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Researcher’s Corner: Power, positionality, and privilege: a study of academic librarian job postings 

I’m pleased to be able to share this post by Joanna Theilen and Amy Neeser which not only describes their research into Data professionals’ job postings, but highlights concrete steps that libraries can take to create hiring practices that support increased diversity in our profession. Thielen and Neeser are frank and persuasive in their writing. The piece draws from their 2020 article focused on Data professionals, and an additional  2022 article by Thielen (co-authored by Wanda Marsolek) focusing on Engineering librarians’ job postings. 

I think you will find this post very interesting. If you’d like to read more, you can find the original articles at:

Thielen, J., & Neeser, A. (2020). Making Job Postings More Equitable: Evidence Based Recommendations from an Analysis of Data Professionals Job Postings Between 2013-2018. Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, 15(3), 103–156. https://doi.org/10.18438/eblip29674

Thielen, J. & Marsolek, W. (2022). Taking a Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility Lens to Engineering Librarian Job Postings: Recommendations from an Analysis of Postings from 2018 and 2019. Journal of eScience Librarianship, 11(1). https://doi.org/10.7191/jeslib.2022.1212


Background

Librarianship as a profession is homogeneous. And has been for a very, very long time. We, one current and one former academic librarian, want to do our part to help contribute to the diversification of librarianship. Why? Because everyone MUST speak up and act; otherwise the status quo will remain which disproportionately excludes people from underrepresented groups and perpetuates inequities in our society. 

One area we’d observed that is quite stagnant is academic library hiring practices; this is also where we have the most experience. How can the profession as a whole expect to diversify if hiring practices remain the same? Simply put, it’s not going to happen. As Albert Einstein once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” 

To contribute to the conversation around ways to diversify our profession, we have done two research projects in this area. The first project looked at data librarian job postings and the second looked at engineering librarian job postings. Huge shout out to our collaborator Wanda Marsolek for their contributions to the latter project! 

Our positionality affects how we approach research in general, including identifying a research project, interpreting results, and making recommendations based on these results. Joanna is a white, heterosexual, female, cisgender, able-bodied person who works at the University of Michigan. She started studying academic library hiring practices while she worked at Oakland University, a mid-sized public university. Amy is gender non-conforming, white, able bodied person who works at the University of California, Berkeley. We acknowledge the immense privilege and power we hold in the world through our positionality and our jobs at large, prestigious, and wealthy doctoral granting institutions in the United States and hope to use this to enact change. 

Our initial focus for the first project seemed straightforward: as data librarianship is an emerging area of academic librarianship, what are the qualifications and responsibilities for these roles? We also wanted to look at salary. We gathered as many job postings as we could in this area that were posted in a five year time frame. After concluding the data librarian job posting project, Wanda and Joanna embarked on a research project that studied engineering librarian job postings using the same methodology. 

After developing a codebook and coding a small sample of the job postings, we realized that some had ridiculously specific requirements (they’re looking for a unicorn) or we, data librarians with over five years combined experience in this area, had no idea what some of these postings were asking for. A data librarian at a university Chicago who 1) does reference, consultation, collection management, and instructional services to support social sciences data discovery, analysis, visualization, and management; 2) is the liaison to the Sociology department; and 3) is also fluent in Spanish or Portuguese. But no salary listed – of course not, why would you need to know salary before potentially moving to one of the most expensive cities in the US!? We also saw an engineering librarian job posting that had 16 required qualifications! How is a single person supposed to meet ALL of those qualifications, nonetheless write a succinct cover letter about them? These two examples are pulled from actual job postings and are incredibly problematic from a diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility (DEIA) perspective. 

This lack of DEIA in the job postings was (and is) maddening. Academic librarianship talks a big game about valuing DEIA but their job postings clearly didn’t reflect it. So we knew we wanted to go beyond merely listing the results in order to interrogate how these results weren’t centering DEIA in the hiring process. Our new goal was to persuade people, using our data and observations, to center DEIA principles & practices when writing job postings. We were so shocked by the lack of DEIA in these job postings that we wrote an editorial piece, prior to publishing our journal article on our data librarian project, in order to share observations and recommendations as quickly as possible. 

Below we present three major themes and additional recommendations from our research that are applicable to all librarian job postings, including those not in academia. 

Job titles: create inclusive job titles 

We found a lot of job titles in both studies: much more variation in the data librarian job postings than the engineering librarian ones. We speculate this occurred because the data postings are for an emerging area and seemed to be recruiting applicants from more diverse educational backgrounds. The word ‘Librarian’ was used for most of the engineering positions and many of the data positions. Many people with relevant experience might not have the library science degree or consider themselves librarians, so this language could automatically deter them from applying. 

