Tag Archives: jobhunting

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

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

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

The change in predicted rate of growth.

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

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

Was the 7% growth prediction accurate? 

It doesn’t seem like it. 

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

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

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

That’s a loss of 18.55%.

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

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

Thanks, ALA!

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

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

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

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

Ok, are we still graduating too many librarians?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about those boomers? Are they retiring?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Footnotes

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

3 Comments

Filed under Op Ed

some of my colleagues also ask “why do you want this job” and it irks me because we’re IN A SCENARIO.

Original caption: The Librarian Carefully Enters the Consignment Into Her Books, 12/1952. National Archives.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library  

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration 

√ A Committee or panel 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Cover letter 

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions 

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews

√ A meal with hiring personnel 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

For librarians (faculty): search committee, of which I’ve been a member and a chair

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Well thought-out, well-written cover letter that was exactly what we were looking for. It showed the candidate really, really understood the role and would be amazing in it.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Not understanding, in the foggiest, what the role entails. Things like talking about an aspect of library work that isn’t within the realm of the position. I understand that you can’t know what it is for sure, but if I’m hiring for an instruction librarian and all your examples/things you’re excited about are technical services, I’m a bit concerned.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

How well they would actually fit the position. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant   

CV:  √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

A personal pet peeve: if we give you a presentation topic and fake audience, pretend we are the fake audience. Do not talk librarian shop if we are supposed to be faculty in a different college. To be fair, some of my colleagues also ask “why do you want this job” and it irks me because we’re IN A SCENARIO. This is petty, I know. 

Getting basic facts (the name of the institution) wrong!

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

Yes! When I’m on the committee, I advocate for the first round to be a phone and/or no video meeting. That way candidates can look at their notes. Rehearse so you can highlight your strengths without reading. You got this – we contacted you because we think you could be the person we need. This is a conversation where either party can say “yes” or “no.” For video-on calls (portions of the all-day academic interview during covid), we planned breaks and the like. Turn your camera off, mute yourself, or leave the room during breaks. It’s awkward. Interviews are awkward, Zoom is awkward, together it’s really awkward. Try to make the best of it. We’re trying too. Remember that the committee wants you to be the answer to their open position. Have your examples ready in your mind, be yourself, and be curious about the folks talking to you. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

I had success couching it in librarian-type terms. I love when folks have been paraprofessionals or worked in tough customer service jobs, because that means they will handle the weirdness of an academic library likely quite well. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

It depends on the search committee chair. We redact names & identifying information up until phone interviews, we require a good diversity statement (beyond “libraries are for everyone!” and more along the lines of “neutrality isn’t real and libraries can be racist so… here’s what I’ve done to get better”)

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

Whatever you want to know! Do you want to know things about living where we are? About the culture of the library? If there’s something that would be a dealbreaker for you, ask about it. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Academic, Suburban area, Urban area, Western US

About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter Dina Schuldner

Back in 2012/2013 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 now.

Dina Schuldner took the Job Hunter’s survey on January 4, 2013. Her responses appeared as The Renaissance Person. At that time, she was a recent graduate and a recently hired adult services librarian. We followed up with her in December 2014 and learned she was a Full Time Permanent Young Adult and Children’s Librarian.

When I contacted her this month to follow up, she asked if she could share advice and encouragement to people in the library profession, and that is what follows:


What I’d like to share is that dogged determination pays off.  After 6 successful years in public libraries in New York, my husband and I moved to Virginia to be closer to my family.

When we moved, I did not have a library job waiting for me in Virginia.  What I did have was a volunteer position with YALSA as the chair for the Community Connections Task Force.  This was a virtual position, which I managed through meetings on the predecessor of Google Meet (Hangouts), and ALA Connect.  I got experience leading a team in that role, and I am very proud of the toolkit we developed for YALSA.  After that ended, I applied for, and landed, a position volunteering with Virginia Beach Public Library.

I had set up my LinkedIn account back in library school, connecting with my classmates, many of whom I am still in contact with.  I kept it updated throughout my journey.  In 2017, I was contacted through LinkedIn by a recruiter for a college.  A couple of interviews later, I was an adjunct instructor and academic librarian.  I held that position for 4 years, where I managed the library and its staff, sometimes on my own, sometimes in conjunction with other librarians.

An opportunity to get back into public libraries presented itself, and because I had experience managing the academic library, I was taken on as an assistant manager in a library branch of a large city system.

