Tag Archives: library interview

Further Questions: Can we talk about specific interview questions?  

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:

Can we talk about specific interview questions? Do you have questions that are especially illuminating or are there well-known questions that you think are useless?


Katharine Clark, Deputy Director, Middleton Public Library: Here are three question I’ve recently started asking:

How do you handle it if your boss or supervisor asks you to do something you think is not useful or productive? How do you disagree with someone in charge?

What was the least favorite part of your last job experience? How did you try to change it?

When was the last time you offered a suggestion to improve a work environment? How was it received? Did the change occur?


Anonymous: My favorite interview question is “Tell me about a valid piece of criticism you’ve received.” The answers are incredibly telling. It avoids the fake weakness answers and also lets me know how well someone receives feedback. A red flag is if they respond that they’ve not ever received valid criticism.


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

Can we talk about specific interview questions?

While we can and should, I have found that organizations expect or anticipate dramatically different responses to which questions to use, why they include them and what they expect to learn from responses. I think this is due to many factors, but I see many nuances underpinning examples. And some of these responses have to do with the geographic location of the position as well as the level of position. Examples include:
Many questions end up being trick questions such as “Where do you want to be in five years?” is a loaded question and new, middle level or more experienced level people NEVER know what to say …. does an answer such as “right here in this job” mean the person is stagnating? with no ambition?” …does “retired!” or “in my dream job on the beach” mean you shouldn’t hire them as you are investing time and money in someone already planning to leave? or the famous answer “in your job!” which many people see as cocky or even inappropriate. If pushed – I would have to say I don’t know what the right answer is and we stopped asking it 15 years ago.
“Do you value, x, y or z?” or what is the “mission of the x” – at the very least – should be answered with pat answers that reflect both the profession and the values or mission of the organization itself. So – at the very least – if they don’t answer it or can’t it is almost ludicrous and if they reflect the specific wording of the professions or the mission statement, it should be expected and tells us nothing.
Instead:

The concepts can be included but the questions should assume the person possesses these to be successful and then the question becomes “how does the applicant articulate why?” or “how does the candidate provide context?” The question might be worded as “what is the mission of x within the context of x” or “the current values of the profession are stated as x, which do you think should be worded differently or are outdated or classic? How do organizational mission statements, vision and values integrate with community or umbrella organization mission, vision or values?
You should ask for specific actions so after stating that you value something such as “our librarians are committed to EDI …please give us two examples of how you have infused or conceptualized infusing EDI into your user reference or research interviews? your collection development? the design or choices of your ideas for community programs? And they should be wording to include first time applications such as “in studying contemporary reference or research support librarian/user interactions, how is EDI infused into the process?” or “in updating materials collections, what three things do librarians look for in assessing the presence or lack of presence of current materials (or materials reflecting EDI, etc.)?
Do you have questions that are especially illuminating or are there well-known questions that you think are useless?

Useless

So reversing the order with useless first – even if the question has context!
Why our library? our organization? (I prefer that it come up naturally, rather than me forcing something less-than-genuine out of someone.)
What are you reading now? (Inappropriate and I didn’t put it on the list but it did bring my favorite answer “the want ads.”)
Where do you want to be in five years?
Why do you want this job? (The majority of answers make me angry and why they make me angry is too much to include.)

Interesting (and note I feel strongly about the question being preceded with context.)
Although managers should have a plan in place for orienting, training and overall integrating employees into the work environment, what do you do to integrate yourself into a team? into a workplace?
Librarians and library employees are always learning something new – and while there are many different learning styles and choices for teaching or training employees on new systems or processes – what is your learning style? How do you choose to learn something new? Be specific as to format, process, approach, etc.
Especially now – given the online world of business communication and extensive remote discussions – what two things do you want from your supervisor regarding communication with you or the team online or in person? and you can also provide an example of a supervisor you have had and how he or she communicated particularly well.
Many librarians say they love the job because there is something new and different every day, but there are many aspects of our users that we appreciate and some more than others. What is your favorite user group to work with? Doctoral students? First – time visitors/community members to the library? 4th graders? Small business people? And why are they your favorites?
No matter how hard organizations try, we end up with last minute work, plans, approaches during our work day/work week. What skills set do you use to be flexible in a work setting?


