Further Questions: Do you ask candidates to address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at any point in the hiring process?

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:

Do you ask candidates to address Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at any point in the hiring process? If so, please tell us a little bit about what the prompt is, when it is asked, and what you are looking for in the response.

Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries: Yes. We ask for a statement regarding diversity, equity, access, and inclusion for our librarian positions and it is a required part of the application process, along with the cover letter and resume. The prompt is:

The University of Iowa Libraries welcomes and serves all, including people of color from all nations, immigrants, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and the most vulnerable in our community. We safeguard the human right to access information. We offer educational resources that promote diversity, equity, access, and inclusion, and we strive to build collections that reflect all points of view on current and historical issues. Include an applicant statement to include examples of ways you have advanced diversity, equity, access, and inclusion in the workplace or community or provide other evidence of your demonstrated commitment to diversity.

I am looking for how the applicant has applied DEIA to a specific area of their current position or involvement in DEIA-related work, such as library or university committees. The former can be difficult for technical services staff, since our direct impact on the public can be limited. Because the DEIA statements are not shared beyond the search committee, candidates are often asked in the on-site interview process to talk about how they have applied DEIA in their current position.

Kellee Forkenbrock, Public Services Librarian, North Liberty Community Library: Indeed – our library (like many across the nation) is very committed to DEI efforts and ask pointed questions about it in our interviewing process. One such question we ask is, “Describe a situation when you had to consider someone’s cultural perspective during an interaction or with them or when providing customer service to them.” Allowing candidates to provide real-life examples of their work in this spectrum connects the cause with the work.

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: I looked back at the questions from our last library faculty search and I didn’t see any questions that particularly addressed DEI concerns. However, the person we hired has been working with us to develop DEI statements, especially with regard to some of the archival materials he works with. When we hire, because we are at a Jesuit institution, we often focus on the Jesuit values, such as cura personalis (care for the whole person) and social justice. While those aren’t specifically DEI-related questions, they can give a candidate a place to discuss those values and a particular approach. Our student body has high financial need and is a high percentage of first generation college students, so we often end up discussing how the library supports students in difficult circumstances who need support.

Anonymous: We have just started asking this question during every interview: “Diversity and inclusion are important values in our library. Can you tell us about how you have been able to learn about or apply these concepts in your work or everyday life?”

In the response, I’m looking for at minimum general awareness of diversity issues and privilege. I don’t need candidates to divulge anything personal if they don’t want to, and we’ve tried to keep the question relatively broad to give people a chance to talk about a range of possible things depending on their comfort level. I’m listening for responses that demonstrate that a candidate has at least a basic working knowledge of more recent thinking about how to engage respectfully with others in a diverse world. I like answers where people also acknowledge the need to continually keep learning (we all do!). Many people say they had diversity training at their last job, which is not an awful answer, but I’d always then like to hear what they learned or took away from that training. I’m also watching for people who really flounder. We have had some candidates tell us that they “don’t see color” or similar statements, or use outdated terminology to talk about minority groups. That is always a major red flag.

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: Yes, in a couple of different ways. For professional positions dealing with supervision, collection management, or programming and community outreach, we ask questions tailored to those areas: How do you plan programs for a target audience whose background is different than yours? How do you make sure your collection offers something for everyone in our diverse community? In your previous positions what actions did you take to promote equity and inclusion? And so on.  Sometimes we will get answers that are very general or hint that the candidate has never made any proactive efforts in this area. A good answer for these questions will include some kind of concrete action: changing who is involved in the planning process, partnering with a specific organization, etc. And an answer that shows you did research about the library and the community is always very helpful.

Anonymous: Over the past few years, we have seen an increased focus on EDI in the hiring process and I have seen a variety of ways libraries have asked about EDI, often relating directly in some way to the position but sometimes more broadly. Some of them are tied to library or institutional goals and they want to ensure that new employees will be ready to commit to working toward those goals. Some goals are intangible but are clearly trying to create an anti-racist culture while others are concrete, growing the collection in EDI areas, for instance.

Hopefully, you have some great ideas when it comes to ways the library can better serve patrons in a wide array of EDI areas and you should certainly be ready to share those ideas. However, being an outsider, it can be a challenge to come up with ideas that would be specifically relevant to that library/region unless that is asked directly or you are provided that context upfront. To a large degree, it may be more about how familiar the candidate is with EDI initiatives, ways in which libraries can work toward EDI projects, etc.

I have heard complaints from hiring committee members at various libraries say that these questions are a challenge because it is hard to rate the responses on a matrix and often it feels like that is where things end and it feels kind of hollow. It feels like something they thought they had to ask but don’t really have an idea of what kind of response they are looking for. One may argue that what you are measuring is their awareness of EDI and their readiness to embrace any EDI goals that have been set forth. Or, that they have ideas about how to develop and implement them when they are hired. For some libraries, these questions serve as a way to determine if the new hire is going to be “on-board”. While it is difficult to determine if one positive response is better than another positive response, it is really easy to tell when someone misses the mark, is not familiar with, or interested in, areas in which EDI would be important in relation to that position. It isn’t so much a matter of figuring out which candidate has the best answer (but it could be), it is more a matter seeing which candidates have thoughtful approaches and, on the flip side, of letting someone who is not going to be interested or willing to push EDI initiatives forward in the library to self-identify themselves.

In some ways, it may be a way to answer the question that we usually try to determine in social settings when we are with candidates, at lunch or on a break, during the interview process but we can’t ask outright so we are listening and watching to look for clues: “When it comes to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, what challenges you?”

It reminds me of the #TellMeChallenge on social media. “Tell me you’re a (racist) (homophobe) (misogynist) (classist) (xenophobe) (transphobe) (ableist) …………….. without telling me you’re a (insert selected noun).” So we can show you the door.

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on a the back of a tortoise dropped on my head by an eagle. 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.


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