Category Archives: Public Services/Reference

Don’t expect too much.

Picnic lunch on a hunting party, Queensland, ca. 1912This anonymous interview is with a job hunter who is not currently employed (even if part-time or in an unrelated field), has not been hired within the last two months, and has been looking for a new position for Less than six months. This person is looking in Academic libraries, Library vendors/service providers, Public libraries, School libraries, Special libraries, and  Anywhere my skills are applicableat the following levels: Entry level, Requiring at least two years of experience, Supervisory, Department Head, Senior Librarian, Branch Manager, Director/Dean. This new grad/entry level applicant has internship/volunteering experience:

2 year internship as a reference assistant also working on special projects, co-ordinated a professional conference, spoken at a conference

This job hunter is in an urban area, in Canada, and would prefer to live in an urban area..

What are the top three things you’re looking for in a job?

– interesting/innovative work
– livable salary & benefits
– in an urban centre

Where do you look for open positions?

SimplyHired, Indeed, LinkedIn, Code4Lib, individual institutional sites, Toronto iSchool list, CharityVillage, The Partnership, government job banks

Do you expect to see salary range listed in a job ad?

√ Yes, and it’s a red flag when it’s not

What’s your routine for preparing an application packet? How much time do you spend on it?

Write cover letter, check resume, export as PDF, email or submit. ~2 hours.

Have you ever stretched the truth, exaggerated, or lied on your resume, or at some other point during the hiring process?

√ No

When would you like employers to contact you?

√ To acknowledge my application
√ To tell me if I have or have not been selected to move on to the interview stage

How do you prefer to communicate with potential employers?

√ Email

Which events during the interview/visit are most important to your assessment of the position (i.e. deciding if you want the job)?

√ Meeting department members/potential co-workers
√ Meeting with HR to talk about benefits/salary

What do you think employers should do to get the best candidates to apply?

Make your requirements short and realistic. Be clear about who you’ll be reporting to. Salary and benefits listed, including if there is financial aid for long-distance moves.

What should employers do to make the hiring process less painful?

Don’t expect too much. Have some appreciation for the fact that most people are applying to literally dozens of jobs before getting an interview.

What do you think is the secret to getting hired?

First, being white, middle-class, and female for most jobs, but male for IT/tech/science jobs. Second, years of experience. Third, socially engaging and charming.

Do you have any comments, or are there any other questions you think we should add to this survey?

There are very few jobs being advertised that will accept someone with less than 5 years of experience and there are lots of management/director-level jobs. What this says to me is that libraries are not interested in promoting people from within or hiring people and then training them for a job, they just want to hire someone ready-made. Is that really sustainable?

For some context, take a look at the most recently published summary of responses.

Are you hunting for a new LIS job? Take the survey! http://tinyurl.com/hiringlibJOBHUNTERsurvey

This survey was co-authored by Naomi House from I Need A Library Job – Do you need one?  Check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic, Canada, Entry Level, Job hunter's survey, Public Services/Reference, Urban area

Don’t believe the myth about the large number of librarians retiring and the impending librarian shortage

Keene High School, (Keene Academy), Keene, New Hampshire

 

This anonymous interview is with an academic librarian who has been a member of a hiring. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

Public services librarians

This librarian works at a library with 10-50 staff members in an urban area in the Southern US.

Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?

√ Depends on the school/Depends on the candidate

Should library students focus on learning theory or gaining practical skills? (Where 1 means Theory, 5 means practice, and 3 means both equally)

4

What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?

√ Cataloging
√ Programming (Coding)
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Metadata
√ Digital Collections
√ Research Methods
√ Outreach
√ Marketing

Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?

How to market the library as in developing meaningful relationships with other departments, the community, etc.

The importance of interconnectedness between various library departments. It is not “us” vs. “them”.

When deciding who to hire out of a pool of candidates, do you value skills gained through coursework and skills gained through practice differently?

√ No preference–as long as they have the skill, I don’t care how they got it

Which skills (or types of skills) do you expect a new hire to learn on the job (as opposed to at library school)?

Library instruction
Library programming (Events)
Perfecting the reference interview
Some soft skills

Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?

√ Internship or practicum

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?

It depends on the requirements of job but generally none.

Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

My own alumni school. I checked their curriculum recently and it hasn’t changed much since I graduated 10+ years ago.

What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?

Try to become as well-rounded as possible to be more marketable to potential employers

Do you have any other comments, for library schools or students, or about the survey?

Think very hard before entering the library professional. Don’t believe the myth about the large number of librarians retiring and the impending librarian shortage. There is high supply (job seekers), low demand (jobs) and in many areas the pay is abysmal. Be willing to explore alternative job opportunities, your perfect “library job” may not be in a library.

For some context, take a look at the most recently published summary of responses to this survey, or specific analysis of the responses discussing online school, the amount of coursework students should take, and preferences/reluctances for candidates from certain schools.

Do you hire librarians?  Tell us your answer to, “What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School?”: http://tinyurl.com/hiringlibschoolsurvey

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!

Leave a comment

Filed under 10-50 staff members, Academic, Public Services/Reference, Southern US, Urban area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

Further Questions: Does Word Really Get Around?

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?

– Anonymous

 

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. 

– Anonymous

 

Christine Hage - Dark backgroundA 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

 

Marge Loch WoutersBe 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

 

Marleah AugustineIf 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
Laurie PhillipsI 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
Terry Ann LawlerYes, 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

a lot

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.

We notice.

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.

– Anonymous

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.

Thank YOU for reading! If you like reading, you might also like commenting.  You’re very welcome to try it out here.

3 Comments

Filed under Academic, Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Circulation, Further Questions, Paraprofessional, Public, Public Services/Reference, Special, Youth Services

Further Questions: How many librarian positions are there at your library?

This week I’ve been thinking about the job outlook for librarians, and I decided to ask a related question here.

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

How many librarian positions are there at your library? Can you tell us a bit about how has this number has changed over time (e.g. higher or lower than last year, five years ago, ten years ago, etc.)?  How has your service population changed over those same time periods? Please let us know if your answer is ballpark or exact.  Bonus information: are there unfilled positions that will be left unfilled for a substantial period of time?

