Further Questions: Who hires librarians?

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.

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? How is their feedback treated?

Anonymous: I’ve just convened a search committee for a Health Sciences Librarian at a small liberal arts college. I am chair as Director of the Library, our tech services librarian is also representing the library and there are two health sciences faculty members on the committee as well. 

While the search committee will select the finalists, other constituents such as the library staff, members of the faculty library committee, health sciences administrators, etc. will be involved in the final, on-campus interview stage. Any one involved in this stage will be asked to share feedback with the committee, which will be used in the final deliberations.

Heather Backman, Assistant Director of Library Services, Weymouth (MA) Public Libraries: Applications for open positions are reviewed by myself, the library director, and the department head who will supervise the new hire. For department head openings, applications are reviewed by myself and the director. Interviews are usually conducted by the same set of people who review applications, plus an HR representative who serves in an advisory role (no decision making authority but she does share her impressions of candidates and we value her input). The director technically has the final authority to decide on a hire, but in practice he, I, and the department head all work together to choose someone, and he will often rely on the department head’s preferences.

Occasionally other library staff will sit in on interviews if they have a particular connection with the position being hired for, and their feedback is also taken seriously. For instance, when I was interviewed, the department heads were there, and when we recently were hiring for a position that would work very closely with one particular front-line staff member, that staff member sat in on interviews (though she didn’t review applications with us).

The other stakeholders involved in our hiring process are the Mayor and his chief of staff. The Mayor (usually via his chief of staff) must sign off on all new hires, and technically he could veto our choice or direct us to hire someone specific, though so far I have not encountered a situation where we were unable to make an offer to our preferred candidate. Neither of these people meets candidates. Usually their involvement comes down to signing an approval form forwarded to them from HR.

Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

The composition of the search committee and the interview schedule vary depending on the level of the position being filled.

  • For hourly staff, generally positions that don’t require an MLS, the supervisor and one other person from the department comprise the search committee. The candidates meet with the committee, with the other hourly staff in the department, with any other stakeholders, and with HR. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form. Department librarians or staff outside of the department are unlikely to meet with the candidate, unless they would interact with the person in the position.
  • For librarians or other salaried positions that require an MLS or other advanced degree, the search committee generally includes the supervisor (usually department director), a librarian from the department, and a librarian from another department. When possible that last person will be someone who would interact with the candidate if hired. Depending on the role of the position being advertised, the candidates may meet with employees from outside the department. I will often ask people from outside of the department to have a meal with the candidate or give them a tour of the library, so that the candidate can meet a variety of people. All of our candidate presentations are open to the entire library staff. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form.

Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College:

As we are a small college and a small library, hiring committees are always the College Librarian and 2 other library staff members – a librarian and a library technician for librarian positions, or 2 library technicians for library technician or student work study positions.  This works well for us. 

Many years ago we did have HR involved, but as they don’t really know anything about library operations their presence didn’t really add anything to the selection process.

Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: We use a three-person panel for almost every hiring decision, whether it’s for a librarian, paraprofessional, or support staff. The panel consists of the manager who will supervise the person hired, myself, and a third person. The third person is usually our Chief of HQ Library Services, but can also vary based on the position (like including our Children’s Services Manager if the position will be working with children at a branch). The odd-numbered panel is helpful if there’s a split decision, but in such cases the tiebreaking vote goes to the manager who will be directly supervising the new employee. 

If a candidate is applying for a promotion in-house or at another branch, we will talk with their current or former managers here to get input. Information gathered this way doesn’t go on a formal score sheet but does give us useful context and can help us narrow down what to ask in an interview. 

Finally, when hiring departmental or branch managers, I like to get input from the employees who will be working under the new manager. I don’t have them involved in the interview itself or have them review applications or anything (that gets complicated very quickly when almost every management-level opening has internal candidates, including current staff of the hiring department), but general preferences: would you rather work for someone with experience doing a certain type of program, with a background in a different type of library, with longer management experience, etc.? Even if those considerations aren’t ultimately the deciding factors, they help us know what to emphasize during orientation and training with a new person.

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: For librarian/library faculty, the search team is generally chaired by the faculty supervisor for the position. There will generally be three people total on the search. Our current search is chaired by the department head and includes the one other faculty librarian in the department, plus another librarian from outside the department. We try to include anyone who is a stakeholder, but it’s not always possible, especially if a staff member in the department is applying for the position, or may apply. The candidates generally meet with the other library faculty, any staff in the department, and the Dean. If it’s a staff position in a leadership role, it will include a mix of library faculty and staff who are stakeholders or who would collaborate with the new person (peers). If it’s a support staff role, it will usually be chaired by the department head or director, and include any staff in the department who are interested, plus another person from outside the department who works with the person in the role being hired. 

Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: It has been my experience that small and medium size public libraries do not have the staff, time, or resources to conduct extensive, multipart interviews for most positions. As an example, a circulation clerk interview will be conducted by two to three staff members. The interview committee may consist of the direct supervisor, a person who is not a direct supervisor but is on a higher level in the organization, and/or the director.

