Tag Archives: Mentorship

Author’s Corner: A Hodgepodge of Tips for Applicants

Laura Kane has two books which might be useful for you library job hunters and career builders: 

Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & information Science (ALA, 2011),

and

Straight From the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science (ALA Editions, 2003).

So in today’s post, she offers general advice to applicants, what she calls ” What’s Funny, What’s Not, and a Series of No-Brainers.”  I hope from this post you will gain not only a sense of her writing style and viewpoint, but some wisdom for your application process.


I don’t like to think of myself as a Veteran Librarian, but with nearly twenty years in the field, I guess that’s exactly what I am.  Though the thought makes me feel old, I will admit that experience has made me wiser. Throughout my tenure as an academic medical librarian, I have been a member of numerous search committees charged with filling professional librarian positions.  I’ve come to the conclusion that there are certain aspects of a candidate’s application and subsequent interview that can instantly “make or break” them.  I will cover each of these topics here, and hope that this hodgepodge of tips will be helpful to those seeking employment in the workforce.

That’s Funny!

Did you happen to see the OREO cookie commercial during this year’s Super Bowl?  Set in a library, it’s all about the friction that exists between those who love the cookie part, and those who love the cream part of the OREO.  The commercial is called “Whisper Fight,” and though the fight between the cream lovers and cookie lovers turns into complete chaos, nobody speaks above a whisper.  Stacks are toppling, books are raining down, a fire starts, firemen arrive with hoses, and all the while a bespectacled, cardigan-clad librarian looks on in horror and then finally “shouts” a stage whisper, “I’m calling the cops!”  When the police arrive, they whisper through a bullhorn, “You guys have to stop fighting!  We are the cops!”

I could not stop laughing.  I was so tickled that I had to immediately find it on the Web and play it again.  And again.  My 13-year-old son looked on with concern.  “Um, Mom,” he said hesitantly.  “You’re a librarian.  Shouldn’t you be insulted?”  I sobered up immediately and cleared my through.  “Oh! Um… of course.  Yes, indeed.  I am terribly insulted!”  Then I doubled over in laughter again.

Should I have been insulted by the obvious stereotyping going on in that commercial?  No way.  It was so clearly over-the-top that you couldn’t help but laugh.  Yes, there is a pervasive stereotype in our field, but isn’t that the case for most professions?  Most of my fellow librarians have “gotten over” taking offense at the stereotypes.  In fact, many of my colleagues think it’s just plain funny.  My nine-year-old son (I have three sons!) likes to grab some fake glasses, slide them to the end of his nose, and peer down them, saying, “I’m a librarian.”  He’s trying to rile me but he just looks so silly that I end up laughing.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make here.  Librarians have a sense of humor.  I work in an academic medical library.  We handle some pretty serious stuff.  But you can always hear laughter in our meetings, in our offices, and yes – God forbid! – even out in the main library itself.  It’s wonderful to work with a group of people who can be lighthearted and fun when appropriate.

Working in the Virtual StacksSo what does this mean for someone applying for a professional librarian position?  It means that you can lighten up a little.  Don’t go overboard, of course, but let your sense of humor show.  Just two months ago I was on a search committee for a position that had around forty applicants.  I was given a stack of ten applications and had to pick the top candidates from that stack.  Only one candidate made it to the top of my list – the one who stuck a purposely amusing sentence in the end of her cover letter.  Guess what?  She’s the person we hired.  Her cover letter stood out for me because it made me laugh.  I thought, “This person is well-qualified AND she has a sense of humor.”  No matter how qualified a person is, nobody wants to work with a stick-in-the-mud.  A balance of skill, knowledge, and humor goes a long way in my book.

That Is SO Not Funny!

Check out this actual sentence from one of the cover letters in that stack I told you about:

 I saw your posting for a Research Lab Assistant and feel that I am well-qualified for the position.

