Tag Archives: school libraries

How often is the Library open? What kind of activities occur in the Library? 

Kathryn Levenson has been the Librarian at Piedmont High School for 6 years. Her passion as CSLA Chair for Freedom of Information is providing resources to Librarians with book challenges. 

She also loves mysteries, travel and cats. 

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

Update job description. Internal Posting. External Posting on EdJoin. Form hiring committee. Review applications. Interview panel. Contact references of 2 to 3 finalists. Committee members rank their choices. Some Discussion. The Librarian makes the final decision after consulting with the Principal.

Titles hired include: Library Assistant 

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)

√ Other: Principal

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

√ Online application

√ Resume

√ References

√ Oral Exam/Structured interview 

Does your organization use automated application screening? 

√ Yes 

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

Our choice was between someone like me in terms of skills, but with accounting skills as well and someone totally different: more creative, great with kids, had worked as a para educator for many years at the elementary school in our district. Good at working with SPED students and already knew many students. 

Do you have any instant dealbreakers?

Arrogance. Rehearsed answers.

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

Dedication. Love helping students. Creative problem solvers. Additional talents.

How many pages should each of these documents be?

Cover Letter: √ We don’t ask for this  

Resume: √ Two is ok, but no more

CV: √ We don’t ask for this 

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

Not really listening to our questions. Saying they can fix our system. Not trying to connect with the panel.

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

We did not pre Covid.

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 flexible, caring, willing to work around each others’ schedules, and be supportive when the Librarian has last minute meetings.

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?

Be open to all kinds of people. My most recent assistant is the only male in our library system. In our oral interviews, we had 3 female and 2 male candidates, all white. We have a DEI Administrator for the District and a commitment to hiring diverse staff. I especially appreciate people continuing their education at the same time.

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

How flexible are the hours? It is a 50% position but requires extra days at the start and end of the year. How often is the Library open? What kind of activities occur in the Library? 

Additional Demographics

What part of the world are you in?

√ Western US 

What’s your region like?

√ Suburban

√ Other: Next to a large diverse urban area.

Is your workplace remote/virtual?

√ Never or not anymore

How many staff members are at your organization?

√ 51-100 

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

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Filed under 50-100 staff members, School, Suburban area, Western US

Further Questions: What are Your Favorite Questions to Ask in an Interview?

This week I asked people who hire librarians:

What are your favorite questions to ask in interview, and why? If you can talk a little about the difference between what you ask over the phone versus in-person, that would be very helpful.

Marge Loch-WoutersMy favorite in-person question: Tell us about a mistake or bad decision you’ve made – and what did you learn from it?”

Although this is similar to the old chestnut “What is an area of weakness?”, we find that this elicits a whole different response and is a real thought-provoker in interviews.  It also lets our candidates know that we expect mistakes as we go along in our work but hope each one has a better solution that becomes a building block  to better service.

We do pre-screening Skype phone interview questions and essay questions to help us narrow down our field of candidates to invite for in-person interviews.  These essay questions explore writing and communication skills. The Skype phone interview helps us explore a general facility with the field of practice as well as suss out a little more of the candidate’s personality and how they handle themselves with technology.  When a candidate comes in for the in-person interview, we are looking much harder at how they obtain information and knowledge professionally and their philosophy of service (do they appreciate/use partnerships and networking/will they be responsive to the internal as well as external customer/their knowledge base of the literature/their ideas for actually working with the client group, etc).

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

Colleen HarrisI have a few:

1.       I’m actually genuine when I ask you “Why are you interested in this position?” I know in applicants’ heads they’re all saying “Because I need a JOB”, but I really want to know how you think the position will fulfill you in some way. You’re going to be spending 40 hours a week on the job, and more if it’s a professional librarian position. We hope to keep you for awhile. Part of retention (in addition to developing a good culture and treating your employees well) is having folks in positions they find fulfilling in some way. Knowing what parts of a job applicants are particularly attracted to definitely helps. (Also, to applicants: please be sure what attracts you about the job is actually something somewhat related to the job!) This should be routinely prepped for all interviews; it also gives you the opportunity to show that you ‘did your homework’ about my institution – applicants who can cite our current or recently completed projects as examples of things they’d like to contribute tend to fall leagues ahead of folks who talk about us as a generic library in terms of attractiveness as a prospective hire.

I can’t repeat enough: this is not a question to blow off. It’s used as our first question because it’s a good icebreaker, but it’s also a Real Interview Question ™

2.       “Can you give me an example of something you accomplished as part of a team?” Interviews tend to be a lot of “I, I, I.” In my library, very little gets done without the concerted effort of multiple people. I want to know how you’ve worked with others to accomplish something. This is probably already part of your basic interview prep, but it’s an important one.

