Category Archives: Author’s Corner

Author’s Corner: A Hodgepodge of Tips for Applicants

Laura Kane has two books which might be useful for you library job hunters and career builders: 

Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & information Science (ALA, 2011),

and

Straight From the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science (ALA Editions, 2003).

So in today’s post, she offers general advice to applicants, what she calls ” What’s Funny, What’s Not, and a Series of No-Brainers.”  I hope from this post you will gain not only a sense of her writing style and viewpoint, but some wisdom for your application process.


I don’t like to think of myself as a Veteran Librarian, but with nearly twenty years in the field, I guess that’s exactly what I am.  Though the thought makes me feel old, I will admit that experience has made me wiser. Throughout my tenure as an academic medical librarian, I have been a member of numerous search committees charged with filling professional librarian positions.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain aspects of a candidate’s application and subsequent interview that can instantly “make or break” them.  I will cover each of these topics here, and hope that this hodgepodge of tips will be helpful to those seeking employment in the workforce.

That’s Funny!

Did you happen to see the OREO cookie commercial during this year’s Super Bowl?  Set in a library, it’s all about the friction that exists between those who love the cookie part, and those who love the cream part of the OREO.  The commercial is called “Whisper Fight,” and though the fight between the cream lovers and cookie lovers turns into complete chaos, nobody speaks above a whisper.  Stacks are toppling, books are raining down, a fire starts, firemen arrive with hoses, and all the while a bespectacled, cardigan-clad librarian looks on in horror and then finally “shouts” a stage whisper, “I’m calling the cops!”  When the police arrive, they whisper through a bullhorn, “You guys have to stop fighting!  We are the cops!”

I could not stop laughing.  I was so tickled that I had to immediately find it on the Web and play it again.  And again.  My 13-year-old son looked on with concern.  “Um, Mom,” he said hesitantly.  “You’re a librarian.  Shouldn’t you be insulted?”  I sobered up immediately and cleared my through.  “Oh! Um… of course.  Yes, indeed.  I am terribly insulted!”  Then I doubled over in laughter again.

Should I have been insulted by the obvious stereotyping going on in that commercial?  No way.  It was so clearly over-the-top that you couldn’t help but laugh.  Yes, there is a pervasive stereotype in our field, but isn’t that the case for most professions?  Most of my fellow librarians have “gotten over” taking offense at the stereotypes.  In fact, many of my colleagues think it’s just plain funny.  My nine-year-old son (I have three sons!) likes to grab some fake glasses, slide them to the end of his nose, and peer down them, saying, “I’m a librarian.”  He’s trying to rile me but he just looks so silly that I end up laughing.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.  Librarians have a sense of humor.  I work in an academic medical library.  We handle some pretty serious stuff.  But you can always hear laughter in our meetings, in our offices, and yes – God forbid! – even out in the main library itself.  It’s wonderful to work with a group of people who can be lighthearted and fun when appropriate.

Working in the Virtual StacksSo what does this mean for someone applying for a professional librarian position?  It means that you can lighten up a little.  Don’t go overboard, of course, but let your sense of humor show.  Just two months ago I was on a search committee for a position that had around forty applicants.  I was given a stack of ten applications and had to pick the top candidates from that stack.  Only one candidate made it to the top of my list – the one who stuck a purposely amusing sentence in the end of her cover letter.  Guess what?  She’s the person we hired.  Her cover letter stood out for me because it made me laugh.  I thought, “This person is well-qualified AND she has a sense of humor.”  No matter how qualified a person is, nobody wants to work with a stick-in-the-mud.  A balance of skill, knowledge, and humor goes a long way in my book.

That Is SO Not Funny!

Check out this actual sentence from one of the cover letters in that stack I told you about:

 I saw your posting for a Research Lab Assistant and feel that I am well-qualified for the position.