Laurie PhillipsWe currently have 11 faculty librarians. It remained steady for many years at 12, I believe. I don’t think we had added any, but positions have certainly changed over time. We chose to not fill a tenure track faculty position last year (someone had been in the position on an interim basis) because we were asked to make operating budget cuts and we could balance not filling that position against the cut. We were told that we would not lose that position permanently but, given the university’s financial situation, we may have lost this position entirely. We also have someone on phased retirement (half time right now) and may lose that position when he fully retires because of the budget cuts. Our student body has gone up and down. We were growing, then Hurricane Katrina hit us hard for several years. We were back up then had a serious enrollment shortfall this past year and it looks as if our enrollment going forward will be smaller. Our librarians are stretched thin, with regular responsibilities, liaison activities (teaching and collection development), university committee responsibilities, and desk duties.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans 

Special Libraries Cataloguing has had about 20 distance cataloguers for some years.
– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging
Marleah AugustineWe currently have 4 librarian positions (MLS preferred, but we do have one librarian without an MLS). These correspond with each of our departments (each librarian heads a department). We also have administrative staff that are full-time but are not librarian-specific. At this time last year, we only had 3 librarians because our children’s and YA areas were combined into a single Youth Services department; they have since been separated into two departments and we moved back to having 4 librarians (as we did about 3 years ago). Before we had a YA area at all, we had 3 librarians. (Confusing enough?) Our service population has grown over the last few decades and shows no signs of stopping. This includes both the town where we are located and also the surrounding towns in the area (many residents of other towns come to our library instead of or in addition to their local library).
The biggest staff change is that each department used to have a full-time “assistant head”. We’ve added a wider range of part-time positions instead and now only one of our 4 departments has an assistant head. So, in some cases, those assistant head positions are considered unfilled and, if we move away from that model, will remain unfilled.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Christine Hage - Dark backgroundWe are a suburban public library serving 100, 435 people. That is our census population and it went up slightly since the 2000 census.  Our community is pretty much built out.
We have 130 employees and 53 of them are librarians, although most of them are part-time.  It comes out to 22.2 FTE librarians.  Counting all employees we have a total of 61.83 FTE.  These numbers haven’t changed much over the last few years although we about the same number of employee hours, we have fewer actual full time positions.
We are an independent taxing authority library, which means we are not part of municipal or county government.  In fact we are a governmental unit in and of ourselves.  This means that in full control of our hiring.  I can change a position from full-time to part-time or visa versa.  I can eliminate and create positions, based on our budget.  I can change a job focus and title at will.  This gives me a lot of flexibility.
– Christine Hage, Director, Rochester Hills Public Library
Potentially, there are 6 MLS positions at our library. However, of those positions, only 3 are filled by MLS holders.  To keep it interesting, we have two MLS folks in non-MLS positions who are working part time. This is largely because our MLS positions require supervisory skill and experience. The two MLS folks in non-MLS positions are not supervisory material, sad to say. Supervision of others is just not in their skillsets although they are certainly very good at other things. This frustrates me and them but I realize it may be common in small to midsize public libraries for staffing and budget structure to not allow for full time professional MLSs who are non-supervisory.  This level of professional librarians (or lack therof) has remained fairly consistent for about a decade. However, in the late 1990’s there more full time MLS supervisors, probably 5 as opposed to the 3 now.
– Anonymous
Jason GrubbFirst we have to decide how we are going to define the word “librarian.” In my opinion and in the opinion of most of our patrons, anyone that works in a library is a librarian. That being said we have 61 employees in our organization and I consider everyone of them a librarian. Over the past five years this number has decreased slightly while our service population has grown. The real trend has been to move from full time positions to part-time positions. 75% of our employees are part-time. 10 years ago this number was over 50%. We currently have three unfilled positions that will most likely be left unfilled or possibly eliminated.
– Jason Grubb, Director, Sweetwater County Library System

We have 7.5 master’s level librarians and 1.5 other staff for an FTE of 9 at our combined unit of Main library and Educational Resource Center.  The total staff was increased from 8 to 9 FTE about a year and a half ago, the first net increase in over 25 years.  During that 25+ years almost every position except for the Director and Reference Librarian was a part-time position at some point.  We revise the responsibilities, scope, and titles of positions and adjust our organizational structure to adapt to new needs most of the time, and make permanent changes to our total staffing level rarely.

One reason we were able to get a new position funded was the increase in our student FTE.  Our main population, the undergraduate enrollment, has increased, but we have also added several distance and other non-traditional programs over the years.  In roughly the last ten years our reported FTE has grown from under 1,000 to over 2,000, with a big jump the year preceding when we got a new position.  That increase, as well as the changing nature and needs of our populations and the changing nature of our resources and services, was part of the justification in our request for the new position.

The only time in the last several years that vacant positions have intentionally been unfilled for any substantial period was during the recent recession when the College had a hiring freeze.  The Library staff is so small that a single position represents a big percentage of our staff.  Since we don’t have any margins in our capacity and are noticeably hampered by any vacancy, we start a hiring process as soon as a staff member gives notice.

– Ann Glannon, Associate Director, Wheelock College Library, Boston, MA

There are nine librarian (MLS) positions at my library, out of a total staff of 35. All are full-time. This excludes the director, so you might consider it ten.

The number has grown by two or three in the last ten years. We’ve only been able to receive funding for one new position in that time, so the rest of the changes involved cutting back other staff positions.

One priority here is growth from within. We are very far from a library school or major metro area, and not appealing to new grads, so any time a paraprofessional employee is interested in getting their MLS via online education, that is fully supported. They receive tuition assistance, they get four paid hours per week to do homework, and we figure out a way to get them into a professional position when they graduate. It works well. There have been four instances of this in the last ten years and we have one person currently enrolled. It was not my personal situation.

Our service population is unusual because we are a state library. The state itself is experiencing a very new population boom, but not enough yet to directly impact us. Most of our substantial work is with (and for) the state’s public and school libraries, and they are increasingly self-sufficient. We used to do their cataloging, for example, but most of those projects have been completed in the last few years without new libraries being created.

– Kristen Northrup, Head, Technical Services & State Document Depository North Dakota State Library

Celia RabinowitzMy library has seven librarians.  That includes me and a librarian/archivist who helps at reference and does some instruction.  We had seven librarians from 1995-2002 and then lost one position at the time when I was promoted to director (the position I had been in was eliminated).  In the early 2000s we added a new line for a patron services librarian.   We have done some reconfiguration.  In the past four years we had three librarian retirements so we now have three senior library faculty and four junior faculty.  The average age of the librarians has completely shifted!  We had a cataloging librarian/archivist and used a retirement to promote the cataloging librarian to head of the unit and associate director and turned her position into a full-time archivist.

A few things have changed on campus and in the library.  Our student population grew by over 400 students in the past 15 years.  The library faculty and staff size have remained the same.  In 2004 the librarians became full faculty which means we participate in the same process as the academic departments to request new lines when they are available or to replace lines that open up when someone resigns or retires.  On my campus a department can keep a faculty line if the person in it is denied tenure.