3.       “Can you tell me about something you failed at, and how that failure has informed your practice?” This says a lot about folks in terms of who is willing to take risks, what applicants consider ‘failures,’ and whether there was any critical reflection over those failures so that future enterprises still benefit from the attempt. It also happens to be (although that wasn’t my original intent) a question that prompts folks to reveal their true selves in terms of talking about their current/former employers and colleagues.

– Colleen  S. Harris, Head of Access Services & Assistant Professor, Lupton Library,University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

John StachaczI like to ask open ended questions that reveal something about the personality and character of applicants.

1.        Can you do the job?

Simple question that separates true knowledge and experience from BS.

2.       So far in your career, tell me about your most successful project or accomplishment – something you look on with pride.

3.       The reverse –      Tell me about a project or work related task that wasn’t successful.  What did you learn from it?

These two questions tell me a lot about the character of a person.

I’ll ask these questions either in person or on the phone and sometimes both.

– John C. Stachacz, Dean, Farley Library, Wilkes University

What is your experience as a cataloguer?  (Most library schools no longer adequately teach cataloguing.)

In what languages can you catlogue?  (For one major client, both English and French are essential, and an esoteric language item shows up as part of several clients’ batches.)

What classifications and subject heading lists have you used?  (Some clients wish LCC, DDC, NLM, FC, PS8000, KF common law, LCSH, MeSH, and/or RVM.)

Are you confident coding AARC2 in MARC21?  (All clients at present want AACR2/MARC21 records.)

With what cataloguing software are you familiar?  (Our cataloguers may use Bibliofile, MARCEdit, MARCReport.)

Are you familiar with Z39.50, Library of Congress (LC) and Library and Archives Canada (LAC) catalogue searching?  (These are the sources of derived records.)

Are you familiar with LC and LAC authority searching?  (The files we check for entry form.)

Have you ever created macros using KeyExpress?  (Macros can be great time savers.)

Notice we do not ask about RDA; we have cheat sheets for when/if we create RDA records.

– J. McRee (Mac) Elrod, Special Libraries Catalouging

Terry Ann Lawlermy favorite questions are always the situational ones.  they are very enlightening about the candidates.
examples include:  “you have a customer at the desk for help with their card, the phone is ringing, the copy machine guy is waiting for your cash drop, there is a broken computer and the customer wants to be moved to a new computer. NO ONE ELSE CAN HELP YOU.  in which order do you proceed.”  or “a customer is very angry about his library account.  he asks to speak to a manager, but there isn’t one, you’re it.  he insists that he should not have to pay the fees, even as he admits that he returned the items over 15 days late.  what do you say to him?”
questions like this have NO correct answer.  there is no way for a person to know what all of our procedures or policies are (unless they already work here).  i am not looking for that.  what i am looking for is a) how you handle stress, b) how you prioritize, c) that you have a solid customer service base.
regardless of what order you put the items in question one, i am looking for the reasons you used that order.  if it is logical, it is a good answer.  example:  someone from a banking background may deal with the cash drop first.  someone from a call center background would put the phone first.
likewise with the 2nd question.  i don’t care if you come up with a totally different answer than what i would do.  i care that you showed compassion, that you had a possible solution and that you weren’t afraid to try to deal with the situation.

for phone interviews: our city has a strict policy that ALL candidates get the same questions.  this levels the playing field, but may make it a little bit more difficult for people on the phone to convey things like empathy, which we often do with facial expressions and body language.  i would recommend that anyone with a phone interview spell out EXACTLY what they are trying to say and why.  it may sound like you are ‘dumbing it down’ but it will keep you from accidentally not conveying what you really mean.

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

My favorite question is “tell me about yourself”. In my environment there is a lot of thinking quickly on our feet and not sounding like a moron. I like to ask this question to see what people will say. I am often interested in hearing about hobbies, travel. I am usually not interested in a boring recitation of their resume.

– Jaye Lapachet, Manager of Library Services, Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP

Barbara Stripling

What have you done in the past year that makes you most proud?

  • I like this question because it gives the candidate a chance to brag on him or herself, but in terms of accomplishments, not just being a good person.  It gives me a chance to gauge the priorities of the candidate and whether or not the candidate actually gets something done, rather than just filling a slot.  I also like the question because it doesn’t require that the candidate has already been working as a librarian.  The pride could be for academic or personal goals met.