Not bad, huh?  It might have been OK if that had been remotely close to the position for which we were advertising!  Clearly the applicant was copying and pasting and not checking his/her work.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I have seen this happen many times: we receive applications with cover letters that were obviously written in the past for completely different positions.  So here is a tip:  double-check your cover letter!  The cover letter, for me, is the top tool for weeding out candidates.  You can only get so much from an application form; it’s the cover letter that either allows a person to stand out, or causes that fateful toss to the bottom of the pile.

Smart

Here’s another tip about cover letters:  prove that you did some research about the position and show interest in some aspect of what you’ve learned.  Study the library’s website and see what kinds of programs and services they offer.  In your cover letter, mention one or two things that stood out or caught your interest.  For example, you could say, “I see that librarians at your institution are involved with developing LibGuides for library patrons.  I have a nursing background and would love to develop a Nursing LibGuide to direct students to authoritative resources.”  Prove in your cover letter that you have invested some time in determining whether you would be a good fit in the organization.  Don’t take the easy way out by using a generic cover letter for all your applications.  That’s the quickest way for your file to be dismissed.

Not So Smart

I always end an interview with the question, “Do you have any questions for me?”  I am flabbergasted and disappointed that many people simply answer, “No.”  Seriously?!  No questions at all?Straight from the Stacks

You should always be prepared to ask some intelligent questions during the actual interview.  I am impressed when a candidate has prepared a list of questions beforehand.  Here is another chance to show that you have given the position some thought and have done some background work to learn about the institution.  Questions like, “Can you explain the requirements for tenure?” or “How does your organization interact with the other campus libraries?” can open up an interesting conversation flow.  So don’t be afraid to whip out that notebook and say, “I’ve written down some questions about the position.”

Make a connection

My 3-year-old son has autism and rarely looks people in the eye.  On those occasions when he does look directly into my eyes, I feel it – ZAP! – an instant connection, no matter how brief.  I never knew the importance of eye contact until it was missing in my interactions with my son.  I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t explain why direct eye contact is so crucial during an interview.  I just know that when it’s completely missing, something is not right.  It can be tough, but be sure to make frequent eye contact with your interviewers.  I don’t mean you should stare continually into their eyes (that would be a little freaky), but just meet their eyes off and on as you answer questions.  It’s a subtle yet very important connection.

A Final No-Brainer

There have been several occasions when the search committee has had trouble deciding between two candidates.  Do you know what eventually tipped the scales in one direction?  A simple thank-you note.  Whether by email or snail mail, it’s always wise to send a letter of thanks to the members of a search committee.  Not only does it show that you appreciate their time, it gives you an extra edge over those candidates who don’t take this simple step.

Just One More

If you only remember one point from this post, remember this one:  don’t ever say, “I became a librarian because I love to read!”  Nothing shows more ignorance about the profession of librarianship than that short phrase.  Enough said.


Laura KaneLaura Townsend Kane, MLS, AHIP, is the author of “Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & information Science” (ALA, 2011), “Straight From the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science,”(ALA Editions, 2003), and co- author of “Answers to the Health Questions People Ask in Libraries: A Medical Library Association Guide” (Neal-Schuman, 2008).  She is the Assistant Director for Information Services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina.  She has also written several book chapters about librarianship career opportunities and several peer-reviewed journal articles on various issues in librarianship.  She is an active member of the Medical Library Association (MLA) and its regional Southern Chapter, and is a Distinguished Member of MLA’s Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP). 

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Author’s Corner: What They Don’t Teach You in Library School

Here’s what I think: getting your MLIS is like earning your black belt. What it really means is not that you are an expert, but that you have mastered the basics, and now you’re ready to get down to the serious business of developing library skills. In this guest post, Elisabeth Doucett describes the book she’s written to help with that post-black belt library learning. This piece has also been cross-posted to her blog, If you’re intrigued by her perspective you should check it out!


When I started working after I graduated from college I had no idea of how much I didn’t know. I happily jumped into my first job, assuming that my good education had prepared me to deal efficiently and effectively with anything. Boy, was I wrong!

