Hiring Better: Fair Library Jobs

The first run of Hiring Librarians was pretty eye-opening. I learned that there is no secret to hiring and that people who hire library workers have all sorts of contradictory opinions and practices. And I saw that many of those opinions and practices are rooted in internal bias. I am very grateful to the readers who took the time to point out problematic answers, and the problematic questions I was asking. 

So this time around, I’ve been looking for ways to help mitigate harm, both in the work of this blog and in our collective practices. I do a bit of noodling around on Twitter, looking for library folks discussing hiring or LIS careers. This is how I learned of the UK Group, Fair Library Jobs. I was really intrigued by their work and asked them to provide something for Hiring Librarians. 

Who we are

Fair Library Jobs (@FairLibraryJobs) is a group of library workers who use grassroots campaign methods to improve recruitment practices in the UK library sector.

The group was formed in November 2021 after an expression of interest on social media from one of our members. We have worked in a range of different library and information sectors and levels but had in common the experience of applying for many roles in different libraries and a shared dissatisfaction of  the processes and policies we had observed. We work on Fair Library Jobs on a voluntary basis, donating our time around full-time jobs to improve library workers’ experiences of recruitment. 

What do we want to achieve?

We are aware that there is a lot of divergence in library recruitment practices in the UK. While many employers use sound and equitable practices for recruiting to posts, many others have policies, procedures and processes that can result in poor applicant experiences and broader inequity in our sector. Our aim is to champion the former and challenge the latter. 

We believe that recruitment to the library sector should be based on an ethos of  transparency, equity and respect and that fulfilling these obligations not only benefits the livelihoods and wellbeing of library workers but also contributes to the relevance and value of the library and information sector to wider society. More broadly we believe that in-post equity, diversity and inclusion work in libraries is significantly undermined where that workplace has not addressed issues in their recruitment and that marginalisation and underrepresentation in the sector cannot be properly addressed without work in this area. 

How do you do this?

We think the first step in reforming library recruitment is to define what we believe good and bad practice looks like. To do this we wrote and published a manifesto on our website – in this we are indebted to our sector siblings at Fair Museum Jobs who were kind enough to both consult with us on their work and allow us to use their manifesto as a foundational text for our own group. The manifesto is our guiding document and we use it to evaluate the library job ads in the UK. This can include job adverts, person specifications, job descriptions and application processes. We use points on the manifesto to either challenge or champion job ads on Twitter and lobby for individual change (on specific problematic elements) and more broadly in the sector. When challenging aspects of a job advert we specify which aspects we disagree with, where these contradict with our manifesto, what the potential equity implications of these are and offer potential remedies or improvements.

We also advocate for use of the manifesto proactively by recruiting managers and HR departments when designing recruitment materials, adverts and specifications. We also advocate on behalf of our followers when they wish to raise concerns about ‘invisible’ recruitment practices (e.g. interview procedures, notification of outcomes etc.) where they wish to maintain anonymity. 

What are some of the common issues you deal with?

Since forming our group in Nov 2021 we’ve raised a wide range of issues that we’ve observed in library recruitment. These can be broadly divided into our three core principles. 

Transparency concerns the availability of necessary information. Some job ads without key information applicants need when making a decision on whether or not to apply or might harm their chances in being shortlisted or selected if they do. The most common issues we see in this are withholding salary information, not showing working days/hours for part-time roles or including implied or ambiguous criteria or processes that require inside knowledge, connections or cultural capital to navigate.

The Equity principle is about factors which have a direct negative impact on folks from marginalised and/or underrepresented groups and that reinforce the privilege of other groups and communities or have the potential to result in socially equitable outcomes . Common issues are roles which do not pay a living wage  (we use the Living Foundation’s (@LivingWageUK) as a baseline), selection criteria that are based on culturally-relative personality traits such as “positivity” and “politeness” and questions about applicants’ interests and hobbies.

Finally the respect principle acknowledges unequal power dynamics implicit in the recruiter-applicant relationship and challenges the recruiters to move from a patron-supplicant relationship to a more mutually-respectful relationship. It recognises that applicants invest significant amounts of time,effort and energy into job applications and requires recruiters to respect this. Common issues include the closure of applications mid-way through recruitment windows (when applicants may already have investested significant time), failure to contact unsuccessful applicants or requiring identical information in multiple formats (such as CVs, cover letters and application forms within a single application process). 

Individual issues frequently overlap between different principles, for example failure to disclose salary is non-transparent, damages equity (given the evidence of salary non-disclosure and gender, disability and ethnicity pay gaps) and doesn’t respect applicants (given they’re expected to spend hours on an application/interview without knowing if the job pays enough). We also recognise that individual or multiple issues on job adverts impact already underrepresented and/or marginalised communities disproportionately and that these are likely to impact negatively on equity and diversity both on a workplace and a sector level. 

Who is your target audience?

Fundamentally our key audience is people who recruit to library roles. Whilst challenging problematic aspects of job ads on social media is the most visible aspect of our work, our main intention is that recruiting managers read and reflect on our manifesto and proactively address shortcoming in their policies and processes in recruitment. We are aware however, that recruiting managers in libraries are often bound by institutional policies, we hope therefore that public discussion of problematic aspects of recruitment practices provides a motivation and rationale for reform in discussion with HR departments. Our final audience is library workers themselves and our hope is that open discussion of recruitment processes acts as a consciousness-raising exercise and empowers workers to question and challenge poor practice in the sector.

What successes have you had? 

Much of our success, where it exists, is likely invisible and consists of discussions and changes made to recruitment policies and practices made internally. We have however had feedback from recruiting managers who have implemented all or aspects of our manifesto when undertaking recruitment. Other successes have been in individual advertised roles. Many recruiters have engaged positively with our posts and made commitments to address issues we’ve raised in that advert or future recruitment rounds.

How can people support your site?

Our work is centred on the UK library sector and we welcome people to highlight UK library jobs to us that they feel have problematic elements we can address. This can be done via our email (fairlibraryjobs@gmail.com), through a DM on Twitter or using the anonymous form on our website

We do also invite anyone who supports our ethos and work to pledge their support for us on the supporters area of our website and to follow us on Twitter. The greater the support we can claim the stronger our voice is in pushing for change to recruitment practices. 

Finally we’d love to see similar groups looking to address issues in library recruitment in other localities and would be happy to discuss. 

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