Will you vote? Julie Todaro Talks about Hiring Librarians

It’s almost election time!  ALA presidential candidate Julie Todaro has graciously agreed answer a few questions about her thoughts on ALA’s role in library hiring. Voting instructions for ALA members will be sent out starting March 24. Visit this page for more details.

Julie Todaro Dr. Julie Todaro,  Dean of Library Services, Austin Community College

In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?

Professional associations have a responsibility to both lead and support professionals in hiring and employment and ALA has long been committed to providing members and potential members with a depth and breadth of hiring and employment information. I first experienced this years ago when I was asked to serve on ALA’s Office of Human Resource Development and Recruitment (HRDR) Advisory Committee. It was one of my most enjoyable service roles in ALA as we learned about not only what the office did but also what ALL of ALA’s groups did for our membership. HRDR’s website today should be visited by everyone to not only see what HRDR does but what else is available throughout the Association and in related library areas. The office brings it all together – literally – online and everyone from stakeholders to potential employees as well as employers can find what they need. In addition, those needing assistance in interviewing – for example – should search ala.org to find the most recent guides and program content. So…”yes,” ALA should have a significant role in hiring and employment and “yes” ALA does have a significant role in hiring and employment.

How can ALA serve unemployed (or underemployed) librarians?

It seems odd to answer question #1 with “we’re doing a great job” and then answer #2 with “we could do more.” It makes sense; however, that we recognize the fact that bringing resources together is critical but opportunities for illustrating navigation and identifying successes never seem to be enough. One great article from ACRL identifying processes (with valuable comments from others) articulates different and excellent approaches to seeking employment. In addition, job seekers – either new to the profession, in jobs or returning to the field, should access American Libraries and search for “Working Knowledge,” an excellent monthly column on the workforce and hiring issues.These articles – coupled with the HRDR website I identified in the answer to #1 – offer insight to not only the programs and services of ALA (AASL’s with links everyone can use, ALAJoblist) but also to working through what is available at state level and through library education – an organization that should have paramount interest in and commitment to finding employment for the unemployed. Now – my idea is to pilot a program (By division? Through any area?) with employment coaches. These coaches could be advertised and hired (with a stipend funded by ALA? ALISE?) through HRDR and be matched with unemployed professionals– much like the mentor programs match people – but with the different focus of going beyond the resume assessment and into engaging networks of managers, application, hiring and in general following the processes outlined for using the resources available much like the processes introduced in the articles/postings mentioned above. A perfect use of digital networking, these coaches should form a cohort of talented people who trade on experience and education to play one of the most important roles – that of one who ensures that the profession remains vital and growing.

And while we can’t tell library education what to do – more information (like the 2013 Researcher’s Corner: Comparative Employability of ALA and CILIP Accredited Degrees) needs to be systematically gathered and distributed to provide those seeking educational programs with additional data for decision making.

LIS job hunters are increasingly urged to look outside of libraries to careers in other aspects of information work. Why do you think this is, and should this be an impetus for any particular changes in ALA?

It stands to reason that professions want their terminal degrees to be preparatory for a breadth of careers. The broadest applications bring strength to the profession and reinforce – beyond “us” – that the value of what we do goes far beyond our more traditional expectations. And, although there are many reasons why we are urged to look outside the field, the obvious answers to “why” include reasons that are common to many professions – a bad economy that has many declining to retire, a bad economy that has open jobs not being filled, and libraries filling jobs, such as tech positions, from other professions. So how should ALA address even some of this?

  • The ALAJoblist includes much broader choices for job searching; however, if one searches under “all,” the jobs listed (for example under “knowledge management”) are all located in more traditional environments….therefore the JobList might review it’s criterion for including institutions and organizations and go beyond the more traditional.
  • ALA should update and expand the non-traditional job page, Non-Traditional Jobs for Librarians.
  • ALA should increase aggressiveness for the annual conference recruitment event with a focus on non-library employers. (Reduced dollars for attendance? special invitations to an event just for these targeted individuals?)
  • ALA’s pages should list important web content for this area…and we have a number of great columns of librarians in alternative, unusual jobs and can use more. (Syracuse, Linked-In discussions, a variety of good articles on Hiring Librarians (see LL Cool Lists and Blogroll), and – of course – Infonista!)

How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?

Content that focuses on successful employment for graduate librarians always emphasizes the need for students (obviously still in school) to get as much experience as possible, no matter the length of employment, no matter the type of size of library and no matter if the position is paid or not. While association current job sites (and ALA in general) do not appear to include specific recommendations for library school student employment while in school, the majority of library schools have content for their students that speaks to employment while in school. These links are found on school websites under “employment,” “financial aid,” and so on.

Issues regarding ALA support for students includes:

  • ALA should continue to have reduced costs for membership and conference attendance as well as workshops and so on for library school students and other student populations. ALA should explore additional opportunities for supporting these individuals such as reduced costs for publications.
  • ALA conference planning committees and local arrangement groups use library school students in a variety of ways and although this experience doesn’t replicate work experience specific to libraries, these opportunities should not be missed because they include customer service, project management, leadership experiences and – most importantly – networking opportunities. (see ALA’s Student-to-Staff program)
  • While it isn’t realistic for ALA to manage a placement for library school students while in library school, it wouldn’t be difficult (in partnership with ALA student chapters?) to create online pathfinders, online forums and even conference programs for guiding graduate students on what to consider and how to value experience (paid and volunteer as well as service learning and internships) while in school.
  • ALA’s New Members Round Table provides guidance for internships and service learning and although many of these speak primarily to recent graduates, students should explore the content.
  • ALA groups (divisions, committees and so on) offer a variety of student and new graduate experiences. Searching “internships” as well as reviewing NMRT content (linked above) provides an overview of what in-person/conference and year round digital experiences are possible.