Yesterday, a young boy around the age of 8 recognized me in the library, after I said hello to him and his friend.  He said to me, “Are you the one who helped my grandmother on the computer?”  I said I might be, because I help people on the computer all the time.  He asked me, “What do you do here?”  I told him that I am a librarian.  He asked me “What do you do?”  I told him I help people on the computer, I help order books for the library for people to check out for adults, and other people order for children, and that I help with library programs.

I realize now that in that moment, I was representing the profession to a young, impressionable boy, who may be in the process of searching for career paths even in elementary school.  Maybe I put a seed in his mind that the helping I do is something he might want to do, so he could help people like his grandmother when he grows up.

I got into libraries to make a difference in young adult lives.  I wound up excelling as a children’s librarian, a young adult librarian, a reference librarian, an academic librarian, and now as an assistant manager of a public library.

I would recommend to job seekers to follow your passion, and take any job in your field to get the experience you need.  Dedication in the job you currently hold, lifelong learning, and the willingness to try new positions offered to you may change your life.

Anyone interested in a career in libraries may connect with me on LinkedIn.  I will be happy to offer advice or answer any questions that I can, related to the profession.

Leave a comment

Filed under Job Hunter Follow Up

If a candidate is unfamiliar with the type of work done in a library, ask!

Captain (CPT) Robert Campbell and Brigadier General (BGEN) Gene Deegan, director, Education Center, assist the head librarian during the ribbon cutting ceremony celebrating the opening of the rare book reading room at Breckinridge Library, Command and Staff College. National Archives

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Collections Manager

Titles hired include: Gallery Monitor, Student worker

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Resume 

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview 

√ A whole day of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

We submit a requisition to HR, noting that this position is specifically for student workers. They post it on our website, and all applications come directly to the position supervisor, who arranges interviews and hires candidates.

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

They were outgoing, and didn’t hesitate to look me in the eyes. They were clearly nervous, but not enough to throw them off. They readily answered questions and displayed interpersonal skills, making small jokes and smiling a lot.

What are your instant dealbreakers?

Not displaying skills- whether it’s on your resume or in the interview, if you can’t tell me why you’d be a good addition, it’s not going to work out.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

Their work ethic.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

CV: √ Two is ok, but no more 

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Being too nervous to look me in the eye. Answering a question too quickly without thinking a little more.

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

Pick the right background! Don’t be in bed, and present yourself as if you were at an in-person interview. Check everything on your computer beforehand- sound, video, background, lighting.

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

If a candidate is unfamiliar with the type of work done in a library, ask! For example, if the candidate previously did typical office work, I would want to know that they’re familiar with multi-line phones and learning a particular organizational system. So if the candidate asks what a typical day is like at my library, I would throw out a few basic tasks. Then they could demonstrate their skills in those areas.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the information provided at the interview 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

Unfortunately, we are incredibly behind in that process.

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

I want a candidate to ask deep details about the job- upcoming projects, how they can succeed in this role. I want us to talk about their personality and goals, and make sure a potential hire is a good fit. A candidate should ask not just about the job itself, but the culture, the hours, the pay.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

Leave a comment

Filed under 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Academic, Southeastern US, Urban area

Further Questions: Does your organization ask for references?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is all about references, and it’s long so I’ve bulleted it out.

Does your organization ask for references?

  • What do you ask for? (how many, format, etc)
  • When do you ask for references?
  • Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included (current supervisor, former direct reports, prestige of institutions, etc.)?  
  • If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? 
  • Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process?
  • Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check?

Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans:

What do you ask for? We ask for three and we ask for name, title, and contact information. Generally, we need both an email address and a phone number.

When do you ask for references? Good question. We ask for references as part of the application process. If you’re asking when we check them, that has varied over the years. We used to sometimes call references after first round interviews for the people we were still considering, in order to narrow them down to a final 3 or 4. We’ll often do first round interviews with quite a few people, just so we know we’re not missing anyone. Several years ago, we decided that we would check references only on the finalists, probably before we invited them to campus, or before they came. We could check references on only our final choice, but then that holds up the offer/hiring process. For staff, we tend to only check references for the final candidate OR if we’re using them to make a decision after final interviews. Usually, before we contact references, we’ll get in touch with the candidate to let them know that we’re contacting their references and to ask if they want to make any changes to their list (based on availability, etc.).
Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? I think some places ask for current supervisor, but we don’t. Honestly, my only point of judgment has been if someone gives us a library school professor as a reference and they cannot answer any of the questions in a meaningful way.
When library faculty are hired, they have to have three written references for their file.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? For staff, there is a form that HR requires us to use. There is a question about whether the person would ever be a danger to others and that usually makes people laugh. For library faculty, we ask about job performance, leadership skills, interpersonal and communication skills, notable accomplishments or innovations, what we would need to do to support his/her/their development, and why this job is a great fit for them.
If a reference can’t answer those questions, it’s pretty telling.
Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process? We haven’t, but may going forward. We are currently examining all of our hiring processes.
Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check? Not necessarily a decision to hire, although I think references weigh in when you’re making a final decision, and it’s more about what they described than how effusive they were. We hired a staff member and their reference (a colleague at another library) said that they were a great support to library users, but that we would have to be clear about expectations regarding attendance, etc. This person was exactly as their former supervisor described. Absolutely wonderful with students, faculty, emeritus faculty, etc., but had a difficult time getting to work on time and being present. It was a constant struggle. I don’t know if we would make the same decision again.


