Further Questions: What is your final piece of advice for Hiring Librarians readers?

This week we asked people who hire librarians

What is your final piece of advice for Hiring Librarians readers?

Laurie PhillipsThe most important piece of advice I have is probably what I answered to the very first question. Answer the ad! Address the specific qualifications that the library is looking for in that position. If you aren’t sure if you directly meet the qualifications, find something that you can say that shows you have the skills to meet that qualification, even if it’s not in a library. Sell the fact that you meet the specifications of the position. If you can’t sell it, don’t apply. I recently applied for an administrative position and, in my phone interview, I asked what interested them about my particular qualifications. I expected something completely different as an answer, but they said, “you fully answered the ad.” Wow, at that level, I would expect it to be obvious. It should be obvious for anyone from recent grads to seasoned professionals.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Celia RabinowitzMy final piece of advice for Hiring Librarians has two parts.  First, stay optimistic!!  I know that’s easy to say for someone with a job who is closer to retirement than I am to my first job.  I see how stressful the job search is these days, and how the market is changing, but I want to believe the right job is there for you (or else I have been watching too much “X-Files”).  It might not be the first, or even second, job, but it’s there and everything you do can help you be ready for it.

Second, when that dream job is there on the horizon, be READY!  Write a cover letter that stands out.  Tell your future coworkers what you love about the library and institution, and why you think you are the right candidate for the job.  Take advantage of mentors who offer to read your cover letter and CV.  We want to help!

Good luck.  Being a librarian is the best job ever!!
– Celia Rabinowitz,  Dean of Mason Library at Keene State College in Keene, NH

Jessica OlinLast piece of advice is that you need to remember advice is that old stand by: your mileage may vary. Job hunting is an evolving thing and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow, but you’ve got to keep on trying. Oh, and don’t forget: always have someone proofread and/or edit your application materials. Good luck!

– Jessica Olin, Director of Parker Library, Wesley College

index_slide01My final piece of advice for hiring is relatively simple, yet I find that MANY applicants don’t practice this approach. AND to make it easier to put this in practice — let me state what the simple answer is and then list those things that provide evidence.
Convince me that you want me to hire you for the specific position posted….rather than applying for a position because you want ANY position.
That being said – employers realize that not every job is not your perfect match …and when you apply for and get interviews for multiple positions we realize that it would be hard and in some ways dishonest to try to convince employers that all three different jobs are each your dream job! So here’s what you don’t do and what you do!
  • Don’t turn in identical applications for multiple jobs at one time. Make your cover letters unique to each job but be honest and say you are applying for all – want to work for the organization (or the boss or the type of library, etc.) in general  – and you have competencies or experience for each and then state what is unique about “you” for each job.
  • Don’t turn in identical applications for jobs advertised at different times. Organizations can ask you if you want your application kept on file and submitted for any open position and although that is fine to do, you need to make sure you provide some unique information so watch those postings and make sure you refresh each package by – as stated above: making your cover letters unique; being honest and saying you are applying for several positions or that you have applied before and why such as you want to work for the organization (or the boss or the type of library, etc.)
  • Don’t think that people don’t remember answers to questions – that is – be careful how you prepare for package your answers so that you come prepared but not unimaginative or too exact in your answer. It’s also okay to reference one previous interview when answering questions for another…that is – you can say you prepared answers for a “mission statement question” but you have updated your information (read articles, talked to librarians, etc.) and you have now broadened your thoughts and answer.
  • Don’t ask questions like “How fast you can apply for another job when it comes open?” (and yes, I have been asked that) or – nicer but still inappropriate – “How long must someone stay in one job before they apply for another?” or “When another position is available must they apply again or can they transfer into it?”
  • Study the job description. If you don’t know what terms mean or you aren’t sure – make sure you check for definitions and examples – either in general in the professional literature, on other library websites or on the organization’s website.
  • Thoroughly review the organization’s website…and not just the organization’s website but the umbrella institution’s web environment. This search may yield good information (do their mission statements resemble each other) or may offer opportunities to ask questions.
  • Choose a journal from the professional literature that is centric to your specific type-of-library and search once year’s worth of table of contents to get an idea of overarching topics.
  • Choose a journal from the professional literature that is centric to your specific type-of-library and search once year’s worth of editorials and opinion pieces as well as any letters from members…. to get an idea of classic and contemporary issues.
  • Review the programs offered in ALA’s conference programming for this type of library and review the programs offered at the state and/or local or regional level association by type of library. These reviews offer you ideas of trends in this area of the profession.
  • Review social media environments re: this type of library.
  • Review architectural awards at the national level re: this type of library.
  • If you can’t visit the library in advance or if you are applying for a general position and the location isn’t specific – do a general web search of the library.
  • Search the professional literature and the general web for information about the staff (managers, middle managers, librarians, other employees, etc.) to see if there are publications, general PR, association leadership, community leadership, etc.
  • Answer honestly. If you don’t have all of the position requirements and they are interviewing you anyway, they are signaling they can substitute some of your information for what is required. …so you might speculate on what those substitutions are – and if you can – ask in advance what “counts.”
  • Be ready with your questions…bring them in writing.
  • Take quick notes during the interview…. especially if you know you will keep applying to that organization.
And the best of luck!
– Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College


Emily WeakSo, I don’t really hire librarians, although I’ve been on a few interview panels.  But I did spend the last few years interviewing hundreds of people who hire librarians.  Part of the reason I did so was because I was tired of hearing very authoritative hiring advice from single voices – the truth of the matter is that there are all kinds of people who hire librarians, and they have all kinds of opinions on what candidates should or should not do.