What’s the biggest change coming to libraries in the next five years and how can we be ready to take advantage of that change?

  • I want to know how up-to-date and flexible the candidate’s thinking is.  If the idea of change is seen as a threat rather than an opportunity, then we probably don’t have a good match and the candidate would be happier working for someone else.

What strategies do you use to “work with difficult people?”

  • Human relations is a big part of any library job.  Librarians will always encounter difficult people.  I want to know if the candidate has empathy for others and tries to understand the cause of the difficulty so that the issues can be addressed, or if the candidate just labels the person difficult and tries to get out of the situation quickly.  I also want to know if the candidate is reflective enough to have thought about strategies for situations like this.

– Barbara Stripling, Asst. Professor of Practice at Syracuse University iSchool, Former Hirer of School Librarians

Marleah AugustineI just did 4 interviews on Monday, so this is fresh for me. In addition to the general questions about customer service and the individual’s professional strengths, I love to ask “situation” questions. Specific things like, “What would you do if a patron came up and told you that another patron on the computers was looking at pornography?” Bonus points to the interviewee if they ask about the policy before giving their answer. It puts the interviewee in that situation, and you can tell if they will be comfortable under fire while at the desk (since that’s where most of the staff I hire end up).
I have only ever interviewed people face to face rather than on the phone. For the part-time positions that I hire for, I feel that it’s important for them to be present in order to interview.
– Marleah Augustine, Adult Department Librarian at Hays Public Library

One of our favorite questions is “what are you reading?”

We usually ask it right before we wrap- up but can also use it as an icebreaker.

I also like “what did you do to prepare for this interview?”

The best candidates have made themselves thoroughly familiar with the library, our strategic plan, and our digital branch; they have made an effort to understand  how the position fits into the work we do (or have relevant, specific questions about that topic)  It’s also good to hear about a candidate’s network, which is something new hires bring that adds value to the entire organization.

– Stephen Lusk, Human Resources Director, Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

I am so excited by these answers; I think they are really illuminating. Thank you to my interviewees!
What about you, dear readers?  Would you care to share some of the questions you have been asked in interviews?  Or some of the questions you ask interviewees? (By the way, if you are someone who hires librarians and are interested in participating in this feature, please email me at HiringlibrariansATgmail.  I don’t require a commitment on your part).


Filed under Academic, Further Questions, Public, School, Special

Have You Voted? Barbara Stripling Talks about Hiring Librarians

It’s election time!  Barbara Stripling and Gina Millsap, our two ALA presidential candidates, have graciously agreed answer a few questions about their thoughts on ALA’s role in library hiring AND take the survey. Voting will be open through April 27th. Visit this page for more details.

Barbara Stripling

Barbara Stripling has done something we haven’t yet seen on Hiring Librarians: as a former Director of both Chattanooga’s Library Power program and New York City’s Office of School Library Services, she has hired school librarians!  She also brings an Academic perspective, based on her current experiences as a faculty member helping prepare Syracuse University library students for their futures. Ms. Stripling is running on a platform of transformation and empowerment.  I will let her tell you more about it.  If you have questions, you can find more information on her website or you can post them in the comments and she will address them as time allows.

Questions about ALA:

In broad strokes, what do you think the ALA’s role is in library hiring and employment?

I see ALA’s role in five main areas:

  1. Professional development.
  • ALA can offer a robust array of professional development opportunities, in both face-to-face and virtual venues.  This professional development should target all levels of expertise, all different areas of librarianship, and the latest issues in the field.  Professional development is a powerful way for ALA to support our members in positioning themselves as the most qualified applicants for a library position.
  • Certification programs offered through ALA-APA provide an opportunity for librarians and library workers to earn a certificate of advanced studies, which provides a public validation of quality and should influence hiring decisions.  I hope that ALA can continue to develop certification programs in other areas, for example, young adult librarianship.
  1. Opportunities for leadership development.
  • ALA can offer many opportunities for members to build their leadership skills, both in producing high-quality collaborative work on committees and task forces (which becomes a part of a member’s body of work) and in taking a leadership role as a member or officer of a committee or task force.
  1. Networking, job fairs/interviews, support for resume building.
  • The personal networks and relationships that can be formed through ALA are powerful ways to find new job opportunities.  ALA holds job fairs and interviews, as well as opportunities for guidance in resume development, at its conferences.  These can be very effective in connecting to the jobs that are available and developing effective interview and application skills.
  1. National advocacy, lobbying.
  • ALA has a big role to play in setting a national landscape of support for libraries and librarians.  Part of that role is advocacy with strategic partners and government.  Another part of that responsibility is strong lobbying for legislation that supports the value of librarians (for example, the reauthorization of ESEA to include school librarians).
  1. Support for local advocacy, lobbying.
  • ALA must provide materials, information, and strategies so that librarians can advocate and lobby effectively at the local level where hiring decisions are made.