Degrees: avoid ambiguous language and do not require multiple graduate degrees

Many of these positions, especially the engineering postings, required a library science degree. This severely limits an applicant pool to those already inside the profession. We recommend thinking carefully about whether applicants really need this degree to perform their job and which job responsibilities will the library degree help them fulfill. Or is this degree in the job posting because “we’ve always done it this way”? We also found many instances of language such as “equivalent education and experience” which feels inclusive but is actually very ambiguous. Many positions required multiple graduate degrees which is extremely problematic as people from underprivileged groups have more difficulty attaining multiple graduate degrees. We suggest accepting undergraduate degrees or academic experience such as coursework and to focus on applicants who demonstrate that they are willing to learn and grow professionally. 

Salary: be transparent about salary and list quantitative salary ranges to encourage negotiation 

Nearly half of the job descriptions did not include any salary information, and those that did usually only used vague words like “competitive”. This is very troubling as this practice favors those who are already working in the profession. The postings that did list a quantitative salary often listed a single number, whereas listing a salary range would have indicated that candidates can negotiate. Underrepresented groups are less likely to negotiate so this is a way that we can be more equitable. 

Additional recommendations: 

Even though we tried to center DEIA in our own research projects, there were several topics that we didn’t initially think of and therefore didn’t collect data on. Based on our observations during the research project and our own expanding awareness of DEIA issues in the hiring process, we have four additional recommendations: 

  • Limit number of required and preferred qualifications; remind candidates that they don’t need to meet all the preferred qualifications in order to apply
  • Integrate anti-racism into your job postings
  • Write every sentence within a job posting using the lens of DEIA
  • Ask a range of people to be on your hiring committee and to provide feedback on the job posting

Looking at job postings through the lens of DEIA is an opportunity to use our power, positionality, and privilege to help reduce disparities in these positions, our profession, and institutions. This is a complex and evolving landscape; we are continually learning and several years later have thought about other variables we would have liked to include in our study. An example of this is anti-racism; our first paper was published only a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd. This tragic event transformed our world and although we did not originally look at anti-racism in our study, we have since recommended it be included either as a requirement or as a statement from the institution about their demonstrated commitment to it and how the position furthers that work. This is just one example of the future directions this work could take, and we encourage others to continue building upon our studies. Our data is openly available in the Dryad Repository (data librarian job postings project) and the Data Repository of the University of Minnesota (engineering librarian job posting project). We strongly encourage other researchers to further analyze and use this data.


Headshot of Joanna Thielen, who is smiling, blonde and wears a black blazer

Joanna Thielen (she/hers) Data Curation Specialist for Science and Engineering, University of Michigan Library

As Data Curation Specialist for Science and Engineering at the University of Michigan Library, Joanna helps science and engineering researchers make their works openly available to anyone with an internet connection. Previously she was an Engineering Librarian at University of Michigan Library and the Research Data and Science Librarian at Oakland University. Her research interests include DEIA in the academic hiring process and data librarianship. 

Headshot of Amy Neeser, who is in profile. She is smiling, but not broadly, and has a pierced septum and a teal bob.

Amy Neeser (she/they) Consulting + Outreach Lead for Research IT, University of California, Berkeley

As the Consulting + Outreach Lead in Research IT at the University of California Berkeley, Amy coordinates the consulting efforts across the Data Management and Research Computing programs to offer a holistic approach to data and computation. They also facilitate Research IT’s community, partnership, and outreach programs. Amy previously worked at the University of Michigan as the Research Data Curation Librarian and at the University of Minnesota in the Biological and Physical Sciences Libraries.

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Researcher’s Corner: Computer programming for librarians

It’s research time! Opinions about hiring are abundant, but science is much scarcer. 

I’m pleased to be able to present an informal look at Brighid Gonzales’ study of a decade’s worth of job postings. “Learn to code” is advice I see frequently directed at frustrated job hunters. But which language? 

If this summary whets your appetite, the full article is at:

Gonzales, B. M. (2019). Computer programming for librarians: A study of job postings for library technologists. Journal of Web Librarianship, 13(1), 20-36. https://doi.org/10.1080/19322909.2018.1534635.


With libraries increasingly depending on constantly evolving technology, library technologists often must know more, and more varied, technologies than ever. For early-career librarians and library students interested in learning coding and going into a technology-focused area of librarianship it can be difficult to decide which programming language to learn in order to be the most marketable, or which language will be the most useful for a specific career path. 