Our new core curriculum was implements in 2008 and the librarians are much more involved in instruction at the lower level.  We have made an intentional shift in our approach to hiring and are asking any new library hires to participate in teaching in the first-year seminar.  Six of the seven librarians currently teach in that program and four of us (including me) are liaisons to departments for instruction.  We have no unfilled positions and are not likely to have any for a while, I think.  Given current budget constraints there is no guarantee that an unfilled position could be filled right away (or that it would stay in the library).  I have told everyone that they are not allowed to win the lottery at least until the budgets are in better shape!

– Celia Rabinowitz, Director of the Library, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

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.

Thank YOU for reading! If you like reading, you might also like commenting.  You’re very welcome to try it out here.

1 Comment

Filed under Academic, Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Circulation, Further Questions, Paraprofessional, Public, Public Services/Reference, Special, Youth Services

Further Questions: How do you count part time work?

This week I have a Twitter question.  I asked people who hire librarians:
How is part time work counted, when looking to see if a candidate meets a requirement for a certain number of years of experience?  For example, if a position requires two years of experience as an adult services librarian, and the librarian has worked 20 hours a week as an adult services librarian for two years, should she go ahead and apply?  What about if she had worked even fewer hours?  Any insight is appreciated!

Marge Loch-WoutersWe count years worked in a library – whether full or part-time – in exactly the same way.  It is immaterial whether you worked 5 or 40 hours a week in terms of longevity. In our opinion, you experienced/observed and immersed yourself in the library for every day you worked, no matter how many hours you put in.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library
We do count part time work at my academic library. One year for every part time year worked (both for professional and non-professional positions). I know it is different at all institutions, but our online applications do not ask how many hours a candidate worked part time. So in the case of the Twitter question, four years of part time work would equal 2 years of full time work, no matter the hours so you could apply.
– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries
In house–part time work is almost always pro-rated  (20/h/wk–22 yrs–11years exp).  However, I look at the whole candidate, and work experience is work experience–the only time it seems to be counted differently is management–and even then, every little bit counts, even life experience.  Its really how you package your time working outside of a field.   If you feel like you can do the job, and sell yourself through your resume and cover letter to get an interview, than YES!  definitely apply.  That leap of faith might be the best thing for you and the workplace.
– Virginia Roberts, Director, Chippewa Falls Public Library
Marleah AugustineIf I were that applicant, I would go ahead and apply. The burden of deciding whether the experience is enough lies with the interviewer, I think. I’d rather see someone who has worked part-time for that amount of time who has great potential and ideas rather than someone who has worked full-time for that amount of time and doesn’t have those other things. If the rest of your application speaks to the quality of your work and the potential that you have, I wouldn’t worry so much about the exact number of hours and if it qualifies you. Fewer hours than 20 can get iffy, but again, I think that lies with the interviewer and whether the rest of the application is enough to bring the applicant in for an interview.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Cathi AllowayI would not mind hearing from someone who had been part-time for 2 years, IF they can make a convincing case for having experience.  The applicant should specify that a job is part-time or x hours in the week in the resume.  In the cover letter, the applicant should explain how their part-time status still makes them meet the basic job requirement of 2 years experience.  This could include:

  • part-time work included a wide range of experiences, major responsibilities, or major projects making the candidate viable.
  • part-time work included a lot of overtime hours.
  • other valuable experiences outside of library work such as other relevant non-library jobs, volunteer experience, workshops, formal education that supplement the part-time work.  For example, if an applicant had 2 years of part-time retail work and 2 years of post MLS part-time library work, I’d see that as equal to 2 full-time years; retail or hotel/restaurant work is a good customer service training field.
 Overall – if you are really interested in a job, but lack the basic posted qualifications, PLEASE explain why you think you meet the qualifications or deserve consideration in the cover letter!  To blatantly disregard basic requirements without a “pitch” as to why you should be considered makes the employer think you are careless, lack attention to details, or spray-painting your vita everywhere and not motivated for that particular job.
– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library
angelynn king
In response to this question, part-time work has indeed counted at every place I have worked, but it is calculated as a full-time equivalency. In other words, if your hypothetical half-time librarian had worked for FOUR years, she would be qualified for the job with the two-year experience requirement.
-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus
Jacob Berg
When we ask for years of experience, we’re looking for a period of time as opposed to something more like credit hours. If you work part-time for two years, I see nothing wrong with that being two years of experience. It may be a naive assumption on our part, but we assume that you do take at least some of the job home with you, that though you may work twenty hours per week, you are spending more than that amount of time thinking about the job. These candidates can and should apply.
– Jacob Berg, Director of Library Services,  Trinity Washington University

1) Apply anyway.

2) If we do calculate tightly, and in the public sector we often have to, we allow for “time served” at time of possible appointment, not as of the date of the application, which can be months before the appointment.

3) Other types of “experience” can count toward the minimum, e.g. volunteer or work experience in a closely related field, enrollment in a job-related course that has a substantial hands-on, practicum, internship, or similar component, lots of library professional association activities, etc.

4) Think about the reasons for that 2 year requirement: commitment to the profession, exposure to and experience with a wide variety library-workplace tasks, familiarity with the cycle of librarianship (budgets, grants, programs), which can be different in different types of libraries, special, federal, public (local), academic, etc., bibliographic skill development, etc.

– Laura J. Orr, Law Librarian, Washington County Law Library

bonnie smithWhen we indicate that a position requires a minimum of 2 years of experience we mean full-time experience, it definitely matters. We don’t consider applicants who don’t meet the minimum requirements. If you worked part-time you should indicate that in your resume and enter the full-time equivalence (FTE) for these positions. If you have unusual experience that doesn’t follow the expected path for the position you have applied for, that you think should be considered but might not be obvious to the committee, make your case in your cover letter.

– Bonnie Smith, Assistant Program Director for Human Resources, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

Sarah MorrisonGreat question!  At our library, there are a couple different things that happen.  First, all our applications are first reviewed by City HR.  HR interprets all “part-time” work as 20-hrs per week, and so they would disqualify anyone in the example you had given.  If the job description lists as a requirement 2 years and the candidate has only part-time experience, s/he would need 4 or more years.  Even if the candidate worked part-time at 30-hours per week, it would be safest to have double the experience.

If the candidate makes it through City HR, perhaps because of strengths in other areas/requirements, I do try to account accurately for work experience (15 hours/week vs. 35, etc.) whenever possible.

I think it’s always worth it to apply, especially if the candidate meets or exceeds requirements in other areas.  If nothing else, it’s good practice at writing a cover letter, and you never know.  I was encouraged in grad school to apply for jobs if I had at least half the requirements; in both of my full-time library jobs, I haven’t met 100% of the listed criteria (I had 2 yrs exp. but part time, good collection development exp. but no management exp., etc.).  The important thing would be to be able to show that those duties or tasks are attainable for you, not necessarily that you’ve done every single one.

– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian, Neill Public Library, Pullman, Washington

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.

Thank YOU for reading! If you like reading, you might also like commenting.  You’re very welcome to try it out here.

1 Comment

Filed under Academic, Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Further Questions, Law Library, Public, Public Services/Reference, Special, Youth Services

We are Seeing Some Entitlement Issues with the Younger Librarians

School No.2 Students in Dublin New Hampshire 2This anonymous interview is with an academic librarian who has been a hiring manager and a member of a hiring or search committee. This person hires the following types of LIS professionals:

Reference, Instruction, Access Services

This librarian works at a library with 0-10 staff members in an urban area in the Southern US.

Do library schools teach candidates the job skills you are looking for in potential hires?

√ Depends on the school/Depends on the candidate

Should library students focus on learning theory or gaining practical skills? (Where 1 means Theory, 5 means practice, and 3 means both equally)

3

What coursework do you think all (or most) MLS/MLIS holders should take, regardless of focus?

√ Library Management
√ Collection Management
√ Web Design/Usability
√ Research Methods
√ Reference
√ Information Behavior
√ Instruction
√ Soft Skills (e.g. Communication, Interpersonal Relations)
√ Field Work/Internships

Do you find that there are skills that are commonly lacking in MLS/MLIS holders? If so, which ones?

Understanding what teamwork is and involves – how to be a team player and support co-workers in creating a successful department. We’ve had both employees and applicants tell us “what I want to do”, “what I think is good for you” – a personal agenda – without consideration of the work setting, co-workers…

Likewise, the ability to go beyond “what I want to do” to help the team be successful – coming in early, staying late, covering a lunch break when someone is running late, pitching in when it’s busy – consideration and respect for other team members. We are seeing some entitlement issues with the younger librarians.

Ability to actively listen to supervisors and understand what they are asking of you as an employee.

When deciding who to hire out of a pool of candidates, do you value skills gained through coursework and skills gained through practice differently?

√ Yes–I value skills gained through a student job more highly

Which skills (or types of skills) do you expect a new hire to learn on the job (as opposed to at library school)?

The specifics of our location, clientele, how we work within our academic setting.

Which of the following experiences should library students have upon graduating?

√ Library work experience
√ Internship or practicum
√ Professional organization involvement
√ Teaching assistant/Other instructional experience
√ Other: Customer service experience

Which library schools give candidates an edge (you prefer candidates from these schools)?

n/a

Are there any library schools whose alumni you would be reluctant to hire?

University of Arizona – we hired one young librarian from the University of Arizona who came poorly prepared – little knowledge of collection development, how to conduct reference interview, no exposure to students in a classroom setting.

What advice do you have for students who want to make the most of their time in library school?

Ask questions – shadow other librarians – volunteer at local libraries

This survey was coauthored by Brianna Marshall from Hack Library School. Interested in progressive blogging, by, for, and about library students? Check it out!

4 Comments

Filed under 0-10 staff members, Academic, Instruction, Public Services/Reference, Southern US, Urban area, What Should Potential Hires Learn in Library School

Further Questions: The Tattooed Librarian

This week I have another question inspired by a reader.  This is part of a topical series on Interviewing while Tattooed. This week I asked people who hire librarians:

Should tattooed candidates make any attempt to hide their ink?  Would tattoos make you think twice about hiring someone?  How tattooed is too tattooed?

Emilie SmartArm and leg tattoos would go unnoticed in an interview.  Facial tattoos would be a problem though.  Our current policy doesn’t allow jewelry in facial piercings so I don’t see facial tattoos (especially large ones) going over here (a southern public library) unless the job was not in public services.

If a candidate is concerned that their tatts might negatively influence an interview outcome, then they should cover them up as best they can.

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Marge Loch-Wouters

I like people to dress like and be themselves.  Clearly we aren’t a buttoned-down place.  My hesitation in this:  if the tattoos displayed would be inappropriate for children to see (nudity, inappropriate language, like that). In that case, we would ask that those be kept covered while working in the children’s area.

In terms of how much ink is too much…if we think that kids will come in and be able to easily interact with the person beneath the ink, the candidate may make the cut.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Colleen HarrisAn interesting question – many of us at my current library have visible ink (sleeves, chest pieces that peek out of dress shirts, etc.) At my current and former institutions (all public university academic libraries), so this wasn’t an issue. (Full disclosure – I’m fully sleeved, and my hands are tattooed as well.)

When I have interviewed, I usually do so full suited or with a cardigan – folks can see the hand tattoos but I don’t put them out on display. When it’s warm, I have a tendency to push my sleeves up – I’m certain I do it in interviews, as well. I don’t advertise my ink, but I don’t actively hide it; I do try to dress to minimize its impact – in interviews, I want people to focus on what I am saying.  As I mentioned above, academic libraries in public universities have been very open to accepting tattoos on myself and colleagues. On the other hand, I was notified by a public library in a very diverse area that I would not be considered as a candidate because of visible ink, so your mileage can and will vary depending on where you apply.

As a hirer, I don’t mind what candidates do about their ink so long as they have a professional demeanor, and make an effort to be sure that it is themselves and their skills on display – I’m hiring for skill and growth potential, not to be inkshop buddies. That being said, my visible work is all pretty tame – it’s probably not a bad idea to go ahead and cover up naked ladies, penii, and other questionable/possibly-offensive images when interviewing, and checking the dress code, if posted, before applying.

As to whether candidates should hide their ink – that’s a personal decision. I usually figure if they’d cull me from the pool because of my ink, it’s likely not a place I would be comfortable working; on the other hand, if I were a children’s librarian, a face tattoo of a tarantula would make it more likely I’d use some serious cover-up so as not to scare the little ones. In short, folks should do serious research as to the cultural flavor of a workplace before deciding to hide – or flaunt – their art, and make sure their skills outshine their ink.

Would any tattoos make me think twice about hiring someone? Well, we’re a heavily public-service oriented library, so racist tattoos would definitely give me pause since we’re here to make our users as comfortable as possible. Aside from that? Probably not.

-Colleen Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor at University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s Lupton Library

My personal feeling is that tattoos are okay but to a limited extent. I think that they fine if they are small and/or are not obviously visible. I don’t think that tattoos are professional looking so if a person had them all over their arms, legs, neck, etc, it would make me think twice about hiring that person, not because I didn’t think that the person was not capable or qualified to do the job but because, unfortunately, of the view of someone with a lot  of tattoos has in our society.  Perhaps in certain types of libraries  it would not be an issue, but I believe that in some academic libraries it would not portray a professional image, in the same that dressing slovenly would be viewed negatively. Just my two cents.