Jaime Taylor, Discovery & Resource Management Systems Coordinator, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts: Useless question: “What is your greatest weakness?” The answers to this are rarely illuminating, and it feels like a gotcha question or like you are trying to get the candidate to say something bad about themself. Do not ask gotcha questions! If you really need to ask something like this, you could ask, “What kind of support would you need to be successful in this role?” That’s a much more useful question — it sets the candidate up for success, and gives the position’s supervisors actionable information.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: I think by now most people recognize the futility of asking the “strengths/weaknesses” question. I like to try to ask questions that can give a candidate the opportunity to tell us more about who they are. It could be “Tell us about a successful project you worked on or class you taught. Why was it successful? What about the success could or did you apply to other tasks? Or we might ask about a project or class that did not work out as planned and how the candidate used that experience in future planning.

I sometimes like to ask candidates (often for more administrative positions) what aspects of work they enjoy most and least. For public facing work scenarios can also be useful. Even when someone has not done library work before thinking through a situation that might include a response like “doing what I can for a library visitor but also letting them know I’ll have to check with my supervisor” can add helpful information about a candidate’s experience.

Overall I think this question really points to the importance of a search committee/hiring manager thinking meaningfully about what they want to learn about candidates through the interview process. Then we need to craft questions that are most likely to give a candidate the opportunity to share ideas and information that will help us assess what they could bring to the position available.


Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Great question! I’ve been interviewing lately myself, so I have to say that, while I like asking situational questions (tell me about a time when…), I don’t love answering them. So many times, they are asking me to focus on negative situations and that’s difficult, but it’s about how you handle adversity. One of my favorite questions is “Why is this position a great fit for you and how are you a great fit for this position?” This is your chance to talk about why the job appeals to you, or why you feel like the position is a great fit for you and your skills. You may have covered some of this ground in your cover letter, but not everyone does. We sometimes ask about balancing collaborative and independent work, and we often ask how you approach learning something new (usually technology). Those are very telling answers! In our second round interviews, we will ask specific questions about the position and approach to the work, and we want to be sure that the person understands the position and what it entails. Terminology like one year extraordinary faculty can be confusing to someone who has never worked in an academic setting.


Anonymous: I like to use this question to gauge emotional intelligence:

Quoting RJ Palacio, author of the title Wonder, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.” What is your reaction to the quote? Based on your experiences, are there times when you must choose right over kind?

It will typically flush out the “black and white” thinker types, the “rules are the rules” kind of people. For me, the correct answer is choosing right when possible but leading with kindness. Libraries shouldn’t be using their policies as a bludgeoning tool to punish people. Enforce policies, yes, but understand that there are times when you need to bend the rules.

Also, the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” question is outdated and useless. We live in a society where loyalty to a company no longer exists. We can’t expect people to stay forever!


Hilary Kraus, Research Services Librarian, UConn Library: Since I work in academic libraries, there are typically two sets of questions: one for the initial screening phone or video interviews, and then another for the second round campus interviews. So many screening interviews focus on expanding upon the information in a candidate’s CV/resume or cover letter, when what I really want to know is the stuff that often isn’t well-represented in those documents. It’s the combination of what they’ve submitted and the additional content of the phone interview that helps a search committee make decisions about who to move on to the next round.

Following are some questions I’ve found to be especially informative during the screening interview process:

  • What appeals to you about this position specifically and more generally about working at [insert institution here]? (I know the cover letter should include this, but I find it helpful when the candidate can elaborate on it.)
  • Describe a project or initiative you’ve worked on of which you’re especially proud.
  • Can you give us an example of a situation in which you collaborated with a colleague?
  • What aspects of this job do you think would most challenge you and how would you approach them?
  • What areas of your professional practice are you most interested in developing?

When it comes to on-campus interviews, I certainly want to hear about a candidate’s experience, but also how they might apply that in the position for which they’re interviewing. For new or early career librarians, I think it’s particularly helpful to phrase questions as hypotheticals or ask them to describe what approach they think would be successful. That means, for example, asking “What approaches have you taken or might you take to make informed collection development decisions in x disciplines?” instead of “Tell us about your experience doing collection development in x disciplines?”


Alison M. Armstrong, Collection Management Librarian, Radford University: There are some questions that end up being throw-away questions that serve more as ice-breakers than content generators. Then there are questions that are more informative.