I found in that first job (I was a receptionist for six months) and the next job and the next job (and every job since then) that every workplace has all sorts of unwritten rules, expectations, and required skills that no one ever tells you about when you are interviewing. And, even when you figure out all of that for one job, the next job generally is completely different.

I didn’t realize it at the time but this is why a mentor is such a powerful tool in helping you be successful in your job. A mentor can tell you what those rules and expectations are so that you don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to figure them out. A mentor is someone who becomes your “path-finder” to an organization, helping you discover the best ways to get work done, interact appropriately with your co-workers and, in general, be successful at your profession.

The only problem with mentors is that good ones can be hard to find (not everyone is willing to dedicate personal time to helping someone else be successful in their job) and when you do find them, they don’t always know how to be a good mentor. Over time I have had several mentors who were all very successful in their own jobs but weren’t sure how to help me with mine. Since I wasn’t sure how they could help me either, things went nowhere pretty quickly!

What They Don't Teach You in Library SchoolLearning from my own experiences with and without mentors is what led me to write What They Don’t Teach You in Library School. I wanted to write a book that would essentially be a mentor for new librarians, sharing with them some of the “secrets” to being successful in their new profession that they might otherwise only discover through painful trial and error.

I wrote the book with three goals:

1) the advice provided had to be very practical and down-to-earth. I wanted to identify work practices that were easy to understand and simple to try-out;

2) the book had to be supportive, just like a real mentor. I wanted readers to walk away feeling like they had been talking to a supportive friend and now had some good ideas that they could try out;

3) the book needed to be informal because I thought that would make the information more accessible.

To support these goals I start each chapter with a statement that describes what you will find in that chapter. This preview statement makes it easy to determine if you want to keep reading or move on to a different topic that might be more relevant to you personally.

The preview statement is followed by an articulation of why you should care about the topic. Again, this is meant to help each individual figure out if the information will be useful. I don’t want readers to waste their time going over information that they already know or don’t think will have value to them professionally.

The book is short, on purpose. I know librarians are generally loaded up with work the minute they walk in the door of a library and personal development time is hard to come by. So, my goal is to share information that the reader can go through quickly and is easy to read. There are lists and summaries and a few other resources that I’ve found helpful. None of this is meant to be exhaustive in nature. It is meant to be more like a conversation between two individuals in which one is sharing information with the goal of helping the other.

Several of the chapters in What They Don’t Teach You in Library School focus on very standard librarian development opportunities: how to manage problem patrons, promotional marketing strategic planning, and facilities management (written by a library director who has been a great mentor to me in this profession, Bob Dugan). In those chapters I’m providing information that you would probably learn over time on the job. However, I included them because sometimes as new librarians we get dumped into situations right off the bat that require more experience than we have, fresh from library school. These are meant to prepare you in case that happens to you.

The remaining chapters present information that I garnered from my business career. I’ve included them because they are not always thought of as skills that are necessary to be a successful librarian but I have seen first-hand how much mastering them can add to a librarian’s professional capabilities. So, you’ll find chapters that tackle topics like networking, managing confrontation productively, public speaking and thinking like a retailer. None of these chapters will make you an expert on the topic but they will give you some common-sense ideas about how to approach the matter at hand in a positive, constructive way. That attitude, in turn, will help your manager to see you as a professional who is doing a great job.

My hope is that over time librarians will start to see the high value of these (and other) business skills and embrace them as being just as important as knowing how to catalog a book, or do a story-time, or conduct a reference interview. I very strongly believe that the more skills we can provide to our communities, the more our profession will stay valuable and relevant as we move into the future.


Liz DoucettElisabeth Doucett is Director of Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, ME. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield, MA. Liz holds a MLS from Simmons College; an MBA in marketing from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; and an undergraduate degree from Smith College in art history and classical Greek.