– Anonymous

Cathi AllowayI am on the fence about tattoos, and can tell you that I am aware of a great range of policies regarding them.  In general, it is reasonable for every library to establish what is needed for each situation.
Community standards and environment play a big role in the tolerance level for appearance.  When a library needs to improve its reputation for credibility, reliability, and competence, then a “classic look” for employees may be warranted, especially in a more conservative community where customers and donors value conformity and a professional image.   In other communities that have a high level of diversity and are more liberal, like my current community (a Big Ten college town), we can offer a more flexible dress code that allows tattoos.
An additional consideration regarding tattoos is the nature of the job and the career aspirations of the person.  Library managers need the full business look for presentations, fundraising, networking, and special events.  Although I can’t exactly define “too tattooed”, a large amount of visible  ink may be an impediment to achievement.  I personally enjoy, but do not have, body art, but would have to tell a manager with a lot of tattoos that they may be expected to cover them for certain activities.
An illustration of this:   I once had a meeting with potential donors who quite openly appeared to be evaluating my appearance as I met them at a restaurant to discuss donations. I later received feedback that they wanted to give to a charity that “met their expectations” – and some of them gave.  I wore a moderately priced department store suit that contrasted with their designer clothes, but I guess the fake pearls worked anyway!  Appearance counts, while self-expression through body art and dress are important outlets for many of us.  Hopefully libraries will be open-minded and job applicants considerate of the wide range of public opinions they can encounter with a full body set of tattoos.
– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

What a great question!   My workplace does not have anything that says tattoos must be covered,  and I personally have nothing against them.

I recently hired an employee who interviewed in an outfit that hid his full-sleeve tattoo.  Seeing the tattoo would not have made a difference in my hiring decision, but I would have appreciated it if he would have let it peak out a little bit, or at least mentioned it.  It’s kind of like hiring an employee and having them show up the first day with a different, shocking dyed color of hair.  It was a bit of a surprise when I first saw it, is all.  It would also be to a prospective employee’s benefit to discover if the new workplace had anything stating tattoos must be covered: can you always work in full sleeves?

Any tattoo is tattooed; the only “too tattooed” or tattoo that would make me reconsider hiring  for the types of positions I supervise would be face/neck tattoos.  The rest of the body—the entire thing—is fair game.

– Sarah Morrison, Adult Services Librarian Neill Public Library

The short answer to the question of candidates with tattoos is, yes, they should hide their ink. For a job interview, I would always recommend covering up, which should not be too difficult since you would be dressed fairly conservative. I would encourage anyone considering a tattoo to be selective about where you put it since you will not know the policy of future employers.

The last two questions are tied together for me. How tattooed is too tattooed? Anything on the face, neck or hands would be too tattooed and would influence my hiring decision because those are areas that could never be covered up for formal presentations or meetings.

I am personally a tattooed librarian so this most likely affects my opinion on tattoos and the definition of what “too tattooed” is, but I am not on every search committee for my institution, others will have more conservative opinions.

When you do get a job offer, definitely ask what the policy is so you know if you can show off your “I heart Mom” tat!

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries

Toby Willis-CampAs a tattooed librarian (a frog above one ankle) with a very modified 20-something son, I know that one has tattoos and other modifications  for personal reasons.  However, the workplace is not always a place where one can simply let everything be on display.  It is not a personal affront to have to keep one’s tattoos and other modifications underwrap in the workplace.  Dark nylons or tights, long sleeves and modest necklines are useful tools for keeping the other side of your personality personal.  What I do and show when I am not at work is my business, not my employer’s.

This being said, prominent neck and facial tattoos are career-limiting in public service jobs. I don’t believe that this will ever change even with the openness around tattoos now.

As a former library director who had a “no butts, no boobs, no bellies” dress code policy, I think it is best to talk about these things when entering a new workplace.  Find out what the dress code includes and make it work for you. You may be working for a tight a$$, so be prepared to keep your art covered.  You might also be working for someone who has some modifications too, but knows when it’s the right time to have them on display.

– Toby Willis-Camp, a former Director of Libraries for a professional association 

Marleah AugustineTattoos don’t bother me – I have two myself, although they are not usually visible during work (although my next one likely will be). I don’t think candidates should try to hide visible tattoos during the job search / interview. That feels deceptive to me. I’d rather know they are inked up front (or at least not have something hidden and then suddenly see it on their first day at work). The only time I think I would think twice about it is if the tattoos are large and on the neck, or any tattoos on the face. I doubt I would have to worry about vulgar tattoos, but that would also give me pause.
About half of my part-time staff are tattooed, and only once in 5 years have I heard a patron comment about a tattoo in a negative manner (but I’ve heard several positive comments!).
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Ink is relative to location.  I personally don’t care, and my patrons don’t care.  In a smaller, more conservative, more rural library, everyone cared.  It was silly.  I hired and was hired anyway (I have what looks like very obvious piercings–I actually have none–but I always have worn the jewelry to interviews to see what comments might ensue).While hiring is supposed to be about skills, sometimes you have to worry about community fit.  I never have, and have never had problems.  If a candidate is worried–cover the tats.  The person will know soon enough if its an issue or not.
– Virginia Roberts, Director, Chippewa Falls Public Library

Manya ShorrWhen hiring, the most important thing to me is whether the staff person is approachable and neutral. Both of these things can be easily achieved even if the staff person is covered in tattoos. So no, tattoos have little to no impact on my hiring practices. That said, if an applicant (or staff person) has a tattoo that is political or controversial, I would ask them to cover it. We want to create an environment that is as neutral as possible, so that a patron feels comfortable asking any question of any staff person. Of course, this applies to clothing too and not just tattoos. Our latest dress code says, “Clothing or body art that can be reasonably seen as profane, political, or obscene is not to be visible.”

I remember having a conversation with my mom about 10 years ago about tattoos (I’m 38). She was convinced that the people in my generation who have tattoos would never be able to get jobs. I believed that the world would have to change to accommodate all the people with tattoos. I certainly saw more tattoos in Portland, OR than I do in Omaha, NE but even here, it’s commonplace for staff to have tattoos.

 – Manya Shorr, Assistant Director, Community Programs and Services, Omaha Public Library

Randall SchroederI have only one question from the other side of the table regarding tattoos or anything dealing with appearance. Does it affect approachability? If I am hiring you to be a public services librarian to work at a service desk, you can’t frighten the users away. On the other hand, if you work in the back, it probably isn’t that big of a deal. I want people to be comfortable at work but still be able to do their job. A librarian with great people skills and tattoos is still better than a curmudgeon with no skin decoration. Libraries are supposed to be an inclusive place.