How can ALA serve unemployed librarians?  Please name specific programs or services that exist, or that you would like to see enacted.

ALA offers a number of services to help unemployed librarians.  ALA Placement Services offers online job lists, opportunities for employers to post a job and communicate directly with applicants, workshops and webinars, employment blogs and guides, space and support for interviews at conferences, and a connection to the resume review services of NMRT.

NMRT is the unit of ALA that provides the most robust support for unemployed librarians, including workshops at conferences, mentoring and networking connections, and support for the whole process of searching for a job.

Because of the nature of hiring for school libraries (school librarians are hired locally by school districts who don’t have any connection to ALA and don’t usually advertise openings beyond their local community), ALA does not support job seeking in school libraries very well.  Jobs are occasionally listed on the listserv of AASL.  The personal networking that is made possible through ALA is helpful to unemployed school librarians, but not enough.

One possible avenue of increasing the awareness of job openings is for ALA to work with the state chapters to elicit announcements of open positions.  State chapters are often aware of vacancies within the state.  Then ALA should set up an active database that can be searched by type of position/library and by state.  For school librarians, the database can be supplemented by tapping in to the supervisors’ section of AASL.

To further support the unemployed, ALA should pursue research and advocacy around the value of libraries and librarians.  That information should be readily available to anyone who needs to justify the hiring of librarians to boards, administrators, government officials, or the community.

How can ALA support library students in order to help them be best situated for future employment?  Please name specific programs or services that exist, or that you would like to see enacted.

I have several ideas about how ALA can and does support library students.  The Committee on Accreditation is especially important, because the work of that committee ensures that every accredited library program offers a substantive and high-quality education.  There is no substitute for situating library students for future employment.

ALA offers other opportunities as well, including reduced membership fees and conference fees so that students can participate fully in ALA experiences, mentorship, internship on various committees, new member guidance and support, and support for library educators.  ALA encourages graduate schools to form student chapters of ALA, and those chapters provide opportunities for professional development, networking, mentorship, and leadership development.

ALA can do more to support library students in their preparation for their careers.  First, ALA needs to be more inclusive of the voices and opinions of library students.  They are the future of the profession and what they know and care about matters to all of us.  In my campaign for the ALA presidency, I have been conducting a series of virtual town hall meetings with graduate student chapters.  I would hope to continue those connections if I am elected president.  Second, we need to develop many ways for library students to contribute their ideas and expertise to ALA.  They will be developing their leadership skills at the same time.  These opportunities might include the appointment of library students to task forces about specific issues, the nurturing of interest groups, increased opportunities for presentations and poster sessions at conferences, and mentorship and new venues for professional publishing.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers about ALA or your candidacy?

I tried to lay out my presidential focus on my website (http://www.barbarastripling.org), but I will emphasize some of that content here.  I am focusing on Transforming Libraries, Empowering Individuals, and Transforming Communities.  Libraries are on the cusp of greatness.  We must seize the moment by re-defining ourselves and capturing the exciting possibilities offered by technology and social media; the explosion of information; and the challenges of maintaining a strong democracy while nourishing the expression of diverse viewpoints.
Strengthen ALA support for transformation process

  • Foster a dialogue that engages all ALA members.
  • Promote integration of electronic content, technology, and future trends through flexible and rapid research and response.
  • Support sharing of innovative practices.
  • Strengthen connections among all divisions and types of library.
  • Build coalitions and relationships with external agencies.

Champion the values of intellectual freedom, equitable access to information, and democratic conversation

  • Promote a public agenda for intellectual freedom and privacy; support members in implementing these values.
  • Demand equitable access to information, technology, and infrastructure, particularly in our most underserved rural and urban areas.
  • Actively provoke civic engagement by fostering conversations among diverse members of our constituencies.

Empower community voices

  • Support the leadership and training of youth librarians for school and public libraries.
  • Implement a national agenda to strengthen school libraries.
  • Enable librarians and library workers to engage all constituencies within their communities and design services with their community members.

Foster diversity in library leadership

  • Strengthen opportunities for mentoring and leadership development, both as professionals in the field and as ALA leaders.
  • Develop strategies for increasing the diversity of librarians in the field and in leadership positions in ALA.

