We are reduced to hiring the most flexible candidate, not the most qualified.

Sydney Primary Schools (N.S.W Rep. Team), 1922 who beat Q'ld [Queensland] Reps. 2 Matches to 1This anonymous interview is with an academic librarian who has been a member of a hiring or search committee. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

Reference and instructional librarians.

This librarian works at a library with 10-50 staff members in an urban area in the Southern US.

Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?

√ Depends on the school/Depends on the candidate

Should library students focus on learning theory or gaining practical skills? (Where 1 means Theory, 5 means practice, and 3 means both equally)


What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?

√ Cataloging
√ Vocabulary Design
√ Project Management
√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Research Methods
√ Reference
√ Information Behavior
√ Outreach
√ Instruction
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)

Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?

What we keep coming up against are local candidates who received their degrees online, mostly from UNT. They have zero library experience, practical or theoretical.
With experienced candidates the problems are different. A change in management led to two classes of librarians – a group hired under the old conditions which were M-F, 8-5; newer hires are expected to work evenings and weekends. We are reduced to hiring the most flexible candidate, not the most qualified.

When deciding who to hire out of a pool of candidates, do you value skills gained through coursework and skills gained through practice differently?

√ Other: We expect all candidates to demonstrate the skills needed. Coursework does not suffice.

Which skills (or types of skills) do you expect a new hire to learn on the job (as opposed to at library school)?

I believe the rigorous theoretical framework of most good library school programs make for a better librarian. But no amount of coursework can prepare a librarian for the vagaries experienced at the reference desk, in the classroom, in the real workplace.
Too much theory is being discarded, particularly with online programs – several non-professional co-workers have received their degrees online and the have little in-depth knowledge of information creation, organization, etc. BUT – they know how to create a blog and a wiki, skills that can easily be picked up OTJ.

Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?

√ Library work experience

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?

Bricks and mortar institutions are doing a better job preparing candidates. Most of our staff graduated from UT Austin’s MLIS program (over the course of some 15 years); one from University of Washington; one from University of Iowa.

Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

Unless there is a compelling background (a doctorate in chemistry, for example) we aren’t considering candidates from online degree programs. Their coursework isn’t rigorous enough and not one has ANY library experience.

What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?

First – get a bricks and mortar degree. The school should have a good graduate placement program like UT Austin’s.

Second – get some real library experience. The General Libraries at UT Austin have lots of part- and full-time non-professional positions available. My classmates who worked for them had no problems finding a full-time professional position upon graduation, most had jobs before they finished the degree.

Third – if you must get the online degree, be prepared to move! There are no jobs available in this city (one of the 10 largest in the U.S.) for new librarians unless they have ample library experience.

Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?

It’s a hard job market and has been for the near 30 years I’ve been a librarian. Sadly the MLIS degree has been oversold, particularly by online programs but ALA has been a willing partner in the deception. Not a one of the librarians I work with is contemplating early retirement and just one is planning to retire at 65. Most are going to be working to at least 70 and some plan to work until the die. Despite what ALA says, libraries are filled with librarians who cannot afford to retire and make way for new librarians.

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!

Special Note: From December 6, 2013 to October 24, 2014, the ALA will accept comments on the Draft revised Standards for Accreditation of Master’s Programs in Library and Information Studies. More information about the process of changing these standards is here. If you have opinions about what people should be learning in library school, here’s a way that you can influence change.

Do you hire librarians? Tell us, “What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School?”: http://tinyurl.com/hiringlibschoolsurvey


Filed under 10-50 staff members, Academic, Southern US, Urban area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

2 responses to “We are reduced to hiring the most flexible candidate, not the most qualified.

  1. Lise

    Are any of the non-professional colleagues who have earned their master’s online been promoted to librarian positions? I have worked with rigid librarians like the one interviewed here, it’s not possible for everyone to obtain a bricks and mortar education, mid-career changers who earn an online masters are more valuable then fresh out of school brick and mortar students because they have transferable job skills. Theory in the abstract is not as valuable as theory that is learned from on the job and tailored to your specific libraries culture. Has the person being interviewed actually taken the online master’s program? How can you judge a program to not be rigorous if you have not participated in it? Also in terms of internships and practical library experience I agree, the student should be arranging their own work experience before graduating from the program.


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