Category Archives: Op Ed

Hiring Librarians News and Miscellany

Here are a few things I want to spotlight:

Are you interested in joining a Hiring Librarians run community of practice for people who are job hunting?

I am exploring creating a private online group of maybe 20 folks for mutual support on things like resume review, interview prep, mental health, etc. I would provide organization, moderation and advice. If you are interested, how would you feel if it was pay-what-you-can? Or come back and make a donation later when you get hired? If this is something that appeals to you, please email me.

Actual picture of a community of practice

There’s a new mini-survey on Cover Letters!

If you hire LIS workers, please consider filling it out. It’s useful to hear from both folks who have opinions about cover letters and also those whose organizations never consider them. I’m also trying something new with this – rather than posting individual replies on the blog, I am making the responses publicly viewable.

man with a beard and hat sits at a table smoking and marking survey documents
Taos County, New Mexico. Jim Barns, surveyor with New Mexico Re-Assessment Survey. National Archives.

We’re (re)starting a series in collaboration with Hack Library School (HLS).

Next week you’ll see the first new post in the Library School Career Center. This is a series that interviews staff at library schools to find out what career support they provide to students and alumni. Next week’s interview looks at the University of Iowa and is by HLS writer Kellee Forkenbrock, who you may also know from Further Questions. I’m excited!

By the way, if you are an employer looking to get your job ad out to library schools, Hilary Kraus (who you may also know from Further Questions) has created a very helpful spreadsheet with best process to reach each of the 63 ALA continually accredited library schools.

Hack Library School Logo, the letters hls

We seem to have lost 36,000 librarian jobs over the last 7 years

Remember when everyone thought the boomers would retire and create a huge shortage of librarians? I revisited some statistics and found that we actually have fewer available positions than we did a decade ago, and more than a third of all librarians are still over the age of 55.

blackboard, education, chalk, classroom, school, mathematics, writing, formula. Pixino.

I’m adding Mastodon to my socials

Hiring Librarians can now be found at: @hiringlibrarians@glammr.us Right now it’s mainly cross posts from Twitter, which is mainly auto feed from the blog. So, it’s maybe not too exciting right now but we’re trying it out cause that guy who runs the bird app is a big old jerk. My Mastodon handle is in my Twitter profile. If your Mastodon handle is in your Twitter profile and I’m following you, I’ll follow you on Mastodon too okay? (using Debirdify: https://pruvisto.org/debirdify )

Drawing of a mastodon skeleton
Image from page 140 of “Cuvier’s animal kingdom : arranged according to its organization” (1840). Internet Archive on Flickr.

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How’s the Math Now? Looking at the lack of library job growth over the last decade

Back when I was first writing Hiring Librarians, and a very early career librarian myself, I had some anxiety that there wouldn’t be enough librarian  jobs for all the people who wanted librarian jobs. I wrote a couple posts, Tell Me My Math is Wrong, Because I Don’t Like These Numbers in 2012 and Library Jobs Math in 2014, exploring some of the available statistics. It didn’t look good to me – it looked like we were turning out too many graduates for the rate of growth, even considering that the boomers were supposed to be retiring and creating a librarian shortage (there was also supposed to be a shortage of sea captains, according to Forbes).

Now that I’m back at the blog and it’s about ten years later, I’m curious how things have shaken out. So, I thought I’d take a look at some of the statistical sources to see what’s changed. 

The change in predicted rate of growth.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides some key information for potential future librarians in its Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), and it is the source I used for predicted job growth. The predicted growth rate for librarians and Library Media Specialists was 7% for 2012-2022, compared to growth rate for all occupations predicted at 11%. 

Today, the growth rate for librarians and library media specialists is predicted to be 6% for 2021-2031.1 The growth of the job market for all occupations is expected to be 5%. So our current growth rate is lower than was previously predicted, but closer to the total for all occupations (and in proportion to the total for all occupations, the rate of growth has shrunk less).

Was the 7% growth prediction accurate? 

It doesn’t seem like it. 

In 2014 I reported on the number of librarians listed on the statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey). The number was 194,000. 

In 2021 the chart Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2021 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey) lists the number of librarians as 158,000.

