Tag Archives: library jobs

And we are still hiring mostly white candidates for all positions.

Librarian Augusta Baker showing a copy of Ellen Tarry’s “Janie Belle” to a young girl at the library. From the New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Branch Manager

Titles hired include: Library assistant, senior library assistant, principal library assistant, librarian, branch manager

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)

√ Other: County administration, library commission (governing board)

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Proof of degree 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No 

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

I work in a medium urban/suburban county public system. Application required. Typically one interview with a panel of three, the supervisor and two staff at same or higher titles. Successful candidate approved by library commission and county administration. Can take 4-6 weeks to notify candidates. 

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

Expressed empathy, no direct library experience (was for a library assistant job) but demonstrated strategic thinking, problem solving, ability to help patrons figure out our systems 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

I tend to pick out a “most important question” in the interview that really gets to the heart of what’s important for this person for this role. For my branch, it’s the question about what challenges an urban library faces, and how the candidate might address them on a personal and professional level. A weak answer on that question is hard to overcome. 

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

Even though we only require an application, at least a cover letter is so helpful. Please practice responses to likely questions ahead of time. If you’re an internal candidate, pretend we don’t know you. Ask at least one good question of us, and not just “when can I expect to hear back.” 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this  

Resume: √ We don’t ask for this  

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Their only question for us is “when will I hear back.” It’s a fair question! But we’d love to answer more.

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

Yes. Nothing really – I think we all recognize we’re all doing the best we can with this. Some colleagues expect candidates to have video on but I wish we could come to a consensus that this isn’t necessary – we shouldn’t ask about or discriminate based on internet bandwidth. 

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?

Candidates with retail and food service experience are amazing! Talking about how you provided good service in these challenging jobs is the best – please don’t hold back. 

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?

Insist we write down candidate answers word for word as much as possible. We are instructed to base hiring justifications on interview answers and applications, nothing else. I still see age related bias, on both the younger and older ends of the spectrum. The thing about insisting cameras be on for virtual interviews is no good. And we are still hiring mostly white candidates for all positions. 

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

What’s a typical day like, how are staff supported by supervisors, do you feel this is a healthy workplace. Our organization in general does its best, but due to the political climate salaries and vacation for new hires are egregiously low and we have long, long vacancies when people leave. Everyone, especially managers, are stretched very thin. 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US  

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Only remote for most meetings and interviews

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200 

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, 100-200 staff members, Northeastern US, Public, Suburban area, Urban area

It makes the interviewers uncomfortable.

The Librarian, U.S. Naval Academy. From the Library of Congress.

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Other: Military Base Library

Title: Director

Titles hired include: Library Technician

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ The position’s supervisor 

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

√ Online application

√ Resume

√ References

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

We conduct interviews with a panel. If it’s my employee, it’s ultimately my decision. We have to have two positive references to hire.

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

Maturity, understanding of the work, job experience

What are your instant dealbreakers?

Anything that implies that the library is a quiet, easy place to work, someone who is eligible for a card and doesn’t have one, doesn’t live in the area, availability 

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Not knowing anything about the place they are interviewing for

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

Yes,  please practice with the technology. Also learn it, don’t insist that interviewers is a different one

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?

Customer service and understanding people is key

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad 

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

When can I expect an answer, what does a typical day look like

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10

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

People have started asking in interviews, “is there anything that would keep you from hiring me?” Don’t do that. It makes the interviewers uncomfortable. Ask after the selection is made.

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 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Special, Suburban area, Western US

Further Questions: Should Candidates Address Gaps in Employment?

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 I profiled The Library Returners website, which is a great resource for people returning to work after a break. In keeping with that theme, the question is:

Should applicants address gaps in their employment history? Does it matter how long it is? Does the reason matter (i.e. raising children, tough job market, illness/injury, etc.)? If you think gaps need to be addressed, how should it happen?


Randall Schroeder, Director, Retired: My fear is that employment gaps mean more than they should to some decision makers.

For me, I almost always assume that a candidate’s gap is for a good reason, especially during whatever stage of the pandemic we are at now. I am reminded of what my mentor said a few decades ago at a small, private college library in Illinois, “everybody’s got a story.” Especially librarians. In 30 years, I have only met one librarian who went straight from high school to undergrad to graduate school to the profession. Everybody else, including me, has had a stop or two along the way.

For me, an application need not be a personal confession every time. If I have a question, I’ll ask it during the interview. In many instances, the resume gap may be an indicator of a life experience that will help a candidate’s case in my mind.

Your mileage may vary.


Jess Herzog, Director of Adult Services, Spartanburg County Public Libraries: On our external applications, we ask for reasons behind gaps of more than six months. I think that’s a solid period of time to expect an explanation for (or longer). I think it’s most sensible to address it on a line item within the resume, for example: “July 2017-January 2018, unemployed while recovering from an injury” or something similar. I don’t want or need a lot of detail, but I’ve worked with others in the past who find it very suspicious when there’s a gap in someone’s work history that is left completely unaddressed. It’s smart to be proactive about explaining your work history with the lumps and bumps, and to me that indicates that you own the fact that your work history is imperfect, just like every other work history out there.