My main advice is: if the advice you’re receiving doesn’t let you be you, then disregard it.  If it feels weird, disregard it.  If the person dispensing it seems to be a pompous d-bag, disregard it.  There is no such thing as an authority on library hiring.  Feel free to ignore every piece of advice you receive.  People get jobs in all kinds of ways.   And there are all kinds of jobs. Find the ones that are best for you and try to articulate as clearly as possible why you would do real well in them.  Go for quality of applications rather than quantity.

One of the most insidious tyrannies in library hiring advice is the concept of professionalism.  Professional is a totally subjective and almost entirely meaningless concept.  It means “wear a suit” to one hiring librarian and “make sure your jeans are clean” to another.  And in a more sinister aspect, it is a code that is a real barrier to diversifying our monocultural field (yes, I mean white white white.  And female. And middle class. And ableist.)   Is an afro encompassed in professional dress?  A sari?  Or to think about something other than clothes, what if you have a learning disability that means you often misspell things in emails?  Is that “unprofessional”?  What if you didn’t get a chance to grow up with professional parents correcting your behavior and etiquette and molding you into an acceptably “professional” human being?  Professional is just a language.  Learn it, but you don’t need to live it. And stamp all over it when you can.

The other problematic concept is “fit”.  On one hand, “fit” is a great concept for figuring out if someone will do well within the specific culture of a workplace.  On the other hand, if

“fit” means “just like everybody else who works here,”  then there we are with our monocultural profession again.  In 2014, 87.1% of ALA members were white.  How can we hope to provide inclusive service to all the members of our community if people of color are so spectacularly under-represented behind the reference desk? This is my advice to people hiring: move beyond fit.  Cast your net wider.  Allow the center of your organization to shift as you invite different kinds of people in.  Is librarianship a dying profession?  It might be, if we continue to be a brigade of nice white ladies.

My final bit of advice, to job hunters and hiring librarians, is to be kind to yourselves and each other.  Job hunting and hiring are stressful.  Kindness goes a long way.  Set yourself up for small successes, and celebrate them.  Take breaks.  Get out in the sunshine.  Enjoy life beyond hiring librarians.

– Emily Weak, Ex-Blogger, Hiring Librarians
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight!

Thank YOU for reading!  If you liked reading, you’re going to really love COMMENTING.


Filed under Further Questions

5 responses to “Further Questions: What is your final piece of advice for Hiring Librarians readers?

  1. Fatima

    I discovered this blog as short time ago, but I am impressed with the detail and care in collecting responses. I also want to raise my coffee cup to Emily’s last response for her condor and her encouragement. Thanks for everything and take care.


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  3. Emily, thank you for all your work on the blog. This is a great sendoff, and I wish you well in all the other things you’ll be doing with your time.


  4. pigbitinmad

    Kudos to you Emily. In the years of literally bashing my brains against a rock, 24/7 for the last ten years trying to find a job, you are the only one who gets it.

    Specifically you said, “If the person dispensing [advice] seems to be a pompous d-bag, disregard it.”

    Unfortunately your advice does me me absolute zero good because everyone in the library profession dispensing advice IS a pompous d bag. I have yet to interview with anyone I am not smarter than (I am not aiming for Harvard or Yale). I have applied to and been interviewed for all sorts of very menial part-time jobs (and no I never customize my resume … and the cover letter I customize minimally because in my observation, NO ONE READS THE DARN THING!! For instance, I get asked about Outreach and Programs as if this is the most important thing in the world and the most unlearnable skill on earth even though there is NOTHING AND I MEAN NOT ONE FRIGGIN MENTION OF ANYTHING LIKE THAT ANYWHERE on my resume (although once I did get asked if I thought I would be a culture fit with a bunch of 20 year olds….this was at Columbia University). I worked in acquisitions when I was in school and that is what my resume says. I also started a small community college library FROM SCRATCH. I have loads and loads of tech skills which everyone says they want, but nobody bothers to check and see if you really know them. That is because nobody ever explains exactly what these touted skills are. This is because they want a reason to reject me because I am not a Millinnial. To put it another way. Do they want me to write the code for the self driving spaceship? Or do they mean database management, powerpoint, XML type stuff. In my observation, I always know more about computers than any of my library co-workers. And if they really want someone who can program the Space Shuttle, they bloody well better guarantee more than 10 hours a month and pay more than $8.00 an hour.

    I am also beginning to realize that these Rocket Scientists view me as a “career changer” because I did receive this holy calling at the age of 14 directing me to endure any and all hardship, including relocating to the world’s most desolate spots, to pursue librarianship, that lofty and most prestigious of all professions (as if they didn’t get into it because someone needed a warm body with a pulse) . All of this brands me as some sort of damaged goods who must be a failure. If you don’t believe me, read on.

    Oh, and to Celia R above who said “First, stay optimistic!! I know that’s easy to say for someone with a job who is closer to retirement than I am to my first job.”

    YOU ARE RIGHT, IT IS EASIER FOR SOMEONE LIKE YOU WHO HAS HAD IT DEAD EASY TO SAY THAT. If you got your job more than 40 years ago, you haven’t got a clue.

    It’s hard not to get bitterly seethingly angry when you have to listen to people like the following put me down while they walk around acting like they are curing cancer. Check it out:



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