Tag Archives: library interview

Some of the best people I’ve hired had odd skills that weren’t “official” library duties, but they demonstrated qualities that I wanted in an employee. 

Sophie Smith is the Assistant Director of York Public Library in York, Maine. While attaining her MLS from Simmons College, she worked as a library assistant at the Cambridge (MA) Public Library. Professionally, she has worked at the Nashua (NH) Public Library as a reference librarian and then supervisor of teen services, and as an assistant branch manager at the San Antonio (TX) Public Library. After missing family, fall, and the ocean, she returned to Maine and couldn’t be happier to now be working in Maine. She loves to travel, read, and enjoy nature.

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

We solicit applications by email, sort into groups of “meet all requirements,” “don’t meet all requirements but have transferable skills or knowledge to support job requirements,” and “do not meet requirements and have no demonstrated relatable skills”. Depending on the number of applicants, we interview everyone in the first set, and generally many of the second as well. For part-time positions we do one round of interviews, for full-time positions we generally have two rounds–one with the hiring manager and a member of the department (may be a senior person, may be a junior person), and a second round with the direct supervisor and the director. We then discuss candidates, check references, offer the job, and then contact everyone who applied. 

Titles hired include: Head of Youth Services, Library Assistant, Young Adult Librarian, Reference Librarian, Library Clerk

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

√ Resume

√ 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?

They took time to do research on our library and asked good questions. They were thoughtful.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

People who call constantly about a job. Cover letters that include inaccurate information (incorrect name of the library, for example). People who are unapologetically rude.

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

Their sense of humor. How they collaborate in practice. 

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: √ Two is ok, but no more  

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

Not taking a minute if they need it to answer a question. It’s perfectly fine to ask for a moment to come up with a good example! 

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

We have done virtual interviews in the past, in part due to COVID and in part due to candidates who were at a far distance. It is important to be in a space with good lighting that makes you comfortable. 

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?

Think about the duties listed in the job and clarify for yourself how your skills are transferable. Acknowledge the difference, show that you’ve really considered it, and convince me it is applicable. Some of the best people I’ve hired had odd skills that weren’t “official” library duties, but they demonstrated qualities that I wanted in an employee. 

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 post our job broadly, offer a competitive salary, and evaluate all candidates objectively before bringing them in to interview. I am sure there is more we can do. 

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

I like candidates who ask about the day-to-day culture of the library and about my experience working here. It gives an opportunity to share some of the informal aspects of the job and let the candidate assess how it would work for them. Thoughtful questions that make it clear the person has looked into what we do already and wants to know more! 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: occasionally, as needed and approved by supervisor

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 have used this resource as a job seeker and as an employer and find it to be an incredibly valuable tool. Thank you for making it!

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, Northeastern US, Public, Suburban area

Further Questions: What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of ?

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:

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics?


Anonymous: Materials challenges!

“An upset patron brings a children’s book to the circulation desk, saying that it is inappropriate for children. She demands it’s removal from the collection immediately. How do you respond?”

Material challenges are on the rise across the United States. Keeping up to date with the ALA’s challenged books, intellectual freedom statements, and the library bill of rights would give candidates a good foundation. The question also gives the candidate the opening to ask the interviewer if the library has a materials consideration form and collection development policy. Some libraries post these policies on their website, which gives the candidate the opportunity to study them beforehand and show the interviewer that they did their research.


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Probably the number one topic right now is Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and how that permeates all of our work – critical librarianship, information literacy, accessibility, hiring, collection statements. I would look at the ACRL trends documents and the library’s vision and values statements (and their strategic plan) to determine the issues that will be important to that library and the field.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: The answer to this question depends a lot, or course, on the type of library and even on the specifics of the position available (area of expertise and whether the position is entry-level or requires prior experience). My thinking about this has changed even in the past few years as my smaller public liberal arts college has struggled with enrollment and budget gaps. Current research and writing on a variety of topics is of intellectual interest but not much practical value for the work and challenges we face in my library. When I think about “hot topics” that would help us consider the strengths of a candidate, I might ask a candidate about the integration of our work – to talk about the connections between developing collections, supporting teaching and research, making collections accessible, etc. An example of this integration is the frequency with which we see “Collections Development and Strategies” positions advertised. When we used this title (the last hire we were able to make), we were clear that the “strategies” were not only about materials formats or access, but also about outreach and use.

I think I would be interested in asking a candidate what issues facing higher education in general, and academic libraries specifically, they consider to be of interest and most important for the work they do and the job they applied for. I might hope to hear something about topics such as data privacy, equity and inclusion applied in many areas of our work, approaches to information literacy work with reduced staffing, open education, the effects of the trauma of the past few years on incoming undergraduates, or many others.

My answer to the question about keeping up has changed a lot over the years. As a very early career librarian I often read the top 3-4 journals cover to cover, including articles in areas I had less interest in or knowledge of. Over time I became better and picking and choosing and also added journals in areas outside librarianship. I think following the daily Inside Higher Ed digest is very useful. I read a few of the bloggers faithfully. The same for The Chronicle of Higher Education. These days I rely a lot on Twitter. I have found it incredibly useful identifying newly published blog posts, articles, etc. in librarianship and higher education in general. I’ll admit that I find a lot of blogs and other writing more useful than many of the more traditional peer-reviewed published articles these days.


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System:

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? The question of what “hot topics” to ask a candidate very much depends on the open position. With Youth Services Librarian positions, we have included questions revolving around “virtual programming,” but I don’t see this as a hot topic. Actually, I am not inclined to ask a question that centers on a “hot topic” because they tend to be short lived.

My preferred question is “What do you see as the greatest challenge facing libraries today?” A candidate’s answer can be very insightful or superficial. I expect to hear an answer focusing on “budget” or “censorship.” The answer to this question may well provide those on the interview committee an opportunity to dive deep into the candidate’s beliefs and values.

What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics? Let’s be honest here, what might be considered a “current issue” in librarianship may well have little relevance to my library and/or community. Once again, the answer regarding knowledge of a current issue depends on the position in question. Being aware of the “current issues” in the community my library serves can be much more important, and ultimately more impactful to the operation of the library, than knowing about a “current issue in librarianship.”


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

What “hot topics” would you ask candidates about in an interview right now (i.e. virtual programming)? Or what topics have you recently included? I typically don’t answer “it depends” but it really does depend on the level of the position. For example – an entry level librarian’s hot topic might be something like – Have you or how have you changed your reference interview/customer service exchanges to build in a culture of EDI for your users? That question conveys that it is a “must” for the organization but shows the candidate that the organization knows it is everyone’s job to make sure the culture is comfortable and appropriate for users.