194,000 minus today’s number of 158,000 equals 36,000 fewer librarian jobs.

That’s a loss of 18.55%.

Before we all freak out, let’s look at another source to compare. The BLS’ OOH actually has different numbers. When I went looking to find out why these numbers differ, an ALA generated PDF told me that:

“The data represented in the OOH comes from the Occupational Employment Statistics Survey. The semiannual mail survey of 200,000 employers gathers employment estimates and wages. The Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey (CPS) provide the number of librarians, including age ranges, as self-reported in interviews of a sample of 60,000 households in 754 sample areas.”

Thanks, ALA!

The OOH tells us that in 2021 there were 138,400 librarians and library media specialists. In 2012 the OOH told us there were 148,400. So that is only 10,000 fewer librarians, and a loss of 6.7%. Not as bad. Note I’m also not measuring the same time period – this is all pretty rough. 

Let’s look at another source. The AFL-CIO put together a 2021 Fact Sheet entitled Library Professionals: Facts & Figures. Using data from the  U.S. Census Bureau. Current Population Survey Microdata. 2020, they say

“Cumulative employment among librarians, library technicians, and library assistants dropped severely in 2020 to 264,270, down from 308,000 in 2019. This is most likely due to the widespread health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the vast majority of libraries to close for at least part of the year. Before the pandemic, employment of professionals had been gradually declining after hitting a peak of 394,900 in 2006.”

So yeah. We most likely did not grow 7% since I last looked in 2014.

Ok, are we still graduating too many librarians?

Data USA tells us that in 2020 there were 4,965 Masters degrees awarded in Library Science in the US. Library Journal also has some numbers. Their current Placements & Salaries survey used data from 34 of the 58 US-based ALA accredited library schools and they “reported that LIS master’s degrees were bestowed on 4,931 graduates, a 9 percent increase over 2020.”

In my 2014 post I used the Library Journal number, which was 6,184. I’m unable to backtrack to their survey methods for that year (2013), but it looks like they gathered data from 41 schools. So, maybe we’re getting fewer graduates or maybe it’s just that they looked at fewer schools in 2021. It’s hard to compare.

The Data USA site does tell us that the number of library degrees awarded (all degrees, not just Masters) is declining by 5%. It is unclear what time period they are referencing. This number apparently “includes STEM majors.”

So the number of librarians has declined, but rate we are minting new grads is also declining…

Let’s do a brief dive into that number of librarians leaving the profession. 

I’ll just take a look at the extensive research that’s been done there.

Ok, not a lot has been done. I looked through the LISTA database and couldn’t find much. Then I checked my work on Twitter and had some good conversations about why this is a difficult subject to research, possible places to draw numbers from, anecdotal evidence, and a skosh of actual research. 

What about those boomers? Are they retiring?

We can do some speculation there. In 2014 I looked at the number of librarians who were aged 55-64, the number of librarians who were 65 and older and then mathed out a few possible scenarios in terms of number of retirements. 

The Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population survey breaks down librarians by age group. The current survey (2021) tells us 20,000 librarians are in the age group 65 years and older (12.6% of total) and an additional 40,000 are between the ages of 55 and 64 (25.3% of total).2

In 2013 there were 194,000 librarians reported in this survey; 17,000 were 65 and older (8.76% of total) and 53,000 librarians were between the ages of 55 and 64 (27.3% of total).

There are 10,000 fewer librarians aged 55 and over than there were when we last checked.

So, some of those boomers did retire! Or maybe they left for high paying corporate jobs, who can say?

This is kind of interesting. Let’s look at both the 55 to 64 age group and the 65 and over age group in aggregate. In 2013, 36% of librarians were 55 and over. In the current survey, 37.9% are 55 and older.

So, given that there are 10,000 fewer librarians over 55, but they represent a slightly higher percent of the total librarian population, could it be that those retiring boomers were not replaced?

In Conclusion

I look at the number of 36,000 fewer librarians and I am alarmed.

But, the math here is pretty fuzzy. I am not a statistician or a data wonk, so please feel free to tell me what I’ve muddled up.