One of them is, “What surprised you when researching our library or university?” This gives us an idea of not just what they learned but also some of the preconceived notions they started with, or may still have. Sometimes these are particularly enlightening and can give you sense of what outsiders focus on when looking at your website, and how things might be misinterpreted. It can be useful for your edification as well as an opportunity to address anything that may have been misunderstood or may need information gaps to be filled. It also tells us how they are approaching the position, the library, university, and area. Backhanded compliments do not play well.

Another good one is, “You overhear your colleague giving incorrect information to a patron. How do you handle this?” This one can be very informative. It seems pretty simple but it speaks to multiple areas at once: How do you treat your colleagues/peers? Do you feel comfortable speaking up and, if so, how do you do it? How do view information sharing with patrons? How do you see your role/authority in this capacity? How do you approach what could be a tense situation? I have heard a wide variety of responses. We want you to answer as honestly as possible.


Karen K. Reczek, Social Scientist, National Institute of Standards and Technology:

Favorite Questions
Tell me about a time you failed.
What is the most useful job related criticism you have ever received?
If three of your colleagues were here how would they describe you?
If you could change one aspect of your last/current job, what would that be?
Tell me about a time you turned something around that was stagnant or unsuccessful.
What area of your work do you think needs improvement or what skills do you still feel you need to develop?
When looking for a job what are the three most important things to you?
Can you tell me about a time when you felt like giving up on a certain job or task and why? and what happened?
Describe your best boss.
What do you know about our organization? (So many people come to an interview and CANNOT answer this. Very telling.)

Least favorite Questions
Where do you see yourself in five years (Hey most of us don’t know – how about what is your professional goal and has that changed over the years?)
What are your strength and weaknesses? (I think you can learn more by asking some of the above.)
Are you a team player? or would you be successful working with a team? (who is going to say no?!)
Are you able to handle multiple priorities at once? (again, not sure who will say, no…)


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System:

1) Do you have questions that are especially illuminating….

We have what we call the “snake question.” The question is “A parent (father or mother) and their child (son or daughter) come into the library 20 minutes before closing with a box in which there is a snake they want to identify. While helping them, three boys run through the library knocking the box off the table onto the floor. What do you do?”

There are so many experts and consultants offering candidate interview questions that we are told will help us discover something profound or significant about a candidate. Anyone wanting to do well on an interview can find these same questions online, in a book, or from a professional interview coach and learn how to answer them for success. There is a school of interviewing that focuses on asking “behavioral” interview questions. These questions are readily available and a candidate can prepare an answer for “Can you tell us of a time when you went above and beyond the line of duty?” or “Tell us about a time when you solved a problem at your job that wasn’t part of your job description.” How do I verify the candidate’s answer? The candidate’s answer can sound terrific, but has it been embellished or is it even true? I’m not sure a current or former employer will verify the candidate’s claim.

The snake question is specific. The goal of the question is to surprise the candidate, see how quickly the candidate recovers, and how the candidate prioritizes the actions necessary to respond to an unexpected situation. There are some answers that are better than others. The only wrong answer for us is to “run away.” One observation I will make is that on average only one out of one hundred will ask if the snake is alive. Almost all assume it is alive and respond accordingly.

Before thinking this is a ridiculous question and laughing, there are public librarians who will tell you they have encountered snakes in their libraries (“Bag of snakes brings new library policy in Madison County.” The Citizen-Times. October 20, 2019. https://www.citizen-times.com/story/news/madison/2019/10/20/madison-county-library-policy-bans-bags-snakes/4002405002/). If a candidate is able to respond to the question in a cool, thoughtful, and reasonable way to a situation like the snake in the box, it may be indicative of how the candidate would respond to an incident as an employee.

A few observations about using this question. I can’t say it originated with me. A public library director in Eastern Kentucky found it, used it, and as a consultant for the Kentucky State Library, I promoted its use. The question has become one of my staff’s favorites to ask because of the range of reactions by the candidates. It very often serves to lighten the seriousness of the interview, making it more congenial. The candidates also like it, later remarking how it made them see our work in a different way and being totally unprepared for it.

2) Are there well-known questions that you think are useless….

Once again, this question depends on the position for which the candidate is interviewing. Possibly the most useless question is “Where do you see yourself in five years?” In light of what we passed through with the COVID-19 pandemic, can we really predict where we will be in five years?