If I am interviewing a librarian who might be in a coordinative, managerial or leadership position (all different aspects of some positions as we know) our questions lean more to making sure applicants know that we have put things in motion to integrate and insure EDI is built into the organizational structure (customer service, signage, marketing, professional exchanges, language, etc.) but more importantly that a manager must be committed to “requiring and assessing behavior” and maintaining the new or revised processes as well as a constant evolution that focuses on change for this critical area.

Also – for middle or higher level managers (or this second group addressed) it is important to communicate that organizational documents must be reviewed for needed revisions and additions such as mission and values statements, goals, outcomes, budget allotments, as well as individual employee goals. Adding in interview discussions and questions for all levels communicates not only that an organization is changing but also to clearly communicate new requirements are in place for orientation, staff development and – more than likely – individual evaluations conducted to measure not only presence but application of critical approaches to structuring content and working with users.

Interview committees should also be ready for questions from applicants on the very hot topics of “How is your organization handling gun control?” or “How did/does your umbrella organization and how are you handling the administrative requests throughout the country for removing materials or banning certain materials from the library?”

What current issues in librarianship do you think candidates should be aware of and how can they best keep up on current topics? Like any current issue in the profession, those interviewing and interviewers need to be aware of the facts and both what general approaches and the narrower approaches that individuals must take to comply or refuse some current issues both in the profession as well as those in the surrounding community or society at large. For the profession certainly – as covered above – EDI, Open materials, book censorship and banning come to mind as those issues most directly in front of us. Societal issues – now overlapping for us in many areas – include some aspects of EDI, staff and user gun control issues, and -of course – public wellness and local, county, state and national health and wellness guidelines. Certainly underpinning many if not all of these areas is free speech and intellectual freedom – mainstays in our profession for protecting practices – but certainly viewed now with new topics guiding discussions.

Keeping up on topics must be a combination of where to look for the facts, terminology to be used and how manners should integrate these issues into work life. Obviously, cornerstone professional journals, identified online vetted forums – by library professionals and specialty journals with opinions by experts are places to find foundational information. Professionals should always; however, seek to find out the breadth of the issue – if for no other reason than to recognize terminology brought into the workplace by staff or by users, and likely flashpoints. Organizational administrators should begin to – if they haven’t already – provide their own information gathering foundation and share that with staff and users as needed. This sharing allows people to see that decisions are made after reviewing vetting environments. For example – pandemic decisions for the organization should have been accompanied with citations to or names of the organizations consulted such as the CDC, initially the WHO and local dashboards maintained by reputable sources such as County Public Health or an organization’s Risk Management office – those people tasked with maintaining valid information. Citing research provides managers with the supporting documentation for why decisions were made (or not) and then both staff and users better understand how decisions came to be. It was especially important during the last two years when the speed of decision making was unprecedented for organizations. Having a pre-defined and advertised approach lent credibility and a valued process and reduced stress for employees as well as avoided many triggers for users.


Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or from your closest rooftop. If you have a question to ask, or if you’d like to be part of the group that answers them, shoot me an email at hiringlibrariansATgmail.

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Smoking while with members of the search committee

A man in a cap browses a colorful book shelf
Image: Tommy T. Gobena visiting Dilla University library. From UNICEF Ethiopia on Flickr via CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for an:

√ Academic Library

Title: Head of Content Curation

Titles hired: Library Director; Head of Research Services; Electronic Resources & Serials Librarian; Discovery & Systems Administrator, etc.

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?

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ CV

√ References

√ 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:

As a supervisor, I generally chair the search committee for positions within my own department; and serve on other search committees as well.

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

They modeled kindness, respect, and diplomacy in their interactions.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Disrespect; talking over everyone else at a meal and not letting the search committee members get a word in edgewise; smoking while with members of the search committee.

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

How well they get along with people in the workplace from day to day, not only in terms of respect, but also in terms of how they might continually burden others with their own anxieties.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

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

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?

Trying to perform, even while in casual conversation, instead of communicating like an authentic human being.

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

Yes. They should be familiar with virtual presentation software and how to best situate their camera, lighting, etc., as well as having a strong connection (dialing in by phone for audio, for example, if their home network has bandwidth issues).

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?

Show that they’ve done their homework in researching the new library. Demonstrate that they understand the responsibilities, the environment, and the people, and what attracts them to this new role.

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?

We have required online training in anti-bias hiring techniques from HR.

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

Ask us what we find fulfilling for ourselves here, and what we hope to see from the new person in this role in the short term. They should be familiar with our library’s mission, and our institution’s mission and values. And they should know the responsibilities and the organizational structure as described in the position ad.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

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? Or are there any questions you think we should add?

Our main challenge for the past 2 years has been getting approval to post positions. Like many other libraries, we are short-staffed due to normal attrition and not being permitted to hire replacements. The resulting double/triple workloads cause ripple effects, with the remaining people seeking other jobs due to burnout and little hope for improvement; thus exacerbating the situation. This is not limited to libraries; it’s pervasive across academia lately.

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

Currently, we’re over 300% turnover since 2016 and cannot attract candidates.

A white woman sits at a desk covered in books, using a typewriter
Image: Anita Ozols works at typewriter in Chubb Library Cataloging Department, shortly before move to the new Alden Library by Ohio University Libraries on Flickr

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library

Title: Head of Cataloging

Titles hired: Reference Librarian, acquisitions, circulation

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ A Committee or panel

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

It’s a disaster. A committee makes and recommendation and the director ignores it.

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

Currently, we’re over 300% turnover since 2016 and cannot attract candidates.

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?

we have for COVID but are starting to perform on campus interviews

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?

technical skills

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?

We have a DEI statement that is ignored

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

What happened to the the last three people that had this job?

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southwestern 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

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

Hiring Better: Search Advocates

A group of men sit on the floor if a room, drinking. There are framed images on the wall behind them, which they have been judging.
Image: Society of Artists’ Selection Committee, Sydney, 1907 / Henry King. From the State Library of New South Wales via Flickr commons

The first run of Hiring Librarians was pretty eye-opening. I learned that there is no secret to hiring and that people who hire library workers have all sorts of contradictory opinions and practices. And I saw that many of those opinions and practices are rooted in internal bias. I am very grateful to the readers who took the time to point out problematic answers, and the problematic questions I was asking. 