Considering causes, we certainly lost librarians due to COVID related reasons, or great resignation related reasons, or any number of the-last-few-years-have-really-made-folks-make-drastic-changes reasons. And those positions might be replaced when things are more stable. I know the position I left at a public library in January 2021 has only now, in October 2022, been filled. PLA’s recent Public Library Staff and Diversity Report notes that “More than a quarter (27%) of all public libraries report they lost staff positions in the prior 12 months. City (32.7%) and suburban (33.2%) libraries were slightly more likely to have lost staff positions than town/rural libraries (21.1%).” This seems to indicate that a significant portion of the loss I’m seeing over the last 8 years may have been concentrated in the last 12 months. 

So maybe there’s a reason to temper my alarm?

There’s another aspect of the MLIS degree holders versus jobs equation that I don’t think I’ve paid enough attention to: some people graduate with their MLIS never intending to work in a library. Data USA tells us that only 35.5% of Library Science graduates go on to work as Librarians and Media Collection Specialists, although this number does include undergraduate degrees and PhDs. So the loss of librarians doesn’t necessarily translate into disappointed, unemployed library grads. 

There’s a lot that’s unclear for me in the forecast. While I do think that the BLS’ prediction of 7% growth the last decade turned out to be bunkum, they are professionals, and they might end up being right about the next decade.  

Footnotes

  1. Note that if you remove Library Media Specialists and look instead at job growth for Librarians, Curators and Archivists, the growth rate is only 4%.
  2. Compare with all occupations: 6.6% are 65 years and older and 16.9% are between the ages of 55 and 64.

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Oh Hey, Share Your Salary Info Today!

Oh Hey Everybody!

Remember Hiring Librarians? Let’s all take a moment to think back on our favorite post, be it inspirational or infuriating.

Have you thought of it? Wasn’t that fun!

Did you know that even though there haven’t been any new posts since 2016, people have still been using some of the resources? Most notably the Interview Questions Repository, which now has over 475 responses! Isn’t that cool?

But wait there’s more!

This week my colleague Megan contacted me with an idea. She said that some folks on Twitter had been sharing salary info, and that @paraVestibulum, was hoping to collect the data on a spreadsheet or somesuch.  She thought, why not add it as a new tab in the Interview Questions Repository?

I said, “that’s a great idea!”

So she put together a new form, with some input from me and @paraVestibulum, and I am now proud to share it with you here.

If you’re interested in sharing your salary info, please go to the form

If you’d like to check out what others have shared, the repository is here. It now has a tab for interview questions and a tab for shared salary information.

I hope you’ve all had, and continue to have, excellent experiences in your library careers.

Best Wishes,

Emily

PS A recommendation: if you haven’t already, read Vocational Awe and Librarianship: The Lies We Tell Ourselves by Fobazi Ettarh. It is an incredibly useful framing of how we think about our work, and how we value ourselves and others.

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Library Jobs Math

Did you read the recent Wall Street Journal article that said we would soon be experiencing a shortage of librarians and sea captains?

Does that math sound right to you?

Library Journal’s 2012 placements and salary survey shows in that year, 6,184 people graduated. If that number remains constant (more about this later), that’s 61,840 new librarians over the ten years from 2012-2022.

Will this be enough to fulfill the imminent shortage???

The statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages (data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey) gives the total number of librarians in the US as 194,000.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook predicts a growth rate for librarian jobs of 7%, from 2012-2022, slower than the total for all occupations, which they predict as 11% (more about this later too). 194,000 times 7% is 13,580. So, the BLS’ numbers mean that approximately 13,580 new librarian jobs will be created over the next ten years.

Let’s subtract that from the 61,840 new graduates. There are still 48,260 graduates who don’t have jobs! How is that a shortage?

Oh wait, those retiring librarians!

That same statistical chart, Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages, shows us the ages of librarians!

53,000 librarians are between the ages of 55 and 64, so we would expect those librarians to retire over the next ten years, right?

Well, the chart also shows us that 17,000 are 65 years and older, so it looks like some of them …won’t.

Let’s say that within the next ten years, ALL of the librarians 65 years or older retire. 48,260 (the number of new grads remaining after all those new jobs are filled) – 17,000 (those 65+ year old librarians) leaves…

31,260 new grads still looking for work.