In the past, many employers did not list specific programming languages in job ads, however current job postings often specify which programming languages are required or preferred by the employer. In a 2018 study, I analyzed data from 10 years of job postings on the Code4Lib job site to determine which programming languages were the most commonly requested overall, which were the most requested by type of job, and which were most requested by type of employer. 

Methods

In order to gather the data necessary for this study, I created a script in Python which scraped information from the Code4Lib Jobs website, including job titles, employers, year of posting, and “tags,” or the keywords used to describe specific skills, coding languages, and job environments within the posting. I chose to use the Code4Lib Jobs website because it is specific to jobs in library technology and because job postings have been maintained on the site as far back as 2004. While over 1900 job listings were initially collected, the results were filtered to include only jobs categorized specifically as librarian or archivist positions, as well as limiting job postings to a 10-year span from 2008 to 2018, resulting in a final dataset of 492 job postings. I further refined the data for analysis by coding each job posting by the type of job and the type of employer.

The job postings were divided into the following job categories based on their primary job duties:

  • Web Services (website development, web-based services)
  • Library Systems (ILS management, technology management, discovery systems, emerging technologies)
  • Software Development (applications programming, development, software engineering)
  • IT (server maintenance, network administration, database administration)
  • Digital Services (institutional repositories and scholarly communication, digital initiatives, digitization)
  • Taxonomy (information architecture, search)
  • Data Services (data management, data curation)
  • Archives/Special Collections (archives and special collections)
  • Metadata (cataloging, metadata)
  • Electronic Resources
  • UX (user experience, user interface design, usability)
  • Hybrid (some combination of two or more other categories)
  • Other (all other positions not necessarily related to technology including reference, instruction, government documents, sales, customer support, project management, and their various combinations)
  • Internship

In addition to these job categories, the jobs were also broken down into types of employers or types of library environments including:

  • Academic
  • Public
  • Contractor
  • Corporate (including vendors)
  • Nonprofit (including foundations, associations, and consortiums)
  • Cultural (including museums, archives, and cultural heritage institutions)
  • Special (including government, medical, and law libraries)

Results

Analysis of the data showed that the greatest number of job postings were categorized as Library Systems jobs (104 job postings total). By employer type the greatest number of job postings were categorized as Academic (418 job postings). While the top five programming languages required by job type and by employer type varied slightly, six programming languages appeared in over 30% of the total job postings. Those languages included:

  • XML (59.8%)
  • HTML (40.7%)
  • PHP (37.0%)
  • JavaScript (32.3%)
  • SQL (31.9%)
  • CSS (31.5%)

The least-tagged programming languages were Django (1.0%), C (0.8%), and Visual Basic (0.4%), while C#, C++, and ASP.NET were not tagged in any of the job postings studied. Additionally, over 50% of job postings were tagged with three or more programming languages, meaning job candidates with more varied skills and knowledge may find more job options available. The prevalence of XML, SQL, and PHP remained consistent throughout the decade under study, while the use of Perl steadily decreased, and the use of Python steadily increased through the decade. While not in the top five overall, Python appeared in the top five languages for five different job categories, including Archives/Special Collections, Data Services, Metadata, Software Development, and Other, suggesting versatility and usefulness across job categories. Some other interesting conclusions drawn from the data include the use of Java in job postings categorized as Data Services or Corporate, and the frequency of Python and R in Data Services job postings, and of Python and Perl in Metadata job postings.

Conclusion

Those working in library technology will always need to be quick-learning and adept to change, but the results from this study offer students and job seekers some guidance on the hard technology skills most in demand in libraries today. While this study is now several years old, the conclusions are likely still relevant today. Job seekers looking for library technology positions are likely to find plenty of job opportunities with skills in XML, HTML, PHP, JavaScript, SQL, and CSS. In addition, knowing one programming language makes it substantially easier to learn any new languages that become necessary or useful to know later in one’s career.


headshot of Brighid M Gonzales. She has glasses and shoulder length hair. She is wearing a black blazer and the background is plain white.

Brighid M. Gonzales, Assistant Director of Systems and Metadata, Our Lady of the Lake University

Brighid M. Gonzales is currently the Assistant Director of Systems and Metadata at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas, and previously served as the Systems and Web Services Librarian for seven years. She has published on a variety of library technology topics and most recently published the book Systems Librarianship: A Practical Guide for Librarians (Rowman and Littlefield, 2020). She has also been a member of the Code4Lib Journal editorial committee since 2019.