A note on one of these breaks from “work”: if you’ve taken a break to raise children or be a caregiver for a family member, I would LOVE seeing that listed as a job on a resume. That’s a job in and of itself, and the amount of work you do and things you learn and manage is absolutely worth highlighting, and there are often significant transferable skills, especially soft skills like strong communication, time management, and creative thinking. Nothing teaches you to think outside the box quite like a kid, that’s for sure, and nothing teaches you empathy like caring for another family member going through health difficulties.


Celia Rabinowitz, Dean of Mason Library, Keene State College: My initial and quick response is to admit that I often notice and wonder about employment gaps. At the same time, I am not really sure I believe that people should have to explain them. I have noticed that candidates will sometimes refer specifically to gaps that result from staying home to raise families (mostly, but not always, from women). There are plenty of reasons why a person may have employment gaps and I am increasingly of the opinion that a candidate should not feel obligated to explain a gap. For some reason, either within the candidate’s control or not, they have chosen or been unable to work.

We read into these kinds of things all the time. An academic librarian seeking a new position in what is their 6th or 7th year at another academic library is someone who hasn’t received tenure, right? Maybe. Or perhaps they realize that they don’t want tenure at their current job and will have a hard time finding another once they have it. Or something else. What about someone who changes jobs every two-three years. Bad choices? Difficulty holding a job? Military spouse?

I think it is more important to ascertain whether the candidate has the skills and other assets needed to do the job or to learn to do the job, particularly in a field that changes as quickly as ours can. Candidates often provide explanations for the gaps which is fine but I would like to move away from guessing, asking, or even making a candidate feel some pressure or obligation to explain.


Jimmie Epling, Director, Darlington County Library System: While an applicant may not need to address a gap in their employment history, the applicant must have a rational explanation for the gap. The reason for the gap might be alluded to in a cover letter or application.

There are many reasons for a gap in employment. It is reasonable to expect that an applicant has had a job where “it just didn’t work out.” It is reasonable for an employer to wonder about a gap and inquire about it in an interview. A question about an employment gap may be framed as a behavior interview question, giving the interview committee some insight into the applicant’s future performance.

When it come to the length of time an applicant has not worked in the field and it matters, it varies from job to job. An IT manager with a 10 year gap in employment may well matter more to an employer than the same gap for a circulation desk employee. Knowledge and skills have a shelf life. The IT manager candidate needs to explain the gap and demonstrate current IT knowledge.


Angelynn King, Head Librarian, Delaware Technical Community College:

I personally would be inclined to give the applicant the benefit of the doubt and assume that a gap in employment was for a good reason that was none of my business. If their work history shows a number of gaps, however, I would prefer that they volunteer an explanation. Otherwise, the committee is likely to assume that past performance is predictive.


Headshot of Jaime Corris Hammond

Jaime Corris Hammond, Director of Library Services, Max R. Traurig Library, Naugatuck Valley Community College: I don’t feel any need to know what applicants did during employment gaps, nor would I ask anyone to explain one. That is in part because I understand that many employment gaps pertain to personal circumstances that are none of my business, and in part because our interview questions are standardized and pre-approved so a question about someone’s particular resume would not be on our list.

If someone wanted to address an employment gap with me, they could always bring it up in one of their answers or at the end, when I ask if there’s anything else they would like to share.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: Yes, It is my opinion that it is VERY important for candidates to address gaps and especially in some circumstances (keep reading) in their employment history. There are some more perfect proactive approaches by applicants as well as perfect questions for interviewers.

Why should gaps be addressed?

For the majority of positions we fill it takes a great deal of time. In fact, it takes time to just fill the position but that it is just beginning and is soon followed by the time it takes to orient, train, develop and maintain new employees – even when the candidate is internal or has worked for the institution before. And by stating the obvious “time is money,” the amount of money invested in new employees is astronomical once you add up pre, during and the first few months of hire. And at many institutions, it takes much longer than a few months to have a fully prepared employee – often at least a year. So – getting back to the topic at hand, selecting the right people is one of a manager’s most important roles and as much information as possible is critical to this expensive decision. Most managers; therefore, pour over resumes, cover letters, search social media and web content and compare applicants to the needs of the organization and the position description. And although we have to be fair and careful in asking questions and seeking clarifications, finding opportunities to reconcile timelines, etc. is valuable and can include:

  • seeking information from software networking platforms (Linked In, etc.)
  • accessing explanatory content from online job seeker platforms (Indeed, Monster, company, association and agency employment, etc.)
  • reviewing interview questions for opportunities to ask followup questions (carefully done to retain parity in asking all applicants the same initial questions)

What “gap” circumstances make it even more important for gaps to be addressed?

