Category Archives: Researcher’s Corner

Researcher’s Corner: One of Us: Social Performance in Academic Library Hiring

I’m pleased to be able to share this post by Xan Arch and Isaac Gilman, which looks at an important and under-researched aspect of hiring: the social aspect. Arch and Gilman highlight the ways in which meals and other unstructured social activities create opportunities for unexamined bias to contaminate search processes, and provide recommendations for rethinking and retooling.  

I think you will find this post very interesting. If you’d like to read more, you can find the original article at:

Arch, X., & Gilman, I. (2021). “One of Us: Social Performance in Academic Library Hiring.” In Proceedings of the 2021 Association of College and Research Libraries Conference. https://alair.ala.org/handle/11213/17561 


Context

A recent advice column in The Chronicle of Higher Education declares definitively that “Meals Matter” in the context of academic hiring processes—and goes on to provide advice on how candidates can behave appropriately during meals and similar social activities that are part of their interview day. “Appropriately,” of course, implies that there is a set of socio-cultural norms at every institution that candidates should be mindful not to violate, lest they be deemed not to fit in with their potential colleagues.

This expectation of appropriate social performance is found in academic library hiring processes as well. As recently as 2015, the following advice appeared in an article on maximizing success for library job-seekers: “Your behavior during the meal gives the hiring committee an indication of how you interact socially with others. […] Remember you are being evaluated not only on your qualifications but also to see if you would be a good fit in the library’s culture.”

As academic libraries have become more conscious of potential sources of bias in their hiring processes, many libraries have implemented more structured hiring processes that are intended to ensure candidates are evaluated not on the ill-defined—and un-job-related—idea of “fit,” but rather on the specific skills and knowledge that will make them successful in a position. However, at the same time that the formal criteria on which candidates are evaluated have become more rigorous, the social performance elements of the final interview day—things like meals, meet-n-greets, and even candidate presentations—have been largely left unquestioned, even though they represent the highest risk for introducing both implicit and explicit bias into the hiring process.

As library leaders with a shared goal of making our hiring processes more equitable, and of ensuring that we hire people based on the unique strengths and experiences they bring,, we wanted to explore the ways in which social performance elements might work against those goals and develop recommendations as to how these elements could be designed (or even eliminated) in order to reduce bias and aspirations of ‘fit’ in library hiring.

The Study

Our own experience as hiring managers has shown us that feedback based on candidates’ performance during meals, meet-n-greets, and presentations often includes comments more closely related to candidate self-presentation (affect, style, personality, etc.) than their qualifications related to specific position requirements—and as such, has been more problematic than useful in making hiring decisions. However, we found no critical discussion of this issue in library literature—and little in higher education literature in general—and so before making changes to our local practices, we wanted to understand whether there was value in these social performance elements that we were missing.

To gather information about the function and potential issues with these pieces of the interview day, we sent a brief survey out in February 2021 through two listservs for academic library deans and directors. In the 61 responses we received, we found that social elements like meals were widely used as part of evaluating candidates and that, as expected/feared, the primary purpose was to determine a candidate’s “fit” with the organization. 

Leaders responded that meals in particular would not necessarily be valuable in assessing a candidate’s professional competence, but more so in determining what they were like as people: for example, one respondent stated that the meal “may also encourage the candidates to be more ‘revealing’ of themselves. Sometimes they come prepared for the formal parts, but reveal their ‘truer’ selves in the informal settings.” 

Responses  about the role of job talks or presentations, and the ways in which they contributed to candidate evaluation, were less explicitly focused on the idea of “fit,” but most respondents felt that the purpose of this element was to see how candidates handled communicating in a public forum, emphasized in one response: “The Q&A session is invaluable for observing comfort with the unexpected.”

In general, library leaders who responded to the survey felt that social performance elements are valuable in finding the best candidate for a position. However, if—as our survey seems to indicate—the purpose of these parts of the interview day is to allow potential colleagues and supervisors to provide feedback on how well candidates conform to expected social norms—whether that is in the way they eat or the way they faux-teach—it will inevitably lead to bias against candidates with minoritized identities, candidates who are neurodivergent, and candidates with diverse forms of self-presentation.

Recommendations

While every position and every search are different, we feel confident in saying that every library should review and rethink the ways that social performance elements are incorporated into their hiring processes if they want to create truly equitable, candidate-friendly processes. The following are some general recommendations—described in more detail in our article—for where libraries can start:

1) Educate: Ensure that anyone who is participating in search processes, even people who are attending a presentation or a meal, are educated both about implicit bias and about the scope of candidate feedback that is necessary and appropriate).

2) Structure: The less structured an interview element is in terms of how candidates and other participants are able to participate and provide feedback, the more likely it is that inappropriate, biased evaluations of candidates will be introduced into the search process. There are two general strategies for introducing structure. The first is to add internal structure to an element; for example, establish topics that are on/off limits for meal attendees to discuss with a candidate, or provide structured rubrics through which presentation attendees can provide candidate feedback, rather than open-ended questions. The second strategy is to structurally separate an interview element from candidate evaluation; for example, do not request/allow candidate feedback to be submitted from people who attend a candidate meal.

3) Rethink: While incorporating participant education and carefully structuring social performance elements of an interview process can help mitigate bias risks, the ideal strategy is for libraries to reconsider whether these elements are even necessary at all—and to be very intentional and transparent about when they are or are not using them. For example, our survey respondents shared that part of the reason for social elements is to give candidates a chance to meet future colleagues. While this is important, there are ways of achieving this that don’t simultaneously risk penalizing otherwise well-qualified candidates for being themselves.

Ultimately, we believe that the goal should be for candidates to be evaluated only on requirements clearly articulated in a position description, and not on an implicit set of expectations for how a library worker should fit in with their potential colleagues. Removing or radically rethinking the elements of interviews that require unnecessary social performance will get us closer to that goal.


Xan Arch is Dean of the Clark Library, University of Portland. Xan’s ongoing research interests extend this article’s focus on mitigating bias in academic hiring processes to consider how power and identity function within search committees, as well as the potential role of  search/equity advocates in mediating the influence of individual committee members’ biases in deliberations and decision-making.  


Isaac Gilman is Dean of University Libraries, Pacific University. In that role, Isaac is working to create both more equitable and inclusive staffing structures and service models in academic libraries. Isaac is also currently researching faculty promotion and tenure standards and the ways in which existing standards reinforce white privilege, establish white cultural expectations as the norm, and both directly and indirectly marginalize and harm faculty and students of color.  

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Researcher’s Corner: Power, positionality, and privilege: a study of academic librarian job postings 

I’m pleased to be able to share this post by Joanna Theilen and Amy Neeser which not only describes their research into Data professionals’ job postings, but highlights concrete steps that libraries can take to create hiring practices that support increased diversity in our profession. Thielen and Neeser are frank and persuasive in their writing. The piece draws from their 2020 article focused on Data professionals, and an additional  2022 article by Thielen (co-authored by Wanda Marsolek) focusing on Engineering librarians’ job postings. 

I think you will find this post very interesting. If you’d like to read more, you can find the original articles at:

Thielen, J., & Neeser, A. (2020). Making Job Postings More Equitable: Evidence Based Recommendations from an Analysis of Data Professionals Job Postings Between 2013-2018. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(3), 103–156. https://doi.org/10.18438/eblip29674

Thielen, J. & Marsolek, W. (2022). Taking a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Lens to Engineering Librarian Job Postings: Recommendations from an Analysis of Postings from 2018 and 2019. Journal of eScience Librarianship, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.7191/jeslib.2022.1212


Background

Librarianship as a profession is homogeneous. And has been for a very, very long time. We, one current and one former academic librarian, want to do our part to help contribute to the diversification of librarianship. Why? Because everyone MUST speak up and act; otherwise the status quo will remain which disproportionately excludes people from underrepresented groups and perpetuates inequities in our society. 

