of that job that someone may or may not be drawn to. If the person describes the teaching aspect of librarianship as the ideal, it’ll be more obvious that the passion for technical services just isn’t there. Sounds basic, but I think those general feeling based questions can tell you a lot about what an applicant wants from a job and from an environment.
I think the “sexier” position of a User Experience Librarian position would be a stronger draw. And not just because UX seems to be another buzzword! It suggests that there’s more opportunity to connect to the community/patrons, which might address applicant potential fears of being siloed off with their computers. I can’t speak to other LIS programs, but the one I’m enrolled in is very much lacking in technological skills, so I know a lot of its recent grads would jump on the chance to become involved in systems and usability (especially since it can be difficult to attain this experience once in a different role).
-Anonymous

 

That’s a tricky question. The job hunt and market for new grads is quite tough and competitive and anything that will actually accept fresh graduates is going to get a lot of shotgun-approach applications. I didn’t shotgun, but I had a paraprofessional job so I could keep working for the 6 months it took me.

I’d say that if they post the position as such, they should look for some kind of technical services experience on the resume. I’m a metadata librarian and I spent 5 years as a technical services paraprofessional before and during grad school, so I knew what I was getting into. (And personally, I wouldn’t apply for a collection development job precisely because I know what I do and don’t want to do in technical services.) Even experience as a student worker would give some picture of how things work in such a behind-the-scenes job. As part of screening, I’d also ask them questions about how they’d feel about working in the back and why that appealed to them as a librarian. As someone who does want to work in the back, I have good answers for that and I think others would too.

I think the UX position would greatly thin the herd on candidates who are truly qualified. I honestly don’t think library school prepares grads for that position as well unless either they concentrated on it, they had some exceptional professors, or they have additional experience which makes them qualified. Asking people to describe experience or education on the subject would probably do a better job identifying qualified candidates than anything you could ask for collection development. It’s certainly a “sexier” position and one which sounds less overwhelming than collection development.

– Ruth Kitchin Tillman, Metadata Librarian at an undisclosed government library

 

Freelin JonesOn if people are just applying for everything:I am not to the point that I am applying for every academic library position I see on ALA JobList or Indeed.com. I don’t see the point in quantity over quality. However, I’m heading into my third career so I’ve been around the block a few times. My philosophy is that I want a position that suits my particular skills set. I have a background in journalism and marketing with a lot of research and web site architecture. It wouldn’t behoove my career ambitions to apply for positions as an archivist or cataloguer just because they are in an academic library. My search is still limited to reference, e-communications, and digital librarian positions. That is where my library passion is, and would best serve both the institution and myself.

On ensuring they are hiring someone who is interested in technical services: Make it abundantly clear in the job description for the position. I for one pour over the description to make sure that a) I would enjoy the job, and b) I am qualified for the position. I pay less attention to the experience portion and more to the skills required. This is because I have no library experience but I do have 14 years of professional skills in public relations, journalism, and marketing. I have to figure out how to translate those skills to the academic library setting. I certainly understand the mentality of just-getting-your-foot-in-the-door approach to job searching. However, the candidate should be able to articulate why they are the best candidate for a technical services position even if they have not been trained in graduate school or had formal professional experience. So make the posting as technical services oriented to weed out those who are applying for everything, and allows the candidates who are qualified and passionate about YOUR position.

On using the title User Experience Librarian:A ‘sexy’ job title is fine but again I would concentrate on the duties. Again, I am speaking from the point of view of someone who has gone back to school mid-career. My focus is on what I am doing rather than what I says on my CV. I would definitely look at this position based upon the job title, because coming from a marketing background, my initial feeling would be that I would be qualified for it. But again if I were to read the job description and it doesn’t align with the impression that the job title gave, I might not apply at all even if I was the candidate you had in mind. I have found that many job titles don’t reflect the actual job description. So I I tend to base my decision to apply or not on the actual description.