While one gap is probably not of major import, multiple gaps between employment, longer gaps than usual for typical job seekers unemployed and trying to find work, patterns of concern (gaps occurring when positions repeatedly end at the end of probations) as well as gaps that don’t match the employment dates/timelines offered on official applications. And the reality is what the interviewer is being told might not be learning anything such as – the answer might be vague or generalized (family illness, a bad economy, nothing was a good fit, didn’t meet my needs, there was no match for my education or training, etc.) or avoided by the candidate (I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable discussing that.) 

Where and when and what might applicants say and when should they say it?

  • The gap might be addressed in the cover letter rather than on the application form in general (where there probably isn’t space.)
  • The gap might be addressed in the cover letter rather than on the application form with specific information.
  • The cover letter could say “if I am selected as a finalist for this position, I would be more than happy to answer questions about xxxx.” (Much as applicants often do if references say “do not contact.”)
  • An applicant could state “I have a gap after the position where I had the most reference experience, due to the need to recover from an accident.” (It’s personal so keep it brief and interviewers should NOT ask for any specific follow ups.)
  • Applicants should focus on accomplishments achieved during the gap. (Although it took me almost a year to find a position that was the best fit, I took that time to learn x software, or take x courses online or fine tune my time management and organization skills.)
  • Applicants should – if the gap was for fun – which is perfectly okay – identify their fun time but emphasize their work ethic and return to work and benefit and impact of the “gap” period.
  • Applicants should consider bringing in extraneous but closely involved people such as “My partner had another 8 months in school so I spent this time working on my x certification.”

What might interviewers say and when should they say it?

  • “As a follow up to your summary of the x position, could you address the employment years from x to x (and include the unaccounted for time period.)”
  • Interviews could have candidates instructed by mail, support staff contact with “please be prepared to offer the committee a 15 presentation,” or “the committee will be – for a 30 minute period – your teen book group, please be prepared to lead a discussion on a popular teen title.” or “During questions and answers on required job experience, candidates may be asked to provide rationale for moving among types of libraries, gaps in employment or frequent job changes as well as identify the positions and roles and responsibilities that best prepared you for the position for which you are interviewing.”

What should be avoided in the “gap” issue?

During interviews – as managers know – all questions should be tailored to the position at hand, should be compared against the organization’s HR recommended questions and should be compared against legal and illegal question lists. To avoid tangents or the absence of parity in asking candidates the same questions, gap questions should be raised as follow up questions to answers from the standard questions or as follow up to statements made by candidates. In addition, HIPAA laws should be followed to avoid asking inappropriate questions on health or treatments, candidates should avoid complaining about organizations or past supervisors, or environments that may have been involved in creating “gap” situations. 

Finally, it is unrealistic – especially looking back at the last two years and certainly to negative economic or employment time periods – to assume that the most successful candidates should have NO evidence of gap time in employment history. 


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

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Filed under Further Questions

Job Hunter’s Web Guide: Library Returners

In the previous iteration of Hiring Librarians, I did periodic features on websites that supported LIS job hunters. You can take a look at the list here. I am planning to do updates on some of those listed, and I’m also hoping to feature new (or new to me) sites.

I’m really pleased to be able to feature Library Returners. It’s an excellent and much-needed resource for those returning to work after a break. This is a topic I had heard about a lot from readers; in fact we did a series on it back in 2013. In the COVID era, I think it’s even more relevant. 

Home page of Library Returners website: background image is a bookshelf and title of site is: Library Returners: A site for those returning to Librarianship after a career break

What is it?  Please give us your elevator speech!

Library Returners is a site aimed at those returning to work in libraries after a career break. It contains a range of advice, guest posts and career break stories, that will also be of value to those changing track, sector, thinking of taking some time out, or just reassessing where they are in their career.

When and why was it started?

I entered the world of career breaks many years ago. But I didn’t find the information I needed or wanted when I wanted to re-join the profession and return to work. The blog was started to fill what I felt was a gap in career resources available for librarians who had taken time away from the formal workplace.

It went live in April 2018 but it really started with the release of a blog post written in September 16, 2018 called Getting back into the game: how to restart your library career after a break – Library returners This post provides a rather neat summary of some of things someone who in on a period of extended leave can do to kickstart their library job search. However, it was also a good ‘vision post’, setting out what the blog was really all about. I received such a great response to this post and people started to subscribe.

Now, I post a mixture of articles that I write myself or that are written by fabulous librarians working in the field with experience of career breaks or from wonderful library career and industry experts offering career advice. I am always interested to hear what topics readers would like to see tackled on the blog. I started to write about the things I wanted to hear more about, but as the site developed, ideas for articles have also come from readers directly, using the Dear Ms Library Returner, – Library returners box or via direct messages. The personal stories, like Guest post: Jessie – Library returners have a real and deep connection with people and I would certainly like to develop this in the future. Some are from librarians who have successfully returned to working at the level they want, while others are from people still working their first return to work job or ‘bridge job’. I am deeply grateful to everyone who has contributed because they’ve all given me their precious time for free. 

