Many libraries are installing men almost routinely into the highest roles, including men without even a library background or the ALA degree

Three white men, two who are in military uniform, stand by a shelf of books
ALA Camp Kearny library Left to right: J.H. Quire, Camp Librarian, Fr. Herbert Putnam, Gen’l. Director, Library War Service, I.N. Lawson, Jr. Assistant Librarian From the Library of Congress.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Special Library 

Title: Regional Manager, Library Services

Titles hired include: Library Technician, Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Proof of degree 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

Fill out position request forms, get approval, obtain funding, post job, review resumes, convene hiring panel, interview (w. HR rep present), make offer, get salary benchmarking, formalize offer by letter, receive signed offer letter back from employee. 

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Researched the role, even brings notes (that is fine!); could give clear structured answers to questions (Describe a situation related to question; what actions they took, or things they had to consider, and the outcomes. Demonstration of practical experience in this way is helpful, and answers matter even if they are not directly related to the field (Eg a newly graduated librarian might given an example from another job and that would be okay provided it was well structured around the process they use in a given scenario). 3 minutes long is usually okay for each question, better to be a bit longer than not detailed. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Short interview answers with no details. Resumes that don’t list a speficif work duty and output or outcome related to it. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One! 

Resume: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

I don’t think anyone ever intends to make mistakes, we are human, people sometimes seem overconfident, but it’s nerves; or they seem nervous, but they steadfastly answer the questions, no one is perfect and my hope is that every qualified candidate understands that sometimes they only don’t get the job because they made it to the interview as 1 of 2 or 3 highly qualified candidates. It’s not often a lack of anything, just competitive markets sometimes. 

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

Yes. Job hunters – when asked to attend a virtual interview – should ask about the process: will someone be there navigating the virtual interview, introducing each panel member, reminding folks to take breaks, or pause to listen, checking to make sure the technology is working properly etc. It is the most unstructured interview environment otherwise. Another question is, how many will be on the panel for the virtual meeting?  I once attended an academic panel interview virtually that I was dropped into from the “lobby” with 14 faces staring at me and they said “Well, in the interest of time, we will just get going, I am so and so and here’s my question.” By the 5th interviewer question, I was lost on the screen, had not had a chance to set my Zoom side to speaker view only, etc, and every time someone spoke, they shifted on the screen. As a hiring manager now, I would make sure everyone is ready, comfortable and relaxed and technologically set up for the interview first. If someone says you will be facing a 7 to 12 person panel online, consider carefully what that flow will feel like for you, and what you need as the interviewee. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

My biggest problem with libraries hiring library staff is this presumption that every library is so different. They are not. Organizations all have their people, budget, facility and online pain points. Soft skills and innovative thinking, program planning, etc is all transferable. My advice here for librarians in particular is to stop talking about being relevant as a library, and start talking about the profession and it’s components – it is information technology (from relational database work to tech management to teaching IT skills), it is information classification, it is community development (which transfer to any library, special, academic or otherwise, stakeholder, community, it’s all interchangeable), it is program planning, budget management, engagement work, adult education, etc. Everyone thinks they know what a library worker does – they truly do not. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

This is something that needs serious addressing and as a hiring manager, I have been advocating for changes in this area, including naming the biases when I see them. This is serious work and it requires more than just a policy to change it and personally, I do not think my organization can even see it’s extensive hiring biases. What I see happening in Canadian library job markets is this: Library headhunters, especially those tasked by boards to hire at the highest levels of college, university and public libraries in Canada particularly continue to do a terrible job of seeking out diverse candidates. Of late, in Western Canada, many libraries are installing men almost routinely into the highest roles, including men without even a library background or the ALA degree – and male librarians have never been held back from leading in libraries in the first place. For example, in 2021, Calgary Public Library hired it’s first woman librarian CEO in its 109 year tenure  – that screams bias that it took so long and sadly, I see that bias against woman leadership in libraries continuing without any critique into 2022.  I can safely say that no woman has run a library in my province without all the required qualifications and then some. We hold men and women and people from diverse backgrounds to different standards for performance and it needs to stop. 

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

Candidates may want to ask a question to assess their own fit to the organization. For example, the candidate might say “In the past, I’ve enjoyed working in collaborative teams where ideas are respected and methods to act upon ideas are in place, how do you promote collaboration, respect and new ideas and innovation in your organization?” 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Canada

What’s your region like?

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ Other: 7000 (special library inside larger organization)

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author? 

I applaud this survey. I am wholeheartedly disheartened as a Canadian librarian that in my 20 years of library work, the strong guard of female and diverse mentors is reverting back to the traditional male library leader with a stay at home wife or not kids. It’s troubling in a way I cannot even express and I do believe hiring firms contracted by library boards or academic institutions are truly doing a terrible job and have no idea about the issues in feminized professions and continue to have processes that favour men, mostly white men, but generally men.  

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.


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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Canada, Rural area, Special

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