Tag Archives: libraries

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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I really need to feel that you’ve thought through how to tackle this work and that you can do the job, or will be able to do so fairly quickly after hire

Regina Andrews (far right) and unidentified guest speakers during a Family Night at the Library program at the Washington Heights Branch of The New York Public Library. NYPL Digital Collections

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Coordinator of Research, Teaching & Learning

Titles hired include: Outreach Librarian; Assessment Librarian; First Year Engagement Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

√ Employees at the position’s same level (on a panel or otherwise) 

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

√ Cover letter

√ Resume 

√ References 

√ Supplemental Questions 

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ 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:

Candidates typically submit cover letter, resume/CV and supplemental question RE: ALA-accredited degree). These are made available to a search committee of 3-5 staff usually including the position’s supervisor.  The committee identifies candidates for initial screening by HR; from this, 6-7 candidates are chosen for phone or Zoom interviews, and then 3 are brought to campus for a final interview.  Depending on the position, other campus stakeholders (ex, head of first-year program for FYE librarian) might be involved in this interview. The committee makes a recommendation for hire which is then approved by administration and passed on to HR (but I have never seen administration challenge the committee’s choice). I have served on 3 different search committees.

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

1 – Truly thoughtful responses to questions — she would usually pause for a moment, which initially came across as hesitation, but then would come back with something incredibly well-thought-out, well-explained, etc. 

2 – Incredible level of preparation — we would never expect this, but for her presentation she was prepared to demonstrate live, and had a back-up screencast and slides with screenshots in case of technical difficulties. When a technical issue occurred, she was not thrown off at all. She was also very aware of publicly-available info about our institution.  

3 – Solid questions for the committee. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Rudeness/condescension to department admin or student observers (or anyone else); cover letter which does not address specific position; expressing disinterest in a key component of the position

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more 

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?

Lack of preparation. Read the job responsibilities, look at our website, have questions! I never expect a candidate to have things memorized, but our business is research, so I generally expect that you will have done some ‘research’ on our library. 

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

Yes, sometimes. Seems simple, but being right on-time (or a little early) is really important for virtual interviews. Check your tech and set-up beforehand if possible — we’ve all had glitches and interruptions and I generally give a lot of grace for that, but it can put candidates at a disadvantage not least because they often get flustered and the rest of their responses suffer. Be comfortable with some silence, because we’ll be taking notes and won’t have the visual cues in most cases. 

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 look for candidates to demonstrate some understanding of the different work they’re walking into in the cover letter, and to attempt to connect their own skills. Ex, if coming from a job where your main duty is storytime and now you’re applying to teach info lit to college students — don’t just write a paragraph repeating your storytime duties. Tell me how you’ve employed outreach, teaching and/or presentation skills in storytime and connect it to the job you’ll be doing.  If the job is very different and I don’t get the sense that a candidate has considered how to translate skills, or that they have an interest in this kind of work, it can be a turnoff. I love to see different kinds of experience — I think it generally makes for a better librarian — but usually, when I’m hiring, we’re feeling the lack of staff. So to advocate for you, I really need to feel that you’ve thought through how to tackle this work and that you can do the job, or will be able to do so fairly quickly after hire. 

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ Other: A range is usually provided during initial HR screening. 

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

All candidates are asked to address their commitment to diversity in their cover letter. The head of a search committee is also typically provided with information from HR about how to conduct a fair hiring process, avoid discrimination, etc. To my knowledge, we don’t have any formal processes around this for staff hiring (I think our academic faculty do). 

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

The most important thing is that you ASK questions. So many candidates do not! Questions about workload, onboarding and/or expectations are always great and show you’ve done some thought about the day-to-day of the position. Questions about the local area or culture are also good, because it shows you’re interested in our area and have considered living there (it’s urban, but not necessarily super desirable). I am always impressed by challenging questions (like, what is your least favorite thing about the campus?) or things that I can tell might be deal-breakers for you — I *want* you to take the position, but I also want you to want it. 