Who runs it? Please tell us a bit about your background. 

Library returners is run by Susan Mends from Wales, UK.

I have what might be described as a portfolio career!

I started in libraries in the early 1990s, initially working full-time in public libraries and then working full-time in teaching and developing open, distance and e-learning masters programmes (an early career highlight was setting up the Masters in Library and Information Studies by distance learning in Aberystwyth University Throughout this time I maintained a genuine interest in career education, guidance and planning to enhance employability.

I took a career break in 2013 after my third child was born. Around the same time, I was also engaged in caregiving to an elderly member of the family. Four years later I started my library returner journey, returning to work on a flexible basis and taking on a ‘bridge job’ with part-time hours in a public library as entry back into the profession.

I still work in the public library sector while also providing freelance writing services to a university department and have, for example, recently completed revising an open, distance and e-learning module in Children’s Librarianship. 

Who is your target audience?

Librarians, aspiring librarians, library workers, returners and relaunchers and anyone who wants and needs to connect and interact.

The biggest audience are people taking a break from the workplace for a variety of reasons and finding ways to return. However, it is also read by other readers, e.g., those who are interested in part-time, flexible, professional remote work. I’ve been surprised by the number of new library professionals who’ve told me they access the site. A new development are readers preparing for their retirement.

It is accessed in many different parts of the world. Changes in the workplace and the wider profession in response to the coronavirus pandemic mean that everyone is considering their future.

What’s the best way to use your site?   

Readers can check it out as needed. New blog posts are released around every two months. The bibliography and other pages will be updated on an ad hoc basis. 

Does your site provide:

Answers to reader questions

Interviews

Articles/literature

Links

Research

The opportunity for interaction

Advice on:

Cover Letters

Resumes

Interviewing

 Networking

Other: Flexible working / Job applications / Career coaching / Mindfulness/Portfolio careers / Job shadowing / Volunteering/ Lack of work experience / Job skills / LinkedIn / 

Should readers also look for you on social media? Or is your content available in other formats? Please include links, subscription information, or other details if pertinent

Twitter: @Libraryreturner 

LinkedIn: Susan Mends

Facebook 

Do you charge for anything on your site?

No

Can you share any stories about job hunters that found positions after using your site?

The library returners blog is building a collection of real-life career break stories from people who have taken time away from libraries for all sorts of reasons. People on a career break find real value in reading other people’s stories, whether they record a return to the same field of librarianship or a career adjustment or change. They can be particularly helpful to read during a long, tough job hunt, the type of difficult search process being experienced by many at the moment. I am always looking for new stories as people find these really useful.

The stories collected so far can be found here Your voices: LIS career break stories 

You can find my story Real-life Returners: the challenges of returning to work in the library and information sector on another website! 

Anything else you’d like to share with my readers about your site in particular, or about library hiring/job hunting in general?

The hardest thing for a library returner to overcome is the perception that you’ve become stale and lost your professional skillset while you’ve been on extended leave. 

If you can:

  • Seek out networking opportunities while you are still on your career break – how can you connect, attend a conference, a virtual webinar?
  • Keep your skills up to date – can you take a course?
  • Maintain your LinkedIn profile – it is tempting to close it down but far better to hold it open and say why you are not available. Now it’s ready to update when you are! 

The job search process can be daunting and anything you can do to make this a bit easier will help. But if you switched off completely during your break, don’t worry. Visit libraryreturners.com for more advice!  

Thank you!

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Filed under Job Hunters Web Guide

We’d rather wait a few seconds and get a well-thought out answer!

Headshot of Alan Smith. He wears glasses, a white shirt and tie.

Alan Smith is Director of the Florence County, SC Library System and holds a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of South Carolina. 

Over the past 20 years he has worked in rural, urban, and suburban public libraries, in a wide variety of roles.

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

I send all applications to the position’s direct supervisor and let them choose who to interview (I will sometimes add in a name too). We interview with a 3-person panel consisting of me, the position’s direct supervisor, and another manager. We rotate other managers in and out and always keep the panel as diverse as possible. After interviewing we score individually and discuss. I defer to the direct supervisor if our opinions differ.

After all this they go through our county’s background check and drug test.  

Titles hired include: Everything! From Branch Library Managers, Information Services Manager, Youth Services Coordinator, Training and Outreach Coordinator, to Pages, Library Assistants, Custodian, Maintenance, Courier…

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration

√ The position’s supervisor

√ A Committee or panel 

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

√ Online application

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

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?

She had a wide variety of experience, none of it in libraries, but really convincingly demonstrated how those skills and experiences would translate to our mission and values. 