– Freelin Jones, MLS, Academic Librarian for Hire

 

Sorry to take so long with my reply. I have thought about your question a lot. Of course, I don’t know how others feel about this; I can only speak for myself. Personally, I do not apply for everything — however, I do try to be very flexible and apply for many entry level academic librarian positions. There aren’t a lot of options out there for recent graduates, and I have been advised by mentors to be as flexible as possible. Rather than narrowing my choices down to the jobs that suit me, I tend to filter out jobs that I know for sure would NOT suit me.
That brings up another aspect of this question: as a recent graduate, I can only speculate the kind of library position that would be perfect for me. I only want to brand myself so much at this point. I imagine myself doing research, reference and instruction, but my research interests are in copyright and licensing, so I would absolutely apply for a Collection Development position. In most cases that I’ve seen, Collection Development positions require several years of professional experience, so if there were an opportunity to do that job with support from senior librarians, I would jump at it. Having said that, User Experience Librarian is definitely a trend in entry-level positions, and something new grads would be drawn to.
In my program, we were encouraged to explore different aspects of librarianship, so, again, I hesitate to brand myself too narrowly at this point, and I think many recent grads probably feel the same way, considering the job market. Coming at that from a different perspective, I hope (and honestly believe!) I would be able to wear several different hats in an academic library position, filling whatever role needed to be filled.

-Anonymous

 

Ruby LavalleeI graduated 10 months ago, and have been in my position for roughly three months.To answer your first question: yes, many people are just applying for everything they are remotely qualified for. It’s a rough market for a new grad. I applied to any positions that I felt I could do well in, which was a broad range – I made a point of diversifying my coursework and experience, as do many grads coming into a slower job market. It’s usually still fairly obvious where an applicant’s enthusiasm lies, especially if you ask them about their ideas for the position during the interview (if they’re really into the job itself, they’ve probably been imagining how they’d do it).

I think the easiest way to tell if you’re hiring someone interested in technical services is to pay attention to how their interests, both library related and otherwise, line up with the duties of the job description. Does the person you’re looking to hire have a history of investigating technical ideas or new technologies in school or other jobs? Do they have collections of their own, or do they have an interest in budgeting and finance? When you ask them about their research interests or the reason they’re interested in the job, do they at least make a glancing reference to the sort of work they’d be doing the majority of the time? If you hear genuine enthusiasm regarding tech, you can usually tell, and I feel like that’s a decent predictor of whether someone wants to stay with tech services or move elsewhere.