Not bad, huh?  It might have been OK if that had been remotely close to the position for which we were advertising!  Clearly the applicant was copying and pasting and not checking his/her work.  This seems like a no-brainer, but I have seen this happen many times: we receive applications with cover letters that were obviously written in the past for completely different positions.  So here is a tip:  double-check your cover letter!  The cover letter, for me, is the top tool for weeding out candidates.  You can only get so much from an application form; it’s the cover letter that either allows a person to stand out, or causes that fateful toss to the bottom of the pile.

Smart

Here’s another tip about cover letters:  prove that you did some research about the position and show interest in some aspect of what you’ve learned.  Study the library’s website and see what kinds of programs and services they offer.  In your cover letter, mention one or two things that stood out or caught your interest.  For example, you could say, “I see that librarians at your institution are involved with developing LibGuides for library patrons.  I have a nursing background and would love to develop a Nursing LibGuide to direct students to authoritative resources.”  Prove in your cover letter that you have invested some time in determining whether you would be a good fit in the organization.  Don’t take the easy way out by using a generic cover letter for all your applications.  That’s the quickest way for your file to be dismissed.

Not So Smart

I always end an interview with the question, “Do you have any questions for me?”  I am flabbergasted and disappointed that many people simply answer, “No.”  Seriously?!  No questions at all?Straight from the Stacks

You should always be prepared to ask some intelligent questions during the actual interview.  I am impressed when a candidate has prepared a list of questions beforehand.  Here is another chance to show that you have given the position some thought and have done some background work to learn about the institution.  Questions like, “Can you explain the requirements for tenure?” or “How does your organization interact with the other campus libraries?” can open up an interesting conversation flow.  So don’t be afraid to whip out that notebook and say, “I’ve written down some questions about the position.”

Make a connection

My 3-year-old son has autism and rarely looks people in the eye.  On those occasions when he does look directly into my eyes, I feel it – ZAP! – an instant connection, no matter how brief.  I never knew the importance of eye contact until it was missing in my interactions with my son.  I’m not a psychologist, so I can’t explain why direct eye contact is so crucial during an interview.  I just know that when it’s completely missing, something is not right.  It can be tough, but be sure to make frequent eye contact with your interviewers.  I don’t mean you should stare continually into their eyes (that would be a little freaky), but just meet their eyes off and on as you answer questions.  It’s a subtle yet very important connection.

A Final No-Brainer

There have been several occasions when the search committee has had trouble deciding between two candidates.  Do you know what eventually tipped the scales in one direction?  A simple thank-you note.  Whether by email or snail mail, it’s always wise to send a letter of thanks to the members of a search committee.  Not only does it show that you appreciate their time, it gives you an extra edge over those candidates who don’t take this simple step.

Just One More

If you only remember one point from this post, remember this one:  don’t ever say, “I became a librarian because I love to read!”  Nothing shows more ignorance about the profession of librarianship than that short phrase.  Enough said.


Laura KaneLaura Townsend Kane, MLS, AHIP, is the author of “Working in the Virtual Stacks: The New Library & information Science” (ALA, 2011), “Straight From the Stacks: A Firsthand Guide to Careers in Library and Information Science,”(ALA Editions, 2003), and co- author of “Answers to the Health Questions People Ask in Libraries: A Medical Library Association Guide” (Neal-Schuman, 2008).  She is the Assistant Director for Information Services at the University of South Carolina’s School of Medicine Library in Columbia, South Carolina.  She has also written several book chapters about librarianship career opportunities and several peer-reviewed journal articles on various issues in librarianship.  She is an active member of the Medical Library Association (MLA) and its regional Southern Chapter, and is a Distinguished Member of MLA’s Academy of Health Information Professionals (AHIP). 

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Author’s Corner: What They Don’t Teach You in Library School

Here’s what I think: getting your MLIS is like earning your black belt. What it really means is not that you are an expert, but that you have mastered the basics, and now you’re ready to get down to the serious business of developing library skills. In this guest post, Elisabeth Doucett describes the book she’s written to help with that post-black belt library learning. This piece has also been cross-posted to her blog, If you’re intrigued by her perspective you should check it out!


