Back in 2012/2013 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are about a decade later.
Becca Tansey filled out the original survey in 2015 and her answers appeared as More library school graduates are going straight from undergraduate into a library program, and might not have three-five years experience coming out. At the time, she was an aspiring children’s librarian, working as a page. When I caught up with her recently, I found that she had taken her career in a different direction! She was kind enough to answer my questions below:
Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?
I work at the Newburyport Public Library as Head of Borrower Services. I’ve been here at Newburyport for the past 7 years. Shortly after the blog post I was hired as a reference librarian and after 5 ½ years in that position, a department head role was vacant and I was encouraged to apply. I’ve been in that role for a little over a year. I love working in circulation services because it’s often the most positive interaction you’ll have with a patron. I greatly enjoyed my role in reference as well and it’s been nice to have the opportunity to really experience all the different departments within the library world.
Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?
I thought that I was going to be working in children’s librarianship. I initially saw my job as a reference librarian as a way to gain experience before moving into children’s. I ended up falling in love with adult services and the community so much that I’ve never left! Upon graduating I expected that I would bounce around from library to library, like many of my peers and never in my wildest dreams imagined I would still be working in the same library that offered me my first professional job. A huge part of the reason I stayed was the growth and learning opportunities that were available.
Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed?
I would say that for the most part my answers have stayed the same. I have noticed a decrease in people who are interested in going straight into an MLIS program from undergrad. In my opinion, COVID really changed the landscape of acquiring advanced degrees. Many people are starting off in paraprofessional roles to get a feel for whether or not they want to pursue a library degree, and if they do decide to move forward they are mostly doing online programs and taking courses one or two at a time. I think it’s a smart and sensible way to approach the profession.
Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?
I have and it was an interesting experience for sure. As Head of Borrower Services all of my staff are paraprofessionals and the job posting only requires a Bachelor’s. This brings out some colorful candidates and I’m always amazed at how many people think working in a library will be a nice, quiet, easy job! Thus far, picking the right candidate has been easy, because they are a clear standout and the best fit for the role and community.
Do you have any advice for job hunters?
I would say my advice is the same as it was years ago, but I would add that it’s important to maintain a professional demeanor during the interview. I don’t know if it’s people just being burned out after COVID, but in many of the interviews I’ve been in and from what I’ve heard from our administration, people are sharing things that are just not appropriate. Trash talking current co-workers, sharing uncomfortable and extremely personal information, and going into rants about unrelated topics. We’ve had a lot of job openings recently at our library, and many rounds of interviews and it just seems like there is an influx of unprofessional conduct that has shocked many of my supervisors who have worked in libraries for decades.
Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?
I still think it is really important to communicate at every step of the way with applicants. I’ve learned now that many libraries don’t have much say in scheduling interviews and communication with applicants, and that it often falls to town/city HR departments. Unfortunately, this can be detrimental to libraries in that someone from outside of the field won’t see past the black and white qualifications and discard a potentially excellent candidate. We are lucky at my library to have control over the hiring process, and it’s one of the things that impressed me as an applicant all those years ago. Prompt emails and phone calls to inform applicants where they stand at various stages in the hiring process is a courtesy that should be standard practice. I was getting rejection letters from places I’d applied to a year after I had applied! It’s inconsiderate at best, at worst it’s a red flag that the library and community don’t have their act together. If you have the ability to, I would recommend really pushing your town/city HR department to ensure that their actions aren’t creating a negative image of your library to applicants.
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
I just want to send good vibes and positivity to everyone who was working in libraries during COVID. I’ve seen a lot of people drop out of the profession because their experience was so terrible and I’ve seen people who have stayed become so burned out that they’ve lost their former passion for library work. It was a tough time and many communities did not handle it well. Also shout out to school librarians and anyone who is dealing with book challenges right now. The library world has been very crazy the past couple of years, but I have hope that we will get through these tough times.