Thursday, May 30, 2013

Recruitment-From the Other Side of the Table, by Kathy Bradshaw


Recently, I attended ACRL in Indianapolis and I volunteered to do resume reviews. While I was waiting for resumes to review, I noticed there were several books about resume writing, cover letter writing, career preparation, etc. If you go to, there are literally pages and pages of books advising people on the “correct” way to apply for a job. There are countless websites devoted to this topic, as well. So, with all this help available, I wonder then why so many applicants don’t seem to heed any of this advice.

In my position, I serve on all librarian search committees and coordinate the hiring for non-librarian employees. From all this experience, I can tell you that search committees and hiring managers want to get a large pool of qualified applicants. People who are responsible for evaluating job applicants want to have a difficult time selecting candidates to be chosen for telephone interviews and in-person interviews. This usually does not happen. I’d like to change this, so here are some suggestions to increase your chances of getting an interview (which is the first step to getting hired). Although I work in an academic library, many of these tips are applicable to all types of libraries.
  1. In your cover letter, please state the title of the position for which you are applying; don’t make us guess. Often times we have several positions open, so sending us a cover letter and resume will not help your chances for being selected without telling us the specific position you want.
  2. Follow the instructions in the posting for submitting your materials. If the ad says to include contact information for three professional references, don’t go overboard and submit letters of recommendation. If the posting says submit your documents in PDF format, then that is what you should do. And so on.
  3. Make sure that your cover letter and all its references are for the position at my institution. You might be surprised at the number of applications I receive that are addressed to a different institution or have been used for a previous job application. Since most open positions receive anywhere from tens to hundreds of application, not taking the time to proofread to ensure your cover letter is actually for the job that was advertised at my institution is a good way to get your application materials to be put in the “Not Considered for an Interview” pile.
  4. In addition to making sure your cover letter is addressed to the correct institution, proofread your application documents. Better yet, have someone else proofread your materials for you. Job hunting is time consuming, so it is very easy to overlook small mistakes such as typos. Those are the things that will get you (fair or not) branded as careless and reduce your chances of being seriously considered for the position.
  5. Your cover letter should also specifically address the qualifications that are listed in the posting. Descriptions of your terrific work ethic, long sentences that promote that you learn quickly, are a self-starter, and had a 4.0 grade point average in your MLS program, will not help your chances of getting an interview if you have not addressed the required qualifications of the position posting and described how can perform the duties outlined.
  6. If you have been selected for an interview (which, in most libraries, will likely be conducted by telephone) in order to increase your chances of being invited to a second round, make sure to prepare. A recent LIS grad I know got hired for an academic librarian position after interviews at several institutions. After the first couple of interviews, she noticed that the questions were very similar at each institution. So she kept refining her answers to the questions and eventually received an offer. The questions in the interview will (or should be) based on the type of position available.  For example, for a position in archives interviewers will often ask about familiarity with a specific format, such as photographs or paper and/or ask about trending topics within archives. Candidates should also be prepared to answer questions about the ability to successfully work in a team; the ability to successfully juggle multiple priorities; knowledge of technology and customer service skills. Applicants who don’t answer those questions well don’t get invited for in-person interviews.
  7. Search committees and hiring managers want to speak with candidates that have researched our library. In your cover letter, and especially in your interviews, let the interviewers know that you have done your homework. Our search committee once interviewed a candidate by phone that looked like they met all our qualifications based on her CV and cover letter. When we spoke with her on the phone, she did not really know where we were located (she lived in a different state and would have had to relocate to take the position) other than the general region of the country. Based on her answers over the phone, she knew nothing about our library, let alone our institution. It is perhaps needless to say that she didn’t move forward to the next round of interviews.
  8. In all interviews (especially in a telephone interview, where people can’t see you) express enthusiasm for the position. While enthusiasm does not translate to competence, hiring committees are usually looking for candidates that seem to want to work with us.
  9. Interviewers want candidates to ask us questions. When I am interviewing a candidate, I always make a note of the questions the candidate has for us. Good questions tell me that the candidate has done some research and wants to learn more information about the position and to determine if the job is a good fit for him or her. I can’t post everything about the job or the library or the institution in a job posting. Remember, as candidates you are interviewing the interviewers.
  10. Not all questions are appropriate, however. It’s not a good idea to ask about salary, benefits, or relocation during an initial interview. During the initial interview process, hiring committees are often interviewing numerous candidates. Candidates who demand a specific salary up front (or ask immediately what the position pays) or tell us that you need relocation expenses probably won’t progress further in the hiring process.
  11. While many candidates (and interviewers) will use social media to research the library and the people who work there, be careful about sounding like a stalker. Mentioning the award the library has won that was mentioned on the library’s Facebook page is fine; this may be an opening to ask a question. However, attempting to “friend” a search committee member on Facebook or connect on Linked In is not a good idea.
  12. Speaking of social media, clean up your web profile. Lock down your privacy settings, and delete pictures or references that may tag you as unsuitable for the position. Drinking over age 21 is legal; however, pictures of you drinking in public places repeatedly may harm your chances of being hired for a position such as a school media specialist. You are not breaking the law, but the hiring committee may see you in a negative light. Is that fair? No. No one will come out and say that you were not hired because of your Facebook wall, but it can happen. 