How many of those 55-64 year olds will retire in the next ten years? There are 53,000 of them.

  • 1 possibility: Say they all retire. Then yes, we will be short by (53,000-31,260) 21,620 librarians needed!
  • possibility 2: Say all but 17,000 retire. Then yes, we will be short, but by ((53,000-17,000)-31,260) only 4,740 librarians needed.
  • possibility 3: Say that those librarians are never ever going to retire because they love their jobs/have had their retirement funds decimated by the economy/some other reason. Then we will have a surplus of 31, 260 librarians!

It’s hard to know what this group of librarians aged 55 to 64 years will do.* There are some differences between a librarian of 55 years and a librarian of 64 years. If most of the 53,000 librarians are 55, then maybe they won’t be retiring in ten years. Maybe it’ll be more like 20 years. And do you know any 74 year old librarians who show no signs of slowing down? I know of at least two. I think some librarians will just go on forever and ever and ever and ever and ….

And there are three more kickers.

1. Library school enrollment is increasing, rather than staying stable, so if this trend continues it seems likely that the number of grads (e.g. job hunting librarians) will also increase each year. Meaning more or many more than just 61,840 hungry new librarians are being created.**

2. Although the statistical chart entitled Employed persons by detailed occupation and age, 2013 annual averages gives the number of librarians as 194,000, Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook gives the number as 148,400. Granted, the former is 2013 and the latter is 2012, but to me that discrepancy indicates some variance in the counts, rather than an increase of nearly 50,000 librarians. So there may be in reality be even fewer than 194,000 librarians.

3. I am skeptical of the predicted 7% growth in jobs. The AFL-CIO provides statistical support for my skepticism:

From 2007 through 2013, library employment among librarians and library technicians and assistants shrank from 380,000 to 320,000.

Anecdotally, I look around at library workrooms with empty desks. I’ve spoken to veteran librarians who describe a slow attrition of positions, as automation and the economy visit libraries, and those who leave or retire are not replaced (or are replaced by part time or hourly employees).  Are we really growing?  It looks like we’re shrinking.

I’m sorry that this post is such a bummer.

But frankly, I think we need to be very honest with each other, and with the library school students that are going into debt right now in order to reach for the Impossible Librarian Dream.

The future librarian shortage does not exist.Not unless we can stop pumping out grads and start creating new librarian jobs.

Notes:

*The potentially retiring librarians are explored in a much more sophisticated fashion in Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians, A Report Prepared for the American Library Association Senior Management and Executive Board to inform its 2015 Strategic Planning Activities. Please note though, that this report was written five years ago, using data that is now almost ten years old. So, not totally up to date.

** I learned about this from Liz Lieutenant, who also has some good posts about library jobs numbers on her blog, for example this one, which illustrates library jobs math much more elegantly, by simply juxtaposing two quotes:

“The profession may lose an average of 2,820 librarians each year to retirement.”
ALA Office for Research & Statistics “Planning for 2015: The Recent History and Future Supply of Librarians” (2009) pg. 39

6,451 ALA-accredited degrees were awarded in 2013*
ALA Committee on Accreditation “Trend Data on Program Performance” (2013) *Note: Canadian programs removed.

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I wrote an article!

I just had a piece published based on the Hiring Librarians Job Hunters survey!

Check out Library Leadership & Management (Vol. 38, No. 4). The article is called What Candidates Want: How to Practice Compassionate Hiring. I hope you enjoy it – you readers were the inspiration and you survey takers are the foundation.  Please leave a comment to let me know what you think!

If you want to read more things I’ve written about Hiring Librarians,

there’s a piece on LibFocus called Our Wonderful World: Making Connections Courtesy of Information and Communications (November 2012)

and a piece on LISCareer called Lessons from Hiring Librarians.

Writing

 

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Help Wanted

Hey, I’m back!

You may not have noticed, as I had posts scheduled to run automatically, but I spent most of February ignoring this blog.  It was great!  I did all sorts of cool things like going on long bike rides on weekends, and sitting and watching movies without the presence of my laptop.

bicycling

The thing that it made clear is that I’m no longer interested in spending such a large chunk of my time on this blog.