Kellee Forkenbrock, Public Services Librarian, North Liberty Community Library: We’ve recently reinstituted asking for references for our part-time staff. Every applicant is asked to supply three professional references. I ask for references at the time of an offer contingent on the references’ feedback. There are no judgments based on the type of reference provided. The references can be anyone who worked with the candidate in a professional capacity (i.e. colleague, direct report, manager, etc.). We keep the dialogue with the references conversational but also focused and brief. Typically, we lead with questions like “What three words best describe you experience working with our candidate?” and “Would you rehire the candidate if the opportunity presented itself?” The responses are taken with a grain of salt, as most candidates select references based on the positive feedback they will provide during the call. As hiring librarians, we do our best to hear the authentic parts of the praise.


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: I really don’t pay much attention to references.  I look occasionally but HR is the one who would call – and if they do they have never told me the result!  Plus in today’s world most companies will only say “yes I would rehire them” or “no I would not rehire them” so not much point in talking with them!  And you have to figure personal references are going to be pretty much “of course they are wonderful”!


Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: We ask for references when candidates apply and usually check them between the phone interview and the in-person interview.

We ask references standardized questions. We ask follow up questions if needed for clarification but, when you are trying to take notes on what is being said, it can be a challenge to think quickly enough to think about what additional questions might arise from their response unless something just doesn’t make sense in the moment.

The questions are general and pretty common: How long have you known them and in what capacity, their strengths and weaknesses, leadership skills, and communication style, etc. We try to share with the search committee the exact words that were said so they can judge the response for themselves and not through the filter/bias of the person doing the reference check.

While one person may hear, “hands-on leadership and take-charge attitude” and think that person would be a fantastic boat captain, another may think, they will micromanage me to death. Without much more to go on, it is hard to tell.

I used to hyper-analyze word choices used by references but, I have since recognized that they doing their best on the spot to make their colleague look as good as possible while also trying to be completely honest. If they have worked closely with them, they have likely seen some faults. If they choose to share them with you, they will probably try to do it in the most flattering light possible. This means that if anything noticeably negative is said in a way that raises a red flag for you, take note.

On the flip-side, if the committee is conflicted about what to make of something a reference said because some think it could be a red flag, don’t let the reference check be the thing that ends it. I recommend giving the candidate the benefit of the doubt and let it play out. We shouldn’t let the word choice of a reference determine whether a candidate moves forward in the process.

Obviously, if something the reference discloses seems egregious, it is time to move on. You usually learn those things from the candidate in direct and indirect ways, not from their reference, though.

In situations where “off-list references” are checked, you are more likely to gain a broader, and perhaps clearer, perception of the candidate, especially if the candidate’s direct reports/staff can be interviewed.


Anonymous: I think my current municipality asks for references on the application form, but we do not actually check them. I wish we did. If we have connections through our network to someone who has worked with an applicant, my director or I may reach out on our own to ask a few informal questions.

In a prior job, we did conduct reference checks. We asked for three previous supervisors, though for candidates with unusual situations (little work experience, long time out of the workforce, etc.) we would accept fewer and/or talk to peers as well as supervisors. I conducted reference checks via phone calls, which usually lasted about 10-20 minutes and covered basic topics like confirming that the applicant was employed in a given position at a given time, areas of strength and areas for development, how a candidate dealt with things like conflict/upset people and receiving feedback, etc. I never changed my mind about hiring someone based on a reference check. We did them after we’d already extended a conditional offer, so changing my mind at that point would have had to mean there was some pretty significant concern that had come to light. I do think I should have reconsidered an offer once or twice, though – there were a couple of times when I got some information about some behaviors that I thought I could deal with or wouldn’t be a major issue that then turned out to cause bigger problems with the employee. (They weren’t necessarily big black marks that would make someone unemployable overall, just things that made them not a great fit for our needs or a particular role.) I chalk that up to the learning curve of being a new manager! More often, though, reference checks functioned as a confirmation of what I had gathered from interviews about the person’s fit and personality, and helped me get a better sense of who they were as an employee and what their needs might be from other people who had managed them, so I was better prepared to support them as they joined my team.