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Further Questions: Is salary range included in your job postings?

This week we have a reader inspired question. I asked people who hire librarians:
Do you include a salary range in your job postings?  Why or why not?  Who makes that decision?

At my private academic institution, salary information is considered confidential, which means that we are not allowed (by HR) to post salary information in our job ads. Within those constraints, we try to be as transparent as possible. If candidates inquire about salary, the question is referred to the dean who will share the target range for the position. In addition, when a search is narrowed to finalists, those finalists are notified by the dean of the target salary range, so that if their requirements are beyond what we can pay, time isn’t wasted on a search that is bound to end in disappointment.

– Anonymous

 

Laurie Phillips We include the minimum salary, not a range.

Generally, the chair of the committee negotiates the salary range with the Dean, based on other salaries in the organization.

We always include the minimum, so nobody is making a decision to do it or not.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

 

Marge Loch WoutersYes we do.

Nothing is more frustrating to an applicant than taking the time to get credentials and application materials ready only to find that the job does not pay enough to make the move worthwhile.

This is an administrative decision.

– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

 

We do. It’s policy for all state government positions.

– Kristen Northrup, Head, Technical Services & State Document Depository, North Dakota State Library

 

Terry Ann LawlerYes.

Our salaries are negotiated through the city and with our union with occasional input from outside organizations who study salaries. All of our city salary ranges are publicly available on our city website.

A salary range is non negotiable, but you can start at mid range instead of the beginning if you have more experience than is advertised for the job.

– Terry Lawler, Assistant Manager and Children’s Librarian, Palo Verde Branch, Phoenix Public Library

 

angelynn kingOnly one of the academic libraries I’ve worked in has posted salary.

Usually HR has a standard policy, and there isn’t anything the advertising department can do.

In a public college, the salary ranges are often a matter of public record, but you have to be a librarian to find them. Oh, wait: we are librarians. Happy hunting!

-Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College, Owens Campus

 

We have started including a salary range in our postings so applicants can “self-screen” and not apply if their salary requirements are not a match.  We ask an applicant’s salary requirements in the screening questions we send to candidates who we might be  interested in interviewing.  Because there have been times when the gap between what we were offering and what applicants were asking  was substantial we recently moved to including a range.  It also serves as another way to shape applicants’ expectations about the level of the job.  Obviously the education and experience requirements in the job description should convey that, but those responsibilities, if filled at a larger institution than ours, might warrant a much higher pay scale.  So including a salary range gives a more complete picture.

The argument against including a range is that desirable candidates may not apply, whereas if they did and we really wanted them we might go back to our administration and negotiate for an increase and/or some way to enhance the benefits package.

We at the Library make the determination as to whether to include salary in the posting; the salary itself must be approved by our VP.

– Ann Glannon, Associate Director, Wheelock College Library, Boston, MA

 

Yes a range for salary is always included in the posting. This is pretty basic and we have a salary schedule based on the grade for each position, so there is not much flexibility, except for experience.

– Kaye Grabbe, Director, Lake Forest (Public) Library, Lake Forest, IL.

 

Jason GrubbWe do not include a salary range in our job postings because a salary range is not available.

There is no flexibility in our Library Board adopted pay scale. Each position has a set grade with steps that only increase with time in the position. In other words, each vacant position begins at an established amount that cannot be negotiated. Thus, there is no reason for us to include a salary range.

This starting salary is included in the job posting.

– Jason Grubb, Director, Sweetwater County Library System

 

Yes we do.

Our county HR does this across the board. It may be voluntary but it could also be part of the union contract. I’m glad we do it because  that information can inform whether or not a person even wishes to apply for any given position.

– Christy Davis, Library Director, Klamath County Library Service District

 

Sherle Abramson-BluhmSalary range is usually in the library postings.
I am not sure if this was a University decision or within the Library itself – although most University postings do include the information.
Generally it is the high level positions, where the salary is likely to be a negotiating point, that the information is not indicated.
I think it is only fair to post this information – it is data any applicant should know going in and diminishes the possibility of surprises, misunderstandings or disappointment down the line.
– Sherle Abramson-Bluhm, Head, Print Acquisitions, University of Michigan
Celia RabinowitzI always try to include a minimum starting salary for positions.  My institution does not usually do this for faculty positions but I have not had resistance either from the Human Resources office or from my dean when I include it in a job ad.  I feel more comfortable offering a minimum starting salary than a range.  Ultimately any negotiation involves the Dean of Faculty and establishing the ranges is tricky.  I can say that two of my last three librarian hires involved a negotiation which resulted in a higher starting salary for the candidate who got the position.  I would rather a candidate (and we) think about experience and qualifications when determining a salary rather than where they fall on a predetermined scale.  I am not sure how easy it would be to justify giving someone $48k rather than $49k but I can see offering someone $45k and then negotiating to $48.  I do usually have an upper limit that the Dean and I establish.
– Celia Rabinowitz, Director of the Library, St. Mary’s College of Maryland

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading!  If you’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts, there they are all standing in a row, big ones, small ones, some as big as your comment.