One area we’d observed that is quite stagnant is academic library hiring practices; this is also where we have the most experience. How can the profession as a whole expect to diversify if hiring practices remain the same? Simply put, it’s not going to happen. As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” 

To contribute to the conversation around ways to diversify our profession, we have done two research projects in this area. The first project looked at data librarian job postings and the second looked at engineering librarian job postings. Huge shout out to our collaborator Wanda Marsolek for their contributions to the latter project! 

Our positionality affects how we approach research in general, including identifying a research project, interpreting results, and making recommendations based on these results. Joanna is a white, heterosexual, female, cisgender, able-bodied person who works at the University of Michigan. She started studying academic library hiring practices while she worked at Oakland University, a mid-sized public university. Amy is gender non-conforming, white, able bodied person who works at the University of California, Berkeley. We acknowledge the immense privilege and power we hold in the world through our positionality and our jobs at large, prestigious, and wealthy doctoral granting institutions in the United States and hope to use this to enact change. 

Our initial focus for the first project seemed straightforward: as data librarianship is an emerging area of academic librarianship, what are the qualifications and responsibilities for these roles? We also wanted to look at salary. We gathered as many job postings as we could in this area that were posted in a five year time frame. After concluding the data librarian job posting project, Wanda and Joanna embarked on a research project that studied engineering librarian job postings using the same methodology. 

After developing a codebook and coding a small sample of the job postings, we realized that some had ridiculously specific requirements (they’re looking for a unicorn) or we, data librarians with over five years combined experience in this area, had no idea what some of these postings were asking for. A data librarian at a university Chicago who 1) does reference, consultation, collection management, and instructional services to support social sciences data discovery, analysis, visualization, and management; 2) is the liaison to the Sociology department; and 3) is also fluent in Spanish or Portuguese. But no salary listed – of course not, why would you need to know salary before potentially moving to one of the most expensive cities in the US!? We also saw an engineering librarian job posting that had 16 required qualifications! How is a single person supposed to meet ALL of those qualifications, nonetheless write a succinct cover letter about them? These two examples are pulled from actual job postings and are incredibly problematic from a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) perspective. 

This lack of DEIA in the job postings was (and is) maddening. Academic librarianship talks a big game about valuing DEIA but their job postings clearly didn’t reflect it. So we knew we wanted to go beyond merely listing the results in order to interrogate how these results weren’t centering DEIA in the hiring process. Our new goal was to persuade people, using our data and observations, to center DEIA principles & practices when writing job postings. We were so shocked by the lack of DEIA in these job postings that we wrote an editorial piece, prior to publishing our journal article on our data librarian project, in order to share observations and recommendations as quickly as possible. 

Below we present three major themes and additional recommendations from our research that are applicable to all librarian job postings, including those not in academia. 

Job titles: create inclusive job titles 

We found a lot of job titles in both studies: much more variation in the data librarian job postings than the engineering librarian ones. We speculate this occurred because the data postings are for an emerging area and seemed to be recruiting applicants from more diverse educational backgrounds. The word ‘Librarian’ was used for most of the engineering positions and many of the data positions. Many people with relevant experience might not have the library science degree or consider themselves librarians, so this language could automatically deter them from applying. 

Degrees: avoid ambiguous language and do not require multiple graduate degrees

Many of these positions, especially the engineering postings, required a library science degree. This severely limits an applicant pool to those already inside the profession. We recommend thinking carefully about whether applicants really need this degree to perform their job and which job responsibilities will the library degree help them fulfill. Or is this degree in the job posting because “we’ve always done it this way”? We also found many instances of language such as “equivalent education and experience” which feels inclusive but is actually very ambiguous. Many positions required multiple graduate degrees which is extremely problematic as people from underprivileged groups have more difficulty attaining multiple graduate degrees. We suggest accepting undergraduate degrees or academic experience such as coursework and to focus on applicants who demonstrate that they are willing to learn and grow professionally. 

Salary: be transparent about salary and list quantitative salary ranges to encourage negotiation 

Nearly half of the job descriptions did not include any salary information, and those that did usually only used vague words like “competitive”. This is very troubling as this practice favors those who are already working in the profession. The postings that did list a quantitative salary often listed a single number, whereas listing a salary range would have indicated that candidates can negotiate. Underrepresented groups are less likely to negotiate so this is a way that we can be more equitable. 

Additional recommendations: 

Even though we tried to center DEIA in our own research projects, there were several topics that we didn’t initially think of and therefore didn’t collect data on. Based on our observations during the research project and our own expanding awareness of DEIA issues in the hiring process, we have four additional recommendations: 

  • Limit number of required and preferred qualifications; remind candidates that they don’t need to meet all the preferred qualifications in order to apply
  • Integrate anti-racism into your job postings
  • Write every sentence within a job posting using the lens of DEIA
  • Ask a range of people to be on your hiring committee and to provide feedback on the job posting

Looking at job postings through the lens of DEIA is an opportunity to use our power, positionality, and privilege to help reduce disparities in these positions, our profession, and institutions. This is a complex and evolving landscape; we are continually learning and several years later have thought about other variables we would have liked to include in our study. An example of this is anti-racism; our first paper was published only a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd. This tragic event transformed our world and although we did not originally look at anti-racism in our study, we have since recommended it be included either as a requirement or as a statement from the institution about their demonstrated commitment to it and how the position furthers that work. This is just one example of the future directions this work could take, and we encourage others to continue building upon our studies. Our data is openly available in the Dryad Repository (data librarian job postings project) and the Data Repository of the University of Minnesota (engineering librarian job posting project). We strongly encourage other researchers to further analyze and use this data.


Headshot of Joanna Thielen, who is smiling, blonde and wears a black blazer

Joanna Thielen (she/hers) Data Curation Specialist for Science and Engineering, University of Michigan Library

As Data Curation Specialist for Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan Library, Joanna helps science and engineering researchers make their works openly available to anyone with an internet connection. Previously she was an Engineering Librarian at University of Michigan Library and the Research Data and Science Librarian at Oakland University. Her research interests include DEIA in the academic hiring process and data librarianship. 

Headshot of Amy Neeser, who is in profile. She is smiling, but not broadly, and has a pierced septum and a teal bob.

Amy Neeser (she/they) Consulting + Outreach Lead for Research IT, University of California, Berkeley

As the Consulting + Outreach Lead in Research IT at the University of California Berkeley, Amy coordinates the consulting efforts across the Data Management and Research Computing programs to offer a holistic approach to data and computation. They also facilitate Research IT’s community, partnership, and outreach programs. Amy previously worked at the University of Michigan as the Research Data Curation Librarian and at the University of Minnesota in the Biological and Physical Sciences Libraries.

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Researcher’s Corner: Cataloging Managers – What Do They Do Exactly?

I’m pleased to be able to share this summary of recent research into job ads for cataloging managers. The authors compare their findings with an earlier study, so in addition to broadening your understanding of what hiring managers are looking for, they offer interesting insights into how these positions have changed in the decade or so. While their research is specific to the cataloging field, their observations of change, especially in reference to supervisory skills, are likely reflecting a broader LIS reality.

If you’re interested in the content of this post and would like to read a more formal account of this research, please seek out:

Brannon, S., Sassen, C., & Yanowski, K. (2022). Roles and Responsibilities of Cataloging Managers: An Updated Study of Job Advertisements. Technical Services Quarterly39(1), 17-36. DOI: 10.1080/07317131.2021.2011144


What are the expectations of cataloging managers in academic libraries? We thought job advertisements might give a clue. We looked at the postings’ educational qualifications, work experience, and minimum and preferred knowledge and skills, and also set out to see how things have changed since 2008, when the most recent study on this topic was published (Zhu, 2008). We used the same methodology from that article.