Professional Career
Prior to her library career, Liz specialized in consumer marketing, working at Kraft Foods, Dunkin’ Donuts and Quaker Oats. She then consulted in the same field to multiple Fortune 500 companies. Before getting her MBA, Liz worked as a fundraiser in the development departments at Harvard and Boston University.

Liz is the author of Creating Your Library Brand published by the American Library Association (ALA) in 2008 and What They Don’t Teach You at Library School, published in 2010. She has done presentations on marketing and branding to many different library groups including the Massachusetts Library Association, the Ohionet library consortium and the Maine Public Library Directors’ Institute.

Liz is sure that she has the best job in the world and loves going to work. Every day brings a new challenge and ensures that boredom is never a problem! She believes that libraries have a vital role in today’s communities as focal points of community life, creativity, and learning.

Liz and her husband have three dogs (they rescue older dogs). To relax she loves to read (of course!), enjoying mysteries, thrillers, science fiction and history. She also recently started rug hooking and loves the process of designing a rug and picking the colors to make it come alive.

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Author’s Corner: The Information and Knowledge Professional’s Career Handbook

This week, Ulla de Stricker and Jill Hurst-Wahl have been kind enough to tell us the story of how they wrote their book, and to detail  what’s inside the covers.  


Picture two members of Special Libraries Association having a chat in a coffee shop during the annual SLA conference.  The two colleagues go back a long way and enjoy meeting each other when professional events make it possible.  This time, they get on the topic of how, throughout their careers, they have acted as mentors to colleagues at all stages of their careers and to students just starting out.  As the conversation went on, they verbally compile a long list of the career challenges prompting those colleagues and students to seek advice … and jointly reached the conclusion “why don’t we just write it all down!”. Information and Knowledge Professional's Career Handbook: Define and Create Your Success

Thus, The Information and Knowledge Professional’s Career Handbook:  Define and Create Your Success was conceived.  Here’s how we articulated its purpose:

Information Professionals and Knowledge Managers deal with significant career challenges for a number of reasons associated (for example) with common misperceptions of their expertise and roles. In environments where they must often justify their work and value over and over, those already in the profession and those just entering need to prepare for a reality that may differ from expectations.  Based on the authors’ own extensive experience, the book is intended to give readers a set of tools and techniques with which to secure a strong career, build an effective brand, and succeed as professionals.

Here’s how we went about organizing the messages we wanted to share:

We discuss how the information profession involves an enduring need to others why it is worthwhile investing in its practitioners.

We outline the need to know one’s own “work personality” and show how insight into it could be crucial in helping to deal with the inevitable challenges in the workplace.

For those who may have had a previous career, we talk about how to translate earlier expertise into a new professional role.

We address head-on the need to develop a professional brand and to market oneself the way any product or service is promoted.  In particular, we stress on the power of professional associations as career builders.

We get practical with a look at job hunting, the strategies for applying for jobs, handling the job interview, and succeeding in the critical first few weeks on a new job.

The notion that “career planning” may be a contradiction in terms is next: “Give chance a chance”.

We take a look at the reality of organizational life:  Technical proficiency does not guarantee success! Political savvy is paramount for navigating organizational culture.

The essential skill of constructing compelling proposals and business cases is the focus of attention as we stress how advocacy and getting support for change and investment requires compelling arguments – regarding of the sector or industry.

Our readers do not have to make the mistakes we did!  We share candidly the lessons from our own careers and show how important emotional resilience and strength are. Work occupies a huge role in our lives, and it would be unrealistic to expect a clinical, detached attitude toward it.  We focus on strategies for coping … and on knowing when to quit.

Of course, money must be discussed.  We look at salary and other aspects of compensation and suggest resources to prepare for negotiation.

Finally, we advocate for a life long mentoring orientation in encouraging our colleagues to take advantage of the wisdom of more experienced colleagues and pay it back. 

We hope the book will be a constant companion for our colleagues.  At different career stages, different chapters will be relevant.  More than anything else, we hope our colleagues will join us in our never ending efforts to support our fellow professionals.