I started this blog when I was unemployed and had more time.  I’m not unemployed anymore, I have an interesting, permanent-with-benefits position, and another job as an on-call librarian.  My career is in such a place that I’m less interested in the process of becoming librarians, and more interested in the work of being librarians.  And being able to do non-library things and achieve some sort of, you know, work-life balance, is actually pretty important to my continued enthusiasm for libraries.

However, I’m not quite ready to kill this blog yet.

I’m wondering if there might be a few of you out there who are willing to share the work with me.  What’s primarily needed is people to transcribe the completed surveys.  They are in an Excel spreadsheet, and need to be re-written into blog format.  Are you interested?  If so, please fill out this form:

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ipbkNNJjUd-EgwMbnK5Buks82vYoUNlivV2iy0_GYZU/viewform

Oh yeah and

Your Monthly-ish Reminder:

Have you been on a library interview recently?  Or are you prepping for one?

Sounds like you could use The Interview Questions Repository!

If you’ve had a library interview recently, help this resource grow by reporting the questions you were asked:

http://tinyurl.com/interviewquestionsform

or by sharing this link widely with your friends and colleagues.

If you are about to go on an interview, use the spreadsheet:

http://tinyurl.com/InterviewQuestionsRepository

to help you prepare.

Top tip: Switch the spreadsheet to list view, in order to be able to limit by answers – you can choose to only look at the phone interviews at public libraries, for example.

Bottom tip: For respondents, you should be able to edit your answers, if you think of something to add, etc.

You will also always be able to find these links in the sidebar to your right —>

If you’d like to respond to any other surveys, or otherwise participate in this blog,

this page

will give you links and options.

Thanks for reading, readers!  Thanks for contributing, contributors!

If you think a repository of questions  that people have been asked in library interviews is a useful tool, please help keep it dynamic and relevant by sharing this post with at least one person today.  Thanks!

YOUR PAL,

EMILY

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Unplugging

Hello Friends and Colleagues,

As part of my Get Fit February, I’m trying rebalance, both in terms of work life/personal life and in virtual life/real life.

So I’m going to unplug from social networks for a while, and from Hiring Librarians.  You may not notice any difference – I have posts scheduled throughout the month, and they will continue to appear and to push through to Twitter, Tumblr, etc. BUT! No one will be home.  If you comment on a post, or have a question, or a request, I won’t see it.

I’ll miss you!  But as much as I love all the connections and ideas I find online, I also miss a lot of the things I used to do and enjoy before I was all up in the interwebs.  I used to like paint and stuff.  I used to just sit and watch a whole movie without doing anything else.  I used to take dance classes, and yoga classes, and piano lessons.  I used to spend a lot more quality time with people in the meat world…  

This might be for the whole month, but will most likely be for a much shorter period of time.  Don’t laugh at me if it’s only a day or two, ok?

Until We Meet Again!

Your Pal,

Emily

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How to Read a Blog, and Other General Business

This is a three part post:

hoboken

1. If you read nothing else today…

I wrote a guest post over at Letters to a Young Librarian!  Please click thru and read it, so Jessica is impressed by the traffic this blog gets! 😀

2. How Stuff Works

So you may have seen that post where the survey respondent said, “Do not go to library school. Librarianship is a dying profession.” Some people on the internet got mad when they saw that, and some got sad.  Some people had some interesting comments.  And some people were frustrated because they wanted more clarification from the respondent.

I just wanted to make a few points about the way the surveys are run and the way this blog is written.

Here’s how it works.

I (and whoever is collaborating with me) write a survey.  This is a Google Docs Form.  I/We post the link on various library listservs, asking for participation.  People respond, most anonymously.  They most likely forget about it.  We transcribe the responses from the spreadsheet onto the blog.  You read it.

I have no idea who the respondent is or how sincerely they are answering, etc.

I believe nearly everyone is answering sincerely, but I also believe that people are essentially good inside, so what do I know?

I have no way of following up to clarify responses, because I don’t know who the respondent is.  The surveys are intended to be easy for busy people to participate in, and the anonymity is necessary to allow people to participate honestly and fully without fear of reprisal.

I post all the responses because I think it’s an interesting way to look at a lot of different opinions in a standardized format.