I know what you might be thinking, but no, I did not exaggerate in my examples.  Most of the applications I receive contain generic cover letters and resumes/CVs that are not tailored to the specific position. It is then hard to assess how that applicant is suitable for the position and if hired, can make a contribution to the library.  That being said, only one person can be hired for each opening. Often when a person sees a position posting, they may feel they are the perfect candidate. Maybe they are, but the applicant is operating from one perspective: that of the candidate. Candidates have no idea who else applied for the position and the qualifications of the other candidates. Even if an applicant meets all the qualifications advertised, the hiring committee may still select someone else for any number of reasons. However, those applicants that take the time to submit customized materials for positions for which they are suitable (I’m a librarian, but I have no experience in cataloging, so applying for a cataloging position would be a waste of time for me) should eventually get an interview and eventually receive an offer. In other words, it’s worth your time to put in the effort.

Kathy Bradshaw is the Human Resources Librarian at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro. She can be reached at

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Questioning Questions


Lately, I've been thinking about how to capture statistics in the library, and though that might seem a simple topic, it's actually left me asking more questions than answering them. For instance, here's a question I never thought I'd ask: "what is a reference question?" I always thought this was such a simple thing, after all I took multiple semesters of reference and advanced reference classes during my first graduate program. However, despite my recent efforts, I've yet to be able to define "reference question" to my own satisfaction. Turns out, it's not so straightforward after all.

Here are my thoughts so far:
  • Spelling, grammar, and citation questions are not reference questions. Even if I get all pedagogical on the patron and show him/her OWL instead of just telling him/her how to format the citation, even if I end up spending 10 minutes in the process, these are too basic to count as reference questions.
  • Purely directional questions are also not reference questions. This isn't contentious when it comes to "Where's the bathroom?" type questions, but I know some people would disagree with me when I insist that something like "Where do I find 809.93372 Man?" doesn't count as a reference question, either.
  • Questions about the library can go either way. "When is the next Microsoft Word workshop?" isn't a reference question, but "Who were the first librarians at this college?" is.
  • Directional questions can be reference questions in disguise. An example from my own experience is the time "Where do you keep the New York Times?" turned out to be an in-depth quest for reviews of horror movies from the late 1950s and early 1960s.

So I'm sure we can all agree that "Where is the public meeting room?" isn't a reference question. I'm also sure we can all agree that "I need information about Great Britain during Shakespeare's lifetime." is. Between those is a bit fuzzier.

So what do you all think?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

What the Heck Am I Doing Here?, by Ruth Frasur

If you’ve found yourself in “library school” as a graduate student, you may have asked yourself this question. Maybe, at some point in your life, you equated your love for reading and quiet with a natural progression into one of the most stereotyped professions. Maybe, once you got into that MLS program, and started delving into the coursework and community, you started wondering for what exactly you’d signed up.

After working for several years in a public school setting and then at a public library, I found myself wanting to finish up a long atrophied education. I talked to an advisor and asked what degree, after years and years chasing this and that major, I was closest to finishing. Turned out it was  a bachelor of general studies with a math and science concentration. After completing that degree, I wasn’t ready to start paying back student loans (a not uncommon predicament for students with worthless degrees). Because I was working in a public library and generally loved it, I figured that it was only natural to continue on to a master’s degree and finally decide on a career path. It sounds pretty haphazard. If that’s what you’re hearing, you’re hearing right.