This also works both ways on the fashion scale. I worked with a librarian who always wore a three piece pinstripe suit at the desk. The students wouldn’t talk to him either.

Personally, I have no issue with tattoos, but I cannot vouch for everybody on the hiring committee. It may even be a subconscious reaction. It depends on how important your personal style is compared to the job. The tattooed librarian may not want to work at a place where she or he is judged by skin art. In which case, show your glory within reason and taste.

If the job is really important, do your research. There may be a policy on appearance in some places, although that is increasingly rare. If not, what can you find out about the culture of the school? If you think it is an issue, cover until you get hired and then surprise them.

I have worked for a college where the tats would get a raised eyebrow from some of the staff. I have worked for a university where nobody would notice.

– Randall Schroeder, Director of Libraries, Archives and Media at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, Minnesota

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.

Thank YOU for reading!When her muscles start relaxin’, up the hill comes Andrew Jackson. Lydia, oh Lydia, that encyclo-pidia. Oh Lydia The Queen of comment.

There will be two more posts in this series, which will go live on 6/22 and 6/23.  When live, links will be here and here.

3 Comments

Filed under Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Further Questions, Interviewing while Tattooed, Public Services/Reference, Youth Services

Further Questions: When and how should candidates check-in after an interview (if at all)?

This week’s question is related to last week’s, but about a later stage of the process. I asked people who hire librarians:

When and how should candidates check-in after an interview (if at all)? Have you ever told someone you’d get back to them by a certain time, and then not been able to do so?

Cathi AllowayWe give interviewed candidates an approximate decision date, but encourage them to call us if the date passes and they have not heard from us. I explain that deadlines are sometimes compromised because we sometimes need additional approvals from the library board or local government officials that may be delayed. We will also tell really good candidates that if they get an offer from somewhere else while they are waiting to hear from us, to feel free to call about it so we can work with them as they make their important decision.

– Catherine Alloway, Director, Schlow Centre Region Library

Laurie PhillipsOther than sending a thank you email, I don’t know if it would help to check in. I have had people send follow-up materials that were mentioned during the interview. Yes, there may be a reason why the final decision is delayed (the Dean is out, the Provost’s office hasn’t given us the final go-ahead, a committee member is ill), but in general, we meet to decide as soon after the final candidate as possible. A candidate should find out what the interview schedule is while they are interviewing (are they first, last, what is the schedule). That way they should know when to expect to hear. Otherwise, if the committee is still bringing in candidates, we’re fairly busy with that and may not have a lot of time to respond. Keep in mind, I cannot notify the unsuccessful candidates until I have an absolute yes from the successful candidate. At that point, I write emails to the unsuccessful candidates who visited campus. I have asked job seekers if they prefer email to a phone call and have been told that they prefer email because they don’t have an awkward conversation with me and don’t get their hopes up when I call.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

I agree with some of the posters from last week. I don’t think that an applicant should “check in” once they have submitted an application, unless they have forgotten to include something, they really want the search committee to know about.  The only other time may be when they are being considered for another position, but they prefer yours and really want/need to know if they are being actively considered, so that they can make a decision.  I have to admit that it is a tad annoying to me as a potential employer or search committee chair to receive phone calls, especially repeated calls from the same person.   I understand from many years of doing this, that the search process can take a long time, and it is frustrating for a candidate to be left hanging.  But the cogs move pretty slowly in academia sometimes, often due to conflicting schedules for meetings, and/or large candidate pools.  I’m afraid that I think it is best to just wait out the process, unless one of the two reasons above are the case.  I don’t mean to sound hard about this, because I, like most people, have been on both sides of the process.  However, everyone needs to remember that search committees want to finish their work and select a candidate as soon as possible too.  None of us is trying to cause hardships for candidates. Once the candidates get a job and serve on a search committee, I think they will better understand why the searches can often take an inordinate amount of time, as frustrating as that can be.

– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands

Marleah AugustineI think it’s best if candidates let at least a week go by. Sometimes the interview process is not even finished and I get calls from candidates. I appreciate their eagerness, but I just don’t have anything I can tell them at that point.
I’ve always (knock on wood) been able to get back to people on time.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Manya ShorrIn my current situation, I’d rather people don’t check in at all within the first two-three weeks after the interview. I know it’s extremely frustrating to wait for a response and that it seems like nothing is happening, but I ask applicants to trust that things are moving forward. There are a myriad of things that could be happening behind the scenes. For example: a panel member may have gone on vacation right after the interview (recently happened here..with two panelists), we may be calling references (do you know how hard it can be to connect with references?), you may be our second choice and we’re waiting to hear if the first person accepts the position (in fact, we may be flying them out here to visit before offering them the position). I’m aware that it feels like torture and it is never our intention to make applicants suffer, but there are protocols in place that we have to follow. So, please, be patient. I promise we have not forgotten about you and we will be in touch soon.
– Manya Shorr, Senior Manager, Branch Services, Omaha Public Library

Randall SchroederI have never had that situation, but if I did miss a promised deadline a quick e-mail asking what is the status of the search would not be received poorly.

One reason that this situation has not been my experience is if I give candidates a ballpark idea of when they will hear back, it is usually a simple matter to send out an e-mail explaining, in general, what the delay is about. If I am down to a few on-campus interviews, it is no hardship to send out a couple of e-mails. If it is more global than that, our new HR software allows me to send out group e-mails quite readily.

My general feeling is that people’s imaginations will come up with much worse explanations in the absence of information. It will save all us much anxiety if I can give candidates an honest answer about the timeline when possible.

In short, I want my candidates, especially my finalists, to feel valued. Why start off a potential collegial working relationship with preventable hard feelings?

– Randall Schroeder, Department Head of Public Services, Ferris Library for Information & Technology Education

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.

Thank YOU for reading!

Tall and tan and young and lovely, the comment from Ipanema gets posted

2 Comments

Filed under Academic, Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Further Questions, Information Literacy Instruction, Public, Public Services/Reference

Researcher’s Corner: Reference Competencies from the Academic Employers’ Perspective

In order to be competitive in our tight job market, I think that’s it’s not enough just to be able to describe one’s skills well.  Job hunters, both in and out of library school, need to be able to manage their own professional development in a way that the skills they gain align with the competencies required by their desired jobs.