Finally, because many graduate schools and other library programs will offer a variety of other “experiential” opportunities for students such as internships, service learning and volunteerism and obviously, partnerships with library schools, undergraduate programs, library school partners, area employers and library school ALA chapters are critical to the success of any student program. In addition, online content should be continuously updated and include ALA’s content on such areas as:

  • General “Career Development Resources”
  • Specific “Hiring” content including
    • Resume information
    • Interviewing

It should be noted that although this blog is about “librarians,” ALA and ALA-APA support paraprofessionals and support staff who choose careers in library and other environments other than masters-degreed employment. Because librarians seek excellence for all employees and workers and because recruitment for masters-degreed often comes from professionals at other levels and in other areas, those interested in the career should become familiar with association support for these professionals through the Library Support Staff Interests Round Table and other groups.

In general, are library schools adequately preparing students for work in today’s libraries? What are they doing right, and what could be improved on?

Library school students today are facing employment in a variety of types of environments categorized as “today’s libraries” BUT rather than looking at academic, school, public and special as the “types” instead, we need to look at organizations and institutions categorized by their levels of currency. That is, I would say MOST institutions are a hybrid – a blend of the old and the new – and other libraries are VERY far out in front while still more may not be as far along as others in technology or change.
Given that – I have observed in both my own work with students and with students in workshops, etc. that we are seeing students well prepared with expanded skills sets but at higher levels than possible employment situations. These students – expecting higher levels of technology, for example, are often disappointed that their first professional environment might not be making use of the skills sets they have worked hard to build. In addition, many students are experiencing that contemporary management styles, leadership opportunities, staff development and continuing education funding as well as standards and practices are not as prevalent as they might have been led to believe. They are also concerned that given funding levels “keeping up” with funding may be problematic.
Overall, therefore, I would say library schools ARE preparing students for work in libraries; however, schools should make sure that:

  • they prepare students for a variety of positions;
  • they ensure their skills (including value, attitude and commitment) include techniques for keeping up their personal and professional development; and,
  • they ensure students take the “long look” at their career to be able to not only improve their existing position but look at their next position as well.

That being said, I think one area for improvement in library education is that they expand their service learning, internship and in-library class assignments. And although core curriculum doesn’t always have “room” for these experiences to be required, the more students apply what they know and build experience on real-world situations, the more they can fine tune their processes for deciding what type of library or library function will match their career aspirations. To make this happen; however, is the sticking point. Factors that should be in place should include: library school faculty being compensated fairly for supervising this experiences; area/host libraries benefiting from the experience through remuneration for the library or – for example – “credits” for in-person or online continuing education opportunities for their staff or a continued commitment to well-designed products such as collections assessed, policies drafted, procedures reviewed, etc.

What do you think is the secret to a successful career as a librarian?

A successful career can be characterized by workplace success – of course – but also a broad involvement in the profession beyond workplace walls. And although it is hopeful that individuals get considerable satisfaction from success in the workplace, this broad involvement can include publication and writing, association membership AND activity, community activism related to the vision and values of the profession, and a strong network of people not only at the workplace but in the field in general.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy? Any advice specifically for library job hunters?

Well, the obvious answer is “vote for me!” I have experience in all types of and sizes libraries and – as an employer – I have broad supervisory experience.
The not-so-obvious answer is an invitation to review my website to read the job-seeking content I have prepared for job placement training programs and ALA’s ALA-APA newsletter Library Worklife. They include general information on libraries and some type-of-library content as well as some content specific to job seekers. I hope it aids someone in finding a position in our profession!

The Application Form. TXLA. 2011 to the present. Helpful Handouts are posted on the TLA jobline web pages and are also used for training during TLA’s placement center activities.

The Art of the Job Description. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

A Book by Its Cover. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2007. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

Crafting Your Cover Letter. 2011 to the present. “Helpful Handouts” are posted on the TLA jobline web pages and are also used for training during TLA’s placement center activities.

Identifying and Conveying Transferable Skills. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

Preparing For Your Application Process. 2011 to the present. “Helpful Handouts” are posted on the TLA jobline web pages and are also used for training during TLA’s placement center activities.

Professional Associations…Moving Past Membership into Involvement. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

Thinking Outside the Hiring “Box.” Library Worklife.  ALA-APA. 2005. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

To Supplement or Not To Supplement: Post-Interviewing. 2011 to the present. “Helpful Handouts” are posted on the TLA jobline web pages and are also used for training during TLA’s placement center activities.

Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your First Ten Days of Work. Library Worklife.   ALA-APA. 2007. APA’s HR newsletter web content offers members extensive career content.

I’d like to thank Ms. Todaro for taking the time to answer my questions! I encourage you to visit her website, or to use the comments section to ask any questions you might have. Most of all though, I encourage you to make your voice heard and VOTE!

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