In the Return to Hiring Librarians, I’ve been looking for ways to help mitigate harm, both in the posting and in the practice.  So I was really intrigued to read Larry Eames’ survey, because he talks about his work and training as a Search Advocate.  I asked him:

Will you tell me a little more about your experience as a Search Advocate?

I found it a really effective training to equip participants with skills to both diversify hiring and push back against bias in the process. Because it’s designed for a higher ed setting, I found it broadly applicable to library hiring. But even beyond higher ed the tools and skills the program teaches are useful and easily tweaked to be locally specific. Once you’ve been through the program, you remain a member of the Canvas Course so you can return to the materials you develop and discuss during the foundations series, which is definitely something I’ve found myself doing especially during my first search as a committee chair.

He said that the training had been conducted by Anne Gillies, who runs the Oregon State University program. Her program has trained somewhere in the neighborhood of 5000 people nationally and she is a go-to contact for many institutions looking to start their own program.

Anne graciously met with me for an hour on a Friday night so that I could ask her some more questions:

Do you have any “getting started” recommendations for organizations looking to reduce bias in hiring?

One of the things that we know is a big problem for search and selection is that we are in a hurry. To improve search and selection, we have to slow down. The only way to change the processes is to approach them more slowly and thoughtfully, and really pay attention. 

If an institution were launching a program like [Search Advocates] themselves, I would say they should start by pulling together a team of key people (administration and faculty and so on) that could be involved in piloting. They should be people who will be honest and who also have the respect of the community. The pilot is to see whether you’ve got it right or whether it’s really not quite what’s needed yet. You need to show that you’re learning from the pilot experience, continuing to change and grow and evolve to address your particular institutional context. 

They also need to bring a focus on being facilitative learning partners and flexible thinking. To do this work, we don’t see the world in binaries, we see nuance, and that’s a hard thing for people to do – we’re conditioned to do the opposite. It’s hard for people to use neutral, non judgmental, objective language, we are a culture of judgment and judgment words are what flow freely from people’s mouths. It’s very hard to interrupt.

There’s this thirst for tools. I have a question in my survey that asks, “What does your organization do to reduce bias in hiring? What are the contexts in which discrimination still exists in this process?” Some folks have great answers, some have cursory answers like, “we have a diverse search committee,” and a lot of folks say things like, “I don’t know what to do about this” or “I would like to do something, but my boss doesn’t want to do anything.”

It’s so hard to create change. If the administration is not a champion of the process, it won’t work. We were fortunate that, when we started, our President said, “this shall be.” I would imagine that this program might not launch in quite the same way today; our circumstances are different. Our former President put us on the map by launching the program ahead of its time, so now to some extent we’re the go-to place. And so if we hadn’t been positioned that way, OSU wouldn’t now be taking the lead. Another institution would have.  I think this kind of program was inevitable. Part of the reason our program has remained sustainable is that we developed it at OSU, for OSU, attending to our particular context and challenges. A “one size fits all” kind of approach isn’t terribly popular in this environment.

It’s a big undertaking. And it’s an especially big undertaking in higher education; the way that the so-called merit and reward systems are structured in higher education really does not acknowledge the importance of this kind of work. Equity work may be recognized as service, but the kind of university service that doesn’t count very much compared to other kinds of service to the discipline. So for faculty the P&T systems can serve as incentives not to engage in this work. For this reason OSU changed our promotion and tenure guidelines to recognize the importance of equity work in teaching, research, and service back in 2016. Most recently institutions like UIUC (University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign) are setting new standards by mandating that equity work be included as a separate category in faculty position descriptions and be evaluated separately as another component of faculty work (in addition to teaching, research, and service).

You’re making me think of the people who say, “we should run the library like a business.” There’s this focus on the bottom line and it really, really doesn’t have to be that way.

There’s a moral problem with that. It’s like the “business case” for diversity, that diversity is only worth doing if it changes the bottom line. Absolutely not. And libraries, like public institutions of higher education, are about providing access to people who otherwise would not have it. That’s hugely important, especially in a society that’s as stratified with discrimination and barriers as we are in the US. Organizations like libraries are absolutely crucial.

Will you walk us through how it might work in practice for a Search Advocate to be part of the hiring process?

We suggest that the Search Advocate should join the process before the job is ever posted. Together with the search committee, they should review the job description and posting for barriers and for opportunities to make it more inclusive and attractive to a wider range of people. They look for unintended messages about who the committee is looking for and other obstacles that may limit the pool. 

We have a tool called the Criteria Matrix which is our primary debiasing tool, an in-depth, inclusive rubric for screening. The Search Committee works together to broaden their understanding of what it means to meet each qualification, while doing justice to the qualification as written and to the needs of the position. We’re essentially setting up a tool that will screen people in instead of screening people out. It’s also prioritizing the qualifications for which we seek strength as a predictor of better performance (beyond just meeting the qualifications), so people will make decisions based on position needs rather than based on feelings of affinity for particular candidates. Strength isn’t a relevant consideration for every qualification.

Advocates are charged to suggest the committee do personal outreach recruiting with a focus on building a more diverse applicant pool. Personal outreach (or network recruiting) always happens, but happens really informally. When it happens informally, we access our usual networks, and they tend to be very much like us, whoever we are. So it doesn’t really create change. 

The Search Advocate works with the Search Committee throughout the process. They do everything that the search committee does and more. We’ve done a lot of thinking about what the bias risks are at each of the stages of the process. Advocates try to front load information and agreements with the committee to build awareness of these bias risks so the committee can be cognizant and think about ways to head those off. The advocate collaborates with the Search Chair who is responsible for facilitating the search process; if the advocate wants to bring additional tools or discussion to the process, the advocate and chair need to plan time for this. I want advocates to read the applications and ask questions that help committee members test their thinking when they begin the screening process, whether or not they are “voting members.” 

We want the advocate to come from far away from the hiring unit, from a different discipline, and be outside the power dynamics, stakeholder relationships, and other complicated relationships within the hiring unit. The mission of the Advocate is to advance equity, validity and diversity in the search and selection process. If they’re embedded in the unit, they have some sort of a stake in who’s going to be hired, or they’re embedded in the power dynamics, or the practices of the unit, or connected in some way to the unit or its stakeholders, they have another interest besides the Search Advocate role, and that becomes a conflict of interest. 

