One of my favorite things about my job is “Reader’s Advisory.” In other words, making personalized book recommendations. I get to do this at the desk and as a member of our BookMatch committee, which is an online service. I don’t get to do that for you individually, but I have recently created an A-Z reading challenge, which, in a display of shameless self-promotion I present here to you.
If you are lucky enough to live in Brooklyn, you can even get yourself a shiny new library card and check them out here @BKLYNlibrary. For everyone else, these titles are available at Amazon, which I have linked each cover to. Full disclosure, I am not an Amazon affiliate, and will not be making any money at all. I just wanted to provide an outlet for you to read more about each title.
*Also, because I’m legally obliged to do so: All opinions expressed in this post are my own, and in no way represent the opinion of Brooklyn Public Library. But, my opinion in this case is pretty fantastic. So dive in! Challenge Accepted!!
I’m on the fence about marginalia. I love the insight it gives into the life of a book, and the people it may have touched. Please, continue to write in your books. Its fascinating. BUT, why write in a public library book? While it may be good for a giggle, I ultimately need to discard books that patrons write in. But, I found that one sadly discontented single person wrote a little prayer on the title page of a book called 51/50 The Magical Adventures of a Single Life.
So, to the poet who decided that their library book was the perfect place for their single ladies prayer: Maybe your single NOT because you’re overweight, wrinkly, or old. Maybe, just maybe, you’re single because you are the kind of person who writes in your library books ultimately destroying the chance for anyone else to read it. Karma is a bitch. What ever happened to wishing for things like World Peace? Sorry lady. I hope you find you’re soul mate. Who probably also writes in library books…..
Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the lord my shape to keep.
Please no wrinkles, please no bags, please lift my butt before it sags.
Please no age spots, please no grey, and as for my belly, please take it away.
Please keep me healthy, please keep me young, and thank you dear Lord for all that you’ve done.
My spouse was recently transferred back to New York City after a short hiatus in Virginia. While he simply changed locations, I was left to face down the dreaded JOB HUNT. Not so fun. Like….at all. Not only are librarians fighting for work in a saturated market, they are fighting against budget cuts, lay-offs, hiring freezes, fierce competition, and competition from paraprofessionals. Let’s also not forget that librarians tend to get pigeon-holed into one particular aspect of librarianship and it’s not so easy to cross into unfamiliar territory. But coming from someone who just spent months becoming incredibly intimate with the process, both as the interviewer and the interviewee, I’ve learned that the key to a successful application process is very simple: be prepared. After that, everything else should fall into place. Now, a successful application process will not necessarily land you the job, but it will afford you great practice, lessen any anxiety, and allow you the space you need to evaluate your potential employer. After all, interviewing is a two-way street. So let’s dig in, shall we?
Let’s start with the position itself. The job description that is posted by employers is not written in stone. Think of it as more of a guideline than the end-all-be-all of what the position requires. It’s ok to reach! With that being said, be mindful that someone is on the other end sifting through possibly hundreds of resumes and/or applications and you should at least be somewhat in the qualified range.
Speaking of which, even though it is possible to get a job without meeting all the requirements specifically, you should be able to back up your experiences with related qualifications. For example, if a job requires a Master of Library and Information Science or equivalent, you should only apply if you have the degree. If a job requires 5+ years of experience, you may be able to get away with less if you can address the issue in your cover letter. The hardest part about job searching is that there are no hard and fast rules.
So go with your gut, pick your positions, and let the race begin!
The best advice I ever received came from Alison Green, writer of the uber fantastic Ask a Manager blog, who suggests that your resume should be results-oriented as opposed to task-oriented. In other words, don’t make a list of your responsibilities. Instead, talk about specific outcomes that you experienced because of those responsibilities. Statistical information works really great for this. For example:
For me, that was the biggest shift, and once I switched it up, I was getting call backs immediately. There are many other factors that go into making a great resume, and a great cover letter to match, but switching to a results-orientated resume was probably the best thing I could have done for my job search. If you have to fill out an application, you can use that to fill out your responsibilities and tasks. I suggest you scope out Alison’s blog for resume, cover letter, and interviewing tips, as well as for advice for all things “workplace.” I also found that she has quite the following of librarians, so check it out. I highly recommend.