First off, we looked on job sites and email listserv archives for postings from 2015-2020 that had titles implying that the position was for a cataloging head, cataloging coordinator, cataloging supervisor, metadata manager or technical services manager. Those titles ended up being:

  • Head/Coordinator of Cataloging and Metadata Services
  • Head/Director of Metadata Services/Management
  • Head/Coordinator of Cataloging/Cataloging Services
  • Head/Director/Coordinator of Technical Services
  • Head of Technical Services and Acquisitions
  • Manager of Monographic Cataloging Latin Script Unit
  • Administrator of Cataloging/Systems
  • Director of Content Management
  • Head of Metadata and Discovery
  • Metadata and Content Services Department Head

After de-duping 61 postings, we ended up with 29. Looking at each, we tallied the appearance of different titles, qualifications, experience requirements, degrees wanted, and skills needed, then calculated related percentages.

What we found is that there are many responsibilities that have always existed and still exist in Cataloging Manager jobs. These have continually been important and seem to always exist across time:

  • Hiring and supervising catalogers
  • Developing and implementing cataloging policies
  • Performing original and complex copy cataloging
  • Staying on top of trends

On the flip side, there were also responsibilities that seem to now just be accepted as “part of the job.” In Zhu’s study, more postings had committee and task force responsibilities.

What is more important, however, are the emerging responsibilities of a modern Cataloging Manager. Things like “overseeing quality control” and “balancing multiple projects” didn’t show up in postings in 2008 at all.

The ones listed below showed up much more frequently in our study than in Zhu’s. As you can see, most are traditional library responsibilities, but up until now, they did not fall to a Cataloging Manager. This is partially because the world of technology is ever-changing, but a potentially better reason is that Cataloging Managers are being expected to take on multiple roles at their institutions.

The emerging responsibilities we found are:

  • Represent the library in local and national groups
    • Not just in a cataloging role
  • System-wide planning/policy decisions
  • Working with vendors
  • Reference duties
  • Academic department liaison
  • Providing leadership for selecting and handling digital resources
    • Not just cataloging them
  • Enhancing the discovery of materials
  • Preparing statistics and reports
  • Participating in disaster recovery efforts

We also looked at “Minimum” and “Preferred” qualifications for education and work experience. There are no notable changes in educational requirements of cataloging managers. The standard still appears to be an ALA-accredited library/information science degree, although, one sign that the need for a master’s degree may be on the decline is that 14% of postings stated that an equivalent combination of education and experience would suffice.

About half of the postings provided a specific time range for desired relevant cataloging or technical services experience. This hasn’t changed since 2008 either – it is still between 2 and 3 years. Fewer than half of the postings gave a desired amount of supervisory or management experience, but of those that did, the desired amount is between 2 and 3 years.

No longer are basic communication skills, teamwork, project management, administrative skills like time management, or knowledge of professional issues and trends desired in most ads. Even more surprising, supervisory skills and personnel management appeared in very few ads. However, it should be noted that perhaps this is due to the language of supervision changing over time.

Instead, postings want the ability to work with diverse groups, have analytical skills, and flexibility. Desired management skills that weren’t mentioned in 2008 include collaboration, negotiation, working independently, project prioritization, and program assessment.

Here again, more skills are seen as a “given” for today’s cataloger. No longer are postings wanting basic AACR2 knowledge or ILS experience in general, and non-MARC metadata is no longer ‘emerging,’ as it was in 2008. Instead, newer activities and resources are desired, such as:

  • Knowledge of RDA and BIBFRAME
  • Working with a variety of formats
  • Batch loading
  • Quality control
  • Linked data
  • Automated web tools
  • Coding
  • Electronic resource management
  • Institutional repositories
  • Discovery system knowledge

A few postings did have some random qualifications that we found interesting…and confusing:

  • “Ability to recommend solutions in areas not under direct supervision”
  • “General understanding of the external environment and how it affects academia in general and [school] in particular, including political, legal, environmental, educational, financial and social influences”
  • “Extensive functional knowledge and expertise in all aspects of own and related areas of [school], and pertinent interdependencies”

There is another more recent trend compared to Zhu’s 2008 study. Some of the emerging expectations that we found in our study relate to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Examples include:

  • Ability to use knowledge, experience, awareness, and skills to advance [school’s] commitment to diversity and inclusion, and to engage effectively with a broad spectrum of culturally diverse groups
  • Demonstrated commitment to diversity and understanding of the contributions a diverse workforce brings to the workplace
  • Embraces and employs the diversity of individuals, cultures, values, ideas and communication styles in the achievement of common goals
  • Models inclusive excellence through specific actions that support the college’s diversity goals in the recruitment, hiring, and retention of talented and diverse faculty and staff

Remember that there were some postings where an MLS was not required, but rather an equivalent combination of experience and education? Perhaps that could be considered a positive DEI-related move.

We should acknowledge several limitations in our research. We were not able to examine all relevant postings related to our study because some of the listings we found were abbreviated and did not provide the information we needed for our analysis. We also are aware that some relevant job postings may have appeared in advertisements that were deleted after the searches were concluded, long before we began our research.

Our comparison of the current and retrospective job posting datasets indicate that the roles of cataloging managers continue to evolve in response to changes in libraries, technology, higher education, and society. We hope that our research will be helpful not only to job seekers who aspire to apply for cataloging manager positions, but also to administrators defining those positions.

Reference

Zhu, L. (2008). Head of cataloging positions in academic libraries: An analysis of job advertisements. Technical Services Quarterly, 25(4), 49-70. https://doi.org/10.1080/07317130802128072


Sian Brannon, the Associate Dean for Collection Management at the University of North Texas Libraries, has been in libraries since the 1990s. She has worked in public, academic, and technical libraries. She is the former editor of Public Services Quarterly, and is an adjunct professor for Technical Services/Research Methods courses.

Kevin Yanowski is the Department Head of Cataloging and Metadata Services at the University of North Texas Libraries and he has been working in libraries since 2015. When he is not untangling the quagmire of complicated record editing and cataloging instructions, his interests include leadership, mentoring, cataloging unique collections, user-catalog interactions, and magic. Additionally, Kevin is a practitioner of the Art of Hosting and loves having meaningful and interesting conversations.

Catherine Sassen is Principal Catalog Librarian at the University of North Texas. She has published and presented on cataloging, indexing, assessment, career development and mentoring.

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Researcher’s Corner: At the intersection of autism and libraries

I’m really pleased to be able to present this piece by Dr. Amelia Anderson, which details her research into the workforce experiences of autistic librarians. She says something quite important in her second paragraph, 

“In my mind, if more hiring managers and supervisors were aware of some of the issues, practices may improve for autistic librarians. Even just having an understanding that there is neurodiversity within the field is so important; so often we turn outward, and think of services for neurodivergent patrons, when we should also be thinking of inclusive practices for our own staff.” 

If you find this post interesting and would like to read more, seek out the following articles:

Anderson, A. (2021a). Exploring the workforce experiences of autistic librarians through accessible and participatory approaches. Library & Information Science Research, 43(2). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lisr.2021.101088

 Anderson, A. (2021b). Job Seeking and Daily Workforce Experiences of Autistic Librarians. The International Journal of Information, Diversity, & Inclusion, 5(3), 38-63. https://www.jstor.org/stable/48644446                                                                                   

 If you know of other LIS career resources either for hiring managers to create processes that are more inclusive of neurodivergence, or for LIS job hunters who are themselves neurodivergent, especially if they have been written by neurodivergent LIS folks, I’d love to feature them. Please drop me a line at hiringlibrarians AT gmail.  


I have been studying the intersection of autism and libraries for almost 10 years now, beginning in 2013 when I began the PhD program at Florida State University. At that time, I was hired as a graduate assistant to help create training manuals for librarians to better serve autistic patrons. The project sparked my interest in working with autistic young adults and adults, as I learned how often we focus on children with the diagnosis (which is very important, don’t get me wrong!), but we often forget that autism is lifelong, and a person is still autistic as they grow up. I then focused my dissertation, and served as a postdoctoral scholar, on studying academic library services for autistic college students.