In spite of the circuitous route it took to get here, I truly believe that public librarianship is where I belong. Now, as the director of a small, rural public library, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on the value of the MLS as well as the keys to being a successful librarian. Hopefully, you can get both some encouragement from my reflections.  

The discussion often arises with regard to the value of an MLS for public librarians. In my state (Indiana), one may or may not need to be a Master of Library Science to direct a library depending on how many people reside in its service district. In my library district, one technically only needs to have a bachelor’s degree (even my “worthless” one will do) and a few library classes (which you can take at a local community college). So, what’s the point of the master’s degree? From my perspective, you can’t beat library school as your first intense taste of professional networking. Even if you’ve worked at a library for years, it’s in library school where you get people talking about its other important aspect – a philosophical foundation for librarianship. Don’t worry, when you get a job in a library, you’ll spend a lot of time “doing.” In library school, you may not learn all the processes related to that “doing,” but you’ll be given the opportunity to think about the WHY of that “doing.” Take advantage of this time to philosophize and do theoretical implementations. The value you get out of your degree will be directly proportional to the value you place on it.

So, is an MLS a guarantee of success as a professional librarian? We can all look around and find examples of individuals with degrees but no jobs or no professional direction and vice versa. In librarianship, as well as any other profession, in order to be successful, I’m convinced that the most important quality an individual must possess is a healthy knowledge of one’s self. For me, I know that I love people. I know that one value I prize highly is the inherent value of the individual and my belief that access to information is a right; not a privilege. I know that I always question authority but, once convinced, am a fierce advocate for policy and procedure. I know that my tendency for the absolute makes me less than ideal for things that require calculated diplomacy. These are neither “goods” nor “bads.” They’re realities. Once you know the reality of yourself, you’ll be much better guided to take that MLS and apply it appropriately for a successful library career.

Ruth Frasur is the Director of the Hagerstown-Jefferson Township Library in Hagerstown, Indiana. She is a graduate of the Indiana University School of Library and Information Science in Indianapolis. She resides in rural Indiana with her husband, three sons, and fat dog. She’s passionate about equal access to information and the culture of open source. And she tweets @rfrasur.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Research-Based Info Lit Lessons Bring All the Boys to the Yard

Well, to be honest, it's boys AND girls. Further, it's not really "the yard." But I hope you get my meaning anyway: the way I teach information literacy lessons, specifically web evaluation, works.

There's a lot more that goes into teaching web evaluation than what I've presented in this post, but no worries if you're new to my blog. I've already written about how I teach multiple times in the past, if you want the full story. Today, I want to get to the specifics of web evaluation because I've never heard anyone else talk about using my method, and I do think everyone should teach it this way.

So, after that build up, I'll bet your wondering how I teach it, huh? It's actually pretty simple: I get the students to tell me, through conversation, that they already evaluate websites and that they rely on the Five Ws:
  • Who wrote the webpage/website? (Gets at authority and trustworthiness.)
  • What kind of information does it have? (Is the content pertinent?)
  • When was it written/last updated? (Gets at timeliness.)
  • Where did the content originate? (Gives me the opportunity to talk about country codes, how most .coms are US based, and cultural biases that can influence content.)
  • Why was the page/site created? (Everything has a bias, so you have to figure out what it is.)

Like I already said, it's simple. But simple works. How am I so sure? Here's where the "research based" part comes into play. You see, almost everyone knows the Five Ws. In fact, most of us learn them in elementary school. That means, for college students, this is existing knowledge, and therefore it's something on which we can build. Adding to existing knowledge is the easiest way for people to learn. Or, if you want me to get all fancy, the Five Ws is a schema that our students already have in place, and since schemas are a kind of memory framework, they are easy to build upon.

I think a lot of the other methods I've seen, like the CRAP method, are funny and clever, but I'll stick with the Five Ws because the science tells me this method is more effective. Besides, as we all know:

(Well, we all know the "Science, It Works..." part. I'll admit I have no idea what the rest of it means.)

A special thanks to John Pappas for helping me come up with the title of this post.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Not What I Expected, by Brenna Henry


When I was in library school, I felt like the world was my oyster. There were so many different opportunities available. I interned with a puzzle collection at the rare books library, worked as a page team leader at the local public library, and also taught information literacy sessions to undergraduates. I took classes in rare books, archives, cataloging, reference, children’s and young adult literature, and many others. I enjoyed exploring the different aspects of librarianship, and since finding a job was never far from my mind, I wanted to be as versatile and have as many options as possible.