Those seeking professional positions will tell you about career goals, often tailoring the answer to what the interview committee might like to hear. They are very unlikely to say “I’ll have quite your job by then because it is just a stepping stone in my career to a better job.” Non-professionals, such as those in circulation positions in public libraries, will often tell you “I hope to be still working for the library in five years.”

The restrictions and responses brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in many leaving the workplace and wanting to work from home. COVID-19 has demonstrated how change can rapidly make a response to the question “where do you see yourself in five years” today meaningless tomorrow.


Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College: I like open-ended questions that are specific to the job and institution. For example, “What interests you about this job?” tells us how the applicant sees their skills matching up with our needs, while “What do you know about us?” lets us know if they’ve done their research.

I’m less fond of old corporate chestnuts like “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Anyone who has a crisp answer to that one is nowhere near flexible enough to survive in any library I’ve ever worked in.


Thanks for reading! If you want to read even more, there’s been some great discussion over on Twitter

We’d love to hear your thoughts here in the comments, on Twitter @HiringLib, or via creepy anonymous phone call. 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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We had someone use thinly veiled racist language during an interview which absolutely shut it down.

Black and white image of librarian sitting at circulation desk while a reader browses bookshelves behind them
Image: Librarian at desk and reader at bookshelves From The New York Public Library

This interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Director

Titles hired: Adult/Teen/Youth Librarian, Department Managers, Assistant Director, Custodian

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

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Pretty traditional: Resumes are received by HR, HR forwards candidates to hiring manager. Hiring manager and assistant manager of that department select and interview candidates. Library Director reviews candidate pool with hiring manager to make sure a viable candidate was not skipped over. Hiring manager brings chosen applicant’s resume to director where starting salary is discussed and an offer is made.

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

On paper, I like to see directly relevant experience. This can be something like a decade of teaching in schools in an applicant for a school outreach position, etc… It does not have to be “library” experience.

In person, being friendly and approachable is always the most impactful. This is a service industry – if you can’t at least fake being nice in an interview, there’s little hope you will be nice to angry patrons.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Not many, we had someone use thinly veiled racist language during an interview which absolutely shut it down.

I’ve had people lie directly on their resume regarding positions/experience – we don’t bother even contacting them. The library world is too small for that to work.

If you had a bad separation from a library just be honest about it. Good hiring managers know that terminations happen and it is almost never solely an issue with the employee.

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

Long term positivity vs negativity of a hire. The interview can show you someone on their intentional best behavior but you will never be able to determine if that person will become a toxic center in a department until it happens.

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?

Pretending to know everything or dodging a question they don’t understand. If you aren’t familiar with an interview question topic be forthcoming. Show me you are interested in learning and that you are confident in admitting what you don’t know. We can teach someone willing to learn – I can’t do much with someone who is hiding behind a façade.

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

We no longer conduct virtual interviews. This is such a poor method, but I understand its necessity on a case-by-case basis. I would make sure you treat the environment you conduct the virtual interview in as a business-professional setting. Assure there will be no interruptions – book a study room at a local library if possible.

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?

We actively seek out real-world experience that can be brought to libraries. A candidate should be able to show they understand the position they are applying for by drawing direct connections between the desired job duties and their direct experience. “The daycare center also dealt with disruption and squabbles between grade schoolers, we handled it by performing XYZ. This is the approach I would bring to any disruption during a program/play area.”

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?

Administrative review of the candidate pool, direct conversations with hiring managers why certain applicants may not have been selected to interview. Debriefing of managers by administration regarding interview performance and the manager being required to actively defend why they chose a certain candidate.

We investigated blocking out names on resumes/cover letters to avoid bias, but it was clunky and often our applicants rely on their specific positions/experience and references. We also hire directly out of the community for many of our positions and if a patron had a good reputation among the staff this information was more important than preemptively assuming managers were selecting based on someone’s name.

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

I don’t think there’s anything a candidate ‘should’ ask. For some of the higher librarian positions it is good to hear questions regarding the specific duties and expectations of the position (how often is outreach expected, do we serve all schools in the area, etc..)

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

Outside of having direct knowledge of someone’s work performance (ie, internal candidates) the next most valuable element to have is a reference from a previous supervisor. I don’t think the importance of this can be overstated. I want to know first-hand how your previous bosses characterized you as an employee. This goes well beyond skills/experience – I want to know if your personality and work ethic were considered a benefit to an organization or a detriment.

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

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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Filed under Further Questions

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