Availability and Reviews:

Publisher:  Woodhead (Chandos) Publishing

To rent the book online at a much lower cost than the list price, go to http://bit.ly/Iv0Fkz; click on the PDF link below the image of the book.  Under “Offerings”, click the desired “Add to Basket” option (72 hours or 14 days). Click “Purchase” and then at the Log In page, register under the Individual Registration option in order to complete the transaction.

Amazon / Neal-Schuman / In Canada

Reviews:  Kim Dority  / Robyn Stockand / Carol Stahlberg, SLA /

Interviews: Dennie Heye, SLA Europe (one more here ) / Henrik de Gyor  / Neal-Schuman

And you can join the conversation, or get in touch, via Facebook 


Jill Hurst-Wahl

 

 

Jill Hurst-Wahl, MLS, is a digitization consultant and owner of Hurst Associates, Ltd. She also an Associate Professor of Practice in Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies and the director of the iSchool’s Library and Information Science Program.  Jill’s interests include digitization, digital libraries, copyright, web 2.0 and social media.

Ulla de StrickerUlla de Stricker is a knowledge management consultant whose practice (www.destricker.com) focuses on addressing a wide range of challenges and opportunities in the area of information management including strategies for information support to knowledge workers.  She has been an active contributor to the library profession and a mentor to colleagues since the late 1970s and is a familiar figure at information related conferences.

Ulla and Jill currently serve on the Board of Directors of SLA.

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Author’s Corner: A Guest Post on Recruiting and Hiring in Academic Libraries

Teresa Neely is the editor of How to Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool, a collection of essays about various aspects of the academic search process.  Dr. Neely is the director of Learning Space Initiatives at the University Libraries of the University of New Mexico. She has been a hiring manager, and a member of hiring committees. She also edited the book In Our Own Voices, which presents the experiences of 25 librarians of color transitioning from school to career. She graciously agreed to share her understanding and experience of the academic hiring process with us.


Recruiting and hiring practices in most academic libraries are governed by the rules and regulations of the parent institution, the state, and the federal government. I have worked in academic libraries my entire professional career and have served on and chaired many faculty search committees over the years.

Higher Education Hiring is not like the For-Profit Sector

There is a distinct difference between higher education and the for-profit sector in terms of how searches are managed. For example, academic searches take a long, long, long time. You generally have four or five committee members and a chair which means work moves as fast as the busiest person on the committee. In the for-profit sector, searches are probably not conducted by a committee and decisions are reached much faster.

At my current institution, in addition to the search committee, there is a search coordinator who is very experienced with the university’s human resources procedures and requirements. She keeps the search committee on the right [legal] path throughout the process. This means, if you meet the minimum requirements for the position you are applying for, then your application is moved on to the next step in the process.

Evaluating Candidacy

A scoring rubric of some sort is usually employed to evaluate the application based on the preferred qualifications, once the minimum qualifications have been met. At this stage, rules could require the search committee to do a “second look” for self-identified applicants from protected classes, and females to bring up into the pool, with appropriate justification of course.  If your application makes it through this stage, next stop is the telephone interview; Successful completion of this stage usually nets you an on-site interview. However, that is dependent on the number of people in the pool with successful telephone interviews and the cutoff point for how many candidates you want to bring on-site.

Competition and Fairness

Search committees bound by rules and regulations and federal and state laws should ensure that every application submitted in the required manner is treated to the same rigorous review process and every applicant meeting the minimum qualifications has an equal chance. And as in any process, every applicant meeting the minimum qualifications has the same chance to excel by writing a cover letter that addresses their qualifications for the position, submitting a curriculum vitae which clearly indicates the experience and education needed as spelled out in the position description, preparing for the telephone interview as if it is a “real” interview because it is, and putting their best foot forward during the in-person interview if they make it to that level. Competition is fierce for positions and the closer to entry-level you get, the more applicants you could be competing against.