When I started working after I graduated from college I had no idea of how much I didn’t know. I happily jumped into my first job, assuming that my good education had prepared me to deal efficiently and effectively with anything. Boy, was I wrong!

I found in that first job (I was a receptionist for six months) and the next job and the next job (and every job since then) that every workplace has all sorts of unwritten rules, expectations, and required skills that no one ever tells you about when you are interviewing. And, even when you figure out all of that for one job, the next job generally is completely different.

I didn’t realize it at the time but this is why a mentor is such a powerful tool in helping you be successful in your job. A mentor can tell you what those rules and expectations are so that you don’t have to make yourself crazy trying to figure them out. A mentor is someone who becomes your “path-finder” to an organization, helping you discover the best ways to get work done, interact appropriately with your co-workers and, in general, be successful at your profession.

The only problem with mentors is that good ones can be hard to find (not everyone is willing to dedicate personal time to helping someone else be successful in their job) and when you do find them, they don’t always know how to be a good mentor. Over time I have had several mentors who were all very successful in their own jobs but weren’t sure how to help me with mine. Since I wasn’t sure how they could help me either, things went nowhere pretty quickly!

What They Don't Teach You in Library SchoolLearning from my own experiences with and without mentors is what led me to write What They Don’t Teach You in Library School. I wanted to write a book that would essentially be a mentor for new librarians, sharing with them some of the “secrets” to being successful in their new profession that they might otherwise only discover through painful trial and error.

I wrote the book with three goals:

1) the advice provided had to be very practical and down-to-earth. I wanted to identify work practices that were easy to understand and simple to try-out;

2) the book had to be supportive, just like a real mentor. I wanted readers to walk away feeling like they had been talking to a supportive friend and now had some good ideas that they could try out;

3) the book needed to be informal because I thought that would make the information more accessible.

To support these goals I start each chapter with a statement that describes what you will find in that chapter. This preview statement makes it easy to determine if you want to keep reading or move on to a different topic that might be more relevant to you personally.

The preview statement is followed by an articulation of why you should care about the topic. Again, this is meant to help each individual figure out if the information will be useful. I don’t want readers to waste their time going over information that they already know or don’t think will have value to them professionally.

The book is short, on purpose. I know librarians are generally loaded up with work the minute they walk in the door of a library and personal development time is hard to come by. So, my goal is to share information that the reader can go through quickly and is easy to read. There are lists and summaries and a few other resources that I’ve found helpful. None of this is meant to be exhaustive in nature. It is meant to be more like a conversation between two individuals in which one is sharing information with the goal of helping the other.

Several of the chapters in What They Don’t Teach You in Library School focus on very standard librarian development opportunities: how to manage problem patrons, promotional marketing strategic planning, and facilities management (written by a library director who has been a great mentor to me in this profession, Bob Dugan). In those chapters I’m providing information that you would probably learn over time on the job. However, I included them because sometimes as new librarians we get dumped into situations right off the bat that require more experience than we have, fresh from library school. These are meant to prepare you in case that happens to you.

The remaining chapters present information that I garnered from my business career. I’ve included them because they are not always thought of as skills that are necessary to be a successful librarian but I have seen first-hand how much mastering them can add to a librarian’s professional capabilities. So, you’ll find chapters that tackle topics like networking, managing confrontation productively, public speaking and thinking like a retailer. None of these chapters will make you an expert on the topic but they will give you some common-sense ideas about how to approach the matter at hand in a positive, constructive way. That attitude, in turn, will help your manager to see you as a professional who is doing a great job.

My hope is that over time librarians will start to see the high value of these (and other) business skills and embrace them as being just as important as knowing how to catalog a book, or do a story-time, or conduct a reference interview. I very strongly believe that the more skills we can provide to our communities, the more our profession will stay valuable and relevant as we move into the future.