I think that reading multiple responses is the way to get the most out of this blog.  Each individual opinion is not necessarily worth much, but in the aggregate they provide a sort-of hiring zeitgeist.  The statistics are interesting, but they are not an accurate indication of anything much, because the sampling is not representative, and the survey instruments are imprecise and casual.  It’s the aggregate as you experience by reading each post, that will give you the best idea of what’s going on out there.  And I’m not just saying that because I want you to read my blog early and often.

3. IT’S YOUR MONTHLY-ISH REMINDER: THE INTERVIEW QUESTIONS REPOSITORY

Have you been on a library interview recently?  Or are you prepping for one?

Sounds like you could use The Interview Questions Repository!

If you’ve had a library interview recently, help this resource grow by reporting the questions you were asked:

http://tinyurl.com/interviewquestionsform

or by sharing this link widely with your friends and colleagues.

If you are about to go on an interview, use the spreadsheet:

http://tinyurl.com/InterviewQuestionsRepository

to help you prepare.

Top tip: Switch the spreadsheet to list view, in order to be able to limit by answers – you can choose to only look at the phone interviews at public libraries, for example.

Bottom tip: For respondents, you should be able to edit your answers, if you think of something to add, etc.

You will also always be able to find these links in the sidebar to your right —>

If you’d like to respond to any other surveys, or otherwise participate in this blog,

this page

will give you links and options.

Thanks for reading, readers!  Thanks for contributing, contributors!

If you think a repository of questions  that people have been asked in library interviews is a useful tool, please help keep it dynamic and relevant by sharing this post with at least one person today.  Thanks!

Photo: Hoboken Cove by Flickr User jvdalton via Creative Commons License

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Counting Readers: Hiring Librarians 2013 Blog Stats

Happy New Year, folks!

If you’re curious about Hiring Librarians blog stats (number of views, top posts, etc.), WordPress creates an annual summary.  Follow the link below to see:

Here’s an excerpt:

The Louvre Museum has 8.5 million visitors per year. This blog was viewed about 180,000 times in 2013. If it were an exhibit at the Louvre Museum, it would take about 8 days for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

If you want to help me plan for next year, please use the comments below to let me know what hiring questions you have, or what topics you think I should look into.

One thing you might be wondering, if you saw the Pantyhose post, is if I’m going to keep all the questions on the “What Should Candidates Wear” survey.  I have about 100 survey responses still to run, and what I heard from readers is that the questions are helpful.  Nevertheless, I can see validity in this view:

So here’s the plan. I’m going to continue to run the responses I have already collected.  I’ve removed the option to take the survey from the Participate page, and stopped accepting responses on the Google form.  I still need to talk to Jill, but I’d like to rewrite the survey.  It will most likely still include pantyhose and make-up questions, but hopefully in a more inclusive way.  We will also be able to take the opportunity to refine answer choices and add in questions (so let me know what you’re wondering).

Happy New Year!  All my best wishes to you for good health, happiness, and fulfillment in 2014.

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The Pantyhose Standard, and Related Sunday Ranting

pantyhose junction logoI do think the What Should Candidates Wear survey is the silliest of the Hiring Librarian surveys. For one, the response choices are a bit flippant, “poor attempts at humor.” I am also not someone who thinks very much about clothing, and I don’t particularly notice what others wear unless it’s arty or shiny.

Nevertheless, I’ve been interested in the responses, and the responses to the responses.

People who take this survey invariably feel that candidates should dress “professionally.” But, and I say this knowing that my mother sometimes reads my blog and hates this kind of language, what the fuck does that even mean?

Is it ok for a professional librarian to wear a fedora, even if they are not a YA librarian? Will your choice to get full sleeve tattoos, or dye your hair blue, make you less professional? Can you be a professional librarian without dressing like a certain kind of white lady?

These are some of the less subtle questions, but there are many details to worry about, in deciding if your interview outfit is “professional.”

“Professional” is not a term with a standard definition. It’s more like pornography, in that the eye of the beholder and the “average person, applying contemporary community standards” are integral to defining it.

You get what I’m saying? It’s subjective. It’s not a good instruction to give someone who doesn’t know you very well.