Interviews are limited in what they can tell you — and I’ve hired folks with great interviews who turned out not to be great employees — but someone who gives a pleasant interview with thoughtful answers is at least demonstrating that they can do well in a stressful personal interaction, which is a pretty good indicator of customer service skills.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Sounds obvious, but people who don’t show up for an interview and don’t call. We’ve had people do a complete no-show and then continue applying for other positions?! 

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

What kind of coworker are they? Will they help resolve conflicts among other employees or will they just enjoy watching drama unfold? Will they add to or strain social cohesion on the team?

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One! 

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

 CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Feeling like they have to answer immediately and not giving themselves a second to think about their answers. We’d rather wait a few seconds and get a well-thought out answer! And, people who are clearly reluctant to talk about their own accomplishments and virtues. This is where you toot your own horn! 

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

Occasionally. Number one is site preparation – interview from a quiet, distraction free environment (as much as is within your control). 

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

I’m more concerned whether candidates have done work aligned around a mission or set of values, and whether they have experience building good community relationships and/or working with customers, than whether they have done those things in a library setting. 

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 always use a 3-person panel with members of different races and genders. That doesn’t eliminate individual unconscious bias, of course, but we try to acknowledge it in our discussions about candidates. I do worry about discrimination baked into the process itself, i.e., which candidates’ applications do we never even receive because we didn’t advertise where they would see it, didn’t convince them we were the type of place they would be welcome, etc. 

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

Asking any kind of questions shows a level of interest and critical thinking that we’re really looking for. I like to hear questions about culture and environment (“What’s a typical day like here?” “What do you like most or least about the job?”), and questions about the overall organization’s direction (“What are the library’s top priorities?” “What would a successful person in this position be doing a year from now?”)

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

√ Suburban

√ Rural 

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Other: Very limited remote options during early phases of COVID; our County required all-onsite after May 2020.

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? 

I’m always interested in hearing feedback on specific interview questions — questions that are especially illuminating, or well-known questions that are useless. Maybe beyond the scope of this survey though.

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

Leave a comment

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

Further Questions: Is it possible to do all of your hiring virtually?

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.

Today’s question is from someone who hires library workers:

Some managers are saying that they feel comfortable designing a 100% virtual hiring process for all of their vacant positions. Others are saying that only certain positions can be hired from 100% virtual and that some positions need a hybrid process. So…post-pandemic – IS it really possible to substitute 100% of in person hiring with 100% online/virtual hiring for librarian positions? If yes, can we say that about all positions we hire in libraries? Paraprofessional? Professional/Technical? Hourly?

There are a couple answers below and even more discussion on Twitter:


headshot of jess herzog

Jess Herzog, Director of Adult Services, Spartanburg County Public Libraries: I hire exclusively public service staff, primarily paraprofessional, and one of the things I find most important to assess in an interview is body language, because this is the kind of non-verbal behavior that will be exhibited in front of patrons. Are there abrupt or rapid movements that may overwhelm or distract patrons? Does the interviewer exhibit defensive or protective body language about a certain topic? Is the interviewee capable of making eye contact?

I don’t hang the entire interview on body language, but patrons in a public library assess body language in many many ways, and we often have to use body language to our advantage to convey messaging to patrons. It’s almost impossible to read full body language–and in most cases anything from the shoulders down–when interviewing virtually. I think a first interview could be done virtually, but for positions I hire, I’d really want to meet a prospective employee in person first and have some sort of interaction with them.


Headshot of Laurie Phillips

Laurie Phillips, Interim Dean of Libraries, J. Edgar & Louise S. Monroe Library, Loyola University New Orleans: Since COVID, we’ve done a few hires completely virtual, both a librarian and two staff members. I think it has gone really well and I don’t think we missed out on anything. I do think it’s important for there to be some one-on-one interaction with candidates, rather than big committee meetings on Zoom. For staff, we do a pre-screening before they ever meet with the committee. For a faculty search, I don’t remember if we did two rounds on Zoom, but it worked out very well. It’s a little harder to bring out skills, etc., but I’m not sure what would entirely be gained by meeting someone in person, unless it’s for an administrator, who really needs to see the building and the campus and meet the people in person.


Julie Todaro, Dean, Library Services, Austin Community College: Because of where we live – Austin – and not who we are, frankly – pre-pandemic applicants for many of our classified positions were from out-of-state. Why? To state the obvious (and identify things that many wonderful cities have)…many people move to Austin because a partner, spouse, friend, etc. is going to be going to the graduate library program in town or they themselves are OR their significant other has gotten a job in Austin (industry, tech, the music business, etc.) or they themselves are a musician or – again – their partner is OR because they love music and want to be near the city’s music scene.

I list these out because – and obviously for the classified positions – they need an income while they go to school, work, play, etc. and here we are! So we don’t flatter ourselves that we are that sought after at the senior library assistant or library assistant level but we do have good benefits and we have a variety of locations as well as managers with libraries with long hours so flexibility has always been our focus.