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 

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

I just want to thank you for bringing this blog back. I know it must be a lot of work, but it is such a valuable resource. I read it obsessively when I was first applying to jobs at the end of my MLIS and it means a lot to be able to contribute, however minutely, from the other side of the table. 

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.

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

it’s hard to tell who really even would accept the job if offered.

Nella Larsen and others. NYPL Digital Collections

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Director

Titles hired include: All of them

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Direct supervisors get the applications from my office, interview 3-5 candidates, decide who their top candidate is, contact references, reach out to the applicant to confirm they’re still interested, then notify my office to start the (cumbersome) new hire approval process.

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

Genuine enthusiasm

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Not getting the name of the library right on your application materials, badmouthing prior libraries (even if they deserve it, you can talk about that later)

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

How much they actually want to work here. So many are just shotgunning resumes out to every library job, it’s hard to tell who really even would accept the job if offered.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √Two is ok, but no more  

CV: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

Not bringing anything to write with/on. 

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

Sometimes; we don’t have a travel budget to reimburse interviewees, so out-of-state applicants we will interview virtually. It’s harder to make a strong impression via zoom/Skype, though

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 you have the credentials, don’t apologize or be defensive. Just explain why it’s relevant. Bad library experience can be way worse than good non-library experience

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?

Probably not enough. Unofficially, we get so few minority candidates that most of them will get an interview.

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

Whether the role is new or replacing someone, and what processes led to whichever outcome. If new, what’s our vision for it. If replacing someone, do we want a change or more of the same from the role.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100

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.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Northeastern US, Public, Rural area, Suburban area

We can’t ask follow-ups, so give ALL the info that might be relevant.

Post Graduate Hospital : convalescents and librarian on sun porch, 1923. NYPL Digital Collections

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Supervising Librarian

Titles hired include: Librarian 2, Librarian 1, Library Aide, Library Assistant

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Written Exam

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview 

√ More than one round of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

Applications are initially screened by city HR to determine eligibility for the job classification. Eligible candidates are asked to take either an oral exam, a written exam, or are scored based on supplemental questionnaires. This leads to a ranked list based on score. When the library has vacancies to fill, they are given a list of names from the list for that classification – number of names given determined by number of vacancies to fill.  Those candidates are invited to a departmental interview (aka an interview with the library) which is a panel interview.  Panel presents recommendations to Administration and discusses each candidate. Sometimes candidates may be invited for a second interview that is more casual. 

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

They confidently and thoroughly answered each question. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

inappropriate comments (racist, sexist, transphobic etc). 

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: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Not thoroughly answering the question. We can’t ask follow-ups, so give ALL the info that might be relevant.

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

Yes. We know it’s awkward, but we’ve gotten very used to it!

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?

Share how your experience in other areas (other jobs, volunteering, even school) is relevant.  If you haven’t done something, share what you WOULD do, or how you’ve handled similar things.

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 frame our questions to ensure candidates are given a chance to share their experience in a way that doesn’t favor any particular candidates. Include questions that get beyond “diversity” and into real inclusion and equity and anti-racism. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Very rarely for really specific positions.

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+ 

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.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 200+ staff members, Public, Urban area, Western US

Job Hunter’s Web Guide: PNLA Jobs

If you’re wondering which LIS Job Board has the most beautiful header image, look no further. I’m pleased to present to you the Pacific Northwest Library Association Job Board.

What is it?  Please give us your elevator speech!

The PNLA Jobs page is the place to look for library jobs in the Pacific Northwest- this includes the United States and Canada. The PNLA Jobs page also has a spot for library jobs which are not located in the Pacific Northwest. 

When was it started?  Why was it started?

I’m not sure of when it was started, but the form I have has entries that go back to 2018. My guess is that it was started because there was a need to promote and advertise library jobs in the Pacific Northwest.

Who runs it?

Ilana Kingsley is the Webperson for PNLA and updates the PNLA Jobs page on a regular basis.

Are you a “career expert”? What are your qualifications?

Nope. I’m the Web Librarian for the University of Alaska Fairbanks Rasmuson Library. I have a MLS and MEd. 

Who is your target audience?