Academic Applications have Unique Requirements

Books, websites and tips abound on what to do and what not to do when preparing a packet to submit for employment; however, for those seeking the academic track, things tend to be a bit different. I believe one of the biggest differences in faculty library positions and jobs in the for-profit sector is the former wants a curriculum vitae that spells out exactly what your experience is in as many pages as that takes. The latter wants the one to two pager.

 Timing

Apply early and often, but only once for each position, as academic searches can stretch over months, and remember, during the summers and between Thanksgiving and Martin Luther King Day, very little gets done.

Good Luck!


Dr. Neely has agreed to come back for an interview on the topic: Hiring Librarians of Color. If you have questions about this subject, either as a job hunter or a hirer of librarians, would you please email me at hiringlibrarians AT gmail?  Now’s the chance to find out what’s really going on with that affirmative action form or to figure out how you can increase diversity in your organization. 

 Thanks for reading!

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Author’s Corner: An Excerpt from What Do Employers Want? A Guide for Library Science Students

 Priscilla Shontz and Richard Murray, the editors of LISCareer, a rich collection of articles written by practicing librarians on a variety of career development topics, are the authors of a new book entitled What Do Employers Want? A Guide for Library Science Students.  Shontz and Murray cover topics such as Practical Experience, Professional Identity and  How Employers Hire, basing their advice on interviews with people who hire librarians.  The book moves beyond job search insights, outlining career development strategies for students and new graduates in a manner that is both funny and frank. I am pleased to be able to offer you an excerpt from chapter one: “What Do Employers Want?”


We asked numerous employers, “What are some key skills or attributes that you typically look for in a potential employee?” Most talked more about personality traits and soft skills such as enthusiasm, initiative, innovation, communication, flexibility, and collaboration than they did about academic knowledge. So, as a potential job candidate, how can you develop those highly desired qualities and demonstrate them to an employer in a cover letter, resume, and interview?

Love What You Do

“Eagerness makes new grads stand out, so show that enthusiasm,” said Dawn Krause (Texas State Library). This doesn’t mean jumping up and down on the interview table. Use your cover letter, resume, and interview to express how excited you are about becoming part of the library community, and in particular, how interested you are in doing that particular job at that particular institution.

Applying for jobs you’re genuinely excited about will certainly increase your chances of getting an offer. If you’re applying for a job as an instruction librarian and you don’t like speaking to groups, that will be apparent in the interview, and you probably won’t get the job. (And even if you do, you’ll probably be miserable). Don’t get carried away and scare off your interviewers with your “rah rah” vibe – you don’t want them to feel like they need to go lie down in a dark room after they’ve talked to you — but if you’re truly excited about the job, your interviewers will feel your positive energy.

Don’t be afraid to show that you love what you do. “See the profession as a lively, growing, interesting place to be,” encouraged Diane Calvin (Ball State University).

Accentuate the Positive

Nurture a positive attitude and let employers see it. “I look for someone with a positive personality and a service orientation,” said Nancy Agafetei (Harris County Public Library System).

Nobody wants to hire Debbie Downer. Employers are looking for someone who will be pleasant to work with and someone who will respond to adverse situations with a positive, proactive spirit – not someone who will give up, sit back, and wait for others to handle a problem, or who will complain about every situation.

Kim Dority (Dority & Associates Inc.) said, “Employers look for qualities such as self-management, intelligence, positive attitude, ability and willingness to learn quickly, ability to work well with colleagues, engagement, and energy.”

A job search can often be discouraging; don’t focus on the rejections. Keep your eye on the goal, stay optimistic, and keep moving forward. After all, everyone can’t say yes all the time. Use the obstacles and disappointments to reshape your job search strategy if necessary. Instead of focusing on what didn’t happen, focus on what you can do to make it work the next time.


What Do Employers Want? A Guide for Library Science Students is available from Libraries Unlimited.

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