I provide this background here because it is foundational to what happened next. In presenting these projects to audiences of librarians across the country, I found myself continually being pulled aside by librarians who wanted to discuss my work, and then also disclosed their own autism diagnoses. I realized this was something interesting, that deserved exploration, especially when I developed friendships from these conversations and got a firsthand look at some of the unfair advantages neurotypical librarians benefit from when seeking employment and while on the job. In my mind, if more hiring managers and supervisors were aware of some of the issues, practices may improve for autistic librarians. Even just having an understanding that there is neurodiversity within the field is so important; so often we turn outward, and think of services for neurodivergent patrons, when we should also be thinking of inclusive practices for our own staff. 

I decided to take the anecdotal evidence I had from my personal contacts, and embark on a formal research study. I recruited ten librarians who identified as autistic, and asked the same set of questions to each of them, but I let each person choose how they would prefer to participate. In doing so, I wanted to acknowledge communication preferences, allowing each person to feel comfortable in how they participated. I conducted Zoom interviews for most, and a few others submitted their responses as a text document. Of the ten participants in this study, four worked in academic libraries, three in public libraries, one in a school library, and one worked in library services for a federal agency. One recently retired from an academic library.

From the interviews, I addressed the research questions: How do autistic librarians become interested in the library profession? How do autistic librarians describe their job seeking experiences? And, how do autistic librarians describe their workforce experiences?

As I began collecting and analyzing data, I realized the methodology and approaches I used to do so was also important to share with other researchers in the field. As such, I developed a secondary study to explore and report on those approaches, posing the questions: When given options, how do autistic librarians choose to participate in the research process about their working experiences? And, how is data affected by those participant decision?

My first publication from this study presented the experiences of my participants in detail (Anderson, 2021b).

The second publication went into depth about the research process itself (Anderson, 2021a).

Ultimately, I found that many of the autistic librarians I spoke with found their way to the field through previous exposure to or experiences with libraries. They described the librarianship career as fulfilling. However, they also did experience barriers during the job seeking process, as well as in their daily lives on the job. While some requested formal accommodations, others created their own coping or preparation strategies. Many wrestled with issues around disclosure. To alleviate some of those issues, library hiring managers and supervisors should strive to create more universally accessible and accepting environments and processes.

And in the research process itself, though participants used various methods to provide information, the themes that emerged were consistent across data collection methods.

Though exact numbers are impossible to know, there are many autistic librarians, working and working to gain meaningful employment in the field. My hope is that this work has sparked some conversation about the topic, and that hiring and supervising managers will be thoughtful in creating more inclusive practices and spaces.


Dr. Amelia Anderson is an assistant professor of library science at Old Dominion University who has extensive experience on the topics of neurodiversity, disability, and libraries through her work as a public librarian, library researcher, and educator. Amelia is the author of Library Programming for Autistic Children and Teens, 2nd Edition, published by ALA Editions. She was the managing PI on the IMLS planning grant Accessibility in Making (LG-246292-OLS-20), which identified barriers to access in public library makerspaces for patrons with disabilities. Through original research and partnerships with autism self-advocates, Amelia studies and shares best practices and trends at the intersection of autism and libraries and has presented her work at conferences from local to international audiences. Amelia earned her MLIS and Ph.D. from Florida State University.  

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Researcher’s Corner: Computer programming for librarians

It’s research time! Opinions about hiring are abundant, but science is much scarcer. 

I’m pleased to be able to present an informal look at Brighid Gonzales’ study of a decade’s worth of job postings. “Learn to code” is advice I see frequently directed at frustrated job hunters. But which language? 

If this summary whets your appetite, the full article is at:

Gonzales, B. M. (2019). Computer programming for librarians: A study of job postings for library technologists. Journal of Web Librarianship, 13(1), 20-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/19322909.2018.1534635.


With libraries increasingly depending on constantly evolving technology, library technologists often must know more, and more varied, technologies than ever. For early-career librarians and library students interested in learning coding and going into a technology-focused area of librarianship it can be difficult to decide which programming language to learn in order to be the most marketable, or which language will be the most useful for a specific career path. 

In the past, many employers did not list specific programming languages in job ads, however current job postings often specify which programming languages are required or preferred by the employer. In a 2018 study, I analyzed data from 10 years of job postings on the Code4Lib job site to determine which programming languages were the most commonly requested overall, which were the most requested by type of job, and which were most requested by type of employer. 

Methods

In order to gather the data necessary for this study, I created a script in Python which scraped information from the Code4Lib Jobs website, including job titles, employers, year of posting, and “tags,” or the keywords used to describe specific skills, coding languages, and job environments within the posting. I chose to use the Code4Lib Jobs website because it is specific to jobs in library technology and because job postings have been maintained on the site as far back as 2004. While over 1900 job listings were initially collected, the results were filtered to include only jobs categorized specifically as librarian or archivist positions, as well as limiting job postings to a 10-year span from 2008 to 2018, resulting in a final dataset of 492 job postings. I further refined the data for analysis by coding each job posting by the type of job and the type of employer.

The job postings were divided into the following job categories based on their primary job duties:

  • Web Services (website development, web-based services)
  • Library Systems (ILS management, technology management, discovery systems, emerging technologies)
  • Software Development (applications programming, development, software engineering)
  • IT (server maintenance, network administration, database administration)
  • Digital Services (institutional repositories and scholarly communication, digital initiatives, digitization)
  • Taxonomy (information architecture, search)
  • Data Services (data management, data curation)
  • Archives/Special Collections (archives and special collections)
  • Metadata (cataloging, metadata)
  • Electronic Resources
  • UX (user experience, user interface design, usability)
  • Hybrid (some combination of two or more other categories)
  • Other (all other positions not necessarily related to technology including reference, instruction, government documents, sales, customer support, project management, and their various combinations)
  • Internship

In addition to these job categories, the jobs were also broken down into types of employers or types of library environments including:

  • Academic
  • Public
  • Contractor
  • Corporate (including vendors)
  • Nonprofit (including foundations, associations, and consortiums)
  • Cultural (including museums, archives, and cultural heritage institutions)
  • Special (including government, medical, and law libraries)

Results

Analysis of the data showed that the greatest number of job postings were categorized as Library Systems jobs (104 job postings total). By employer type the greatest number of job postings were categorized as Academic (418 job postings). While the top five programming languages required by job type and by employer type varied slightly, six programming languages appeared in over 30% of the total job postings. Those languages included:

  • XML (59.8%)
  • HTML (40.7%)
  • PHP (37.0%)
  • JavaScript (32.3%)
  • SQL (31.9%)
  • CSS (31.5%)

The least-tagged programming languages were Django (1.0%), C (0.8%), and Visual Basic (0.4%), while C#, C++, and ASP.NET were not tagged in any of the job postings studied. Additionally, over 50% of job postings were tagged with three or more programming languages, meaning job candidates with more varied skills and knowledge may find more job options available. The prevalence of XML, SQL, and PHP remained consistent throughout the decade under study, while the use of Perl steadily decreased, and the use of Python steadily increased through the decade. While not in the top five overall, Python appeared in the top five languages for five different job categories, including Archives/Special Collections, Data Services, Metadata, Software Development, and Other, suggesting versatility and usefulness across job categories. Some other interesting conclusions drawn from the data include the use of Java in job postings categorized as Data Services or Corporate, and the frequency of Python and R in Data Services job postings, and of Python and Perl in Metadata job postings.

Conclusion

Those working in library technology will always need to be quick-learning and adept to change, but the results from this study offer students and job seekers some guidance on the hard technology skills most in demand in libraries today. While this study is now several years old, the conclusions are likely still relevant today. Job seekers looking for library technology positions are likely to find plenty of job opportunities with skills in XML, HTML, PHP, JavaScript, SQL, and CSS. In addition, knowing one programming language makes it substantially easier to learn any new languages that become necessary or useful to know later in one’s career.


headshot of Brighid M Gonzales. She has glasses and shoulder length hair. She is wearing a black blazer and the background is plain white.