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Further Questions: How Are Job Postings Written?

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

How does your institution write job postings?  Do you have any input, or does HR do it?  Do you list salary?  Are you allowed to add things like “strong internal candidate”?  Do you include any language about being an Equal Opportunity Employer, or do you encourage any specific demographic groups to apply?

We do write our job postings for the most part, but HR and Equity and Diversity have to sign off on the language. We fill out a web form that includes the job summary and minimum and preferred qualifications. I do not think our Equity and Diversity office would allow us to state “strong internal candidate” nor would we want to since we want a good applicant pool.

The actual job posting does not say anything about our university being an equal opportunity employer, but this information is on our university HR website and is on the application itself.

I do not know what other hiring managers at my library do but I submit my job postings to the ALA Black Caucus, REFORMA, the ALA GLBT Round Table listservs and similar groups specific to my home state because I personally want to encourage a diverse applicant pool.

– Julie Leuzinger, Department Head, Eagle Commons Library, University of North Texas Libraries

Laurie PhillipsOur search committees write the ads (or edit the ads written by the chair) based on the job description. We have some template language about the university, the library, EEO, and encouraging women and minorities to apply. Otherwise, HR has very little input in faculty searches and processes (although we meet with them about Affirmative Action and legalities of search questions). We include some information about the fact that it is a faculty position (usually appointed at Assistant Professor) and minimum salary. We try to use dynamic language in the job summary to entice the best candidates. We write a little about the job summary, then the required and preferred qualifications. Generally, in order to move on to the second round (phone or Skype interviews), a candidate will need to meet all of the required and one of the preferred qualifications. We also give specific instructions for application. Sometimes we have a short version of the ad (for print purposes, although that’s rare these days) linking to a longer ad on the university’s website.

– Laurie Phillips, Associate Dean for Technical Services, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans

Marleah AugustineWe do not have a separate HR department, so usually the library director writes the job postings (with input from the position’s direct supervisor when necessary). For support staff positions, we do list the hourly wage. For librarian positions, a salary range (with salary to be determined based on experience) is usually listed. We do accept internal candidate applications, although it’s not usually advertised as such. We do include a statement about being an Equal Opportunity Employer that is pretty standard.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Job posting language is done internally by our HR person, with input from the Dept. Head., and approval of Director. We do list a salary range and benefit info. No language about EOE employment.

– Kaye Grabbe, Director,  Lake Forest (Public) Library,  Lake Forest, IL 

bonnie smithAt the University of Florida we have Position Descriptions (PD) for staff positions and Position Vacancy Announcements (PVA) for faculty positions which follow a slightly different trajectory. In both cases the process of writing the description starts at the departmental level. The HR Office receives a draft and offers suggested and required edits. The PD circulates back and forth several times until everyone feels it fulfills the needs of the department and the Libraries and follows University policies. Faculty searches have a defined Search Committee and the HR Office works with committee members in finalizing the PVA. In both cases the final draft is approved by the Department Chair, Senior Associate Dean and sometimes the Dean, depending on the level of the position.

We list the minimum salary for the rank/position followed by the following “Actual salary will reflect selected professional’s experience and credentials” and do not add any comments regarding candidates whether or not we have a strong internal candidate or not.

We always include the following information “The University of Florida is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity Employer and encourages applications from women and minority group members. We are dedicated to the goal of building a culturally diverse and pluralistic environment; we strongly encourage applications from women, members of underrepresented groups, individuals with disabilities, and veterans.” One of our preferred qualifications is also: “Record of including individuals of diverse backgrounds, experiences, races, ethnicities, genders, and perspectives in research, teaching, service and other work”

– Bonnie Smith, Assistant Program Director for Human Resources, University of Florida, George A. Smathers Libraries

Thank you as always to our contributors for their time and insight.  If you’re someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at hiringlibrariansATgmail.com.

Thank YOU for reading! And it’s one, two, three, What are we commenting for?

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