Further Questions: What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of ?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is:

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics?

Anonymous: Materials challenges!

“An upset patron brings a children’s book to the circulation desk, saying that it is inappropriate for children. She demands it’s removal from the collection immediately. How do you respond?”

Material challenges are on the rise across the United States. Keeping up to date with the ALA’s challenged books, intellectual freedom statements, and the library bill of rights would give candidates a good foundation. The question also gives the candidate the opening to ask the interviewer if the library has a materials consideration form and collection development policy. Some libraries post these policies on their website, which gives the candidate the opportunity to study them beforehand and show the interviewer that they did their research.

Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Probably the number one topic right now is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and how that permeates all of our work – critical librarianship, information literacy, accessibility, hiring, collection statements. I would look at the ACRL trends documents and the library’s vision and values statements (and their strategic plan) to determine the issues that will be important to that library and the field.

Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The answer to this question depends a lot, or course, on the type of library and even on the specifics of the position available (area of expertise and whether the position is entry-level or requires prior experience). My thinking about this has changed even in the past few years as my smaller public liberal arts college has struggled with enrollment and budget gaps. Current research and writing on a variety of topics is of intellectual interest but not much practical value for the work and challenges we face in my library. When I think about “hot topics” that would help us consider the strengths of a candidate, I might ask a candidate about the integration of our work – to talk about the connections between developing collections, supporting teaching and research, making collections accessible, etc. An example of this integration is the frequency with which we see “Collections Development and Strategies” positions advertised. When we used this title (the last hire we were able to make), we were clear that the “strategies” were not only about materials formats or access, but also about outreach and use.

I think I would be interested in asking a candidate what issues facing higher education in general, and academic libraries specifically, they consider to be of interest and most important for the work they do and the job they applied for. I might hope to hear something about topics such as data privacy, equity and inclusion applied in many areas of our work, approaches to information literacy work with reduced staffing, open education, the effects of the trauma of the past few years on incoming undergraduates, or many others.

My answer to the question about keeping up has changed a lot over the years. As a very early career librarian I often read the top 3-4 journals cover to cover, including articles in areas I had less interest in or knowledge of. Over time I became better and picking and choosing and also added journals in areas outside librarianship. I think following the daily Inside Higher Ed digest is very useful. I read a few of the bloggers faithfully. The same for The Chronicle of Higher Education. These days I rely a lot on Twitter. I have found it incredibly useful identifying newly published blog posts, articles, etc. in librarianship and higher education in general. I’ll admit that I find a lot of blogs and other writing more useful than many of the more traditional peer-reviewed published articles these days.

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System:

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? The question of what “hot topics” to ask a candidate very much depends on the open position. With Youth Services Librarian positions, we have included questions revolving around “virtual programming,” but I don’t see this as a hot topic. Actually, I am not inclined to ask a question that centers on a “hot topic” because they tend to be short lived.

My preferred question is “What do you see as the greatest challenge facing libraries today?” A candidate’s answer can be very insightful or superficial. I expect to hear an answer focusing on “budget” or “censorship.” The answer to this question may well provide those on the interview committee an opportunity to dive deep into the candidate’s beliefs and values.

What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics? Let’s be honest here, what might be considered a “current issue” in librarianship may well have little relevance to my library and/or community. Once again, the answer regarding knowledge of a current issue depends on the position in question. Being aware of the “current issues” in the community my library serves can be much more important, and ultimately more impactful to the operation of the library, than knowing about a “current issue in librarianship.”

Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? I typically don’t answer “it depends” but it really does depend on the level of the position. For example – an entry level librarian’s hot topic might be something like – Have you or how have you changed your reference interview/customer service exchanges to build in a culture of EDI for your users? That question conveys that it is a “must” for the organization but shows the candidate that the organization knows it is everyone’s job to make sure the culture is comfortable and appropriate for users.

If I am interviewing a librarian who might be in a coordinative, managerial or leadership position (all different aspects of some positions as we know) our questions lean more to making sure applicants know that we have put things in motion to integrate and insure EDI is built into the organizational structure (customer service, signage, marketing, professional exchanges, language, etc.) but more importantly that a manager must be committed to “requiring and assessing behavior” and maintaining the new or revised processes as well as a constant evolution that focuses on change for this critical area.

Also – for middle or higher level managers (or this second group addressed) it is important to communicate that organizational documents must be reviewed for needed revisions and additions such as mission and values statements, goals, outcomes, budget allotments, as well as individual employee goals. Adding in interview discussions and questions for all levels communicates not only that an organization is changing but also to clearly communicate new requirements are in place for orientation, staff development and – more than likely – individual evaluations conducted to measure not only presence but application of critical approaches to structuring content and working with users.

Interview committees should also be ready for questions from applicants on the very hot topics of “How is your organization handling gun control?” or “How did/does your umbrella organization and how are you handling the administrative requests throughout the country for removing materials or banning certain materials from the library?”

What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics? Like any current issue in the profession, those interviewing and interviewers need to be aware of the facts and both what general approaches and the narrower approaches that individuals must take to comply or refuse some current issues both in the profession as well as those in the surrounding community or society at large. For the profession certainly – as covered above – EDI, Open materials, book censorship and banning come to mind as those issues most directly in front of us. Societal issues – now overlapping for us in many areas – include some aspects of EDI, staff and user gun control issues, and -of course – public wellness and local, county, state and national health and wellness guidelines. Certainly underpinning many if not all of these areas is free speech and intellectual freedom – mainstays in our profession for protecting practices – but certainly viewed now with new topics guiding discussions.

Keeping up on topics must be a combination of where to look for the facts, terminology to be used and how manners should integrate these issues into work life. Obviously, cornerstone professional journals, identified online vetted forums – by library professionals and specialty journals with opinions by experts are places to find foundational information. Professionals should always; however, seek to find out the breadth of the issue – if for no other reason than to recognize terminology brought into the workplace by staff or by users, and likely flashpoints. Organizational administrators should begin to – if they haven’t already – provide their own information gathering foundation and share that with staff and users as needed. This sharing allows people to see that decisions are made after reviewing vetting environments. For example – pandemic decisions for the organization should have been accompanied with citations to or names of the organizations consulted such as the CDC, initially the WHO and local dashboards maintained by reputable sources such as County Public Health or an organization’s Risk Management office – those people tasked with maintaining valid information. Citing research provides managers with the supporting documentation for why decisions were made (or not) and then both staff and users better understand how decisions came to be. It was especially important during the last two years when the speed of decision making was unprecedented for organizations. Having a pre-defined and advertised approach lent credibility and a valued process and reduced stress for employees as well as avoided many triggers for users.

Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or from your closest rooftop. If you have a question to ask, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.


Filed under Further Questions

2 responses to “Further Questions: What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of ?

  1. TK

    These responses represent gatekeeping type questions that limit opportunities for early career librarians and non-white librarians. What do these questions have to do with the tasks and responsibilities of the job? Issues and trends identified in LIS journals or the Chronicle of Higher Education etc. may have little to do with the job at hand. Are candidates flexible and adaptable? How do they respond to frequent changes? Can they work collaboratively and with little oversight? Can they manage difficult patrons and colleagues? How do they keep up to date with the happenings of the library type of the advertised job? Unfortunately most of the interview questions on DEI are at best disingenuous because the library profession is overwhelming white. I am beyond irritated by the lack of progression in these responses.


  2. Pingback: Return to Further Questions Questions | Hiring Librarians

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