Build a strong ALA voice and a public will for libraries

  • Support a strategic legislative agenda.
  • Engage ALA members and our communities in advocating for transformed libraries.

Questions from the survey:

What are the top three things you look for in a candidate?

I think the top three things I look for are:

  1. Clear vision of role.  I expect a librarian to focus on the user/student and to demonstrate an understanding of how libraries impact the user.  I expect the candidate to convince me that librarianship is not just a job; it is a profession about which the candidate is passionate.  Finally, for school librarians, I expect the vision to include teaching.
  2. Interpersonal relationships and communication.  In an interview, I am looking for the candidate’s ability to listen, be respectful and thoughtful, show an openness to collaboration, and display self-confidence and a sense of humor.
  3. Evidence of effective practice.  I will be looking for evidence of effective practice, either practice that has happened in the past (conveyed through verbal responses and/or a portfolio) or practice that the candidate envisions for him or herself in the future.  I want to hear specific examples of how the candidate would bring vision and theory to life.

Do you have any instant dealbreakers, either in the application packet or the interview process?

I do have dealbreakers, but not actually a list of them.  In the past, I have crossed a candidate off the list if he or she displayed no passion for librarianship, showed too much ego or arrogance, focused totally on resources rather than services and instruction, made disparaging remarks about a current or former employer or colleague, or referred me to a personal website that was not professional.  Although I do not actively seek Facebook or blog pages, I will look at them if the candidate provides the link.  I will not hire anyone who presents him or herself in a flippant or sarcastic way.

What are you tired of seeing on resumes/in cover letters?

I can’t think of anything.

Is there anything that people don’t put on their resumes that you wish they did?

The following is a short list of some things that I have seen on resumes occasionally, but not consistently.  I like to see resumes that include:

  • Publications, presentations
  • Involvement in professional organizations
  • Areas of responsibility listed for each previous job
  • Internship experiences, especially if never had a job
  • References

How many pages should a cover letter be?

 √ Two is ok, but no more

How many pages should a resume/CV be?

As many as it takes, I want to look at every accomplishment

Do you have a preferred format for application documents?

No preference, as long as I can open it

Should a resume/CV have an Objective statement?

Other: No (I assume that their objective is to get the job I’m hiring for.  If that is not their objective, then I likely will not hire them – so they are definitely better off just skipping the objective.)

If applications are emailed, how should the cover letter be submitted?

As an attachment only

What’s the best way to win you over in an interview?

I have already listed some of the characteristics that I look for, but I am “won over” by the following:

  • Honesty about strengths, areas in which to grow
  • Ability to listen and respond in a focused way to questions
  • A sense of humor
  • Preparation – the candidate has done his or her homework by reading the website, application, and any other materials to find out what I’m looking for and what I consider to be top priority
  • Self-confidence without arrogance

What are some of the most common mistakes people make in an interview?

The most common mistakes I have seen are that the candidate talks too much, doesn’t answer the questions asked, and doesn’t show how his or her strengths will fulfill what I need.

How has hiring changed at your organization since you’ve been in on the process?

The greatest change I have seen in school library hiring is a hiring freeze, so that no one outside of the district can be hired for a vacancy.  The district instituted this policy to avoid laying off current employees while it was dealing with terrible budget cuts.  The change that I instigated was to set the performance expectations higher, to develop some reflective practice instruments so that librarians could get a clearer picture of where they might shine and where they need to grow, and to talk to principals about the responsibilities of a school librarian so that when they hired, they asked the right questions and hired the most capable people.

Anything else you’d like to let job-seekers know?

First, please don’t get discouraged.  This is a great time for libraries and librarians and the job market will pick up.  Be flexible in the type of position you accept – maybe it’s not exactly what you want or in exactly the place you were hoping for, but you can make it a very positive and enriching experience.  Get that first job, even if you have to compromise a little.  Once you have that experience, you can move on to a position that is closer to your area of expertise.

Be willing to learn.  No employer expects a new employee to know everything already, but every employer expects that the new employee will jump right in and learn everything it takes to do an outstanding job.

Be willing to start at the bottom.  You will not walk into a situation that has perfect hours or ideal job responsibilities.  No matter what position it is, do the absolutely best job that you can.  You will develop confidence in your own ability and respect from your colleagues and supervisors.  The advancement will come.

I’d like to thank Ms. Stripling for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly! I encourage you to visit her website, or to use the comments section to ask any questions you might have. Most of all though, I encourage you to make your voice heard and VOTE!

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Filed under Academic, Elections/Candidates, School