Folks in the Pacific Northwest who are looking for job opportunities.

What’s the best way to use your site?  Should users consult it daily?  Or as needed? Should they already know what they need help with, or can they just noodle around?

Listings are posted  on a weekly basis. If you’re seeking employment, or just want to get a taste of what library jobs are out there, your best bet is to consult the PNLA Jobs page  weekly).

Jobs are removed from the page the day after their closing date. For positions that are open until filled, I check the links weekly to see if the job ad is still active. 

Does your site provide:

√ Job Listings

√ Links

Do you charge for anything on your site?

No. Listings are free for PNLA members. We don’t charge for non-PNLA members, but donations are welcome. 

What are your standards for job listings (e.g., must include salary)? 

On the PNLA jobs form we ask for the job title, the employer, the state/province, a working link to the position announcement, the closing date if applicable, and other relevant comments that the webperson would need to know in order to post the link. 

For those who are unable to use the Google form, email the PNLA webperson directly at webmaster@pnla.org

Jobs ads posted to the page must be related to the library profession.

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The field is saturated. My advice is to continue down their original path and not attempt to enter into the information field.

Langston Hughes signing autographs during a program on the story of jazz held at the Washington Heights Branch of The New York Public Library as part of the Family Night at the Library series. NYPL Digital Collections.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library 

Title: Administration 

Titles hired include: Tech services, access services 

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

√ Resume 

√ References 

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes 

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

Done by committee, final approval by admin. Applications screened. Applications that are incomplete, lack min qualifications, or include personal headshots/pictures of applicant (inappropriate, can be used to discriminate) are automatically rejected. Others proceed to committee. 

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

Excellent skills and personality. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Lack of experience, links to personal social media or inclusion of personal headshots. Any negative from a reference. Too long of a cover letter or resume.

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

Whether they truly want to be in the field. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √  Two is ok, but no more  

Resume: √ Only One!  

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

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

Discussing personal lives or trying to be extra. 

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

Act as if it is an in-person meeting. 

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?

The field is saturated. My advice is to continue down their original path and not attempt to enter into the information field. I would question why they want to make this move. 

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 do not consider applicants who provide a headshot or other personal photo. We do not look up their social media. 

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

They should ask about professional development opps.

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?

√ 51-100 

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

Be professional with your cover letter and resume.

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.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Urban area

About a Decade Later: Former Job Hunter Nicole Usiondek

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 about a decade later. 

Nicole, who is blonde and wears sunglasses, poses casually in front of the Sphinx

Nicole Usiondek filled out the original survey in 2012 and her answers appeared as Be Very Clear on What the Minimum Requirements are for the Position. We followed up with her in 2013 and learned that after 20 months she had found a law librarian position (and relocated for it). In 2014, she negotiated for a raise and a title change. When I caught up with her recently, I learned that she’s actually in a non-traditional role now! She was kind enough to answer my questions below:

Where are you now? What’s your work situation like, and what path did you take to get where you are?

I’m a Senior Knowledge Manager for Fragomen. It’s a non-traditional library role and I absolutely love it! I work for a global company and work remotely. 

Were any parts of your journey completely unexpected?

I didn’t expect to stay in the legal arena, but I’m so glad I did. 

Looking over your past answers, what pops out at you? Has anything changed?

I am far more comfortable working in a non-traditional library role than I thought I would be and I don’t see myself ever going back to a traditional library setting. 

Have you had a chance to hire anyone? If so, what was that like?

Yes, and it’s challenging. It’s not just about education and experience, but also about a cultural fit to ensure it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. 

Do you have any advice for job hunters?

Don’t be afraid to change your vision of what will make you happy. 

Do you have any advice for people who hire LIS folks?

LIS folks have great soft skills, curiosity and the ability to pivot – this is in addition to many other transferable skills.

Anything else you’d like to tell us?