Elizabeth “Beth” Cox, Director, Cataloging, Metadata & Digitization Dept., University of Iowa Libraries:

Does your organization ask for references? Yes
What do you ask for? We ask for a minimum of three references. Depending on the situation, we may ask for more. We have two different formats. One is a survey form with 22 questions using a 7-point Likert scale, two yes-no questions, and two open-ended questions. The second option is reference phone calls. These are usually done by the search chair.
Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? Generally, no, but it depends on the situation and the candidates. I will almost always want a current or recent supervisor, unless the candidate can provide a really good reason why they can’t or don’t want to. If the position has a supervisory component, I may ask for a current or former direct report.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? If I call references, the questions are usually tailored to the position. For example, if the position includes lots of collaboration with staff in other departments, I will ask the references about the candidates experience working with teams or on group projects. The responses from the reference calls are one more data point in helping us make a hiring decision.
When do you ask for references? I ask for them after the on-site interview. Sometimes it’s pro forma; sometimes the responses can be useful in making a decision.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My university system asks for names and contact information for three references for all searches regardless of status (faculty, staff, adjunct staff, etc.). Some candidates upload reference letters but we don’t ask for them so I never read them because we don’t get them from all candidates. The online application form also asks for names of recent supervisors and includes a question about whether we can contact them. So even if someone does not include a supervisor on their list of three, we have the option of going to look to see if we can contact additional people.

We generally only call references, meaning we don’t ask for written ones. I usually ask a reference who is/was a supervisor to describe the work the candidate does. It can be interesting to consider together how a candidate describes their work and how the supervisor does. I might ask about an area for growth depending on the position. Asking this questions leaves the response open-ended enough that it might point an area where the candidate needs more training or it could identify interesting directions that a candidate might like to move in, e.g., more supervision or leadership experience, etc. I also do like to ask whether the reference has anything additional they want to add. These days people (including me) providing references tend to be very careful and to err on the side of being vague. But I have had references volunteer very helpful information. I have had a reference indicate that a candidate might seem very quiet when, in fact, they are an active and engaged member of a team. In a recent staff search I hear candidates described as kind and generous which was really lovely.

I do recall cases where I have asked if the person would be rehired if possible and received a negative response. That certainly factored into my thinking but, in at least one case, it did not tell me anything that changed my overall assessment. In most cases I hear positive things that sometimes can help provide some balance for a weak in-person interview.

I prefer to contact references after in-person (in whatever format) interviews. We can leave an interview having the candidate know and also ask about contacting someone who might not be on their list if we want to. I applied for a director position once and my references were contacted after the phone interview (I was told this was happening). I had not yet informed my references (including my provost) and was not happy about having to do it after the phone interview given that I had no idea whether I would advance in the search. Even though I eventually ended up with the job it was awkward.


Anonymous: I am pleased that you are asking these questions. The current place I am at requires 3 professional references. The caller is allowed to ask when the applicant worked with them and to describe their working relationship. The call is not supposed to last more than 5 minutes. In the past, at different libraries there were no reference calls, but an electronic form sent to the references. I actually don’t know what the questions were, but I filled a couple of these reference forms out in the past and they are pretty low stakes for the referenced person and the person who is the reference. To be honest the questions are really forgettable-and I can’t think of a single one.
One story I heard from a colleague was that they were calling a reference for a potential worker and the person answering was obviously high or drunk and rambled for a few minutes and hung up on them. The person got hired (still works at that library too) and I believe it was never discussed. I am curious to see what people say about references. I think that now you can look on Instagram or some other social media and call that a reference these days.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