This is why I’m really excited to present Laura Saunders’ guest post today. She describes research she conducted on people who hire academic reference librarians, in order to determine what the most important competencies are.  If you’d like to read a longer, more formal account of her research, please see:

Identifying Core Reference Competencies from an Employers’ Perspective: Implications for Instruction (2012). College and Research Libraries, 73(4)


Reference librarian was one of the top five job titles reported in Library Journal’s annual Placement & Salary Survey for 2012 , suggesting that, as with Mark Twain, reports of the death of reference have been largely exaggerated. Still, the fact that there are reference jobs to be had does not necessarily mean they are easy to get, and the same Library Journal’s article reports stiff competition for those jobs (Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science was number one in job placement!). One of the best ways for aspiring reference librarians to succeed in the job market is to have a clear understanding of job expectations, to develop the necessary skills and proficiencies, and be able to demonstrate and discuss those abilities on their resume and in job interviews. In this column, I share the results of a survey of academic reference librarians indicating what skills and knowledge they believe is important in the field right now.

The Study

In 2011, my colleague, Mary Wilkins Jordan and I developed and implemented a nationwide survey of practicing reference librarians to gather input on what competencies are most important for reference librarians in the field right now. While we used essentially the same survey, I concentrated on academic libraries, while Mary surveyed public librarians. In each case, we took a random sample of libraries from across the country, in order to get a broad and representative overview. We gave the librarians a list of 33 competencies that we had compiled using Reference and User Services Association (RUSA) guidelines as well as reviews of the literature, and asked the librarians to choose the ones they thought were important to reference librarians, and then to indicate the three most important. The survey closed with an open-ended question asking the respondents to describe any skills or qualifications that they found to be lacking in recent graduates or new hires.

Findings

The respondents chose competencies grouped into three categories: general skills, technical skills, and interpersonal skills, which are summarized in the following table.

General Technology Personal/Interpersonal
Second Master’s degree Online searching Verbal Communication
Budgeting Programming Written Communication
Foreign language Web design Listening
Marketing Web maintenance Working in teams
Supervisory experience Social media Approachability
Ability to conduct research/publish Hardware troubleshooting Comfort with instruction/teaching
Knowledge of cataloging Software troubleshooting Self-motivated
Assessment/evaluation Chat/IM Stress management
Customer service Building relationships with co-workers
Familiarity with Paper Sources Building relationships with other professional colleagues
Familiarity with Online Sources Conflict management
Search Skills Adaptability/Flexibility
Negotiating Sense of humor
Current Events Awareness Organizational awareness
Traditional Reference Interview

Throughout the survey, respondents emphasized skills and qualities that relate to the question-answering and customer service aspects of reference. For instance, general and online search skills, as well as familiarity with both online and print reference sources were among the top rated general and technical skills. Interestingly, valuing knowledge of print resources was not correlated with either the responding librarians’ age or number of years in the field. In other words, it is not just older librarians or those who have been out of school for a long time, but a wide range of practicing reference librarians who seem to believe print resources are still important. These findings emphasize that it is still important for reference librarians to be familiar with a wide range of resources, and to be able to search and use those sources efficiently and effectively in order to help their patrons find information.

While librarians certainly need the skills to search and use resources to find information, the survey also confirms that the patron is the heart of reference services. Customer service and interpersonal skills to be able to interact with a diverse patron base are among the most important for any reference librarian. Five of the interpersonal skills—verbal communication skills, listening, approachability, comfort with instruction, and adaptability/flexibility—stood out as especially important, having been selected by more than 90% of respondents. These five are closely followed by written communication skills and sense of humor. However, it is worth noting that every competency listed under interpersonal skills was chosen as important by more than 60% of respondents. Clearly, the ability to interact and communicate with a wide range of patrons is essential for successful reference librarians.

Similarly, under technical skills, respondents indicated that ability to communicate with patrons using chat and instant messaging is important. Among the general skills customer service was the second highest rated, selected as important by 94% of respondents. Similarly, although it was not one of the top three, the ability to conduct a reference interview was deemed important by more than three-quarters of respondents. Taken together, these results suggest that being able to interact effectively with patrons and to provide a high level of customer service are among the most important attributes of a reference librarian. This is not to suggest that other technical skills are unimportant. Software troubleshooting, web design and web maintenance are all highly valuable skills, according to the survey.

The following figures give a breakdown of the rating of skills in each category:

Saunders Fig 1

Figure 1
Percentage of Respondents Choosing General Skills as Important

Saunders Fig 2

Figure 2
Percentage of Respondents Selecting Technical Skills Important

Saunders Fig 3

Figure 3
Percentage of Respondents Choosing Interpersonal Skills as Important

In the final section of the survey, we asked respondents if they saw any skills or qualities lacking in their new hires. It’s important to note that many respondents indicated that their new hires were doing very well, and praised their knowledge and enthusiasm. That said, some respondents said that their new librarians seemed to rely on the same freely available web sources (such as Google and Wikipedia) that their patrons used, and if they were not able to help the patrons using those sources, they did not seem to know where else to go. These participants worried that their new librarians were not adding any value to the research process. Similarly, some respondents suggested that new librarians they worked with did not always have strong interpersonal skills, or were not adept at working with diverse or difficult patrons.

Conclusions

There may be plenty of competition for reference jobs in academic libraries, but applicants with strong interpersonal skills and solid knowledge of searching and sources will have an edge. There are several things a current student can do to strengthen her resume and gain more of that edge.

Many LIS programs offer, or even require, an introductory reference course, and while this will likely give you a good base of knowledge, it is important to remember it is just an introduction. Anyone interested in pursuing a career in reference would do well to take ‘advanced’ reference courses that delve more deeply into the resources and services in particular disciplines, such as the sciences, humanities, or social sciences, or in particular settings such as medical or law libraries.

One question students always ask me is whether they will need a second Master’s degree to work in an academic library. The respondents to this survey did not count a second Master’s as highly important, with only 28.2% of participants selecting that competency. It would appear that experience and background with sources and searching generally is considered most important, although it’s also worth noting that librarians at doctoral-granting institutions seemed to value a second Master’s degree more highly than librarians in other academic institutions.

This survey also confirmed the findings of many other studies, that instruction is becoming an ever-more central part of reference. Here again, introductory reference courses will probably address user instruction, but are unlikely to give students a firm grounding or much hands-on experience. Students should seek courses focused on user instruction, especially those that incorporate pedagogy and information literacy, and that give students plenty of practice in speaking in front of groups and actually teaching modules both in-person and online.

Interpersonal skills are a little harder to teach and assess in a classroom environment. Certainly, students could take classes that center on diverse and underserved populations. However, job applicants should also identify any co-curricular or work experience (including volunteering and internships) that involves communication, interpersonal skills, and customer service. Retail jobs and waiting tables, for instance, are both jobs that require a high-level of customer interaction, and could be highlighted for a potential employer.

As I noted earlier, the findings I report here are really only half of the story- the academic library side. My colleague, Mary Wilkins Jordan did a parallel survey of public librarians, and our comparison of the responses of the academic and public practitioners will be featured in an upcoming edition of RUSQ.