Brighid M. Gonzales, Assistant Director of Systems and Metadata, Our Lady of the Lake University

Brighid M. Gonzales is currently the Assistant Director of Systems and Metadata at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and previously served as the Systems and Web Services Librarian for seven years. She has published on a variety of library technology topics and most recently published the book Systems Librarianship: A Practical Guide for Librarians (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020). She has also been a member of the Code4Lib Journal editorial committee since 2019.

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Researcher’s Corner: Navigating the Library Interview Process with Disabilities

I’m so pleased to be able to return to Researcher’s Corner, where I invite LIS researchers to provide an informal look at what they have recently learned about hiring or job hunting. 

And I’m even more pleased that the first post is this piece by Gail Betz on hiring and disabilities. In the first iteration of Hiring Librarians, I regularly heard from job hunters with disabilities who were looking for advice on navigating a process that can often be ableist. Gail’s research brings together the experience of librarians with disabilities to provide just such advice. It also serves as an excellent window for hiring managers who wish to learn about the barriers they may be creating or reinforcing.  


This blog post is a synopsis of an article I published with In the Library with the Lead Pipe called Navigating the Academic Hiring Process with Disabilities in April, 2022. The purpose of that article is to provide strategies and recommendations to librarians with disabilities on how to manage all the complexities that come with the academic interview process. As a way to formally gather insights into people’s strategies with navigating the hiring process successfully, I interviewed 40 academic librarians with disabilities about their interviewing experiences. The following is based on the qualitative data they provided as well as my own lived experience of library interviews with a disability. 

While this research project focused specifically on in-person academic library interviews, many of the librarians I spoke with had also interviewed in public and special libraries. Many were law librarians, some had previously worked in government libraries or as solo hospital librarians. So while academic library interviews can be distinct from other types of library interviews, I do think some of the strategies people discussed carry over into any interview situation where there is social interaction between potential employee and employer. Much of the experience of disability isn’t about the structure of a setting, but the social interactions between people. Another important note is that this research was done immediately before Covid in 2020, so virtual second round interviews were not common. Returning to in-person interviews exclusively is, in and of itself, a barrier for a significant number of disabled applicants.

In the article, I described three themes that surfaced throughout people’s interviews- interview day structure, intrapersonal coping methods, and interpersonal coping methods. Interview day structure strategies included things like asking for breaks during the interview, etc.; Intrapersonal coping methods encompassed things that an interviewee could do to best prepare themselves; interpersonal coping methods revolved mostly around how interviewees can interview a potential employer. All of this is subjective of course; what one person considers a deal breaker another person might not even notice. 

Some highlights from each category:

Interview day structure:

  1. Getting the day’s schedule in advance, including breaks– If there aren’t any breaks or you need more, ask for them!
  2. Tours– asking at the start for an accessible route, using the elevators, or opting out entirely. If you know you’ll want to see something specific (like classroom set-up, for example), you should ask to see it!
  3. Meals– depending on the length of the interview, you may be given one or more meals. You can ask for the restaurant name ahead of time to look at the menu, the location, the layout, etc. Prep some open-ended, informal questions for the people you will eat with to let them do more of the talking.
  4. Getting the interview questions in advance- this is a tricky one. It’s hard to ask for this, but if you feel comfortable doing so, you should! Everyone benefits from having the questions in advance as it allows people to prepare ahead of time, give more thoughtful answers, remember all the parts to a question, etc. 

Intrapersonal coping:

  1. Preparedness- people talked about “overpreparing” for any part of the interview that they felt could be impacted by a disability – memorizing everything, visiting the building ahead of time, picking out several different outfit choices depending on pain levels. This was described as the most time-consuming part, but that it ultimately became an advantage during the interview.
  2. “Self-accommodating”- tying in with preparedness, people talked about ways they hid their disability by creating accommodations for themselves. This included things like bringing extra painkillers to offset stairs and walking, bringing allergy medication to offset possible food allergies from provided meals, or sitting in a specific spot in a conference room to enhance hearing or sight.
  3. Strategically applying to institutions- also related to preparedness, people did extra research on institutions before applying to see if they had strong track records of anything DEI-related. Searching institutional websites for student disability resources in the library, looking through staff profiles to see if people had any visible differences (whether that’s race, gender, disability, etc), and talking to networks to see if people have had positive experiences at specific institutions they are considering. 
  4. Job “fit”- Unlike whether a person is a “good fit” for an institution, people talked about considering whether a job’s tasks were a good fit for their disability. Someone who has a lot of pain from long periods of sitting, for example, realized that a cataloging position was contributing negatively to that symptom. It’s important to note with this one that this is personal preference- many things can be “reasonably accommodated” under the ADA, like this person could schedule walking breaks throughout the day, but it is perfectly reasonable to choose a position that eliminates some tasks completely. 

Interpersonal coping:

  1. Navigating social cues- deciding how to handle handshakes, eye contact, or asking someone to repeat themselves were all things that people highlighted as causing specific social anxiety around trying to hide a disability (“pass” as able-bodied). Some people used these situations as one way to pre-emptively disclose a disability to alleviate the social anxiety, and some people used these situations to judge how accepting a potential coworker or supervisor might be. 
  2. Interviewing the institution- people did this in different ways, including assessing social interactions, looking for any visible signs of diversity within the staff, or asking about health benefits and sick leave. This was particularly salient for people who had options about where they wanted to work for a variety of reasons (where they were in their careers, geographic location, savings, benefits from a spouse, etc); people who did not have much choice talked about noticing red flags and just trying to mitigate or reduce them. People who had more choice talked about deciding not to work somewhere based on disability-related red flags.
  3. Boundaries- these were personal and again, some people were able to set boundaries more concretely than others based various aspects of security. One person summarized it with “…hardest part is, you know…where is the line with my dignity versus, you know, enjoying eating every single day and having a place to live.”
  4. Strategic disclosure- people spent a lot of time discussing and considering this and it was very personal. Do you tell a potential employer you have a disability and need accommodations, so that you get what you need and can focus on performing your best at an interview? Or do you hide a disability so as not to risk discrimination and hope everything is fine? People talked about being prepared for both (if it’s feasible to hide a disability, which it sometimes isn’t!) and then deciding at the interview based on how things are going. Some people had very positive experiences with disclosing and discovering that other people at the institution also had disabilities; others had negative stories about discrimination and microaggressions. When people did decide to disclose, this was one of the most impactful ways they said they interviewed their interviewer- what is the response to disclosure?

There’s so much that goes into interviewing for any job and dealing with the implications of disability makes it more complex. Society has reinforced the idea that people with disabilities are “less”- less capable, less useful, less desirable as employees.  And the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States reflects those stereotypes, with the unemployment rate being twice as high for people with disabilities as able-bodied people (see Bureau of Labor Statistics data). However, librarians with disabilities offer a wealth of knowledge and lived experience to our coworkers and patrons – we are creative problem-solvers, we’re empathetic and compassionate, and we understand the importance of community, interdependence, and support. 

We all handle hiring processes differently because we all have different needs. And all those needs are valid. Some of these strategies will work well in certain settings and others will work better in other settings, but hopefully what comes through with this research is that library workers with disabilities are valuable employees and we do not need to work somewhere that doesn’t treat us accordingly.

Do you have other strategies that you’ve used that you’d like to share in the comments below?

_____

Gail Betz, MLIS, is a Research and Education Librarian at the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s Health Sciences and Human Services Library. She serves as a liaison to the School of Social Work and has greatly benefited from collaboration with social workers. She is visually impaired and loves walking to work while listening to audiobooks, two things she wouldn’t have prioritized without vision loss. She also loves taking her dogs to the park for lunch on days she gets to work from home. Please feel free to reach out about anything disability or accessibility-related via email at gbetz@hshsl.umaryland.edu.