What do you ask for? We have always had specific forms to “fill in” for “performing” reference checks. These forms ask the typical questions that include strengths and weaknesses, feedback on specific areas of work conduct and – of course -“… would you recommend this person for the position I have?” and “….would you rehire this person in your organization?” We used to have a requirement of three reference checks AND we would – on the application form – ask for both professional and personal references. Now they still recommend three, but you only need two if both of those are/were a supervisor of the applicant. It becomes an issue if there are no supervisors on either the applicant’s paperwork or on their resume. We then ask them for names very directly and – if they haven’t told us this already (which they should have) – they might say “Should I advance to one of more identified finalists in the process, I would be happy to provide you with supervisor names.” And there is nothing wrong with that – given people often don’t want their supervisor to know they are looking and don’t want a litany of reference checks. A candidate does take a risk if they do that; however, as it is not uncommon that there are several finalists – so someone could wait to find out if they are a finalist, provide their supervisor’s name, we call them and although they have done well throughout the process – do NOT end up being offered the job because in the end they are not the best match.
When do you ask for references? When an applicant fills out an application they are asked for references. Their automated application form does go forward; however, if they don’t include references – but if we want them – post interviewing – to advance to a finalist stage, we ask them for three references and state that at least two of them have to be people who have supervised them. I would have to say there are more instances of us picking finalists and then ranking them and calling references on our first pick only and if those are satisfactory – we go with that person, but we could also have several openings and call on all finalists and we could have one job with two top contenders for that one job and call both before we decide.

Do you make any judgments based on who is or is not included? Of course, if I know the people with whom others have worked and I respect them, their work and their judgement – that carries weight; however, the reputation of an institution is nothing I care about BUT if I know – for example – the manager at their previous job (or in their current job) is known for a unique expertise or for mentoring or any unique preparation for new or “next” jobs, that is good to know.

What I do very much care about is the match of the job they had to the one I am offering and – even more so – if the job is not similar – how the applicant performed in areas that may well have prepared them for my job. Example – if they are in a creative position where details are less important or fewer are found and I have a very detail-oriented job for them OR they are at an institution that is very low-tech and I am very high-tech, I am interested in any information the reference can give me about a related project they did or a parallel activity, or their independent work, continuing education focus or technology acumen.
If you call references, what are some of the questions you ask and how do the answers affect your decision to hire? We have specific questions we ask to complete our form. To help the person I am calling for a reference focus, it is best to provide them with context. For example – if one of your required questions is one on ability to work with a team – you might say – our organization is team-driven and our employees all serve on one or more teams or lead or co-lead a team. Please tell me – in their role as x in your institution, did they lead teams? to complete a project? to reorganize a department? train on new infrastructure software?
Does your organization follow any practices meant to reduce bias or inequity in the reference check process? I know there are very specific steps we take to reduce bias in the design of the job advertisement, during the applicant screening process and in the interview process. What comes to mind for reference checking is avoiding specific terminology of your own as well as stopping use of terminology In the reference check process. One can also stop reference checks exchanges from bringing things into the conversation that have no relevance. For example, if a reference refers to the age of the person you are asking about – as “too young,” “too old,” “not enough experience based on age,” etc. you might say “Unrelated to age of the applicant – what would you say their experience includes and how did that experience contribute to the success of your organization or your user?”

Also if you check references for more than one finalist, be sure to ask each reference the same questions about applicant/finalist(s) – that way comparisons are equitable.
Do you have any stories about a decision to hire being affected by a reference check? Sort of! Things to look for that might influence your hire might include:

  • too few remarks from the reference
  • the reference stating they feel uncomfortable commenting on something and choosing to pass on commenting or answering the question
  • a reference saying, yes they will provide a reference, but only as to the job title they held when they left and their salary level when they left
  • a statement saying they would NOT rehire (obviously)
  • a reference check acknowledging …”it sounds like their resume indicates they did x for me and they did not have that role when they worked for me”….or “that is not the project they worked on when they were here”….or “it sounds like they were saying their were full time but for me – they worked hourly.”
  • asking the reference check for example “To my question about them working successfully on teams, you said “they worked on teams while they were here.” So are you saying they were successful in their teamwork? And the reference check saying, “No, I am not saying that. I am saying they worked on teams.”

If you want a reference check story – and you asked for one – I can share one about when I was called to be a reference for someone who had briefly worked for me, but most of her time was spent reporting to someone else who worked for me. Her work was NOT satisfactory but it was the kind of situation where you have that knowledge through a few examples – but it really comes out after they leave when things are uncovered AND people start speaking up. SO – I was surprised this person was leaving since they had been in their position only a short time but I did get the call.

I chose to handle it as honestly as I could by saying – when asked things like “tell me about her leadership skills” or “tell me about her management skills” I would honestly say: “I don’t feel as if I can answer that as I didn’t have a chance to observe those.” And, I couldn’t answer because “she did not work here in a role that called for her to take a leadership role in a project.” When asked about more specificity I also said I felt comfortable saying “I couldn’t answer that because her span of control here was x and the position they were calling about had a significantly larger span of control.” I don’t know whether or not they got the picture OR if they decided to take the chance anyway…at some point people feel they know best and – frankly – under different circumstances she may well have performed differently. What it reinforced for ME was the fact that I could speak to my specific experience with someone, but not apply it uniformly to others as some want you to do.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or written on your eyelids. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Further Questions

Further Questions: Do you find any value in LinkedIn Learning certificates?