Setting it up:
Hooray! Your application has been reviewed and you’ve been selected for an interview. Now what? First things first, make sure you receive all pertinent details about the place, time, and people that will be involved. It never hurts to send a follow-up e-mail confirming those details because even employers make mistakes during the process.
Once you have the details, most employers will ask, “Do you have any questions at this time?” It’s so early in the game that you might not think you do, but do yourself a favor and ask what the rest of the process will be like. I recently forgot this tiny little question and got surprised by being called back for a second interview when I only thought there would be one!
By far my most complicated interview process was for the university. I had a 45 minute phone screen with the Campus President, a panel interview, a phone interview with the Library Director, and a teaching demo, which I had never done before. It pays to ask that question, trust me.
The Interviewer in Me:
As an interviewer I look for a couple of key things:
- Honesty! I want to see if you would truly be the best fit for the position. It’s usually pretty obvious when someone is feeding me answers they think I want to hear. For example, my last position was very administrative. I hired someone else to tackle the creative aspect, i.e. displays, outreach, programming, etc. And she was fantastic at it, let me tell you! So when I was hiring my replacement, I asked a very simple question: “Do you find yourself drawn to more administrative or creative tasks?” The answer I got from almost every single candidate was immediately “BOTH!” with little to no specifics on why. Which brings me to my next point…
- Specifics! Not all interviewers will ask situational questions. They might ask a couple, but regardless if they do or they don’t, please back up all your answers with examples. These should come from your professional experience, but if you don’t have any, or you are at a loss, drawing on your life experience works as well. Don’t answer questions with one word, we are looking for insights into your personality and thought process. It’s also OK to say “I don’t know,” but we are still going to want to hear how you approach problems you are unsure about. You just have to mentally work through it.
- Professionalism! This covers a whole range of things, including your wardrobe, but I’m mainly speaking here of how you approach your interviewer. When I ask personal sounding questions, such as the standard beginning question of “Tell us about yourself,” I’m asking about the professional you, not about your pets, your kids, or your hobbies. With that being said, it’s ok to relax and be personable. I’ve found the most successful interviews, coming from both sides of the table, is when we have been able to laugh and just enjoy the process for what it is: getting to know a candidate in the hopes of becoming colleagues. Professional doesn’t have to imply “stiff” but keep the digital pictures of your adorable puppy butt in your pocket. And turn your phone off!!
- We aren’t here to judge you! And if you do end up with a nasty interviewer, take that as a sign that you might want to seek employment elsewhere. Do you really want to work with people who are disrespectful when you are feeling vulnerable and nervous? I don’t. In fact, I’ve withdrawn applications from places where I got a weird vibe. The employer is not your judge, jury, and executioner. If they act like it, get out fast and don’t look back!
Commonly Asked Interview Questions
These questions will change based on what kind of library you are interviewing for, but here is a list of questions that I have asked, and been asked:
- Why are you interested in the position at “_” Library?
- Tell us about a time when you had to deal with a difficult patron/student/coworker.
- How would you start a new partnership?
- Tell us about any programming or outreach you have done.
- How would you develop a program for adults/children?
- How do you deal with a situation where a patron wants to ban a book?
- How do you keep up with professional development?
- Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Describe 3 genres and name 3 authors for each genre described.
- Define what customer service means to you.
- What are you reading right now?
- What’s your favorite database? Least favorite?
- Tell me how you approach the reference interview.
- What tools do you use for reader’s advisory?
- What was your favorite teamwork experience and why?
- Tell us about your experience with tech/web 2.0.
- How would you approach a group of teens that were being disruptive in the library?
- How would you handle a situation where a patron violates library policy?
- How do you feel about e-books?
- Where do you see the library headed? What will libraries look like in 5, 10, 20 years?
- What is your management style?
- Describe your work ethic.
- Tell us three qualities that set you apart from other candidates. Why are YOU the best candidate?
