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.
Today’s question is from someone who hires library workers:
Some managers are saying that they feel comfortable designing a 100% virtual hiring process for all of their vacant positions. Others are saying that only certain positions can be hired from 100% virtual and that some positions need a hybrid process. So…post-pandemic – IS it really possible to substitute 100% of in person hiring with 100% online/virtual hiring for librarian positions? If yes, can we say that about all positions we hire in libraries? Paraprofessional? Professional/Technical? Hourly?
There are a couple answers below and even more discussion on Twitter:
This week I’m asking people who hire library workers: Is it possible to substitute 100% online/virtual hiring for in-person hiring? True for all, none, or some library positions (and which ones)?— Hiring Librarians (@HiringLib) June 2, 2022
Jess Herzog, Director of Adult Services, Spartanburg County Public Libraries: I hire exclusively public service staff, primarily paraprofessional, and one of the things I find most important to assess in an interview is body language, because this is the kind of non-verbal behavior that will be exhibited in front of patrons. Are there abrupt or rapid movements that may overwhelm or distract patrons? Does the interviewer exhibit defensive or protective body language about a certain topic? Is the interviewee capable of making eye contact?
I don’t hang the entire interview on body language, but patrons in a public library assess body language in many many ways, and we often have to use body language to our advantage to convey messaging to patrons. It’s almost impossible to read full body language–and in most cases anything from the shoulders down–when interviewing virtually. I think a first interview could be done virtually, but for positions I hire, I’d really want to meet a prospective employee in person first and have some sort of interaction with them.
Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Since COVID, we’ve done a few hires completely virtual, both a librarian and two staff members. I think it has gone really well and I don’t think we missed out on anything. I do think it’s important for there to be some one-on-one interaction with candidates, rather than big committee meetings on Zoom. For staff, we do a pre-screening before they ever meet with the committee. For a faculty search, I don’t remember if we did two rounds on Zoom, but it worked out very well. It’s a little harder to bring out skills, etc., but I’m not sure what would entirely be gained by meeting someone in person, unless it’s for an administrator, who really needs to see the building and the campus and meet the people in person.
Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: Because of where we live – Austin – and not who we are, frankly – pre-pandemic applicants for many of our classified positions were from out-of-state. Why? To state the obvious (and identify things that many wonderful cities have)…many people move to Austin because a partner, spouse, friend, etc. is going to be going to the graduate library program in town or they themselves are OR their significant other has gotten a job in Austin (industry, tech, the music business, etc.) or they themselves are a musician or – again – their partner is OR because they love music and want to be near the city’s music scene.
I list these out because – and obviously for the classified positions – they need an income while they go to school, work, play, etc. and here we are! So we don’t flatter ourselves that we are that sought after at the senior library assistant or library assistant level but we do have good benefits and we have a variety of locations as well as managers with libraries with long hours so flexibility has always been our focus.
With that in mind, bringing people in from out-of-state- especially at the initial level of weeding out a pool of finalists – is not affordable or possible and certainly a candidate would not always choose to pay their own way. SO – many years ago we were the first department in the college to ask our HR department if we could interview online to assess the first round of applicants. Although they said yes, it meant that – for full parity – all initial finalists had to interview online and – yes – we even interviewed our internal applicants online for the first round. Of course, we quickly realized that the best outcome of this was far more than saving money or seeking a breadth of experience, etc. rather it greatly increased the pool in general and we were able to visit with candidates from vastly different settings, educational backgrounds and interests. With all of these aspects and opportunities in mind for the classified positions, we began to narrow down our faculty librarian applicant pools in the same way and we definitely had a bigger, richer pool to interview and thus narrowed down the longer list to five or six finalists to bring in/see in person.
Obviously these initial interviews online were only question and answer sessions, but as technology availability and ease of access grew, it became easier to imagine a full faculty librarian interview with not only questions and answers but also guided conversations or question and answer follow up, possible meet and greets as well as teaching presentations. After all, our growing distance learning program have – in fact – as all are, curriculum delivered both synchronously and asynchronously and we provide online reference and both hybrid (digital pre-learning and synchronous) and synchronous instruction for a class as well as online Zoom sessions for research assistance and curriculum design using library subscription resources, OPEN resources, etc. for not only students but classroom faculty.