Each week (or thereabouts) I ask a question to a group of people who hire library and LIS workers. If you have a question to ask or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

This week’s question is from Twitter, and is very similar to but distinct from last week’s question:

Do you find any value in LinkedIn Learning certificates? More broadly, do you have any recommendations for ways to display proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in your work experience?


Donna Pierce, Library Director, Krum Public Library: To answer this week’s question – listing those classes – whether on-line, in person or “certification” type – that are applicable for the position you are wanting would be helpful.  For example, if a library is looking for a cataloger listing those courses in cataloging that you took, along with any practical experience (such as cataloging the books at your church, or even your own home library).  But I would also advise people fresh out of school with little to no experience to find a library and volunteer.  A lot of smaller libraries would really appreciate someone who is willing to help out.  And sometimes that can lead to employment!


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: Other than having heard of them, I don’t really know anything about LinkedIn Learning Certificates. But I’ll also admit that I don’t actually “use” LinkedIn beyond accepting requests for contacts. That said, it can be helpful to list any continuing education or professional development activities on your CV or resume that provide information about updated or new skills.

I am a huge fan of interesting and informative cover letters so a list of some certificates or other credentials would be more meaningful if a search committee could see how those skills were being used at work or even in other contexts. Many of us also develop proficiencies out of necessity and there are ways to describe those even if they are not accompanied by formal credentials. Ultimately, if you are thinking about this in the context of a job search, I think it is the job for which you are applying that is critical. The “added value” that you bring beyond the requirements of the specific position will be more compelling if you provide an example or two in a cover letter in addition to a list on your resume.  


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College:

Do you find any value in Linkedin Learning certificates?

This will sound odd, but I am going to answer the question “Do I find Linkedin Learning a valuable online learning or training resource?” and that answer is yes. And – of course – that is due to the fact that Linkedin purchased Lynda.com a few years ago. So – my institution had already subscribed to Lynda.com – then when it was taken over – our HR department made Lynda.com’s original 700+ courses (and now 18,000k) available through Linkedin to our full time or staffing table employees and then our students. One of my librarians fought hard and succeeded in our institution then making it available for our hourly employees – which actually proves to be most valuable to staff as we don’t provide staff development money to hourly other than general college content and our own Library Services – for example – EDI content.

So I find value in Linkedin Learning courses and content rather than a specific certificate. Obviously once we have established that a platform provides credible content – one course on instructional design or visual representation of data is great – but then a series of courses that result in not only elementary but also intermediate or advanced content is wonderful. This is due in part to the fact that these courses have not yet been recognized as activities that place you higher on the salary scale. The college does allow us to; however, decide as managers if different activities, coursework, etc. from external environments can be counted to the required staff development hours the college requires annually. And Linked in IS one of those platforms that we will not only assess coursework to see if it counts for our employees – but we will also review content to identify specific course areas that we will recommend to an employee in the evaluation process. It stands to reason that because the federal government is a big user of Linkedin Learning for government employees as well as recruitment for some federal and state employees, state-level higher education entities might continue to expand their recognition of alternative educational credentials.

At this point I should add that the real issue behind this discussion is the need for established and universally accepted levels and types of educational tracks or programs – that is a need for defining not only licensure but also micro credentials, professional certificates, advanced certification and badging for competency attainment – by level – and redefine the capability of some organizations to grant these – within an online world.

More broadly, do you have any recommendations for ways to display proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in your work experience?

  • Applicants should assess the descriptive wording in job advertisements and on position descriptions to see if the organization uses language levels such as basic, awareness, intermediate, advanced. An applicant can then insert – being specific – what their training provides them with some evidence such as evidence of completion, products, links to content descriptions the training environment has on the web.
  • In the absence of the organization using levels or descriptors, applicants should make sure they include terminology that might speak to competencies and the levels of attainment after reviewing their content against a common core of content they might find in other training environments such as Merlot.org or WebJunction.org or – if people are applying for a position in higher education – against the institution’s curriculum.
  • Applicants should not only “sign” their work – that is – make sure it is clear what is original, etc. but they might also include – in “signing” their work – how they learned to “present” the product or write the narrative or development the outcomes they stated or create the content based on course or training session or a software learned.
  • Applicants should include a section on their resume for training, certifications, coursework, educational seminars, conference tracks, apprenticeships, directed study, field study, internships, etc. with more than the title. Rather they should include the dates, credentials of the instructor or platform, etc. and it is often wise to include titles of or links to products created as a result of those sessions.