The above questions seem to pop up over and over again regardless of where I am. Of course, the questions will become more specific depending on what kind of position you are applying for, and how high up ladder you are climbing. I find the higher you go, the more resume focused the questions become. The interviewer will often tailor the interview based on what information they already know, and what they would like to see more of. Also be prepared for follow-up questions based on your answers.
And of course, there is always that one time when someone asks you a totally bizarre question. Totally not fair, but they happen anyway. Three real questions that I and my colleagues have been asked in interviews before are:
- What does your desk/personal work space at home look like? Describe it in detail. -I found out later that the previous librarian was a bit of a hoarder.
- If you were a song, what song would you be? -We still can’t figure this one out.
- How many hot dogs does the average American eat in a single year? -This was asked to feel out the candidate’s ability to solve statistical problems under pressure. The successful candidate was the one who thought through it and broke it down. They were wrong, but they got the job. Everyone else was stumped.
After the interviewers have completed their questions, it’s your turn! Ask away! This is a pretty critical step. Good questions are a good indication that you have a serious investment in the position. However, there has to be a balance. Don’t ask questions that will put the interviewer on the spot, but DO ask questions that will reveal more about the position and the people you will be working for.
- Can you walk me through a day in the life of someone in this position?
- How is this position evaluated?
- Where does this position fit in the organization?
- When can I expect a decision?
- What are some of the challenges someone in this position faces?
- Is there room for growth, opportunity, and development?
- Can you talk a little about the culture of the library and the community?
- About the salary or benefits. This should come up once an offer has been made. However, I have found that in most libraries, this is non-negotiable anyway, but should be asked when you are ready to make a decision, not before.
- Do you have any concerns about my candidacy? This really puts interviewers on the spot. They need a minute to process everything, just like you. If you ask this, you risk making everyone uncomfortable.
- What is your management style? In the lucky event that you will be interviewed by the person who is managing you, this is another one that puts people on the defensive. I was asked this once and I was floored. Some people will say that this is totally appropriate to ask, but I would steer clear of it. You should get a good sense of how the person communicates, their body language, how they interact, just by being in the same room with them for an hour. Just don’t do it.
- No questions at all. Always come prepared with a few questions. If you are really interested in the position, some questions should come naturally. But remember, as I had to be reminded once, this isn’t a pop quiz. Ask questions until you are satisfied that you know enough about the position to make a decision should an offer be made.
The Follow Up
The follow up is not necessarily a deal breaker in the library interview process. Most of the time I can’t even remember how to tie my shoes after an interview let alone remember my panelists names and titles. I find that getting in contact with the person who initially contacted you about the process is the way to go.
Don’t just thank them for the opportunity, 2-way street, remember? Take some time to process the interview. Think about how you did, and any concerns you might have. When you are ready, compose a follow-up (an e-mail will suffice, no handwritten letters, cards, gifts, or phone-calls are necessary. PLEASE! Please, don’t send gifts). Reiterate your interest in the position, ask any additional questions you may have, and briefly highlight anything you think it is necessary to address from the interview. Keep it brief, but thoughtful. Perfunctory follow ups will not make or break your candidacy, but a genuine follow up will never hurt and can only help if it gets down to that point. But usually, once a decision has been made, the follow up doesn’t count for much.
And that my friends, is the library interview process in a long, long, nutshell. I hope you found some helpful advice! Please feel free to comment below! Share your interview questions, nightmares, advice, and tips!
Happy Job Hunting and Good Luck!
I recently stumbled across the Medieval book curse. A few days ago, Medievalist.net published a post of 10 Medieval book curses, which were typically written into the colophon by the scribe to ward off theft. They weren’t very fancy, some were shorter than others, and some more graphic than the rest. But, the point was to put the fear of God into any would-be thieves whose very soul would be forfeit should they carry off such a prized possession. Some of the terrors that await a book thief are anathema (eternal damnation), disfigurement, disembowelment, hanging, drowning, disease and pestilence, and eternal suffering. Some good stuff that. I wonder what it must have been like to be the one to CREATE the curse. Some of those scribes got pretty creative.