Liz DoucettElisabeth Doucett is Director of Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick, ME. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of the Lucius Beebe Memorial Library in Wakefield, MA. Liz holds a MLS from Simmons College; an MBA in marketing from the J.L. Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University; and an undergraduate degree from Smith College in art history and classical Greek.

Professional Career
Prior to her library career, Liz specialized in consumer marketing, working at Kraft Foods, Dunkin’ Donuts and Quaker Oats. She then consulted in the same field to multiple Fortune 500 companies. Before getting her MBA, Liz worked as a fundraiser in the development departments at Harvard and Boston University.

Liz is the author of Creating Your Library Brand published by the American Library Association (ALA) in 2008 and What They Don’t Teach You at Library School, published in 2010. She has done presentations on marketing and branding to many different library groups including the Massachusetts Library Association, the Ohionet library consortium and the Maine Public Library Directors’ Institute.

Liz is sure that she has the best job in the world and loves going to work. Every day brings a new challenge and ensures that boredom is never a problem! She believes that libraries have a vital role in today’s communities as focal points of community life, creativity, and learning.

Liz and her husband have three dogs (they rescue older dogs). To relax she loves to read (of course!), enjoying mysteries, thrillers, science fiction and history. She also recently started rug hooking and loves the process of designing a rug and picking the colors to make it come alive.

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Reader Response Requested: Tales of Tackiness and Horror

This week’s question was suggested by one of the people who hires librarians, whose job-hunting employee recently received a rejection letter signed by a deceased library director. On top of that, the letter used the director’s former title. So this week’s question is:

What is the tackiest response to a job interview/resume you ever received?  Please give us your ghastly horror stories!
Like last week, I’m going to get you started with a few stories from people who hire librarians, and then I’m hoping you’ll have some to share in the comments section…

A few years ago when I was applying for jobs attempting to move from Upstate NY to Ohio, I applied for the directorship of an area public library.  The whole search was a bit of a horror show, not one particular piece of it, and definitely not “the letter”.  Read on.    After applying for the position and having received a phone call from the chair asking me to call him, I tried several times to reach him.   He hadn’t left a message with his original call, so I wasn’t sure why he was calling.  After multiple tries to the number he had given me, I decided to call the actual library to see if they knew how to get in touch with this man, who was a Trustee.  The librarian said that they had received several calls for him about the search,  and all they could do was to leave him a message that I had called,  as they had with the other calls.  We eventually connected,  and I was asked to come for an interview.  The interview was to start at 7:00 at night!!   I drove the 6 ½ hours from NY to Ohio, and arrived at the library. I was asked to sit right outside the conference room in which the search committee was meeting—as it turned out—with another candidate.  So we, the two candidates,  said hello to each other as he was leaving and I was waiting to go into the room.  Not that comfortable a situation.

I was interviewed by the search committee for a couple of hours, and then was told they would be in touch.  Well, they never got in touch with me at all, not even to say “thanks, but no thanks.”  Needless to say, that meant that I apparently didn’t get the position.  But to this day, I don’t know that for a fact.  🙂  That was 8 years ago and I still joke that as far as I know, I am still a candidate for this position.    I admit that after the 6 ½ hour drive, and a night interview, I probably wasn’t at my best, so I don’t blame anyone for not selecting me.  But “open until filled”  has taken on a whole new meaning for me with that little horror story of an interview.  🙂