In screening, the advocate is trying to apply the agreed-upon criteria despite not being experts in the subject area; it’s a good way to test the clarity of the criteria the committee has developed. If it makes sense to somebody who doesn’t know your field, then you’ve probably done a pretty good job of articulating it in an inclusive, clear sort of way. 

I want Search Advocates to be engaged all the way through the process. For every search committee meeting. I want them to be providing tools and resources, but mostly asking a lot of facilitative questions, open ended questions, questions for understanding, and maybe moving into the realm of some more assertive communication, if needed, if they see something that they think is really a problem. Our approach is to use the least power interventions possible. A lot of that starts with things as simple as affirming the things that people are doing well. We want to shape a change in behavior as needed, and we want the advocate to be a resource for the committee. And so far, that’s what we’re hearing, that people are appreciative of what the Advocates bring to the process. That it makes the process better for them; it may not be shorter, but it’s better.

If we want to create a culture change, then we don’t want advocates to be communicating with people in a way that produces defensiveness or anger. We want them to be collaborative, and to facilitate awareness of the unintended impacts of the practices they’ve used in the past. I want advocates involved in the interviews; they should introduce themselves to the candidates as the search advocate. They should be involved in asking questions like everybody else, because otherwise they become a weird looming presence sort of sitting off on the side – everybody thinks that’s creepy. 

I also want them involved in planning for equity considerations for site visits. Sometimes public presentations, etc. can become problematic if people just ask whatever comes into their heads, whether or not it’s actually related to the job.  Being expected to field inappropriate questions is a nightmare for candidates. Advocates can help the hiring unit prepare these events such that this is less likely to happen. I suggest that the advocate or moderator say at the very beginning, “we’re all here because we’re interested in getting to know this person and their ability to do the job. The focus is on their ability to do the job. But in our desire to make a deeper connection sometimes we ask questions that segue into the personal and we actually can’t be doing that. If that happens, it’s understandable, but I’m just going to interrupt and ask the candidate not to answer and then move on to a different question.” We set it up in such a way that they know what the parameters are and we also aren’t shaming them for asking those questions. Because once you shame people, they get defensive. And people often forget that there are so many limits defining appropriate and inappropriate questions at the interview stage.

After the interviews the search practices vary between units and disciplines. Some search committees are involved in reference checking, some are not. Some submit a written report to the hiring manager, some provide a verbal report, and some just forward a list or recommendation. It’s kind of all over the map at that point. 

What I want is for the advocate to be there and paying attention to equity measures all the way through. The equity focus of advocates is both equity for candidates in the process and equity for committee members, because committee members can sometimes be silenced or their perspectives overlooked. Part of what advocates are charged to do is to make sure that all those voices are heard, and that the strengths that people bring to the process are being leveraged. Advocates are not rigid, inflexible compliance enforcers; they’re not the HR police. They have to recognize nuance, they have to be flexible, they have to be strategic, they have to pick the most important things and not go to the mat for everything, or they lose their audience. And they must be committed to equity and inclusion.

Do you know how many libraries use the program?

Orbis Cascade Alliance is having a workshop series that’s actually coming up next week. Beyond that, I think most of the librarians I’ve seen either participate when their institutions have contracted a workshop with OSU, or when the librarians have registered to attend the OSU series individually as our guests. I’ve seen a real upswing in university librarians, and others who work in libraries. And I’ve seen that at our institution as well, that there’s a real push for and focus on social justice and inclusion that wasn’t as clear 10 years ago. 

When I first got in touch with you, you suggested that I take the workshop and I would like to, but I’m just trying to figure out where I could fit it in with my life.

Actually, all the workshops I have published right now are full. The next ones I’ll be posting start in July. In the fall I’ll be trying a different way of scheduling. Usually I schedule them every other day (MWF or Tues/Thurs) to accommodate teaching schedules. But in the fall we will try spreading some of them out over four weeks, every Friday or every Tuesday, to give people a little bit more rest, recovery, and processing time between. We’ll see how that goes – It’s just a trial run. Non-OSU organizations can send two people to our workshop series for free; after that limit has been met the cost is only $200/person for the whole four-part 16 hour series. If we do it for another institution, they can invite up to 40 people for $3,000. This rate is low because we’re about access. As a land grant employee I also see this as one small way to start giving back by addressing our history of structural racism. Land grant institutions derived tremendous financial benefits because the federal government granted non-ceded (stolen) indigenous lands to us as endowments. 

If you’re interested learning more, signing up for a workshop, or bringing Anne to do a training for your organization, visit searchadvocate.oregonstate.edu She currently has a waitlist of institutions wanting workshops, but is scheduling for 2023.

As always, we’re interested in your thoughts! Consider commenting below or on Twitter.

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Skills are transferable, so I would rather see a candidate understand their capabilities rather than have exact experience.

Headshot of Beth Walker

Beth Walker (she/her) is a Senior Librarian at the Haymarket Gainesville Library in Prince William County Virginia. She received her MLS from UNC-Chapel Hill and her undergraduate degree from St. John’s College, which is known for its distinctive Great Books program. 

She lives in Haymarket with her spouse and two cats.

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

The supervisor of the position creates a hiring profile, laying out the main duties of the position and desired qualifications/experience. An ad is created and posted. HR uses an automatic screening system for minimum qualifications. Then an HR subject matter expert additionally screens the remaining applications to verify qualifications. All remaining applicants are interviewed. The interviews are scored based on responses demonstrating skills and experience. The top scorer is sent a “ban the box” question via email, and then references are called. References must be current and/or former supervisors. If the references check out, the top candidate is offered the position. Alternates may be selected by the hiring manager, so if the top candidate does not accept the position or leaves within 6 months, then the alternate may be considered.

Titles hired include: Librarian, Library Assistant, Library Technician, Library Page

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ The position’s supervisor

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

Provided good, clear examples in the interview of their skills, even if they did not have direct experience for the proposed questions. Skills are transferable, so I would rather see a candidate understand their capabilities rather than have exact experience.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One! Note: We accept cover letters and resumes, but mainly focus on the electronic application submitted

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 providing enough details to answer the question. Also, repeating the same examples or going into too much detail about one aspect and then neglecting other areas (saying “I don’t have an answer for that” after spending 10 minutes on the previous question). It also helps to show enthusiasm for something other than “loving books”. Don’t rely only on your resume to demonstrate your skills. 