Medieval books were ridiculously expensive. Keep in mind that these are VERY ROUGH estimates, but (in England) a regular old common book would cost about 1 pound. A common laborer only made about 2 pounds per year, if that! So a common book would cost the common man a half a year’s wages. If we put that into a modern perspective, the median income per person in the United States is currently $26,700. So to purchase a book we would have to spend $13,350. That is an insane amount of money. That isn’t to say that all books cost the same, the better the materials, the better the scribe, the holier the text, the more expensive they got. If I spent that kind of cash on a book, you better believe I’d be cursing the people who took it!
Speaking of which…I recently conducted a full inventory of the collection at my library. We were missing about 3% of our holdings. It may not seem like a large number, but quantifying the cost of that loss was shocking. We decided to conduct inventories every 5th week for the next 15 weeks and report our findings. When conducting the next inventory, another 20 books were missing. My immediate thought is that we have a thief in our midst, and I would like to bring the book curse back on behalf of all librarians and book collectors out there. Preferably one of the more graphic, innards exploding, head collapsing, soul tarnishing ones. Who’s with me?
Thankfully, books are mass produced and at much cheaper prices than in times gone by. So, technically speaking, it’s easy to replace what was lost. The difficult part, is that it throws a wrench into my acquisitions budgeting plans, and I have to deal with the wrath of the Director. The most difficult part of all, is figuring out how to make the losses stop. Besides the curses, I mean.
I’d like to take a minute to talk about sustainability in libraries. At the ALA Annual Conference 2015 in San Francisco, the Sustainability Round Table (SustainRT) had the Resolution on the Importance of Sustainable Libraries pass on June 28th, 2015. The resolution calls for action on three fronts:
1. The library and its participation and advocacy for open discussion within the community on environmental issues.
2. The library itself and its impact on the environment including facilities, programs, operations, and activities.
3. The ALA and its impact on the environment including facilities, programs, operations, and activities.
I think it is safe to assume that everybody agrees that humans cause adverse effects the planet. There is no denying that global changes are occurring because of the way we live and interact with our world. It really is a step in the right direction for libraries to not only advocate for change, but to put their money where their mouth is and invest in green technologies, facilities, and activities for ourselves and our communities.
I’ve made small changes in my own little library, switching out Styrofoam cups for paper ones, upcycling scrap paper, using motion sensored lighting, and donating materials to Better World Books (BWB). My favorite thing about BWB is that they will sell anything they can or recycle what can’t be sold. My own library does not have recycling options, and I find the BWB is a win win win for everyone involved including their literacy charities, customers, libraries, and their own organization. Whenever I donate I receive an environmental report that calculates tree and water conservation. I find that BWB has been a big leap in my own efforts to provide sustainability options for my library.
I also had the honor of helping to open up the TCC/City of Virginia Beach Joint Use Library (JUL) in Virginia Beach, VA in 2013. The JUL was recently featured in Library by Design, Spring 2015. The JUL is 124,000 square feet, and two stories with a café, two computing commons, thirty six glass encased study rooms, the Marcy Sims Children’s Room, a “living room”, a public collection from the Virginia Beach Public Libraries and an academic collection from Tidewater Community College which are available to the entire Virginia Beach community. You can read more about the JUL’s conception and opening in the article above.
What I want to highlight here is that the JUL is a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification library. Its efforts in sustainability and energy efficiency went into the concept of the design from start to finish. The location, the building materials, the construction, the interior design and furniture, the lighting, you name it. Sustainability was on the forefront of everyone’s mind when developing the new JUL space and it was a real pleasure to see all of these plans come to fruition. If you are ever in the area, please go check it out. It is a beautiful beautiful space.
With that, I would like to applaud other LEED certified libraries including the newly constructed Platinum certified libraries below. Kudos to LA which has four libraries on this list!
Santa Monica Public Library, CA
County of Los Angeles Public Library, CA
Pierce College, CA
Cedar Rapids Public Library, IA
Los Angeles Public Library, CA
Maricopa County Library District, AZ
Dallas Public Library, TX
If you are interested in green initiatives to implement at your library, here are some other websites and blogs!
Green Libraries – www.greenlibraries.org
Going Green @ Your Library – greeningyourlibrary.wordpress.com
Sustainable Libraries – sustainablelibraries.org
The Green Shelf – greenshelf.blogspot.com