I’m currently on holiday in Egypt! 🙂

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Demonstrate how roles in previous positions apply directly to library setting

Singer Marian Anderson (left) and Regina Andrews, Mahopac, New York. NYPL Digital Collections

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library 

Title: Director

Titles hired include: Supervisory librarian, outreach librarian

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 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

HR posts position, screens applicants, library administration choose candidates and arranged interviews, conducts interviews, recommend candidate for conditional offer to HR, hr background checks and tests

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

Great resume, spoke well in interview

What are your instant dealbreakers?

Not responding

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

Job rigor, personalities

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more  

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

CV: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

Underselling selves

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

Yes, test connection, do a mock interview with friend

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?

Demonstrate how roles in previous positions apply directly to library setting

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer 

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

Don’t know

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

Hierarchy, job duties, regular day scenario

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southwestern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

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.

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

Please read the Required section of the job ad. Take it seriously.

Archivist with Damaged Negative of Abraham Lincoln. National Archives

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library

√ Archives 

Title: Assoc director 

Titles hired include: Librarian, processing archivist, reference assistance, archivist 

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel

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

√ Cover letter

√ CV

√ References

√ More than one round of interviews

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?

Skill, willing to adapt to organizational needs and culture

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Lack of knowledge about field

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

How well organized they are. 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more

Resume: √ We don’t ask for this 

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, make sure you aren’t interrupted during the interview. Keep your dog in another room. 

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?

They can show extra training or reading they’ve done to understand professional work

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ We only discuss after we’ve made an offer

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

Training

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

Work culture 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100 

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

Please read the Required section of the job ad. Take it seriously. Respond to each requirement in your cover letter. Don’t make the selection committee guess whether you meet them.  Make sure claims in your cover letter are backed up in your resume. 

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.

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 50-100 staff members, Academic, Archives, Northeastern US, Suburban area

Further Questions: Who hires librarians?

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.

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? How is their feedback treated?


Anonymous: I’ve just convened a search committee for a Health Sciences Librarian at a small liberal arts college. I am chair as Director of the Library, our tech services librarian is also representing the library and there are two health sciences faculty members on the committee as well. 

While the search committee will select the finalists, other constituents such as the library staff, members of the faculty library committee, health sciences administrators, etc. will be involved in the final, on-campus interview stage. Any one involved in this stage will be asked to share feedback with the committee, which will be used in the final deliberations.


Heather Backman, Assistant Director of Library Services, Weymouth (MA) Public Libraries: Applications for open positions are reviewed by myself, the library director, and the department head who will supervise the new hire. For department head openings, applications are reviewed by myself and the director. Interviews are usually conducted by the same set of people who review applications, plus an HR representative who serves in an advisory role (no decision making authority but she does share her impressions of candidates and we value her input). The director technically has the final authority to decide on a hire, but in practice he, I, and the department head all work together to choose someone, and he will often rely on the department head’s preferences.

Occasionally other library staff will sit in on interviews if they have a particular connection with the position being hired for, and their feedback is also taken seriously. For instance, when I was interviewed, the department heads were there, and when we recently were hiring for a position that would work very closely with one particular front-line staff member, that staff member sat in on interviews (though she didn’t review applications with us).

The other stakeholders involved in our hiring process are the Mayor and his chief of staff. The Mayor (usually via his chief of staff) must sign off on all new hires, and technically he could veto our choice or direct us to hire someone specific, though so far I have not encountered a situation where we were unable to make an offer to our preferred candidate. Neither of these people meets candidates. Usually their involvement comes down to signing an approval form forwarded to them from HR.


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

The composition of the search committee and the interview schedule vary depending on the level of the position being filled.

  • For hourly staff, generally positions that don’t require an MLS, the supervisor and one other person from the department comprise the search committee. The candidates meet with the committee, with the other hourly staff in the department, with any other stakeholders, and with HR. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form. Department librarians or staff outside of the department are unlikely to meet with the candidate, unless they would interact with the person in the position.
  • For librarians or other salaried positions that require an MLS or other advanced degree, the search committee generally includes the supervisor (usually department director), a librarian from the department, and a librarian from another department. When possible that last person will be someone who would interact with the candidate if hired. Depending on the role of the position being advertised, the candidates may meet with employees from outside the department. I will often ask people from outside of the department to have a meal with the candidate or give them a tour of the library, so that the candidate can meet a variety of people. All of our candidate presentations are open to the entire library staff. Feedback is requested via our standard survey form.