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

Have a good internet/audio setup. Otherwise I don’t really factor in setting (to the extent that I don’t even care about how a person dresses, or what the background looks like). I prefer not to have interruptions (animals, people), but you can always let me know if you are in a space that might not afford the same level of privacy as an in-person interview. 

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?

Again, skills are transferable, so try to give examples of what you have done that are similar to what the hiring manager is looking for. You may want to think outside of the box and maybe write out in advance some examples to refer to. I also accept personal life experiences as examples, even though it can’t necessarily be verified via references. Anything related to volunteer work, involvement in community organizations or church activities, or even jobs you may have had previously that were not library-related. We are always looking for people who are good interacting with other people, are able to follow instructions and relate that to other people, and have some experience with technology. 

When does your organization *first* provide 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?

Managers in our organization are required to take an Equal Employment Opportunity training every year to identify the various kinds of discrimination and how to avoid it. Hiring managers don’t see the applications until they are screened through, then all qualified candidates are interviewed. We try to score candidates based on only their responses, but obviously this is where potential discrimination can occur. Like many libraries, ours trends heavily white and female, which can contribute to implicit bias. However, hiring panels always include at least two managers and the scores must agree within a certain range. We use a competency matrix to score, so if the scores are too far apart you have to justify why the candidate’s responses scored higher or lower. 

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

Ask about the team and growth opportunities. Also, ask any questions you really want to know, because you are also interviewing our organization for fit. Since our library is a part of the county government, there can be quite a bit of bureaucracy involved, so if you are unfamiliar with that type of work environment ask about it. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Certain positions can occasionally telework, but it is mostly in person

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 201+ Note: Our system has 11 branches; the larger branches have about 20-30 staff, and the smaller branches around 5, supplemented by volunteers

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

Don’t underestimate your own worth! It can be uncomfortable to talk about yourself, especially if you are worried that you are not exactly qualified, but sell up everything you can think of that is relevant to the job description. Particularly in the paraprofessional positions, managers can see your potential if you give good examples of skills. If you are applying for a public-facing position, make sure to highlight any customer service experience you may have. Write down some examples of things you have accomplished and are proud of, and use it in the interview. If you are more experienced, don’t be afraid to show the full extent of your knowledge, but be willing to demonstrate that you still enjoy learning. 

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

Further Questions: How do you view catalogers/tech services departments?

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. She asks, With increasing reports of outsourcing, I am interested in how hiring managers view catalogers/tech services departments and, if possible, how a job seeker with experience in this area can best convey the worth of their skills.

While we only have replies from a few of our pool of hiring librarians this week, there was some really good discussion on Twitter.

You should head over there after you finish up here!


Katharine Clark, Deputy Director, Middleton Public Library: I have worked in libraries where Cataloging was outsourced and ones where there was a dedicated TS Department. The last library I worked at the TS/Cataloging Department was right behind the Public Services Staff area and they helped cover shifts on the public service desk. There are many aspects of TS/Cataloging work that can be done by paraprofessionals, so having this type of flexibility of staff can benefit a small or short staffing situation. As someone that is seeking a job as Technical Services or Cataloging Librarian, I would say being open to the idea of helping cover service desks would definitely make a potential employer see you as a team player. Having skills that go behind Cataloging would definitely be seen as an asset in my opinion.


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

With increasing reports of outsourcing, how do hiring managers view catalogers/tech services departments? I would not move to outsource our Tech Services department – primarily because TS – unlike what many think is actually happening – is a fast-paced, constantly changing environment. For example – if I tried to outsource “for a year” there is almost no way I could write a position description for activities that have taken place in TS roles and responsibilities in the past year….examples include: TS support of our assessment of print holdings vs. our media/online ebook patron-led purchasing collection; our integration of online database content opportunities in our online catalog to match the now-100% online coursework; our tracking local subject heading changes that must be made to match curriculum; the assessment of the special collection (Texana materials) for determining copy or original cataloging matches with other online local, statewide or national resources; our integration of our resource choices and interfaces with our LMS; and the growth of our librarian-led design of content interfaces to name a few areas. In addition, our TS employees work in teams to assist in collection development processes overall, the design of a iPad periodical load to expand size of collections in smaller locations; moving personalized metadata aggregating to dashboard formulas; and, their assistance in assessing uses of existing online resource use for data to support decision making for AY’23 resource subscriptions.

How might a job seeker with experience in this area best convey the worth of their skills? A job seeker with experience in this area (or related areas) can best convey the worth of their skills or their marketability by having a diverse portfolio of roles and responsibilities through specific projects where their successful outcomes are clearly articulated. Examples of proactive ideas of what TS staff might do besides “the usual” include pilots; resources usage comparisons; data providing context to frame questions and possible answers; and, flexibility for supporting not only Tech Services – but also and as needed – the ability to select collections, assuming the design of guides or user pathfinders, and the ability to provide content/infrastructure to information literacy curriculum designed for librarians to integrate into classrooms.

In the absence of experience in an organization, librarians should seek out workshops and training on different software packages and systems to have at least a rudimentary understanding of how a variety of systems work and have content they have designed themselves for association committee work, support supplied for other organizations and solid general knowledge on the design of content using the more standard approaches like LibGuides, Google “school” packages, and online freeware. In addition, any new librarian in general or any librarian moving to other environments need to have a good, in-depth understanding of “open education” concepts as well as copyright. Finally, an area that many librarians avoid is grant writing (significantly different from fundraising or friendraising) and librarians seeking maximum employability should become knowledgeable about the infrastructure of grantsmanship and grant writing itself.

Finally a realistic and highly desirable second or equal primary skill set besides Technical Services is a set of assessment competencies that move far beyond “counting” or “flat” data but instead into multi-leveled assessment beginning with knowledge of data availability in databases/online resources, the design of data aggregation through the design of outcomes and standardized processes for inputs to feed into outputs and outcomes.


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: This is a difficult question because we’re all struggling with it. Fewer and fewer people go to library school who are interested in cataloging or technical services. What I’m seeing is that, when we’ve had positions open where these skills would be useful, it’s very difficult to recruit, so we have moved to staff positions to fill those needs. I am personally trained as a cataloger and I find that background to be very useful on a number of fronts – managing and configuring data in and for the catalog and discovery system, understanding information retrieval, configuration of systems, etc. I have an excellent staff cataloger, but that person does not have my broad background in cataloging and metadata management. I’ve kept a hand in cataloging and systems because we don’t have that expertise anywhere else. I think there are definitely ways to show how this experience and background is useful to many different areas in the library. You just have to be able to express that value.