With that in mind, bringing people in from out-of-state- especially at the initial level of weeding out a pool of finalists – is not affordable or possible and certainly a candidate would not always choose to pay their own way. SO – many years ago we were the first department in the college to ask our HR department if we could interview online to assess the first round of applicants. Although they said yes, it meant that – for full parity – all initial finalists had to interview online and – yes – we even interviewed our internal applicants online for the first round. Of course, we quickly realized that the best outcome of this was far more than saving money or seeking a breadth of experience, etc. rather it greatly increased the pool in general and we were able to visit with candidates from vastly different settings, educational backgrounds and interests. With all of these aspects and opportunities in mind for the classified positions, we began to narrow down our faculty librarian applicant pools in the same way and we definitely had a bigger, richer pool to interview and thus narrowed down the longer list to five or six finalists to bring in/see in person.

Obviously these initial interviews online were only question and answer sessions, but as technology availability and ease of access grew, it became easier to imagine a full faculty librarian interview with not only questions and answers but also guided conversations or question and answer follow up, possible meet and greets as well as teaching presentations. After all, our growing distance learning program have – in fact – as all are, curriculum delivered both synchronously and asynchronously and we provide online reference and both hybrid (digital pre-learning and synchronous) and synchronous instruction for a class as well as online Zoom sessions for research assistance and curriculum design using library subscription resources, OPEN resources, etc. for not only students but classroom faculty.

It wasn’t such a stretch; then, as soon as the pandemic began, for us to decide the critical issue was to continue hiring and how we did that was less important than the fact that we were allowed to do it and needed to continue to fill positions. We expanded our reach, then, by moving all interviews online and continued to review our questions for currency with a focus on EDI issues as well as added with even more emphasis the assessment of the candidates design and delivery of online content. We have been very pleased with our “pandemic hires” although they interviewed only virtually AND were hired, oriented and trained virtually and – literally – in one case, did not step foot on a campus for months.

So what do we want to keep as we slowly move into Pandemic Stage 3? My guess is my managers all have distinctly different opinions – which is as it should be – but for my purposes, I very much like the virtual narrowing down of the larger pools for all levels of staff, but oddly feel more strongly about the second round for classified being either a hybrid or in-person session where we bring people in while the faculty librarian position could – in fact I think – remain online. I am not quite sure why I feel that way but because I think I should figure that out (!) I thought about it taking a look back at the last 18 months, read a little on online interviewing etc. and have decided on this list of “why.”

Why do we need to bring in senior assistant and library assistant candidates for at least part of an interview?

  • Classified staff – obviously – work alone at the public service or assistance desk/in assistance areas but overall operate as members of teams and – as such – train together, support the teams general and specific duties and often partner for not only projects but for public service…I see it critical then – if at all possible and especially for those not serving on the selection committees – get the chance to meet with candidates.
  • Many circulation desk roles and responsibilities are not stand-alone roles, rather a project or task or job responsibility is completed by the team – often stepping in at different times – therefore – timing, relationships, observation with the team (if possible) are key.
  • Classified staff work in fewer locations -that is – they have responsibilities for roles and responsibilities at their public service desk possibly, an administrative assistants desk – and one other location – specifically the workroom or work stations for work cubicles and now – they must also work in shared locations or on shared technology. Given the number of hours – literally- classified staff work in fewer, smaller spaces, it is important for them to see their work environment…windows or not? space to call their own or not? opportunities for more quiet or not? “protected” from the general public or not? opportunities – on the job – for privacy or not? People have to make their own decisions about where they might feel comfortable working and whether or not they feel as if they can be successful in work settings. That best happens with onsite visits and – if possible – observation of people working in spaces.
  • Classified roles and responsibilities might but aren’t necessarily “self-starter” in nature, but certainly once in play, staff need to be self-directed. Rather than – if at all possible – finding out if applicants can be or are self-starters through questions alone – it is important to show/illustrate workflow for teams so that applicants can be more aware of position expectations in general and so that interviews can ask questions following tours to determine awareness of/interest in and commitment to self-starting tasks and responsibilities.

Why is the actual in-person visit not as necessary – in some environments – for librarians as applicants?

So first the disclaimer, many environments do NOT have adequate workroom, office, or cubicle space for professionals – much less their classified staff. Professionals; however, have more flexible schedules typically as well as more locations where work happens and possibly (and certainly now typically) both on and off site. And the odds are professionals might have on site or in the building or general proximity, offices, more opportunities for privacy and “heads down” concentration and focus as well as individual – rather than team – roles and responsibilities. If your environment for your professionals is one where space is shared (offices, hardware/tech, space for supporting resources, etc.) it is incumbent upon interviews that you communicate that to all applicants. Much like the difficult answers that are typically given to “What is your support for staff development?” applicants must be told what they have and what they don’t have either through verbal discussion or through lists of resources available for new professionals including office/work space information.