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Researcher’s Corner: Job Ads and Academic Standards and Proficiencies

I am pleased to bring you this look at the types of skills mentioned in ads for academic librarians.  I think that you will find the results illuminating, and that you will appreciate their analysis.  If you’d like to read about this work in it’s full scholarly glory, please obtain a copy of: 
Gold, M. L., & Grotti, M. G. (2013). Do Job Advertisements Reflect ACRL’s Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators?: A Content Analysis. Journal Of Academic Librarianship, 39(6), 558-565. doi:10.1016/j.acalib.2013.05.013


Background

Standards and proficiencies documents are one way library science organizations communicate key skills and general values to the profession and to the world. Our interest in examining the relationship between professional standards and job advertisements arose out of committee work that focused on revising and critically examining the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators, one of the many sets of standards drafted by the profession. These standards help direct librarians’ professional development activities as well as guide those who are looking to fill positions with qualified applicants. Given the goals of such standards, we wondered if there was any clear relationship between the key skills identified by the profession and the skills deemed most important by those seeking to fill instruction positions. As new-ish librarians just emerging from the journey of the academic job market, this line of  inquiry was particularly interesting to us.

Methods

Specifically, our research examined whether the areas of focus within the Standards for Proficiencies for Instruction Librarians and Coordinators were represented in instruction librarian job advertisements from US academic institutions. We used a content analysis approach, in which we scrutinized job advertisements that appeared on ALA JobLIST during a six-month period (January 1 to June 30, 2012).

Proficiency Categories from the Standards:

1) Administrative skills

2) Assessment and evaluation skills

3) Communication skills

4) Curriculum knowledge

5) Information literacy integration skills

6) Instructional design skills

7) Leadership skills

8) Planning skills

9) Presentation skills

10) Promotion skills

11) Subject Expertise

12) Teaching skills.

Using these categories, we examined about 50 job ads in a pilot study in order to develop the coding guide for our analysis. The creation of the coding guide and the many spirited discussions that it sparked between us was one of the most difficult, fun, and lengthy portions of the project.

Results

Our results included an analysis of 230 job advertisements for words or phrases relating to the 12 proficiency categories. Institutions posting ads ranged from doctorate-granting universities to associate’s colleges and special focus institutions. Ads represented jobs in 46 states with the majority of ads (54%) indicating no requirement for years of experience.

  •  Administrative skills were mentioned in the highest percentage (82%) of job ads and were mentioned consistently across institution types.
  • Subject expertise (56%) and Leadership skills (52%) were also mentioned in the majority of job advertisements.
    • However, a much smaller percentage (19%) of associate’s colleges’ job ads mentioned Subject expertise compared to other institution types.
  • Instructional design skills were mentioned in 46% of ads.
  • Presentation skills were mentioned the least, in only 8% of job advertisements.
  • Teaching skills were only listed as a required skill in 13% of job ads.

Implications for Job Seekers

Though exploratory in nature, our study can be informative for job seekers interested in discovering which skills are in-demand. It is clear that employers place an emphasis on Administrative skills, which for this study meant working well in a team and communicating instruction goals. A high percentage of ads also mentioned the importance of professional development, scholarly research, or seeking out instruction opportunities, which were classified as Leadership skills. Though the desire for these skills may not be surprising, the explicit mention of them in these ads highlights the importance for job seekers to incorporate these qualifications into their application materials.

Also of note for job seekers, Subject expertise was mentioned in a higher percentage (65%) of ads from institutions offering doctorates than those not offering advanced degrees. Additionally, most ads that mentioned Subject expertise listed it as a required or preferred qualification rather than mentioning it generally in the body of the job ad.

It was surprising to see Instructional design skills (e.g. experience with lesson planning, developing learning outcomes, or course content) mentioned in more job ads than Teaching skills. However, this was likely related to the recent emergence of librarians as instructional designers and our strict definition of Teaching skills, which required knowledge of pedagogy or learning theory and was beyond mere teaching experience.

Conclusion

We feel that it is important to note that the low frequency of mentions for some skills in job ads is likely not due to employers valuing these skills any less. We believe a lack of mentions may have been due to the limited space available within job advertisements and the inclusion of institutionally prescribed language, as well as the fact that certain skills (e.g. presentation and teaching) are more effectively evaluated during campus interviews rather than through application materials. Thus, it is important to remember that job ads are only one indication of the skills that may be important for a particular position. We suggest that professional standards can provide additional guidance regarding specific competencies that go above and beyond the language of job ads. These can help applicants to articulate and identify key abilities that they have when writing cover letters or responding to the general language found in these ads.


Grotti_Meg-2013-06-- smiling only

 

Meg Grotti, Coordinator of Library Instruction, University of Delaware Library

Meg Grotti’s research interests include instructional technology for libraries, information literacy pedagogy, and assessment of student learning.  Meg has served on numerous professional committees at the national and local level, including work for the ACRL’s College and Research Libraries publication and the ACRL Value of Academic Libraries initiative.

 

profilepinkMelissa Gold, Assistant Professor and Science Librarian at McNairy Library, Millersville University of Pennsylvania.

Melissa Gold’s research interests include information literacy pedagogy, using professional standards in practice, and the value of the library building. She serves on committees within the instruction section and science and technology section of ACRL and regularly presents at national conferences. Melissa has also served on multiple search committees and enjoys giving feedback to job seekers. Feel free to contact her about academic job searches.

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Researcher’s Corner: Education and Training of Access Services Librarians

I’m happy to introduce this piece by Michael Krasulski, which discusses an aspect of librarianship that we haven’t talked about very much on this blog, access services.  If you’re interested in reading a more scholarly description of his research, read the article:

Krasulski, M. (2014). “Where do they come from, and how are they trained?” Professional education and training of access services librarians in academic libraries. Journal of Access Services, 11(1), 14-29


Access services is the administrative umbrella under which the circulation, reserves, interlibrary loan, stacks maintenance, and related functions typically reside within an academic library. Since the late 1970s, the access services librarian or equivalent position has become commonplace in academic libraries, and degreed professionals have been sought for these positions since the beginning. In 2009, David McCaslin, then at Yale University and now at California Institute of Technology, studied the place of access services within library and information science education. He found, generally speaking, a dedicated course in access services is not taught in American Library Association-accredited library and information science graduate programs, though aspects of access services may be covered elsewhere in the curriculum. In passing, David asked rhetorically in his article, “The question begs to be asked ‘where to [access services librarians] come from, and how are [access services librarians] trained?” Answering McCaslin’s question was the impetus for research study that was later published by the Journal of Access Services in 2014.
To determine the ways heads of access services acquired the necessary skills to assume these positions, I developed a survey instrument that helped illuminate how heads of access services achieved their positions, the skills and competencies needed to be a head of access services, professional attitudes of heads of access services, and the ways LIS programs are, and more important, are not involved in producing and developing leaders in access services. The survey was non-scientific and distributed over the various access services related listservs. A total of 171 surveys were returned. Of those, 20 surveys were eventually excluded from the final analysis: 14 because less than half of the survey was completed, and six because the respondents did not hold an ALA-accredited MLS or equivalent degree. The remaining 151 were analyzed for the purposes of the study.
The results showed that access services professionals typically learn the skills directly related to circulation, reserves, interlibrary loan, and stacks maintenance on the job. There was some disagreement concerning the appropriateness or necessity of the head of access services performing these types of tasks. For example, a large majority, 98%, agreed or strongly agreed that heads of access services should know how to answer directional and informational question at service points. Less than 95% agreed or strongly agreed that heads of access services should know how to perform various circulation desk activities, such as checking in and out materials, negotiating payment for lost books or overdue fines, and managing patron records, and less than 70% agreed or strongly agreed that heads of access services should know how to do tasks related to photocopiers, printers, and microform machines. Surprising, at least to me anyway, only 86.1% agreed or strongly agreed that a head of access services should know how to train student workers. The lack of consensus among heads of access services about lower level tasks is likely due to department size. The larger the access services department, the less the department head needs to have working knowledge of the department’s lower-level tasks.
The results also showed that higher order managerial skills are equally as important as access services specific skills to the success of the access services practitioner. The overwhelming majority of respondents reported that the ability to formulate policies, delegate responsibilities, determine policies, supervise and evaluate staff, utilize existing resources effectively, and collect, calculate, and analyze statistics were important to the success of the access services professional. The only area of real “disagreement” among higher-order managerial tasks involved budgetary planning and control. Only 84.1% agreed or strongly agreed that a head of access services should know how to perform this task. Practitioners are likely to be exposed to these types of management and statistical skills during their library and information science educational experience.
Respondents were asked to reflect upon their level of familiarity with circulation, interlibrary loan, reserves, collection management, personnel management, and customer service at the time they first became a head of access services. A majority responded excellent with respect to circulation and customer service (54.3% and 71.5% respectively). The largest group rated their familiarity with interlibrary loan (39.7%), reserves (35.7%), and collection management (47.7%) as average. At least 19% acknowledged that their familiarly with interlibrary loan and reserves was poor or very poor at the time of their appointment.
The survey results showed that heads of access services learned the majority of their access services competencies while on the job. In the survey, 94.1% of participants reported learning circulation, 89.4% reported learning interlibrary loan, and 92.7% reported learning reserves on the job. Over 60% of respondents learned the majority of their customer service and personnel management skills on the job. 27.8% of respondents learned the majority of their collection management skills through library and information science graduate education. I found this result surprising. The result may be due to the phrasing of the question. Perhaps respondents thought collection management skills meant collection development, in which case, it would make sense that the skill was acquired though LIS education.
The survey results indicated no one path to becoming a head of access services. Some began as paraprofessionals in access services departments and then assume the position once they earn the MLS degree, and others begin in other areas of the library, notably reference, and then are promoted into the head of access services position. Regardless of where one starts, they survey results are clear. Heads of access services learn their jobs on the job. Who then is training the heads of access services? I did not ask this question on the survey, but one could assume that their subordinates, the frontline paraprofessionals are.