Gregg Currie, College Librarian, Selkirk College:

As we are a small college and a small library, hiring committees are always the College Librarian and 2 other library staff members – a librarian and a library technician for librarian positions, or 2 library technicians for library technician or student work study positions.  This works well for us. 

Many years ago we did have HR involved, but as they don’t really know anything about library operations their presence didn’t really add anything to the selection process.


Alan Smith, Director, Florence County, SC Library System: We use a three-person panel for almost every hiring decision, whether it’s for a librarian, paraprofessional, or support staff. The panel consists of the manager who will supervise the person hired, myself, and a third person. The third person is usually our Chief of HQ Library Services, but can also vary based on the position (like including our Children’s Services Manager if the position will be working with children at a branch). The odd-numbered panel is helpful if there’s a split decision, but in such cases the tiebreaking vote goes to the manager who will be directly supervising the new employee. 

If a candidate is applying for a promotion in-house or at another branch, we will talk with their current or former managers here to get input. Information gathered this way doesn’t go on a formal score sheet but does give us useful context and can help us narrow down what to ask in an interview. 

Finally, when hiring departmental or branch managers, I like to get input from the employees who will be working under the new manager. I don’t have them involved in the interview itself or have them review applications or anything (that gets complicated very quickly when almost every management-level opening has internal candidates, including current staff of the hiring department), but general preferences: would you rather work for someone with experience doing a certain type of program, with a background in a different type of library, with longer management experience, etc.? Even if those considerations aren’t ultimately the deciding factors, they help us know what to emphasize during orientation and training with a new person.


Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: For librarian/library faculty, the search team is generally chaired by the faculty supervisor for the position. There will generally be three people total on the search. Our current search is chaired by the department head and includes the one other faculty librarian in the department, plus another librarian from outside the department. We try to include anyone who is a stakeholder, but it’s not always possible, especially if a staff member in the department is applying for the position, or may apply. The candidates generally meet with the other library faculty, any staff in the department, and the Dean. If it’s a staff position in a leadership role, it will include a mix of library faculty and staff who are stakeholders or who would collaborate with the new person (peers). If it’s a support staff role, it will usually be chaired by the department head or director, and include any staff in the department who are interested, plus another person from outside the department who works with the person in the role being hired. 


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: It has been my experience that small and medium size public libraries do not have the staff, time, or resources to conduct extensive, multipart interviews for most positions. As an example, a circulation clerk interview will be conducted by two to three staff members. The interview committee may consist of the direct supervisor, a person who is not a direct supervisor but is on a higher level in the organization, and/or the director.

What has worked for us as a medium size library (by South Carolina standards) is to include a non-employee in the interview process for specific positions. These positions are ones for which require a degree of expertise not broadly found in a small to medium size library, such as branch manager, information technology manager, youth services librarian, bookkeeper, etc. This non-staff member of the interview committee could be a director from another library, a state library staff member with expertise in a specific area, or someone in the county’s human resources department.

For public libraries with branches, the inclusion of a “stakeholder” from the area can be a real benefit to the library and the community. Including a Board member who represents the service area of the branch can be helpful. The Board member is attune to the area served by the branch and can provide some useful insights into the community. The Board member has an opportunity to be involved, in a limited and appropriate way, in a personnel decision for their community. It provides a degree of management transparency for the Board member, and the Board as a whole, that can build Board confidence in the library’s management (which can pay off later when that inevitable difficult situation arises).

There are some very good reasons for doing this:

1) An outside expert can provide questions that can help determine the candidate’s level of knowledge or experience and not be dazzled by a lot of babble. This is critically important when hiring for say an IT position or a branch manager.

2) Especially if there are in-house candidates to be interviewed, a person from outside the library can be perceived as neutral or unbiased. This actually works to the committee’s benefit as it may require the staff who are on the interview committee to truly justify their ranking/choice.

3) A diverse interview committee may be easier to achieve by including someone from outside the library on the committee.