I want to finish this post by highlighting a few points. There is a tacit belief in the field that academic and public reference are very different—so much so that practitioners often have a hard time moving to one setting after having worked any length of time in the other setting. Our studies suggest that the differences between reference services in the two types of libraries is actually very subtle, and is more a matter of different emphasis than different competencies. Specifically, public librarians seem to put a little more emphasis on the ‘soft’ or interpersonal skills such as customer service and communication, while the academic librarians were somewhat more likely to choose as important ‘hard’ skills such as ability to engage in evaluation and assessment, or research and publication. However, as you can see here, academic reference librarians also value interpersonal skills very highly. So, the differences seem to be more subtle and the similarities more pronounced than is often believed. We hope that this research might spur further research and conversation about the topic.


Laura SaundersLaura Saunders received her PhD from Simmons College Graduate School of Library and Information Science in May 2010.  She holds an M.S.L.I.S from Simmons as well as a B. A. from Boston University in English Literature and Italian.  She worked as a reference librarian and branch manager of the Career Resource Library for Simmons College from 1999 to 2003, where she provided reference and instruction services, as well as participated in collection development, Web page maintenance, and marketing of library services.  While completing her PhD, she worked as an adjunct faculty member.  Currently, she is an Assistant Professor at Simmons College, teaching in the areas of reference, evaluation of information services, information literacy, and academic libraries. Her first book, Information Literacy as a Student Learning Outcome: The Perspective of Institutional Accreditation was published in June 2011. Her research interests include information literacy, assessment, accreditation, reference services, and the place of libraries in higher education.  She has had articles published in The Journal of Academic Librarianship, Library & Information Science Research, College & Research Libraries, and portal: Libraries and the Academy.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Guest Posts, library research, Public Services/Reference, Researcher's Corner, UK

Further Questions: Who has input on hiring decisions at your organization?

This week I have another question suggested by a reader.  I asked people who hire librarians:

Who has input on hiring decisions at your organization? (e.g the hiring manager, the person’s potential department members, an external committee, etc.) We often hear that it’s important to be polite to everyone you meet when going in for an interview – do you solicit feedback from non-interviewing staff members?

Laurie PhillipsWe have a search committee, which will generally include those librarians and staff who will work directly with the new hire. We try to keep it small – no more than 4 people. Our policy is to also include one person outside of the person’s general area. The committee has the most input and makes a recommendation to the Dean and Associate Dean, who will have met with the person and reviewed applications of top candidates. We also invite everyone in the library to attend the person’s onsite presentation and we have a small group who are not members of the search committee take the candidate to lunch. We gather feedback from everyone who had contact with the candidate, but obviously, the search committee makes the decision to recommend a candidate to the Dean for hire.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Emilie Smart

In our system, we operate a little differently in branches as opposed to the main library.  Hiring decisions for branches are made by the branch manager and the branch dept head with input from the branch services liaison and division coordinator.  At the main library,  senior departmental staff and the division coordinator make the decisions.  It is important to be polite to everyone you meet in the interview process.  It’s also important to listen in the interview.
When we conclude each interview we tell the candidate that he or she will be hearing from us once we have completed interviewing all candidates.  We also tell them that we may not be able to complete the process in a timely manner (through no fault of our own) and that they may need to be patient for a week or so, but we WILL get back with them.  I don’t mind it when a candidate calls after a week to inquire, but I have had candidates who called every other day.  I always tell candidates the first time they call what the status of the interviews is and that we will call them when we are finished.  If they call me back again, I generally take them off the consideration list.  If they can’t be patient, how can they help frustrated patrons?

– Emilie Smart, Division Coordinator of Reference Services & Computer Services at East Baton Rouge Parish Library

Marge Loch-WoutersThe manager in a department has primary responsibility for hiring decisions and initial selection of our interview pool. We always use a team for interviews made up primarily of other managers at our library. There may also be other staffers involved. The interview team then meets to compare notes and make a recommendation to the manager. But that person ultimately has the final say.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library SystemHere at Shortgrass all the hiring is done by our management team. We do all interviews as a team (of three) if possible and then make a decision together. Depending on the position we then let the manager who will be directly supervising the position be the one to extend the offer.
Generally, most non-interviewing staff members don’t even meet the candidates, due to the lay-out of the building. Often the Executive Assistant will be the first one to make contact as people walk in the door and if there was anything remarkable (lack of friendliness, etc) about the candidate, I trust she would mention it to me.

– Petra Mauerhoff, CEO, Shortgrass Library System

On most academic search committees on which I’ve served and/or chaired, those who have input into the actual decision as to who is hired is somewhat restricted.  The “restricted” group usually includes the members of the search committee, the Dean or other “official” of the college , and the department head of the department in which the new person will work.  However, I have always solicited feedback from anyone who has been invited to interview the candidate one on one,  in a small group, or a larger group as when a presentation is required.  That feedback isn’t always in the final decision category. But it could be if many people provide similar, or the same,  pros or cons about a candidate.  In that case, I would hope that the search committee or other final decision maker would take that feedback into consideration.  Being polite to everyone a candidate meets on an interview should be pro forma, whether or not the candidate thinks that the people he/she meets has input into the hiring process. If a candidate can’t be polite to everyone for one or two days,  and it is noticed, that candidate should not be the one selected for the position IMO.

– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands

Samantha Thompson-Franklin

At my library, candidates are introduced to all of the library staff (we are a small staff) and are asked to make a presentation that includes the entire library staff as well as members of the search committee. My library director solicits feedback from all members of the library staff on their view of the candidate(s). In some cases it has confirmed whether the person should or should not be hired for the job.

– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library

Marleah AugustineWhen hiring support staff, in our library, the decision rests with the department head. When both the youth and adult departments are hiring at the same time, the two department heads sometimes interview candidates together, but the individual department head is the one who makes the final decision.
In some cases, front desk staff members will have an initial impression of a candidate, and I do take that into consideration. It’s not a dealbreaker, but it’s nice to hear what kind of interaction the candidate had and whether it was positive or negative.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library
Colleen HarrisAt our library, all librarian presentations are open to all staff and library faculty, as is the meet & greet, and the candidate spends time with various folks both in and outside their home department. We solicit feedback from everyone in our organization who was able to spend time with the candidate; that information is usually collected via a survey where folks have open-answer slots to comment on the person’s qualifications, skillset, and whether they are an acceptable candidate.
– Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor at University of Tennessee Chattanooga’s Lupton Library

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re interested in participating in this feature, email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!

I won’t dance in a club like this. All the girls are comments and the beer tastes just like comments.

1 Comment

Filed under Adult Services, Cataloging/Technical Services, Further Questions, Public Services/Reference, Youth Services