Thanks for reading! I’d love to hear your comments…

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For those on the job market, hang in there!

Hilary Kraus is a Research Services Librarian and liaison to kinesiology and psychology at the University of Connecticut. She has worked as a reference and instruction librarian, focusing on the health and social sciences, at universities in the Midwest and New England. 

Hilary holds a BA in English and Creative Writing from Northwestern University and an MSI from the University of Michigan.

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

At most places I’ve worked, the job description is generally written by admin and reviewed by the hiring committee or written/revised by the hiring committee and approved by admin. This is around the time the hiring committee is selected and charged. The job is posted for a period of time, typically around 4 weeks, and then application review begins. The committee agrees on first round candidates and does phone or video interviews, then clears a short-list for campus interviews with admin. Campus interviews (pre-COVID) included dinner the night before and then a full day interview. The hiring committee submits strengths/weaknesses for who they consider qualified candidates among those who visited campus. Admin makes the final decision.

Titles hired include: Reference/instruction/liaison librarians

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

√ CV

√ References

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ 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? 

√ Other: I don’t know

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

They really expressed themselves well in their cover letter, not only highlighting relevant qualifications but also emphasizing why this job appealed to them. I get that people want a job because it means money and security, but as a hiring committee member and future colleague I still want to know why this job was on their list, and that they are actually interested in doing the work.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

I try to extend all possible grace, so I ignore minor errors in application materials (up to and including putting the wrong institution name at the top, because I have to say, as a candidate, I would never get over the mortification, so they’ve already been punished enough for that mistake). For me, it’s a deal-breaker if there’s no indication anywhere in the letter that they have any real investment in this specific job.

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

I can’t think of anything specific. We already demand people share so much information in the application process!

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?

I think mistakes in interviews are very candidate-specific. I also don’t like to think of what they do as “mistakes,” but just as not being as successful as they could be. That said, I guess the only one I can really think of that’s helpful is not allowing themselves enough time to think of an answer to a question they didn’t anticipate. Stalling is fine! “What a great question! Give me a moment to consider my answer.” It’s also ok to ask for clarification or elaboration of a question if you’re not sure how to approach it.

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

Yes. This is hard, because not everyone has a good space that meets these requirements, but if you can, try to have: a comfortable chair where you’re sitting up relatively straight, decent lighting, a quality microphone or headset you’ve tested in advance, and a background without too many distracting elements. It’s fine to blur your background or put up a virtual one. Wear something you’re comfortable but professional-looking in — no need for anything extra fancy, especially since mostly the interviewers will just see your upper body.

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?

Lean into what you already know and have done! Many parapros have more library experience than new MLS grads, plenty of skills are applicable in multiple types of libraries, and many non-library folks have lots of transferable skills. But you have to be able to make the connection for the hiring committee, you can’t depend on them to figure it out themselves. As unfair as it seems, they’re also juggling a lot of different responsibilities and probably reading through a ton of applications, so help them see why your background is relevant.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ Other: It depends, but at my current place of work, we now put it in the ad.

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

I wish there was a way to scrub the application docs to make it impossible to assume gender, race, etc., but there really isn’t in academia. Several places I’ve worked used a matrix to ensure that everyone was evaluated in a well-documented fashion, and had hiring committee members write up their notes/reactions for screening and campus interviews without discussion to reduce groupthink. I think those types of things help, but honestly, implicit bias is obviously a real thing at every stage.

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

Ask what people like about working at the organization, where they see it heading (even the rank and file folks have opinions on this!), what would make someone successful in the role.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern 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?

√ 51-100

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

The academic job search process is such a hazing ritual. Thanks for trying to make it better and more transparent.

For those on the job market, hang in there!


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 50-100 staff members, Academic, Northeastern US, Suburban area, Urban area

If I have an anatomy professor on the hiring committee, they may not be able to connect the dots between managing retail operations and providing front-line library services

Ruth Castillo is the Director of the Library at Emory & Henry College in Virginia. Prior to coming to Virginia, she was a library department head at another private university. 

In these roles, Ruth has chaired numerous librarian and library staff search committees and served on faculty and administrator search committees for positions outside of the library. 

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

I chair search committees for library positions at the college. For all types of positions, candidates must apply online with a resume/cv, cover letter, and references. For staff positions, the committee typically does in-person interviews with the top 2-3 candidates before making a decision. For librarian (faculty) positions, the committee does a video call first-round interview with the best 5-10 candidates then recommends 1-3 candidates for an on-campus interview day. The interview day involves 5-8 different interviews, meetings, and often a teaching demonstration and includes meetings with the Provost, the library staff, and the Faculty Hiring Committee. After the on-campus interviews, the search committee and the Faculty Hiring Committee make independent recommendations to the Provost who will make a final decision regarding offering the position.

Titles hired include: Technical Services Librarian, Technical Services Specialist, Technical Services Assistant, Health Sciences Librarian, Public Services Librarian, Circulation Assistant

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ A Committee or panel

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ 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?

The most impressive candidates I have seen are all able to articulate why they want to join us and what they would bring to the library.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Coming to an interview and asking no substantive questions.

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

What the candidate needs to know to determine if this would be the job for them (salary, schedules, work/life balance, health care, moving to the community, etc).

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Two is ok, but no more

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more

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

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

Not doing their homework. If you don’t know where we’re located, what type of institution we are, and how big the library staff is before I talk to you, I assume you don’t have an interest in working here.

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

We do! The beginning of a virtual interview can be awkward, for everyone. A great way to overcome that is handling the basics, like making sure people can hear and see you okay.

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?

Directly reference the job posting in the context of your experience. I intentionally look for these connections, but if I have an anatomy professor on the hiring committee, they may not be able to connect the dots between managing retail operations and providing front-line library services. Utilize cover letters and interviews as opportunities to make these types of connections.

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ Other: My institution does not allow us to post salary information. For staff hires, I provide salary and work schedules at the interview. For librarian (faculty) positions, it can be awkward to have that conversation during the interview with the committee present. I typically do a follow-up to the first interview with candidates we’re interested in bringing to campus that opens the door to discuss salary 1-1 before moving forward as a candidate.

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

All search committees are required to do training at the beginning of the search. We also use the same questions for all candidate interviews within a search.