The inclusion of a non-staff person as part of certain interview committees can make a difference for a small or medium size library. I has for my medium size library.


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

Can you share with us the composition of your most recent search/hiring teams or committees – number of committee members, their roles in the library, etc.? Our Human Resources department has – for many years- been very strict about our hiring committees and all related processes including specifically – hiring committees for staffing table positions (all faculty, professional technical and all classified staff.) With the introduction of our newest Enterprise Management System, the same prescribed elements remain for committees but additional restrictions have been placed on advertising and hiring hourly employees (our hourly academic Librarians, our hourly instruction librarians and any hourly classified employees now have to be posted through the online system as well.)

But depending on the focus of committees and time of year we are trying to hire, things vary and – with special permission from HR – we can substitute levels of employees, locations or the number serving given the past two years. But if no exceptions are needed, at least six representatives to sit on committees are:

  • Faculty Librarians – Members to include the direct manager, representatives from the staffing table classified staff with whom they might work, at least one and maybe two peer faculty librarians, the campus manager (if available) and in addition and based on availability – a classroom faculty member either from the campus where the opening is located or based on availability. If the timing is not good for finding a classroom faculty member, we try to ensure that the peer faculty librarian who serves is also – for example -also a teaching adjunct for the college or someone with expanded curriculum experience/classroom instruction.
  • Classified Staff – Members to include – depending on their functional areas – a classified staff member representing public or technical services, administrative assistant w\ork or secretarial work – where the opening is AND – if possible – representatives from several campuses – since – at certain times of the year – classified staff move among campuses to assist as needed.
  • Professional/Technical – Members to include professional/technical employees with similar or exact expertise in specific or related areas or roles and responsibilities as well as the specific or related departments (such as both instructional and institutional technology experience.)
  • Administrative Assistant – Membership in the committee also always includes an administrative assistant – from either the campus with the opening or an available one – to manage communication and paperwork, etc. They are also counted as a member of the committee.

All committee membership must include membership that is: balanced in gender, ethnicity, race, and until last year – all members needed to have been with the college at least 6 month – but as of last year, that is now not required. Members; however, must go through a training (or have attended the online training within a year) and if requested by the Chair – online training AND a HR representative will present to the committee on the need for confidentiality, consistency needed, legal vs. illegal questions, etc.

Are there stakeholders in the hiring process who should be involved but are not, or are only involved minimally (i.e. attending a presentation or meal with the candidate)? This is the disappointing part to me….faculty librarians have had and continue to have the requirement to present to the committee (and then any observing attendees complete an evaluation form.) A few years ago – they decided the teaching presentation was no longer open and I think that is a big loss. The committee; however, can take the candidate to lunch – but my approach is any shared meal needs to be after the interview.

My disappointment stems from the fact that I think the broader teaching audience was an integral part of the process. I liked the fact that we could then invite others (faculty librarians, staff from the campus where the vacancy is located, etc.) and then a small reception after the presentation to meet and greet. It is a loss to lose it as part of the process.

How is their feedback treated? As a committee, we choose the questions and the order in which we will ask them – based on recent question sets which – at some time – were approved by HR. Committee members then get copies of the questions with spaces between each one so that notes from each member can be taken in a more standard format, then discussed uniformly. Members also decide in advance of the interviews the weight or importance of each question/answer so that we can compare not only the answers but based on the importance of the question, how individuals answered the most important questions.

We use feedback and discussion to choose and rank three candidates. If the Dean is the chair (and we are hiring a head librarian) references are checked and we indicate rank but after we discuss and rank, we then each complete an online form.and why and send the list to HR. If a frontline faculty librarian is the focus, the three finalists are turned over to the Dean/me and I interview (with the committee chair) the top candidates asking the finalists the most important questions identified based on the opening. Then we rank or re-rank, references are checked and forms are completed and the packet is sent forward.


We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, over at Mastodon @hiringlibrarians@glammr.uson Twitter @HiringLib, or hidden on a slip of paper inside a carnitas burrito. 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.

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Filed under Further Questions