When my mother was my age, a woman’s professional outfit always included pantyhose. Is this still true? That’s why we ask about pantyhose. Not because we’re trying to convince women to wear it, or that it matters to us personally, but because we want to know if it does still matter to other people. People who might have a say in whether or not someone gets a job.

In the survey I just posted, the respondent took issue with three questions. The first was the true/false:

Bare arms are inappropriate in an interview, even in the summer.

The respondent says,

I have always thought this was a very sexist question and wonder why you continue to include it

What does this have to do with sex? Both men and women wear short sleeve or sleeveless shirts sometimes, particularly in the summer.

The second is:

If a woman wears a skirt to an interview, should she also wear pantyhose?

The response is:

again, why do you ask this kind of question? do you care what kind of socks male candidates wear?

Personally, I don’t care about men’s socks, but neither do I care about pantyhose. I don’t wear skirts to interviews, so this isn’t even something I care about when dressing as a job hunter. But I don’t hire so my opinions don’t really matter in this context. I’m curious if others are still measuring “professional dress” by the same pantyhose standard of previous decades. And in fact, 34% of people who answered this didn’t consider pantyhose a dealbreaker. (We didn’t provide an “I don’t care” option for this one, unfortunately. Hindsight.) Isn’t it nice to know that’s it not particularly a requirement for a “professional” women’s outfit?

And the final question and issue is:

Women should wear make-up to an interview:

likewise on the sexist side

13 respondents (5%) think that women should “always” wear make-up to interviews, and I inevitably hear from disgusted job hunters when those surveys are posted (usually via Tumblr. There are a lot of gender activist types on Tumblr). Is it sexist to think women should always wear make-up? I don’t know. Is the question itself sexist? I don’t think so. Even if you think “women should always wear make-up to interviews” is a sexist statement, why would it be sexist to ask whether or not people think that?  Is it sexist to ask, “are you sexist?”

These last two questions, the pantyhose question and the make-up question, get the most flak.

Here are some thoughts. Many, perhaps even most, people would hold men and women to different standards when deciding if an outfit is professional. There are a lot of different kinds of women who are or want to be librarians, and some (many?) of them might be waffling about pantyhose, or makeup. That’s why we asked the question. Women who want to dress on the feminine side for an interview might be interested. In case that’s you, I hope this helps.

But women, and men, and people who don’t particularly identify as either, I hope you will feel free to ignore those answers and dress by your own standard of professional. Just as I hope you will feel free to ignore any answers you find on Hiring Librarians that won’t work for you. It might help to look through the Stats post here and look out for all the people that choose “I don’t care” as an answer. Getting hired isn’t about doing a majority rules thing. It’s about finding the people who run the kind of show you want to be a part of, and giving them your best.

Here is what I’m thinking about now. I run vanity searches for the term “hiring librarians” on Twitter, and I ran into the post “On Privilege, Intersectionality, and the Librarian Image” and some tweeting by Cecily Walker, the woman who wrote it. On Twitter, she talks about how some of the Hiring Librarians posts make her feel “squirrelly.”

Now, I’m a white lady librarian, and it’s only a matter of ticking minutes before I become a white lady librarian of a certain age. I’m pretty sure Jill, who co-wrote the survey, is also a white lady librarian (although I don’t know, as we’ve never talked about her race and never met in person – I’ve only ever seen a photo of her).

So while I say and mean very strongly “women, and men, and people who don’t particularly identify as either, I hope you will feel free to ignore those answers and dress by your own standard of professional,” I am who I am and I know that there’s at least a soupçon of white lady privilege inherent in my own perspective, and in this survey (white middle class lady, no less).

I would like very much if librarianship was less of a white lady profession and more of a all-kinds-of-people profession. I think the work we do is too important for homogeneity.

Here’s another point – I generally know very little about the identity of the respondents – nothing about biological sex parts, or gender-identification, or race, or class, etc. etc.

The most recent respondent said,

honestly I think you need to drop the questions about makeup and pantyhose.

So I’m considering – should things be rewritten? I have about 100 unpublished responses, should I still put those up? Are the responses harmful, or hurtful? Or merely occasionally annoying?

I’m interested in your thoughts.

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