Smart applicants ask questions such as “What does a typical workday look like for a librarian?” “Please describe workspaces for librarians beyond the public service desk.” “What support do instructors have in classrooms?” “What storage is there for maker resources (or children’s materials for programming, or parent support resources?” “What is the performance or programming space for my primary audience, my seniors?”

With the advent of streaming media, phones with cameras, inexpensive filming devices, etc.and taking great care to not provide TOO much information on recommendation of safety and security experts for environments, it is easy to not only create virtual visits for users to post on websites, social media, etc. but also to provide short media pieces for candidates showing public and behind-the-scenes workspaces (cubicles, offices), user environments, programming venues, and even supporting resource storage. In addition, those interviewing virtually should identify individual technology support in general and specifically (higher end computers, laptop availability, device distribution for staff, more memory given roles and responsibilities, etc.) as well as updates and ongoing maintenance and overall support for hardware and software. And while these elements have always been important it is even more important as we welcome people back to the workplace who may have VERY different working spaces in the past two years.


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

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Search committee reviews all applicants using a matrix

Three tables each with people studying special collections
Image: Researchers at MSU Special Collections Library via Wikimedia Commons

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Academic Library

√ Archives

Title: Head of Special Collections

Titles hired include: University archivist, archivist, processing archivist

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Other: Search committee makes recommendation to dean

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

√ Online application

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ CV

√ References

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

√ More than one round of interviews

√ A whole day of interviews

√ A meal with hiring personnel

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ No

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

Search committee reviews all applicants using a matrix, selects first round phone interviews (8-10 people usually), selects 2-3 people for on campus interview (full day), makes hiring recommendation to dean

 How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

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

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

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

Not doing any research on the hiring institution, not having any questions for interviewers

When does your organization *first* mention salary information?

√ It’s part of the job ad

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southwestern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 100-200 staff members, Academic, Archives, Southwestern US, Suburban area

Doesn’t the MLS itself promote bias as a gatekeeping mechanism?

Charles Benjamin Norton, publisher and bookseller; Seth Hastings Grant, librarian at the New York Mercantile Library; and Daniel Coit Gilman, assistant librarian at Yale at the first annual meeting of American librarians, From the Library of Congress

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Special Library

Title: Program Manager

Titles hired include: Electronic Resources Librarian, Acquisitions Librarian, Reference Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ HR

√ 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

√ Resume

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes

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

Applications are submitted to USAJobs and reviewed by HR. HR creates one or more cert lists and highlights candidates who have preference (veterans, etc). Resumes and cover letters are included with the cert list(s), though sometimes we can tell that we are missing paperwork (i.e. a cover letter doesn’t come attached but is referenced in a resume, etc). Resumes are evaluated against a matrix and assigned points. The candidates with the highest number of points are given short-notice to attend an interview the next week. They participate in one 1-hour interview, and each candidate is asked the exact same questions by the exact same panel members. Panelists rank the responses against another written matrix and compare scores only after all interviews are complete. The panel then provides a recommendation and a back-up recommendation to the hiring manager, who will then start contacting references and evaluate. 

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

They were obviously so skilled, but also so polite and lively

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Attitude and tone, though it’s not a problem for others. I’m trying to heal my organization’s culture.

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

What did they think of us? Would they be happy here?

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this  

Resume: √ As many as it takes, I love reading

CV: √ We don’t ask for this  

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

Losing track of time – you have to answer all questions within the same 60 minutes assigned to all candidates – if you skip or miss a question, I have to give you a score of 0 on it, and no matter how great your other answers were, this will drive down your score.

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

Yes. Great question! BE EARLY, at least 5 minutes early. Make sure your microphone and headset is working. It’s hard to keep animals and kids quiet, but at least keep other adults out of the room. It’s hard not to talk over people, so it’s okay to say “over” when your answer is complete. 

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?

Use the STAR method whenever answering questions and please tell stories that help me understand

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?

Another great question – doesn’t the MLS itself promote bias as a gatekeeping mechanism?

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 culture, fit, and what a typical day might look like

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Southeastern US

What’s your region like?

√ Urban

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Some of the time and/or in some positions

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 11-50

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

Note – our resumes HAVE to be long (federal gov). I have had to throw away WONDERFUL resumes that are too short to make it past the first round of scoring. I have a matrix that I HAVE to follow and if your resume doesn’t address every little thing, it’s not going to make it or score high enough. I can’t stand letting go of great candidates just because they have a one or two page resume, it makes me so sad. I can’t reach out to them to ask them to send a resubmission. Plus the first person to look at your resume is NOT a librarian – help them understand why you’re qualified by using every single keyword you can think of. 