The most important thing is “keep learning!”


Anonymous Federal Librarian: I rarely look at LinkedIn or other social media when considering candidates, so having any kind of proficiency listed on LinkedIn doesn’t help a candidate at all. I think if a candidate would like to demonstrate their proficiency in something that isn’t gained from their work experience, it can be addressed in a cover letter if submitting one, or on their resume in a special skills section. For federal resume reviews, the entire resume is reviewed and if the candidates demonstrate they have the knowledge or experience as stated in the “qualifications” section and have demonstrated knowledge as required in the “How you will be evaluated” sections somewhere on their resume they will be considered.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: To be honest, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an application or resume with a LinkedIn Learning certificate specifically, though we do see lots of other types of training certificates. To me these are more helpful for highlighting secondary or supplemental skills than they are for the position’s main duties. For example, if I’m hiring a Marketing Coordinator, a LinkedIn certificate in marketing isn’t going to matter nearly as much as the candidate’s experience and answers to interview questions. But, if I’m hiring an Adult Services Librarian, that same marketing certificate could go a long way in showing that they know how to promote programs, form partnerships, etc. To put it another way, the level of knowledge indicated by a learning certificate alone isn’t enough to prove that a candidate is qualified for a position in that area, but it can be very helpful in supplementing a resume or showing a broader skill set than employment history alone might.

As for proficiency in areas that aren’t reflected in formal work or volunteer experience, I am always interested in hearing about non-work experience. (Please note that I have no idea whether I am in the minority about this. I could be the only person who thinks this way!) If you never did library programming as part of your job, but you ran an ongoing Dungeons & Dragons game for 5 years, that shows me skills in project management, teamwork, time management and scheduling, and research. If you are involved in community theater, that tells me about your ability to work with others and perform under pressure. And so on. 


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via informercial. If you have a question to ask people who hire library workers, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

Leave a comment

Filed under Further Questions

Personal Professional Websites: Lively Librarian

Shannon Distel worked in public libraries for 20 years most recently as the Deputy Director of a public library in a suburb of Chicago. 

In her role as an administrator, manager and librarian, she oversaw seven departments and daily operations of the main library, branches and bookmobile. Shannon currently lives in Chicago where she works for a non-profit assisting ESL learners with computer and job skills. In addition to her website, you can find her on Twitter @livelylibrarian    

What is your site’s URL?

www.livelylibrarian.com

What is your tagline or title on your site?

Lively Librarian

Briefly, what is the current purpose of your site?

Professional page with information on my career, training and presentations.

Was the original purpose of your site different from this current purpose? If yes, how and why did it change?

I started Lively Librarian as a blog at livelylibrarian.blogspot.com, the blog is still up but has not been updated since 2013.

Are you actively looking for work? (check all that apply)

√ Other: I am currently a yoga teacher and not actively looking for a job in libraries.

Has your site brought you any work? And if so, what?

Yes. I have been asked to present at conferences, instruct classes and been hired.  

About Your Site and Sites in General

Did you pay someone to design or build your site?

√ No 

Which of the following content do you have on your site (check all that apply)?

√ List of presentations 

√ Your Bio

√ Your photo 

Which of the following personal links or connection methods do you provide on your site? (Check all that apply)

√ Contact Form 

√ Twitter 

√ Instagram

√ LinkedIn  

Is your site strictly library/archives/LIS related?

√ Yes 

When was your site last updated?

√ Within the last month 

What causes you to update your site, and about how frequently does that occur?

Inquiries into my background, training or presentations. 

Does your site use any of the following platforms/services?

√ GoDaddy 

√ WordPress (*not* WordPress.com) 

How much do you pay annually to run your website? (for numbers not in American dollars, please use other)

√ Other: Renewing my domain and domain privacy is $28.98 per year. 

Do you allow comments on your site?

√ No 

Do you have advertising on your site?

√ No 

Do you have analytics on your site?

√ No 

About how many people visit your site in a month?

√ I don’t know 

Is having a personal website a “must”?

√ Yes, for job hunters 

√ Yes, for people looking for speaking gigs

√ Yes, for people who are independent contractors/freelancers  

Do you have any privacy concerns associated with sharing your personal information, resume, etc., on a public website? If so, what measures do you take to feel safer?

I do not share where I am working or have worked on my website. I do not share my location or personal information. My bio is professional accomplishments, education and industry involvement. 