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

What is the first challenge you would ask me to tackle in this position? How does this position fit into the strategic goals/plans of the library? When you started here, what surprised you the most about working here? What does communication within the library look like?

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10

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

Further Questions: What are your thoughts on age?

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:

A reader asks: “What are your thoughts on age? How open or closed are library hiring managers to women over 60? Thanks.”

I add: To expand this a little, please give us your thoughts and observations for any folks who are worried about their age (older, younger, or in the middle) affecting their ability to get hired. Any tips for strategies to mitigate bias?


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: This is always tricky because we have a natural tendency to think about age even just looking at a resume or CV. I have noticed more and more that people leave off the degree granted date on credentials which can be effective although including dates of previous employment still provides some indication of age. In some cases I think it depends at least in part on the position. If someone is applying for a more senior position that requires experience then I would expect candidates who are older. I think it is interesting that the reader specifically mentions women over 60. I’m assuming the reader is a woman but I also wonder if more women have concerns over age than men.

We need to move away from making assumptions about age based on information we receive in documentation. Not everyone goes to college at 18. Not everyone who is over 60 looks like they are (or under). We can ask every candidate about how their prior experiences inform their thinking about this new opportunity. And about what they hope to accomplish. Given the departures from my library over the past five years I’d say a colleague in their 30s or 40s is just as likely to consider leaving as someone over 60 might be to retire. I wonder if the reader with the question meant the question of how long she would stay in a job, or whether she is still able to do it well. In 30 years I would say ability and interest have much less to do with age than any number of other factors


Anonymous: This is a question that has been much on my mind of late. Of course, an institution is best served by saying nothing when a candidate does not make the cut. What I have noticed, however, is that before I turned 60, which was on the eve of the pandemic, I was a valued candidate and could get an interview within a month or two of starting to look. I was published and a sought after national speaker on Information Literacy. There was no obvious problem with qualifications.

After I turned 60, I get crickets, even for jobs that I might have been over-qualified for.

To be fair, that might be part of the problem. Librarianship seems to have this weird thing going that if you want to step back from a top-leadership position to something with less pressure but doing something you love seems to be inconceivable. I was, in fact, told by a colleague and friend who was a college library director, “if, after being a director, you wanted to go back to being a public service librarian and the pay cut, we would probably want to know why.” It was suggested my candidacy would be a hard sell to voluntarily step away from administration. It is somewhat frustrating since if I were asked, I would tell them that I didn’t mind the pay cut. I can afford it, I want to go back to doing what I loved, and you would get an experienced public service/instruction librarian who was pretty damn good at what they did.

Is that age discrimination? I’ll let the reader draw their own conclusions.


Dr. Colleen S. Harris, Librarian, John Spoor Broome Library, CSU Channel Islands:

TL;DR: Yes, discrimination against older women applicants exists, but there are some ways to combat it.

This is a good question. Our most recent dean is a woman over 60 who the University-level committee hired, and is a dynamo of energy and advocacy; I’ve seen this a lot in libraries from our older colleagues. When I’m on a search committee, I look for the best talent and most potential—the balance of these shifts just a little depending on the position in that an early career growth position can be written in such a way that it attracts those with passion but not much experience, while a position requiring skills we need immediately applied might focus more on factors of experience. You should be able to tell by the way the position is written. I think women over 60 can (and do) easily market themselves with the vast amount of life experience they have compared to younger or earlier-career applicants.

If you have this concern as an older applicant, I would consider the following – all with a dash of salt, of course, because they’re largely drawn from my own experience as a search committee member. Some of these will seem silly and “of course don’t do that,” but after seeing cover letters where these things happen, some do/don’t/depends tips to not knock yourself out of the pool prematurely:

  • Do: concentrate on the position and how it is written, paying careful attention to those bullet points of requirements and responsibilities. Focus on what you can bring to that position and institution in terms of your previous experience (both library and non-library), professional development and/or passion. Most of the committees I’ve been on actually use the position description’s bullet points as their candidate rating rubric. Focus on bringing as many of those as you can into your cover letter without sounding stilted. Nota bene: the committee WILL NOT scour your CV/resume for details related to those requirement bullet points, you have to do that labor in your cover letter. Even if it’s a brief mention of how you meet the requirement and then a “more details on my responsibilities in my CV,” it helps you.
  • Do: focus your labor on the important documents: especially writing that cover letter, and the diversity statement. Your CV/resume is very rarely the make-or-break document.
    • N.B.: Your cover letter is the key to the kingdom, at least in academic searches I’ve been on in the library, in other academic departments, and when I’ve been on search committees for administrators (CBO, CFO). This is the space where you can make your age work for you in terms of experience, demonstrated learning over time, mentorship of younger or earlier-career colleagues, and broad skill set development.
    • N.B.: The diversity statement…very often these are very terrible. As in seriously terrible. As in, “I like diversity and have Black friends” terrible. Take some time to really sit and think about the prompt (they vary slightly by institution) and offer a meaningful answer. (If you have one, if you don’t you should reflect on that, too.) If you are an older applicant, you again likely have more experience to draw from in terms of approaching how your philosophy of librarianship has changed over the years (if at all), how your teaching/management/coaching style has changed, and how you can actively exploit the benefit of your age in terms of length of learning curve and practice in this area.
    • N.B. for applicants of all ages: if an institution says the diversity statement is required, it is required as a separate document. And we mean it when we say required. If you do not include a diversity statement, you are out of the pool (at least at my current POW). Even if it’s an optional document, consider it required. It’s important. In the past decade I have been on a committee where an applicant loudly and in print refused to submit a diversity reflection statement.
  • Don’t: say that you want the position at that institution because you want to retire in the area or because you want to live in a particular city for [insert non-library, non-institution reason here]. The institution and committee likely want to hear how you will be engaged as their employee and colleague, not focusing on ending the job before you’ve even gotten it. (That may seem obvious but it has happened in many a cover letter I’ve read for librarian searches as well as searches for faculty in other departments I’ve served on.)
  • Depends: Related to the previous, a more gray area is mentioning if you have family/children/grandchildren in the area. Some committee members will see this as a bonus in terms of locking you in geographically and likely keeping you for longer than folks without ties in the area, but it can also backfire because to others it will sound very similar to “I want to retire here.” Unless your family is somehow directly related to your professional experience (lots of practice at storytimes as a grandma, for instance), I would leave them out. Focusing on the professional is the safest bet, for the most part. (There are good ways weaving in family can be done, and some folks will say I’m wrong here. My focus in this answer is to advise as best I can how to maintain a strong presence in the pool and impress each committee member as much as possible. I lean towards a “Don’t” on this one because I hesitate to give bad actors any ammunition against a candidate, but I’m also mindful that we bring our whole selves to work, with all of our intersecting identities that inform our experience, and those intersecting identities are relevant to the ways in which we work with people and do the work. I wrestle with this one, and I’d probably land at “have multiple someones read over your cover letter to make sure everything is oriented to how you can benefit the institution in that position and how the institution can benefit you” (good advice for applicants at all ages).
  • Do: indicate how you are keeping current in the profession, especially in the area of the position you’re applying for. It’s illegal to discriminate based on age, but we know it happens, and the listed degree dates on your CV/resume or other parts of the application can bring age to a bad-actor committee member’s attention. If you can very briefly address how you have kept current on your knowledge of whatever the position is, that gives other committee members an ace in the hole if a member brings up the date of the degree and indicates an age bias by claiming that someone’s education may be “out of date” for the needs of the position.
  • Do: be confident in your application. At 60 and over (heck, at 40 and over), you have a wealth of life experience under your belt even if that experience isn’t in libraries, and much of that may be relevant to the position you are applying for. I think of my mother, who didn’t work until later in life, but managed a scratching-to-lower-middle-class household of five with one income for 20 years doing all of the budgeting/invoicing and reconciling, arranging for transportation for multiple actors to all different places, ensuring 3 squares a day, doing building maintenance, handling vendors (doctors/health care, the oil company, the electric company, cable, etc.), researching to save costs (the reams of coupon fliers she went through weekly), dealing with cost ebb and flow (new school clothes in August, presents at Christmas)…

