This week I asked people who hire librarians:
The idea of someone’s reputation comes up fairly regularly in career discussions. Does it really matter? Has there ever been a case where you haven’t hired someone because of something you heard (or vice-versa)? And how is this information about reputation transmitted?
YES it really matters!
For good and for bad.
We hear it how we hear it.
We try to be open-minded and fair and recognize that rumors and innuendo can be flagrantly unfair, and so rely on our own careful process. But we’d consider a bad reputation a red flag and probe, or a goodreputation encouraging, and try to confirm or refute.
People talk, people remember, and Google is powerful and librarians know how to use it.
Why do you [candidate] even have to ask? If you don’t know, maybe that’s the problem?
Word does indeed get around, although more locally or regionally than nationally, I think. I’ve never made a hiring decision based on this type of information, but I *have* made decisions about whom to collaborate with professionally. You often don’t have a choice about whom you work with on a day-to-day basis, but presenting and publishing are a lot of additional work, and I would never choose to work with someone I knew (from trustworthy sources) was difficult. Life is too short.
A candidate’s reputation is very important to me. I may use references listed on a resume, but I am more inclined to call someone that I know who might have worked with the candidate, even if it was several years ago. I assume that any reference on a resume is going to give a positive review, but a co-worker might give me a different picture. Of course I would only use a reference that I knew and whose opinion I respected.
Another facet of reputation is that of the libraries the person has worked in. I don’t mind taking someone from a library of a different size or setting than my library. If the person is coming from a small library, then I’d like to hear things like “I want more variety/challenge/faster pace on the job than I’m afforded in a small library” or “The large library didn’t allow me to give as personal service as I would like to provide.” The candidate should be able to articulate why they are changing libraries.
Each library has a reputation too and some are almost toxic. There is a library in our area that has a notoriously grumpy staff and a high turnover in directors. Previous directors don’t speak highly of the staff either. I don’t even interview people from that library unless they have only worked there a very short time. If they say “I didn’t like the atmosphere at “x” library” then I might consider the candidate.
We get a lot of applicants for the positions we post and I won’t “settle” for just anyone. I want to know why the candidate wants to work here and to believe they will offer services up to or exceeding the services we already offer.
– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library
Be good; do good – and understand your actions may follow you throughout your career. It does indeed matter. Librarianship is a crushingly small world. I am often aware of poor AND proud behaviors. If you are always a consummate professional –even when you disagree with board, administration, co-workers or the community – you leave a softer footprint in the library world. If you don’t have to hamstring yourself, why would you?
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
If I know that a current staff member has worked with an applicant in another organization, or has had a class with the applicant, or that kind of connection, I will ask for the current staff member’s thoughts on that particular person. First impressions are good to know. If I was leaning toward interviewing that applicant anyway, then I probably still will regardless of the current staff’s perspective, but I do take it into consideration with the whole process.
Sometimes an applicant will have already applied once to work at our library and wasn’t hired for some reason. I will discuss the applicant with my colleagues and get their thoughts, why the applicant wasn’t hired the previous time, and any other information they may have to offer. Again, none of this is a dealbreaker, but it may help me choose between two applicants or figure out why I had a certain impression about a person.Neither of those is really the same as reputation, although that can come into play. I think reputation is more important and more likely to be considered in hiring full-time, professional applicants, whereas I hire part-time paraprofessional staff, for the most part.– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Yes, word definitely gets around, especially when the members of a hiring committee are active members of email lists and associations and have constant contact with the profession beyond their own library. Committees I’ve been on haven’t been hateful about it, but if a member recognizes an applicant who is consistently obnoxious or rude in communication, if a person has dropped the ball when serving on committees, or other behaviors that would raise an eyebrow, it definitely is mentioned in-committee. I can even remember one instance where a librarian contacted someone on a conference planning committee to back out of a speaking engagement when they were partnered with someone from a different state they had fired for cause a number of years earlier. Libraries – even writ large – are a relatively small, vocal and social professional community, and it is important to remember that.I will add that librarianship is also a forgiving community – most of us have made mistakes at one time or another, disagreement is healthy, we generally encourage odd “characters”, and in general we are truly a helping profession with enough room for all kinds of mischief and mayhem, so long as it’s not perceived as hostile. It’s a good idea no matter what your profession to make sure your reputation isn’t something that is hurting, rather than helping, you.– Anonymous