Mike Krasulski

Michael J. Krasulski, University of the Sciences

Michael J. Krasulski is Assistant Professor of Information Sciences and Coordinator of Access Services at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He also serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Access Services. Besides his interests in the education and training of access services librarians, Michael blogs about the history of the Episcopal Church in Philadelphia.

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Researcher’s Corner: Comparing Reference Service in Academic and Public Libraries

What do employers really want?  A lot of this blog deals with the translation between job ad speak and the real needs and wants of hiring managers.  I’m pleased to share the following post with you, because it represents another way of looking at the skills and competencies candidates might wish to cultivate, specifically – What skills do you need to be a good reference librarian?  I also find it pretty fascinating that there are so many similarities between what public and academic libraries want…


(This is a recap of our article “Significantly Different? Reference Services Competencies in Public and Academic Libraries” published in Reference & User Services Quarterly, vol. 52, no. 3, pp. 216–23, which won the 2014 Reference Service Press Award, which honors the most outstanding article published in RUSQ. )

Reference is reference – or is it?

It’s a commonly held belief that reference skills needed to be effective are necessarily different in public and academic libraries. However, there has been no research to either confirm or deny that idea. In 2011, we carried out a nationwide study looking at reference library work in academic (Saunders) and public (Jordan) libraries, and compared them for similarities and differences. These data will be of interest to professional librarians who are considering a change in setting and to hiring managers interviewing such candidates, as well as to library students who are in the process of planning their program and choosing a career path. The ideas shared here could also inform revisions or changes to reference courses and related areas of the library science curriculum and as such should be of interest to library science faculty.

We sent out surveys to a randomly selected sampling of 10 academic and 20 public libraries from each state. Every effort was made to identify the reference librarian or reference department manager at each library, but in some cases the invitation was sent to the library director, assistant director, or a public services librarian, asking them to forward it to the appropriate person. This is always surprisingly difficult in public libraries; too many websites have no contact information – leading Professor Jordan to wonder, in every study she does, how their patrons are contacting them. The surveys were essentially identical between the academic and public libraries, with different demographic questions. In addition to basic demographic information, librarians were asked to review a list of thirty-seven competencies in three categories and choose those they consider important. There were three categories of competencies: General, Technology, and Personal. They were then asked to list the three competencies in each list that they believe to be the most important. The list of competencies for the survey was drawn largely from the professional competencies and behavioral guidelines provided by RUSA, and was supplemented by competencies identified in the literature.

The General library skills, those skills traditionally associated with reference work, most frequently selected as important by our respondents were:

Academic Library

  • Search skills (95.6%)
  • Customer service (94.0%)
  • Familiarity with online reference sources (93.4%)
  • Traditional reference interview (75.5%)
  • Familiarity with paper reference sources (67.1%)

Public Library

• Customer service (97.1%)
• Search skills (95.6%)
• Familiarity with online reference sources (92.7%)
• Traditional reference interview (77.8%)
• Familiarity with paper reference sources (70.3%)

There was complete overlap here between the two types of libraries, with only a slight reshuffling of order of importance. These results suggest that the two types of libraries value the same skills, although they might prioritize them differently, and contributes to the finding that librarians who have worked in one type of reference situation should be able to transfer their reference skills to other venues.

We next asked the participants to identify the most important Technology skills from the provided list.

Academic Library

• Online searching (98.4%)
• Software troubleshooting (71.2%)
• Chat/IM (65.8%)
• Social media (65.5%)
• Web design (53.0%)

Public Library

• Online searching (98.2%)
• Software troubleshooting (77.8%)
• Hardware troubleshooting (64.4%)
• Social media (64.1%)
• Chat/IM (38.8%)

The two lists were similar, but somewhat more varied for technology skills. While online searching is equally important to both types of librarians, the numbers of respondents identifying each of the other competencies as important varied more widely: 65.8% of academic librarians identified chat/IM as important, while only 38.8% of public librarians did. Academic librarians selected web design as an important skills, but not public librarians; they selected hardware troubleshooting as important while academic librarians did not. These differences might reflect the difference in services and staffing in the different types of libraries. For instance, academic libraries might be more likely to have dedicated technology staff on campus who can assist with hardware and software troubleshooting, while public librarians might have less on-site tech support. Whatever the reason, the two types of libraries do seem to emphasize some different technology skills.

The third grouping of competencies was the Personal list, the soft skills reference librarians need to function effectively.

Academic Library

• Verbal communication (97.8%)
• Listening (96.6%)
• Approachability (95.3%)
• Comfort with instruction/teaching (92.5%)
• Adaptability/flexibility (91.8%)

Public Library

• Verbal communication (97.8%)
• Listening (97.1%)
• Approachability (94.8%)
• Adaptability/flexibility (88.9%)
• Sense of humor (87.2%)

As with general skills, there was a lot of similarity between the two lists. Regardless of type of library setting, verbal communication, listening, and approachability are crucial for all reference librarians as they will spend much of their day interacting with the public. It is reasonable that academic librarians identified instructional comfort as important so frequently, as it is such a significant part of many academic library jobs. In some academic libraries, reference librarians will spend equal amounts of time providing instruction and staffing more traditional reference service points. Public librarians commented the need for a sense of humor to effectively deal with the fast pace of work on the reference desk, and also to avoid being overwhelmed by the huge diversity of patrons who come into the library for help. Both instruction and sense of humor are important in both types of libraries, but as with certain technology skills, each setting seems to emphasize or prioritize one over the other somewhat.

There was a lot of similarity between academic and public libraries on the competencies they felt were most important for success at the reference desk, so were the least selected competences also comparable?