– Sharon Britton, Library Director, BGSU – Firelands

Toby Willis-CampJust out of library school with a Saturday morning interview for a special library solo-librarian position – not during regular business hours so was expecting to be buzzed in.  However, the person I was to see was not there, so I waited on the sidewalk.  After 15 minutes past the appointment time, Ms. Ding-A-Ling arrived and asked me for money for the parking meter.  Once her car was taken care of, up we went to the office.  During the elevator ride I discovered that she had quit working there several months before and the person she had hired as her replacement “hadn’t worked out. Say – do you have any hearing or visual problems that make it so you can’t use a phone or computer?” Hmmm……  Three questions into the interview she asked about my salary expectations. As I had no idea what the job even entailed at that point, I deferred answering and said I had some questions.  Then someone wandered into the library, so she stopped and answered a reference question, leaving me sitting there wondering what I had gotten myself into.  She came back and said “I need lunch.  I will answer your questions there.” Off we went to the sandwich shop across the street where she bought herself lunch, then turned to me and said “I’ll let you know what I decide. Bye”  I hadn’t asked my questions yet.  I said “Thank you and can I get that 4 dollars I lent you for the parking meter, please?”  Two days later she sent me a rejection e-mail addressed to someone else. I contacted Victoria, the other rejectee and a total stranger and asked what her experience was with Ms. Ding-A-Ling. We had a good laugh.

Lesson learned? Don’t let others waste your time even if it’s an interview and you are unemployed and desperate (which I was).  What does it say about a company that let this gal conduct interviews this way? Does it show that they give a rip about what goes on in their corporate library? Heck no.  Message received loud and clear – you are a questionable employer and I am going far far away from you.

– Toby Willis-Camp, a former Director of Libraries for a professional association 

Manya ShorrIt can be very difficult to hire in Omaha, NE. No matter how much evidence we put in front of people that Omaha is an awesome, changing community with few budget problems, it’s still hard to get past people’s perception of the Midwest. When we do get people to apply for a job here, they often make it very clear that they are only putting in their time so they can go somewhere else. A recent interviewee told us that he was applying for jobs outside the area, so he’d probably only be able to work for us for a few months. Needless to say, we did not hire him. I refuse to hire someone who doesn’t want to be here for awhile. Do they need to retire from Omaha Public Library? Of course not. But I don’t need to hire someone who makes me feel like we are their last choice.

– Manya Shorr, Senior Manager, Branch Services, Omaha Public Library

Marge Loch-WoutersI can’t top that rejection letter horror story. Wow! Though every rejection I have received for a job has hurt on some level, none have been truly tacky!  I have kept those invariably polite and sometimes curt responses in mind as I now have to write the letters with bad news to all but one of our applicants and interviewees. I think it has helped me try to break the news with a little more care and a little less officiousness.

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

Well, readers?  Can you top that?  Tell us your tales of tacky rejection letters, interviewers, etc. etc.!

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Further Questions: Is there a Person Whose Career Advice You Seek?

I hope all my American brothers and sisters had a great Thanksgiving.  It’s my favorite holiday – I appreciate any chance to eat good food and feel grateful.

On to this week’s question!  I asked people who hire librarians:

Do you have a peer, mentor, or other person (or group) that you seek out for career advice?  How did you meet this person?  What makes his/her advice so valuable to you?

Marge Loch-WoutersI have had mentors throughout my career – peers in my cohort; older, wiser librarians with lots of experience under their belts; and networking groups in youth librarianship and feminist library networks (that have members from all types of libraries and career paths). I met most of my mentors at conferences, workshops and gatherings earlier in my career where we discovered our passion for youth services face-to-face; now it’s on twitter and through my blog.

I simply started to talking to colleagues and listening to their answers. It helped me hone ideas, learn how to navigate the culture of the libraries I worked in and spark creative ideas and innovation. All my mentors were and are generous to a fault. Without their input, I wouldn’t be the librarian I am today. This generosity helped to mold me as a mentor to newer librarians. Each time I work with someone I think of how I was helped and it feels like the circle is completed!
– Marge Loch-Wouters, Youth Services Coordinator, La Crosse (WI) Public Library

Nicola FranklinI have often wished I had a mentor-figure but I’ve never met anyone who ‘clicked’ in the right way.  I’d love to know how to find someone!  As part of my MBA studies at Henley Business School we were each allocated a ‘coach’, but I found the approach of the lady I was paired with was a bit ‘wishy washy’ and didn’t really help me.  The method she used was basically to turn everything I said back on me and say ‘what do you think about that’ – I felt like I could just as well be talking to a mirror…

My understanding is that coaching is to help achieve a defined goal, for example by improving skills and performance, while mentoring is having a more general guide or someone to bounce ideas off of, and help with decision making about life, career, etc.  While I have had in-house coaching at various workplaces, to improve skills in order to perform the job better, I’ve never had anyone I could call a life or career mentor.