What advice would you give someone wanting to create their own personal professional site?

Less is more. Sharing general career information, training and education, awards and professional accomplishments is good to begin with. Unless you are willing to commit to growing an audience, blogging is usually a waste of time. If you want to share book reviews, programs etc., use social media. I use Instagram, TikTok and Twitter to share ideas and connect with library professionals. 

Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about your website? Or personal websites in general?

I blogged for years starting in 2007, I used analytics, and grew a large following thru regular blog posts and social media. Then social media evolved and people stopped reading blogs. A static website has served me better than the blog ever did and is 99% less work. For professional details I send people to my LinkedIn. 

Demographics

What is your job title?

Until September 2021 I was the Deputy Director of a public library. 

What types of organizations do you work for or with? (Check all that apply)

√ Public Library 

If you work for someone besides yourself, does that organization have rules about what you can share on your personal site?

√ No 

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US 

Anything else you’d like to say, to me or to the readers?

Professional websites are useful for job seekers, presenters, freelancers or influencers. The website creation is the most work, then the website works for you.

Thanks for reading! If you have a personal professional website that you’d like to talk about, please fill out the survey.

Leave a comment

Filed under Personal Professional Websites

One of my interview questions deals with intellectual freedom, and if it is not answered with a response in keeping with public library values/ethics, that is a deal breaker.

Christine Karatnytsky, librarian in the Billy Rose Theatre Division of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. NYPL Digital Collections

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Director

Titles hired include: Librarian, Circulation Clerk, Custodian, Maintenance Coordinator

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree 

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc) 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Briefly describe the hiring process at your organization and your role in it:

I post the job openings, I receive the applications, and depending on the position, I either arrange interviews or leave it up to the supervisor in that department (if there is one.) Then we interview, and we have another employee give the interviewee a tour of the library so they can feel more relaxed and maybe ask other questions that didn’t come up in the “formal” interview, and then when a hiring decision is made we notify all candidates that were interviewed. 

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

They met all the “requirements” and also were excited to work the kind of odd schedule we needed. It was a perfect fit. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Yes. One of my interview questions deals with intellectual freedom, and if it is not answered with a response in keeping with public library values/ethics, that is a deal breaker.

What do you wish you could know about candidates that isn’t generally revealed in the hiring process?

How they respond to constructive criticism/feedback.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this  

Resume: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

CV: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

What is the most common mistake that people make in an interview?

Saying they can work any shift when really they cannot.

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

No, but I would if it was necessary. 

How can candidates looking to transition from paraprofessional work, from non-library work, or between library types convince you that their experience is relevant? Or do you have other advice for folks in this kind of situation?

Experience is huge! I don’t know that it would take a lot of convincing, honestly. That would be a huge bonus.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?

We try to have the interviewee talk with several of us (individually, we don’t want to bombard) so that we can all get a feel for how this person would fit in, though it’s hard in such a short amount of time. We try to pick employees who have very different personalities so as to try to remain unbiased.

What questions should candidates ask you? What is important for them to know about your organization and the position you are hiring for?

It would be helpful if they knew our community or asked questions about the community if they live in a different area.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

 √ Never or not anymore 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50 

Is there anything else you’d like to say, either to job hunters or to me, the survey author? 

Apply! Even if you don’t think you’re qualified or have enough experience, you might still be a great fit. Please please don’t tell the interviewer that you love reading, so you want to work in a library. Just kidding…kind of. 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Rural area

be yourself, relax, and tell stories that show how you have addressed the question

AIRMAN 1ST Class Dijon Washington, data base tape librarian, sorts through computer tapes, 7/12/1987. National Archives.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Associate University Librarian for Research & Engagement

Titles hired include: Reference & Instruction Librarian, STEM Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration 

Which of the following does your organization regularly require of candidates?

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Proof of degree 

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews

√ A meal with hiring personnel 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

Think about the last candidate who really wowed you, on paper, in an interview, or otherwise. Why were they so impressive?

Clear and concisely addressed the job description without padding or fluff

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more 

CV: √ As many as it takes, but keep it reasonable and relevant  

Do you conduct virtual interviews? What do job hunters need to know about shining in this setting?

yes–be yourself, relax, and tell stories that show how you have addressed the question 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer  

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50 

Author’s note: Hey, thanks for reading! If you like reading, why not try commenting or sharing? Or are you somebody who hires Library, Archives or other LIS workers? Please consider giving your own opinion by filling out the survey here.

Leave a comment

Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 10-50 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Urban area

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.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Researcher's Corner