What has worked for us as a medium size library (by South Carolina standards) is to include a non-employee in the interview process for specific positions. These positions are ones for which require a degree of expertise not broadly found in a small to medium size library, such as branch manager, information technology manager, youth services librarian, bookkeeper, etc. This non-staff member of the interview committee could be a director from another library, a state library staff member with expertise in a specific area, or someone in the county’s human resources department.

For public libraries with branches, the inclusion of a “stakeholder” from the area can be a real benefit to the library and the community. Including a Board member who represents the service area of the branch can be helpful. The Board member is attune to the area served by the branch and can provide some useful insights into the community. The Board member has an opportunity to be involved, in a limited and appropriate way, in a personnel decision for their community. It provides a degree of management transparency for the Board member, and the Board as a whole, that can build Board confidence in the library’s management (which can pay off later when that inevitable difficult situation arises).

There are some very good reasons for doing this:

1) An outside expert can provide questions that can help determine the candidate’s level of knowledge or experience and not be dazzled by a lot of babble. This is critically important when hiring for say an IT position or a branch manager.

2) Especially if there are in-house candidates to be interviewed, a person from outside the library can be perceived as neutral or unbiased. This actually works to the committee’s benefit as it may require the staff who are on the interview committee to truly justify their ranking/choice.

3) A diverse interview committee may be easier to achieve by including someone from outside the library on the committee.

The inclusion of a non-staff person as part of certain interview committees can make a difference for a small or medium size library. I has for my medium size library.

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

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Our Human Resources department has – for many years- been very strict about our hiring committees and all related processes including specifically – hiring committees for staffing table positions (all faculty, professional technical and all classified staff.) With the introduction of our newest Enterprise Management System, the same prescribed elements remain for committees but additional restrictions have been placed on advertising and hiring hourly employees (our hourly academic Librarians, our hourly instruction librarians and any hourly classified employees now have to be posted through the online system as well.)

But depending on the focus of committees and time of year we are trying to hire, things vary and – with special permission from HR – we can substitute levels of employees, locations or the number serving given the past two years. But if no exceptions are needed, at least six representatives to sit on committees are:

  • Faculty Librarians – Members to include the direct manager, representatives from the staffing table classified staff with whom they might work, at least one and maybe two peer faculty librarians, the campus manager (if available) and in addition and based on availability – a classroom faculty member either from the campus where the opening is located or based on availability. If the timing is not good for finding a classroom faculty member, we try to ensure that the peer faculty librarian who serves is also – for example -also a teaching adjunct for the college or someone with expanded curriculum experience/classroom instruction.
  • Classified Staff – Members to include – depending on their functional areas – a classified staff member representing public or technical services, administrative assistant w\ork or secretarial work – where the opening is AND – if possible – representatives from several campuses – since – at certain times of the year – classified staff move among campuses to assist as needed.
  • Professional/Technical – Members to include professional/technical employees with similar or exact expertise in specific or related areas or roles and responsibilities as well as the specific or related departments (such as both instructional and institutional technology experience.)
  • Administrative Assistant – Membership in the committee also always includes an administrative assistant – from either the campus with the opening or an available one – to manage communication and paperwork, etc. They are also counted as a member of the committee.

All committee membership must include membership that is: balanced in gender, ethnicity, race, and until last year – all members needed to have been with the college at least 6 month – but as of last year, that is now not required. Members; however, must go through a training (or have attended the online training within a year) and if requested by the Chair – online training AND a HR representative will present to the committee on the need for confidentiality, consistency needed, legal vs. illegal questions, etc.

Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? This is the disappointing part to me….faculty librarians have had and continue to have the requirement to present to the committee (and then any observing attendees complete an evaluation form.) A few years ago – they decided the teaching presentation was no longer open and I think that is a big loss. The committee; however, can take the candidate to lunch – but my approach is any shared meal needs to be after the interview.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I think the broader teaching audience was an integral part of the process. I liked the fact that we could then invite others (faculty librarians, staff from the campus where the vacancy is located, etc.) and then a small reception after the presentation to meet and greet. It is a loss to lose it as part of the process.

How is their feedback treated? As a committee, we choose the questions and the order in which we will ask them – based on recent question sets which – at some time – were approved by HR. Committee members then get copies of the questions with spaces between each one so that notes from each member can be taken in a more standard format, then discussed uniformly. Members also decide in advance of the interviews the weight or importance of each question/answer so that we can compare not only the answers but based on the importance of the question, how individuals answered the most important questions.

We use feedback and discussion to choose and rank three candidates. If the Dean is the chair (and we are hiring a head librarian) references are checked and we indicate rank but after we discuss and rank, we then each complete an online form.and why and send the list to HR. If a frontline faculty librarian is the focus, the three finalists are turned over to the Dean/me and I interview (with the committee chair) the top candidates asking the finalists the most important questions identified based on the opening. Then we rank or re-rank, references are checked and forms are completed and the packet is sent forward.

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or hidden on a slip of paper inside a carnitas burrito. 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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