On the other hand, part of my work is with library professionals as a career coach for them, helping them write more effective resumes/CVs, define their career goals, audit their skills or improve their interview techniques, so I have experience from the other side of the fence.  I think that people gain confidence in their own skills and employability from working with someone in that role, as well as learning how to better represent themselves to employers.

– Nicola Franklin, Director, The Library Career Centre Ltd.

Marleah AugustineFirst, my boss is a fantastic mentor. He hired me when I first started here part-time, and we’ve continued to work closely together as we’ve both moved up to our respective positions. I value his advice because I know that he started in the same boat I did — he worked the front lines part-time, just as I did, and he has worked as a department head, as I do now. Now that he is the director, he is not simply an administrator but someone who has worked all levels within the same library. He’s also had varied experiences outside of the library and he realizes that this is a job, not anyone’s life. When giving advice, he is willing to make suggestions but also to listen and defer to others when necessary. I have a lot of respect for him and for how he has handled situations over the years.

Second, I go to my husband frequently for advice. He has never worked in a library — in fact, his background is philosophy, computer programming, and retail. It helps that he’s known me for about 14 years and knows the way I think. Even when it is a library-specific concern, he is great at piecing out what is really important in the situation and being objective. When I have ideas about work, he approaches the situation from the patron perspective. Sometimes all of us professional people get caught up in the library side of things and forget that patrons don’t always see that side, so his non-library perspective is very helpful.

Don’t be afraid to seek advice from someone outside of the library field — they may have some really great insights for you.

– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

Randall SchroederMy mentor was my first library director, Barbara Doyle-Wilch, who I met after my first year as a professional librarian at Augustana College (Illinois). She was the first administrator who let me know that I was a good librarian and that I could do the job and do it well. After a year of being reminded that I was a rookie and did not have much to offer to the veteran librarians, it was a drink of water in an emotional desert.

She moved on to other colleges, but many of us who worked for Barbara have found her career advice worth its weight in gold. Her philosophy of librarianship and native shrewdness made her counsel invaluable. Sadly, she has retired and I have lost track of her.

The last time I was in need of some career counseling, I sought out Jim Elmborg, a faculty member at the University of Iowa, who was not one of my professors, but somebody I have met at various information literacy conferences where I have presented.

In both cases, I sought colleagues whose professional philosophy and temperament were similar to mine. What I have found valuable from both Barbara and Jim is their ability to give me a reality check to see if my perception of a situation is sound. Sometimes perception is difficult inside one’s personal bubble and an outside perspective is helpful. It is also incredibly valuable to hear from somebody who believes in your abilities. That is what Barbara did for me.

– Randall Schroeder, Department Head of Public Services, Ferris Library for Information, Technology & Education

There is a library director at a small state college in New England whom I highly respect and whom I’ve gone to for career advice.  I originally met her through ACRL’s College Libraries Section (CLS) when she was president of CLS and I was a committee co-chair.  She is a library director of a college library of similar size to the library where I work. I greatly admire and respect her approach to librarianship and her ability to remain active professionally in addition to managing  her responsibilities as a director (and while completing a PhD!). She has given me some very good advice on how to stay active in professional organizations as well as how to increase my professional development interests and how to seek out ways to network with other librarians in my state. She is a very warm, down-to-earth and approachable person with a great sense of humor and an understanding of the demands on working parents. Although she is not officially a mentor to me, I consider her one because of the example she sets for others in our profession. I’m sure others who know her and work with her would think the same.

– Samantha Thompson-Franklin, Associate Professor/Collections & Acquisitions Librarian, Lewis-Clark State College Library

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