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.
In my recent 2023 Job Hunter Survey, one of the questions I ask is if candidates have ever asked for an accommodation during the hiring process, and if so what happened. Of the people who responded yes, many said things like “I won’t ask for accommodations because I fear it will impact my getting the job.” and “it was not given, app withdrawn.”
Back in October, I saw a tweet about a presentation at the Pennsylvania Library Association conference entitled “Reasonable Accommodations from the Employee Perspective.” The presenter, Katelyn Quirin Manwiller, was providing her slides, script and research handout for anyone who might be interested. I got in touch to see if she’d be willing to write something up for the blog and she was gracious enough to say yes.
If you’re curious about the original presentation, the slides and resource list are here.
One avenue for improving the diversity of librarianship is providing a more inclusive hiring process and examining potential barriers to marginalized library workers. Much of this work requires current library employees, managers, and search committees to undergo training on federal discrimination laws and the positive benefits of having a diverse workforce. Despite these efforts, many library workers remain completely unfamiliar with the protections afforded to disabled Americans during the hiring process. For example, my university requires all search committee members to complete diversity training prior to posting the job which I completed while recently serving on a search committee for a librarian position. Throughout the training, disability was mentioned only in terms of not asking candidates about their health during interviews. At the end, I asked what our procedures were for candidates requesting accommodations, and the HR presenters were shocked, saying I was the first person to ever mention it. Many library workers have never encountered accommodations in the hiring process – or at all. But the accommodations process serves as the baseline for disability inclusion in employment and library workers must be knowledgeable about it to provide inclusive and accessible hiring experiences.
So, what are accommodations? The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the right to equal employment for people with disabilities, meaning anyone who “has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity” (ADA National Network, 2023, para. 2). The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 emphasizes that this definition should be interpreted in the broadest terms possible, including medical conditions that are permanent or temporary, physical or psychological, visibly apparent to others or not. The law outlines the reasonable accommodation process as “a modification or adjustment to a job, the work environment, or the way things are usually done during the hiring process” (Office of Disability Employment Policy, n.d., para. 1). It’s important to note that both disability and accommodation are legal terms meant to protect equal rights and not necessarily related to whether a person identifies as disabled. The ADA only applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees. Even though smaller libraries may not be legally obligated to provide accommodations, all libraries should adhere to these practices to ensure that they provide equal access to all candidates. Lastly, I will emphasize that the ADA and the accommodations process are the bare minimum legally required, not the epitome of inclusion or accessibility. This blog serves as a primer to these legal requirements because they are frequently left out of equity conversations, but please know there is far more libraries can do beyond accommodations to provide inclusive hiring to disabled candidates.
Accommodations occur when a candidate requests an adjustment to some aspect of the hiring process, often the structure or format of an interview. The candidate would submit a written or oral request for an accommodation to an official human resources office or whoever is doing the hiring at the library. The employer will then grant the accommodation for an obvious request. Obvious in this context is what it sounds like – something where the disability and accommodation are obvious to the employer. An example of this would be a candidate who uses a wheelchair saying they will need access to an elevator during the interview process. If it is not obvious, the employer will require additional documentation from a healthcare professional, either a letter or standardized forms explaining how the candidate’s impairment requires the adjustment. Then the employer will (hopefully) grant the accommodation and incorporate it into the application or interview process as needed. This entire process must be kept confidential because requesting an accommodation requires disclosure of a disability. As such, the HR or the library employee managing the request is legally prohibited from telling anyone else in the library that the candidate requested an accommodation.
For larger HR structures, the online application system may ask candidates if they will need an accommodation. This allows the candidate to potentially keep the details of the accommodation from the people interviewing them, but also may not be that helpful. If the candidate does not know the interview structure, they may not know what type of accommodations to request. Either way, if the request is made through HR, the person or committee doing the interview will be informed what the adjustment is, but not that it is an accommodation. For example, they may be told that a specific candidate will receive an extra break between interviews. These adjustments can easily lead to negative perceptions of the candidate or even discrimination if the hiring person, committee, or even library employees at large are not trained on the accommodations process and its role providing inclusive hiring for disabled people. Accommodations are not special treatment for specific candidates. They are what allow candidates to have equitable access to employment and cannot influence hiring decisions. But the potential for discrimination leads many disabled candidates to never request accommodations, even if it makes the hiring process significantly more difficult for them.
To conclude, I want to provide some general tips that you as the hiring manager or search committee can incorporate into your hiring practices to provide a more inclusive experience for disabled candidates:
- Know how the accommodations process works at your institution and include information about requesting accommodations in your communication with candidates.
- Ensure accommodations are covered in your library training on hiring for all library workers involved.
- Provide easy access on your website to accessibility information about your library and share that with all candidates you bring for an interview.
- Consider ways to build flexibility into your hiring practices and policies so that candidates may not need to request accommodations. These can include sharing interview questions in advance, building in multiple breaks during the interview, skipping mandatory meals or walking tours for candidates, and providing options for interview setting (e.g. telephone or Zoom).
- Include disability throughout your diversity, equity, and inclusion work beyond hiring to familiarize yourself and your library with disability inclusion outside of the bare minimum ADA compliance. Disability is not limited to accessibility because it does not exist in a silo. It intersects other marginalized identities and is inherently part of the systems of oppression being addressed with DEI work.
For more information on accommodations from the employer and employee perspective, I highly recommend the Job Accommodation Network, at askjan.org. They have a guide dedicated to the hiring process, linked below in my references.
ADA National Network. (2022). What is the definition of disability under the ADA?
Job Accommodation Network. (n.d.). Employers’ practical guide: Reasonable accommodations during the hiring process. https://askjan.org/publications/employers/employers-guide-hiring-process.cfm
Office of Disability Employment Policy. (n.d.). Accommodations. U.S. Department of Labor.
Katelyn Quirin Manwiller is the Education Librarian and Assistant Professor at West Chester University.
She lives with chronic illness and is dynamically disabled. Katelyn’s research and advocacy focuses on improving disability inclusion in libraries through incorporating disability into DEI work, addressing disability misconceptions, and creating accessible work environments. You can find her @librariankqm on Twitter or email@example.com.