The question about creating a User Experience Librarian position is a little confusing to me. It’s not necessarily that a position like that would be a more attractive proposition for a new grad – it’s just a different animal. In my experience at library school, there wouldn’t have necessarily been more applicants for a UX job than a Collections job. They’re both niche interests among library students.
I desperately wanted my User Experience Librarian job because I love tech and asynchronous service systems, but I also love people. This position allowed me to spend some of my time hiding and doing design and tech work, but also allowed me to reach out and deal with patron service and assessment. If you have a real need for UX work (which you probably do) and currently invested librarians interested in moving into collection development, it sounds like a fine decision. But don’t count on it driving your applicant numbers up like crazy.
– Ruby Lavallee, User Experience Librarian, University of Manitoba Libraries
I finished my MLIS in August 2013 and started applying to entry-level positions in academic libraries about six months before. I have an undergrad degree in computer science & before I went back to school I’d been working in the systems department of an academic library for about ten years. When I started my job search I wanted to find a position as a systems librarian but would have also considered entry-level positions in areas where I had less direct experience but had taken related courses & found them interesting (e-resources management, user experience), as long as I thought I could make a case for meeting other requirements in a job posting.
I definitely would not have applied to positions to collection development or reference and instruction. Despite taking several really great courses in these areas, I have very little related experience. My MLIS program had a co-op option though and many who participated found that it was really helpful to get experience in areas they might not have thought they were interested in but found out otherwise with some hands-on experience. If you can find someone who’s worked in technical services as a co-op student and gets pretty excited about the position, that’s probably a good sign. Although given the person asking for hiring advice they conducted a careful search process, they’ve probably already considered this.
During my MLIS there were often information sessions for students interested in working in different types of libraries. The academic libraries session emphasized the research and publishing aspects of the role so I knew these responsibilities would be expected of anyone hired to fill the positions that I was applying to.
As for whether user experience librarianship would be “sexier” for a new grad: I found that I expected my classmates to be more comfortable with technology than they often were and I was a bit surprised at the number who really resisted required technical courses. Even so, for those students who were interested in technical courses, I wouldn’t say my MLIS program offered enough to prepare someone for an entry-level UX or systems position. But the relatively few students who wanted to work in those areas tended to do a lot of work on their own to keep up with developments & trends in the field.
Your correspondent says it would be a stretch to have a new grad function as a collections development librarian without a fair bit of support but I would say that’s of a UX/systems position as well. I’ve been working as a systems librarian in an academic library for about ten months now and even with quite a bit of experience I can’t imagine making the transition from support staff to librarian without the kind of mentorship I’ve had from colleagues.
– Anonymous
Whitni WatkinsAlthough I am a recent library graduate student, I am fortunate enough to already have 4+ years of library technical and management skills under my belt, unlike many graduating library students. The toss up here is that applicants like myself who already have work experience in libraries know what they do and do not like; the flip side to that is, because there has been such a drive on the “lack” of library jobs or the need for experience for the job they want is that some students are applying for whatever library position they come across. I think this situation is sitting at a 75/25 ratio and less students are applying for everything. I only apply for positions that meet my requirements (salary, place and responsibilities).
One thing an employer can do to narrow applicants geared toward that position is to require a copy of the applicant’s unofficial transcript. This will give them a list of the courses the applicant took during their education; students have easy access to their unofficial transcript and it can give great insight on what interests the student has. I attended SJSU SLIS, who had developed unofficial career pathways (http://slisweb.sjsu.edu/current-students/career-pathways) that helped guide students into taking the courses for the focus of librarianship they wanted to pursue.
If the two position were listed Collection Development or User Experience Librarian, I as a technology focused applicant would jump all over the UX position. It is definitely sexier than “Collection Development” but it also is a more specialized position and would in itself, weed out those who are not interested in working with systems or do not have the expertise that a position of that sort would require.
Finally, I just interviewed for a tenure-track faculty position and in that interview I met with the tenure committee who made it very apparent to me what would be required of me if I were to be offered and accepted the position. They also explained tenure to me, as a recent grad. tenure has been more or less a foreign concept as until I received my MLIS I wasn’t being considered for faculty level positions. The employer should put a great emphasis on what tenure is and what it entails. This can be linked to the job description but it needs to be brought up in the interview process foremost, especially as it gets down to the final interviews.
– Whitni Watkins, LMS Assistant, San Jose State University
I fully understand the trajectory that unfolded with the previous situation. I think there is a tendency for those who want to work in a specific type of library–whether academic or otherwise–to apply for whatever role they think they can reasonably get. That way they are gaining experience and have a chance for internal jobs that suit their fancy more when they come up.
I don’t get the impression from recent graduates of my program that they are particularly picky–it really does seem that they are applying for anything and everything. I think that (aside from the generally lacklustre job market) a huge part of this is because graduates honestly don’t know what they want to do (especially if they have no prior experience in a particular type of librarianship, such as cataloguing or collection development). I’m not sure what types of questions the interviewer asked with the previous applicant, but I think general questions such as “why do you want to be a librarian?” or “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” or “describe your career goals” would be a good indicator about the aspects of that job that someone may or may not be drawn to. If the person describes the teaching aspect of librarianship as the ideal, it’ll be more obvious that the passion for technical services just isn’t there. Sounds basic, but I think those general feeling based questions can tell you a lot about what an applicant wants from a job and from an environment.
I think the “sexier” position of a User Experience Librarian position would be a stronger draw. And not just because UX seems to be another buzzword! It suggests that there’s more opportunity to connect to the community/patrons, which might address applicant potential fears of being siloed off with their computers. I can’t speak to other LIS programs, but the one I’m enrolled in is very much lacking in technological skills, so I know a lot of its recent grads would jump on the chance to become involved in systems and usability (especially since it can be difficult to attain this experience once in a different role).
– Anonymous

Thanks to all these new grads and aspiring  academic librarians who were willing to share their viewpoints.  We’d love to hear yours too!  The comments are open.

And thank YOU for reading!  

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