Academic Public

• Programming 8.5% (Technology)
• Foreign Language 11.9% (General)
• Budgeting 24.8% (General)
• Second Master’s degree 28.2% (General)
• Research/publishing 33.5% (General)

Public Library

• Second Master’s degree 5% (General)
• Research/publishing 12.5% (General)
• Programming 13.1% (Technology)
• Web design 22.4% (Technology)
• Foreign Language 28.3% (General)

It is often taken on faith that academic librarians will need a second Master’s degree to be employed; but this survey suggests that a second Master’s is not considered essential by most academic librarians. The data did suggest, however, that reference librarians in research universities were more likely to consider a second Master’s degree important than those in other types of academic libraries. Another Master’s degree was almost universally viewed as unimportant in public library reference work, as was research and publishing. Interestingly, only a third of academic librarians identified this as important; we did not ask whether respondents were required to publish to obtain tenure in their libraries, but presumably libraries with these requirements would be more likely to value it than libraries where it is optional. The lack of importance given to a foreign language might be surprising.Public librarians are required to deal with the entire spectrum of a community, including those with weak or non-existent English skills, and many academic institutions are seeing increasing numbers of international students whose English language skills can vary widely. This is an interesting area for potential follow-up study.

After looking at all these data, the main conclusion is that the differences between academic and public libraries are not as pronounced as people may have previously thought. The heart of library work is always going to be customer service, and that is emphasized in these soft skills such as communication, listening, and flexibility identified by librarians in both academic and public libraries. Librarians, and library students, hoping to be successful at reference work will do well to focus time and attention specifically on developing these skills to make themselves valuable regardless of the institution. The biggest differences seem to be in the areas of the harder skills, such as research and publication, certain technology skills, and assessment and evaluation. Librarians who aspire to move between academic and public reference desks would benefit from restructuring their resumes and the answers they use in the interview process to emphasize the skills of interest to the hiring libraries.

We thought this was a very interesting study, and hope it put to rest some of the misconceptions about reference work as well as helping to guide some training for good reference work. If your library would like us to come talk to you about this or other studies we have done; or if you would like us to do some other training for you, do not hesitate to contact us!


Laura SaundersLaura Saunders Laura 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.  You may also recognize her from the Hiring Librarians post: Researcher’s Corner: Reference Competencies from the Academic Employers’ Perspective.

Mary Wilkins Jordan (425x640)Mary Wilkins Jordan came to Simmons College GSLIS from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she earned a PhD.

Prior to entering academia, Jordan worked in public libraries as a Director and administrator.

Her research and consulting work now focuses on ways to help libraries to function better and to serve their communities more effectively. She teaches Management and also Evaluation classes, as well as Public Libraries, Reference, and the Internship class, all with a focus on helping students acquire the skills they need to be successful in their professional careers.

Jordan also has a J.D. from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law and worked as an attorney before entering the library field.

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Researcher’s Corner: Who’s Retiring From Library Work, and Who Isn’t ?

The myth of the tidal wave of retiring librarians is pervasive and persistent (for example, see this recent Public Libraries article about mentoring Gen-X librarians). But is there a grain of truth?  I’m happy to introduce this piece by Eric C. Shoaf, in which he takes a deeper look at what exactly is happening with those boomer librarians, what this means for recent graduates, and how it affects the profession as a whole.


During 2012, Nathan Long and myself conducted a study on the retirement plans for library workers. Nathan, currently Head of Systems at Francis Marion University Library, and I had known each other for several years and wanted to collaborate on a research project. At first we looked at several aspects of librarianship where we had mutual interest: skills training to learn new technology, career arc choices related to family and work/life balance, effects of a mature workforce in libraries, and impacts on early career librarians entering the field. There were a couple of false starts in the study as we tried to hone the direction. Especially when looking at skills and experience of early career librarians, we weren’t sure we could get the data needed for analysis. Then Nathan found the Colorado study that ended up being the catalyst for our own survey (Retirement, Retention, and Recruitment: The Future of Librarianship in Colorado [2004]) because it had data from a decade earlier that we could compare, and also because we could use some of the same questions they used in order to collect comparable data in our own survey.

Because of our experiences attending succession planning programs at ALA, reading the library literature, and discussions about imminent retirements expected in the library profession, we decided to focus on whether or not it could be determined whether there is about to be a large-scale retirement boom among library workers. This is important for a number of reasons. There is evidence that new MLS graduates have difficulty finding jobs, and that as libraries currently do have job openings, whether due to retirement or not, they sometimes look for different skill sets to fill evolving needs. Many of these new skill sets are found outside those possessed by traditional library workers. It seems that we have been hearing anecdotally about impending library retirements since the 1990s. Given that Nathan and I already had data from the Colorado study that was almost ten years old, and that the data showed that 20% of the 1,400+ respondents intended to retire in the next five years, which would have been around the time of the economic downturn in 2008-09, we wanted to try and determine on a national level library worker retirement intentions in 2012. And since the Colorado survey had happened well before the economic downturn, one of the things we were interested in was how much the downturn might have affected library worker retirement plans because of the pervasive negative effects it had on savings and retirement funds, and long-term concerns generally about the viability of the economy.

The literature review we conducted focused on recent reports in all types of media, many outside library literature and validated our idea that library workers may not be planning to retire as expected. There were a number of articles about heavy retirement fund loses from the economic downturn and predictions this would affect all segments of society and all businesses and institutions, including higher education, as well as tax-funded spending that includes public libraries. Some of the warnings were rather dire about the ‘baby boomer’ population’s lack of financial readiness for retirement. At least one report cited mature workers who said they did not think they would ever be able to stop working and retire. This was, for us, an indication that there had been a fundamental change because of the economic climate, or because the reality of retirement financing becomes clearer as retirement age approaches, or both.

Our survey was much shorter than the one used for the Colorado study. Knowing that people receive any number of survey queries every month, we wanted to use an online survey that would be relatively easy and painless to fill out. Hence, ours had only thirteen questions and all were geared to uncovering data about retirement planning as well as some demographic information. This is probably why our response rate was so high (4,400+ responses to the survey). In fact, we were quite overwhelmed with the response. On the other hand, we probably spent more time than most who circulate these sorts of surveys, actively publicizing it in a variety of venues and working to identify and notify state library associations in all regions of the country. I number of people sent personal email asking to be notified of the results of the survey. Certainly, it was all rather gratifying and made us feel that we had pinpointed an issue that a lot of library workers are thinking about.

Neither were we surprised by the results. Nearly half of the survey respondents indicated that the latest economic downturn had affected their career plans and would lead them to retire later and/or stay in their current job, which is a significant increase over the eleven percent from the 2003 Colorado survey. The strength and duration of the 2008-09 economic downturn has both surprised and deflated workers’ retirement accounts and their plans including library workers. The survey shows that library workers not yet close to retirement age are planning to work longer. At the end of our article we ask the question, Is sixty-five the new fifty? We included that because one of the highlighted trends of the baby-boomer generation has been a focus on living longer, refusing to “get old” in demonstrable ways, and we think that will extend to delayed retirement among this group as well. On the other hand, nearly 40% of the survey respondents indicated that the economic downturn had no effect on their career plans.

What the results of the 2012 survey mean for the library profession and for job seekers is not completely clear, and the news may not be all bad. Technology and other changes have already been driving the need for new skill sets in new types of library jobs for almost a decade. This is not expected to change. A maturing workforce that is not ready to retire is likely to reduce the number of new positions that are available, but it may not be appreciably different from the present. According to some past predictions, those library workers were to have already retired by now, but didn’t, and there are still jobs available. What is more likely to change is the type and character of jobs available, with new skill sets continuing to be needed in evolving library technological environments. Expect more mature workers to seek part-time employment as an option to full retirement. For two former full-time jobs that become part-time, one new full-time job can be created. Job seekers should also remember that despite national surveys, purported trends, and a sometimes bleak economic outlook, job offers happen at the local level, and it only takes one to secure employment.

The full article on our survey and analysis was published as Shoaf, Eric C. and Flowers, Nathan. “Library Worker Retirement Plans: A Large Survey Reveals New Findings” Library Leadership & Management (Vol. 27 no. 4) Fall 2013, and accessible here http://works.bepress.com/eric_shoaf/8/ .



Eric ShoafEric C. Shoaf, Clemson University Libraries

Eric C. Shoaf received his BA from Duke University, the MLS from North Carolina Central University, and an MPA from the University of Rhode Island.  He is currently Associate Dean of Libraries at Clemson University.

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