I would say that in smaller portions of our field, yes, word does get around. When I was involved in a smaller subject-related library association, there were people who got a reputation for job-hopping or for, as one person put it, “she’s had really good jobs for about 5 minutes.” The implication was that the person was able to get some really good jobs but not keep them. I think there are people who’ve gotten a reputation based on what they post on listservs, but that’s probably less often. I don’t think I’ve ever had to apply that to a job candidate.– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans
Reputation is everything!!! While job searches are supposed to be confidential, if a hiring manager has a close friend working at the library where an applicant is from, they may contact that person to see what you are like to work with.In addition, if you are involved in ALA or your state library association, this can give you a reputation which can be good or bad. You may become known as the go to person to plan programs or to give complex committee assignments to because you get the job done and you get it done well or you could become known as the person who dropped off the face of the earth after 3 months and never communicated with that committee again. I personally like to think of it this way: anyone in my state or national organizations that I am interacting with is either my potential future supervisor, future employee, or future job reference.– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries
Yes, reputation matters a great deal. Word does get around if you are a hard worker, fast thinker, creative problem solver or really friendly. It also gets around if you are late, don’t participate, not a team player or have a bad attitude. I have certainly heard from other people about someone for the good and for the bad. When it comes to hiring within a community, your reputation can be the reason people are clamoring for you or the reason you aren’t getting a job.How does word get around? This depends. In our library system, supervisors talk. We may try to keep our complaints anonymous but we aren’t all that big a community. And, I am surrounded by no less than 7 other library systems (we are a large metropolitan area). I have friends in all of these systems and after a round of drinks, we might let those frustrations fly. We are also a very celebratory community and share great ideas and great people. In addition, if you are on committees with ALA or your local organizations, these people talk as well.Our hiring process includes past reviews and supervisory references. And, can sometimes include word of mouth. I have absolutely been dying to hire people who who I heard were awesome and who came highly recommended.I have also declined to hire people who I heard had attendance problems or issues working in a team environment.I guess the next question should be ‘how do you fix a damaged reputation?’ 🙂– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library
I do not know if telling schools to tell cohorts not to be rude to the online librarians because they are tainting their schools’ reputations would be something that you would do.
They do not realize a lot of people who participate in hiring decisions may moonlight or be the person covering a cooperative shift for their library that covers the national public and academic queues
and we talk
on back channel chat
They are poisoning the pool for both themselves and their more illustrious classmates.
I used to work for a large cooperative chat service. It covers the entire US (some schools, some publics, some entire states). However, to get good deals on the service for their own library, libraries have to give a certain number of hours of national coverage. So a person from New York might be answering a question from California.
In addition to the chat that the person gets for any ask a librarian service, there is a back channel running at the same time for librarians to share for example the fact that the same person is being abusive in 10 libraries in 4 states. So there is the librarian only chat, and the librarian patron chat.
If a rash of rude LIS students come on the librarian patron chat, it gets noted and discussed on the Librarian librarian chat,
“oh that person who wants you to restate their opening paragraph on the reference interview is back–I have already had her 4 times”
“yeah, she told me it was my job to restate her paragraph because the writing center is closed”
If a rash of patrons comes in with this situation, it reflects on the school they are from
“Oh the person who wants you to do her cataloguing assignment is back”
That is not a question like,
“how do I find the LCSH for x”
it is like,
“here is a list of twenty titles, give me the LCSH for each”
It is their homework.
And it is not just the middle of the night Chat service backups (some of whom btw are moonlighting and in hiring positions). It is people covering for big systems. The student may think they are only being rude to a peon from a local public library, but even THAT is bad judgment, since so many people in librarianship talk to each other. We notice when the same question comes through, and it is an LIS homework question given at the same time to 5 different libraries but has the same typo in each.
If you have to do cooperative coverage, you are seeing from all over the country as they come in. It may sound like we are being petty, but when somebody demands that you catalog 20 items, or tells you,
“I do not have time to get this print ref assignment done by visiting a library–go pull all the books or find somebody who can”
(both of which I have experienced)… After a while, even though you KNOW not all graduates of that school do it and you know good people from that school, you get a jaundiced view.
Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight. If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.
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