Welcome to a new/old Hiring Librarians feature! From 2012-2016 I ran a survey of job hunters (co-authored by Naomi House of INALJ). It had over 500 responses, including 117 people who were at least initially willing to be non-anonymous. In this series, we check in with these respondents to see where they are doing a decade later.
Amy Seto Forrester is our first check in. She completed the original survey in 2013 as she was preparing to graduate from Texas Woman’s University and her answers appeared as Creative Freedom/Independence. We followed up with her in December 2014 and learned she actually found her first librarian job about a month before she graduated!
She is now in her second librarian job, and is supervising and hiring new library workers. She was kind enough to answer the questions below, but you can also learn a lot more about her work as a youth services supervisor, author, and advocate for diverse and engaging children’s books at https://www.amysetoforrester.com/.
Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?
I’m currently a youth services supervisor at Eugene Public Library (OR), a job I’ve had for a year now. I co-supervise a team of 12 library staff (librarians and library assistants) for our downtown location, including two separate spaces: a children’s center and a teen center. We serve youth 0-19 years old and the grown ups in their lives. I also oversee youth programming system-wide, coordinate Summer Reading, select early readers, and am currently coordinating several communal recruitments. Prior to this position, I was a children’s librarian at Denver Public Library (CO) for 8 years. My experience leading large system-wide projects, digging into new reader research, developing programs, doing outreach to schools, and taking part in EDI work laid the foundation for my current job. Additionally, the spaces and demographics are quite similar (large, downtown libraries serving a wide range of needs, including those of many experiencing housing instability and other factors).
Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?
Up until 2 years ago I didn’t even want to be a supervisor! But I gradually realized that I not only had the skills to do the job, I also had the drive to be at decision-making tables because I wanted to advocate for youth, especially BIPOC and marginalized youth, and youth farthest from educational justice. Even though I had an amazing supervisor who advocated a lot, I was becoming frustrated by the confines of my position. I was also rather bored and needed more challenges in my work.
Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?
I’ve hired for 4 positions in the past year and am currently in the process of hiring 3 more for my department as part of 2 communal recruitments that will ultimately fill 9 positions across our system. The process is fascinating and hopeful and also sometimes very discouraging. Libraries and HR depts are built on white supremacist structures and it can be difficult to dismantle those structures and systemic barriers while also trying to hire staff in a timely fashion, especially in the current hiring landscape. If we don’t move fast enough, we lose candidates, but at the same time urgency is the enemy of EDI work. That said, I’m proud of the work I’ve done to make current systems more equitable, such as changing what we’re looking for/scoring for on supplemental application questions and interview questions, eliminating cover letters and resumes, and pushing to standardize having interview questions sent to candidates ahead of time.
Do you have any advice for job hunters?
Do your research! Read the job posting and pull out key words and themes, explore the library’s website, look at their social media, if you’re in the area visit the library to get a feel for it, ask your library connections what they know. Then use all this research to inform how you write your cover letter, and answer application and interview questions.
Connect the dots. People doing the hiring look at a lot of applications, we do our best, but we’re not always good at seeing how your experience/skills/passions can be directly applied to the position we’re hiring for. So it’s in your best interest to connect the dots so we can’t avoid seeing how awesome you’d be at the job.
Experience counts. Don’t be afraid to highlight your non-library experience, in fact, it can often work in your favor! Part of connecting the dots is showing how your life/work experience applies to the position. Again, connect those dots!
Use your time well. This can go both directions. Don’t say so much for each answer that you water down your message, but at the same time your answer should be more than a couple of sentences. Many interview panels are not allowed to ask follow up questions in an effort to ensure an equitable hiring process. Don’t assume we’ll ask for more.
Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?
Send the questions in advance. I’ve seen this make a huge difference for candidates because they’re able to process and develop solid answers that give you better insight then off the cuff answers. Also, don’t send them 2 hours in advance (this has happened to me!), give them at least 24 hours or even better, a few days.
Consider who you’re centering in the wording of your questions, especially EDI questions. Could a question be potentially hooking/triggering for BIPOC and/or marginalized candidates? How might you reword a question to allow candidates to answer authentically?
Anything else you’d like to tell us?
As someone who identifies as mixed race Chinese American, I want to acknowledge that there are additional concerns for BIPOC and/or marginalized candidates during the hiring process. I encourage you to ask the hiring panel questions about how the library system, as well as your prospective supervisor and their team view EDI work and what support for BIPOC and/or marginalized staff actually looks like. I also want to acknowledge that libraries are built on white supremacist structures and while some libraries/staff have done more work dismantling these structures, the structures continue to exist. There’s no magical utopian library system that I know of (if you find it, let me know!). That said, if your alarm bells are ringing at an interview, first day of work, or anywhere in your career, take note. Take care of yourself, advocate for yourself, and protect yourself (these are not always the same thing). Find your support systems (affinity groups, national orgs, allies within/beyond your system, etc.) and lean on them. I can’t promise your library will be a brave space for you, but I can promise that there are many of us fighting to carve out brave spaces and to invite others in so those spaces can expand.