Headshot of Kathryn Levenson

Kathryn Levenson, Librarian, Piedmont High School: Great question on age. For school libraries, you need a teaching credential before getting your Library credential and MLIS so most people would be older.

I was getting tired of all the work that went along with being a biology teacher, prepping labs, etc. I felt like I could perform Library duties under less stress into older age. I have been at Piedmont High School for 6 years now and am about to turn 64. I plan on working at least another 3 years.

The previous Librarian had been there for 13 years and was retiring. I interned at Berkeley where the main Librarian was probably in her late 60’s and she hired a replacement in her 50’s at least.

When I was hiring an assistant, I considered temperament and ability to work with high school students over any concern for age. Both of my assistants had teaching experience of some kind and ties to the community. There are many active Librarians in their 60’s, in my experience.

I would encourage older candidates to apply providing they can push the carts and lift boxes at times. But, if your Library uses high school teaching assistants, that will relieve much of the physical part of the job. I also had a very active middle school TA program at my previous library.


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System:

What are your thoughts on age?

When approaching an interview, someone older may make a terrific employee. While there may be physical requirements which would eliminate someone, a specific age does not determine an employee’s ability to physically do a job.

How open or closed are library hiring managers to women over 60?

At my library, we hire women (and men) over 60! What older applicants, of any gender, need to avoid is giving the impression the job is “just to get them out of the house” or “give them something to do.” And especially, an employer does not want to get a sense the applicant wants the job as a way to “cruise to retirement” in a short time.

To expand this a little, please give us your thoughts and observations for any folks who are worried about their age (older, younger, or in the middle) affecting their ability to get hired. Any tips for strategies to mitigate bias?

When applying and interviewing for a job, regardless of age, you must demonstrate an interest in the employer and the job, a belief you have something to contribute of value, and NO expiration date. Too often, applicants show little interest in the job, have little idea what they can do for the employer, and give the impression this is only a temporary “gig” for them..


Headshot of Angelynn King

Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: For the past 15 years, I’ve worked in small academic libraries in rural locations. I’ve served on numerous faculty search committees, and I’ve never heard the advanced age of a candidate discussed or even alluded to. This may be a function of the applicant pools being somewhat shallower in the country, but it’s been my experience that if you’re qualified and enthusiastic, we’re willing to consider you.

Once a member of a committee I chaired said of a young, single applicant that she’d “probably just get married and move away.” I reminded her that we absolutely, positively could NOT take that into consideration. We ended up hiring the applicant, and she did move away — but later she married a guy she met in a nearby town and moved back! So that just goes to show you…something.


Anonymous: My system does not require age information in any application process, but work experience and expertise mean that age is not completely removed from view. Internal policy is to offer openly based on whether or not certain education requirements or expertise requirements are fulfilled. In practice, level of experience can sometimes affect whether or not we look at an application. If someone has a ton of experience and are used to working in multiple library systems, but are applying for a library intern position, we will likely pick a less experienced candidate who may benefit more from getting their foot into libraries. When we’re dealing with librarian level or just more challenging positions, expertise is actually seen as a benefit. So I think this comes down to making sure you’re aware of the kind of position you’re going for and not underestimating your experience.

One issue that I see come up in hiring processes is that librarianship now requires a lot more technical skills. Making sure that that is clear in your resume is honestly more important than anything else. Showing that you know what modern librarianship means is really what’s important. As an example, we actually passed over a younger internal candidate for a position because an older candidate with more experience and a better vision for the position had applied.

If you’ve been in libraries for a while, you probably have a good idea of trends. Take advantage of that long-term vision and make sure the hiring manager can recognize it too


Christian Zabriskie, Executive Director, Onondaga County Public Library: It’s all about the energy. I had a colleague who referred to herself as “the resident Q-tip” because of her white bobbed hair. She had the highest energy, the best attitude, and the most drive of anyone in the work group. Bring your best to the interview, talk about something new you read that you think would work well. Don’t make excuses for yourself in your head when you interview. “I hope they overlook X” is going to make you feel like whatever X may be, it is the only thing that matters.

Older folks who have been in the profession for a while will want to show that they are up on new ideas and are not going to be doing a stale storytime. Younger professionals will want to show where they have shouldered responsibility. Stereotypes stink but people bring them to the table so make sure you are covering yourself. If you are going for a position with leadership responsibilities it is important to show that you are around for a period of years. This is less of an issue for front line work and part time desk/cataloging coverage work, those are longer term skills that are fairly interchangeable between libraries and locations so lean into your flexibility and classic reference chops.

I once had a new hire ask me what my policy was on tattoos in the workforce, my reply was “they are not required”. Show your best genuine self and that energy and conviction will shine out in your interview.


Thanks for reading! We’d love to hear what you think!

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