It wasn’t such a stretch; then, as soon as the pandemic began, for us to decide the critical issue was to continue hiring and how we did that was less important than the fact that we were allowed to do it and needed to continue to fill positions. We expanded our reach, then, by moving all interviews online and continued to review our questions for currency with a focus on EDI issues as well as added with even more emphasis the assessment of the candidates design and delivery of online content. We have been very pleased with our “pandemic hires” although they interviewed only virtually AND were hired, oriented and trained virtually and – literally – in one case, did not step foot on a campus for months.
So what do we want to keep as we slowly move into Pandemic Stage 3? My guess is my managers all have distinctly different opinions – which is as it should be – but for my purposes, I very much like the virtual narrowing down of the larger pools for all levels of staff, but oddly feel more strongly about the second round for classified being either a hybrid or in-person session where we bring people in while the faculty librarian position could – in fact I think – remain online. I am not quite sure why I feel that way but because I think I should figure that out (!) I thought about it taking a look back at the last 18 months, read a little on online interviewing etc. and have decided on this list of “why.”
Why do we need to bring in senior assistant and library assistant candidates for at least part of an interview?
- Classified staff – obviously – work alone at the public service or assistance desk/in assistance areas but overall operate as members of teams and – as such – train together, support the teams general and specific duties and often partner for not only projects but for public service…I see it critical then – if at all possible and especially for those not serving on the selection committees – get the chance to meet with candidates.
- Many circulation desk roles and responsibilities are not stand-alone roles, rather a project or task or job responsibility is completed by the team – often stepping in at different times – therefore – timing, relationships, observation with the team (if possible) are key.
- Classified staff work in fewer locations -that is – they have responsibilities for roles and responsibilities at their public service desk possibly, an administrative assistants desk – and one other location – specifically the workroom or work stations for work cubicles and now – they must also work in shared locations or on shared technology. Given the number of hours – literally- classified staff work in fewer, smaller spaces, it is important for them to see their work environment…windows or not? space to call their own or not? opportunities for more quiet or not? “protected” from the general public or not? opportunities – on the job – for privacy or not? People have to make their own decisions about where they might feel comfortable working and whether or not they feel as if they can be successful in work settings. That best happens with onsite visits and – if possible – observation of people working in spaces.
- Classified roles and responsibilities might but aren’t necessarily “self-starter” in nature, but certainly once in play, staff need to be self-directed. Rather than – if at all possible – finding out if applicants can be or are self-starters through questions alone – it is important to show/illustrate workflow for teams so that applicants can be more aware of position expectations in general and so that interviews can ask questions following tours to determine awareness of/interest in and commitment to self-starting tasks and responsibilities.
Why is the actual in-person visit not as necessary – in some environments – for librarians as applicants?
So first the disclaimer, many environments do NOT have adequate workroom, office, or cubicle space for professionals – much less their classified staff. Professionals; however, have more flexible schedules typically as well as more locations where work happens and possibly (and certainly now typically) both on and off site. And the odds are professionals might have on site or in the building or general proximity, offices, more opportunities for privacy and “heads down” concentration and focus as well as individual – rather than team – roles and responsibilities. If your environment for your professionals is one where space is shared (offices, hardware/tech, space for supporting resources, etc.) it is incumbent upon interviews that you communicate that to all applicants. Much like the difficult answers that are typically given to “What is your support for staff development?” applicants must be told what they have and what they don’t have either through verbal discussion or through lists of resources available for new professionals including office/work space information.
Smart applicants ask questions such as “What does a typical workday look like for a librarian?” “Please describe workspaces for librarians beyond the public service desk.” “What support do instructors have in classrooms?” “What storage is there for maker resources (or children’s materials for programming, or parent support resources?” “What is the performance or programming space for my primary audience, my seniors?”
With the advent of streaming media, phones with cameras, inexpensive filming devices, etc.and taking great care to not provide TOO much information on recommendation of safety and security experts for environments, it is easy to not only create virtual visits for users to post on websites, social media, etc. but also to provide short media pieces for candidates showing public and behind-the-scenes workspaces (cubicles, offices), user environments, programming venues, and even supporting resource storage. In addition, those interviewing virtually should identify individual technology support in general and specifically (higher end computers, laptop availability, device distribution for staff, more memory given roles and responsibilities, etc.) as well as updates and ongoing maintenance and overall support for hardware and software. And while these elements have always been important it is even more important as we welcome people back to the workplace who may have VERY different working spaces in the past two years.
We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via carrier pigeon. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.