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

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

I’ve had very good correlation between successful hires and composers of excellent cover letters

Black and white photo librarian sits at desk in an alcove under a vine, woman stands speaking to her
Image: Great Kills, Librarian and patron at desk From The New York Public Library

This anonymous interview is with someone who hires for a:

√ Public Library

Title: Branch Manager

Titles hired: Library Assistant, Library Assistant Specialist, Youth Services Specialist, Adult Services Specialist, Branch Supervisor

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

√ Cover letter

√ Resume

√ References

√ Proof of degree

√ Supplemental Questions

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview

√ Demonstration (teaching, storytime, etc)

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Other: The online application system does a very minor amount of screening, but still lets a lot of people through who don’t meet the minimum qualifications.

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

Applicants must apply online. Positions are open until filled. Interviews are scheduled after a sufficient number of promising applicants have accumulated. During COVID, Interviews were by Zoom. We are starting to move back to more in-person interviews. Interviews are with the manager (myself), the supervisor (equivalent of an asst. manager), and the HR director. The same questions are used with all interviewees for a position. Those applying for positions requiring programming are required to do a presentation. The manager makes the final selection with HR input.

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

We always ask for cover letters, but very few people actually write them. If a candidate writes a thoughtful cover letter, assuming they meet the minimum job requirements, they almost always end up at the top of my list of people to interview. I’ve had very good correlation between successful hires and composers of excellent cover letters. I’m also impressed by people who come to interviews obviously very well prepared. For example, they previously visited the library and researched our services. I had an entry level candidate who had no library experience. While interviewing, I noticed he had a notebook with the Dewey Decimal System written out in detail. He never referenced it, but I noticed his preparation and it did influence my decision to hire him.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

People who don’t use proper capitalization, punctuation or grammar in their applications. People who can’t work the required hours or meet the minimum job requirements. People who give problematic sounding reasons for leaving their previous jobs, particularly when that same reason is listed multiple times. People who are out of school, yet still have tons of job turnover (particularly yearly turnover).

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

How well they’ll work with the rest of the team. There are indicators, but in the end, its always a gamble.

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?

Revealing personal information that isn’t relevant and reflects poorly. Poorly handling questions like “What are you working to improve?”

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

More so than in the past. If you are asked to do a presentation, be prepared to screenshare. Nothing you try to hold up to the camera will look good.

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?

Give solid examples of how your current skill set relates to the position you want. If the position you’re after is a stretch, say it requires programming skills and you’ve never programmed, make it clear to me that you’ve researched the topic and learned about professional resources that will help you grow and succeed in the position. I had a para-professional who wanted to become a youth programmer. She made an effort to get involved in anything she could that was remotely youth related. She sought advice from coworkers who were programmers. She practiced doing storytimes at home and filmed herself so she could self critique. Despite limited programming experience, she was the clear choice for the job. If a candidate keeps getting shot down for promotions, they should talk to HR and get advice. If there’s a clear problem area, they need to work on it. I’ve dealt with a person who applied for tons of jobs, but interviewed terribly. The fact that they never changed their style or seemed to learn from their experiences, made me concerned about how teachable they would be if given a promotion.

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 use a numerical metric to score responses to questions. I would like to see us advertise our positions more widely.

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

Asking questions is good. It’s fine to ask about things like schedule and benefits, but also ask some thoughtful things about the job. Examples: library goals, training process, management style, etc.

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Midwestern US

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Rural

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 101-200

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Filed under 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, 100-200 staff members, Midwestern US, Public, Rural area, Suburban area

Kindness. Honesty.

Justin Hoenke is a human being and a librarian. He’s worked in public libraries in the USA and New Zealand, and is currently the Library Director of the Gardiner Public Library in Gardiner, Maine. 

His professional interests include creativity, public libraries as community centers, and music. He offers library consultancy services for public libraries and can be contacted at http://www.justinthelibrarian.com. 

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

We put out a job ad, we accept resumes/cover letters, we review what we have, we set up interviews, we hire!

Titles hired include: Archivist, Library Assistant, Youth Services Librarian

Who makes hiring decisions at your organization:

√ Library Administration 

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

√ Cover letter

√ Resume 

√ References 

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?

Kindness. Honesty.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

It’s weird to say this as a librarian, but if all that you bring to an interview is “I love books” and “libraries are my home” that doesn’t bode well for you. I love books and libraries too, but it’s not the focus. I wanna know about you.

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

Not sure

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ Only One!  

Resume: √ As many as it takes, I love reading

CV: √ As many as it takes, I love reading

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

Not sure

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

Yes

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?

Be honest and open. Tell me what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown

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 treat everyone that we interview and hire equally. We are all in this together.

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

What’s the workplace like

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Northeastern US 

What’s your region like?

√ Other: Rural/Suburban-ish

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore 

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 0-10

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

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Filed under 0-10 staff members, 1 A Return to Hiring Librarians Survey, Northeastern US, Public, Rural area, Suburban area