I was planning to pursue public librarianship, but during my last semester of graduate school a technical services position opened up at my alma mater, Hillsdale College. I love my alma mater, and I had often wanted to go back and work there, but I didn’t think it would be a possibility. So, when I heard about the serial librarian’s retirement plans, I was excited, but also hesitant. In the past, I had often proclaimed, “I could never be a serials librarian. I could never work in serials.” I didn’t necessarily know what I wanted to do, but I was pretty sure I didn’t want to do that. I did, however, decide to apply for the position, and after surviving an interview during an ice storm that closed down campus, I was offered, and accepted the position.

I was excited to go back to Hillsdale. I had worked in the library before, and I knew my co-workers, but I was also very aware that I didn’t know what I was doing. Some people know what they want to do and get a job in that field, but I think it is also common to apply for and accept a job that you didn’t quite expect. That’s what happened in my case, and I don’t have any regrets. I was a little worried, but I decided that I would do and learn what I could. As I finished up my degree, I talked with my advisor, a former serials librarian, and also with an electronic resources librarian at the university, while also trying to look at the current literature and issues in the field. Looking back, I think feeling ignorant was a good thing. Since I was very aware of my skills, or lack thereof, I came into my position with fewer preconceived ideas and a willingness to learn. Sure, there was a learning curve, but my boss and co-workers were patient and willing to help.

I have been in my current position for almost two years, and I have learned so much in that time. There is still a lot that I don’t know, but I continue to learn, and I have also been able to make the position my own. I found that I enjoy collection development and am looking forward to summer weeding projects. I also lead a book discussion every semester, as I enjoy interacting with students and participating in outreach activities.

Even though I never thought I would be a technical services librarian working with serials and electronic resources, I enjoy my job and have been able to challenge myself and exercise skills that I formerly did not have much faith in. Because the institution is such a good fit for me, I am able to explore new skills and ideas and grow in both my personal and professional life. So, no, this isn’t what I expected, but it is working out well.

Brenna Henry is a Technical Services Librarian working with serials and electronic resources at Hillsdale College. She graduated from IU Bloomington with her MLS in 2011, and enjoys reading (of course), community theater, and extreme mud runs.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Acronyms, Jargon, and Other Obfuscation

There isn't much about my beloved profession that bothers me more than the way so many librarians unknowingly hide meaning (and I hope I'm right in assuming the "unknowingly" part). You may have gathered this if you've been reading my blog for a while, since I've written about it time and time and time again. So what has me up in arms enough to write a fourth post? This time my dudgeon is being caused by our love of acronyms. (Also, I know we're not the only ones with acronymaholism, but this is a blog about librarianship, after all.)

Okay, I get it. It's a heck of a lot easier to say, "ACRL," than it is to say, "Association of College and Research Libraries," but come on people. Using acronyms is one thing, but the presumption that everyone knows what your acronyms mean is quite another. The rule is, and has been as long as I can remember, that you spell out the thing, whatever that thing is, the first time you name it, and then you use the acronym or abbreviation. Why do so many people disregard this convention? And yes, I mean you, person who sent that solicitation out to a listserv looking for new people for that thing your roundtable does. I also mean you, person who tweeted something similar. And I most certainly mean you, webmaster for that regional organization where I had to dig and dig to figure out where the heck you all are located. Before you complain that you don't know what to do when you only have a limited amount of space, I've got the answer: link to something with an explanation of the acronym.

Please, my beloved librarian brothers and sisters, take this to heart. Following my advice will certainly endear you to me, but ignoring me will do more than make me dislike you. It might make me avoid anything sponsored by your organizations, but at the very least, I won't join you because I'll have no idea what you do.

And, on that note, ttfn.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

You Don’t Have to Do All the Things to be an Awesome Librarian. Really., by Ginger Williams

Image by Allie Brosh.

As most of us are, I was excited beyond measure when I got my first real job as an Honest-to-Goodness Librarian about three years ago. I’d spent six months searching after grad school and I found a job that I was (and still am) really excited about. My God, was I excited. When my first day finally came around I could hardly contain my enthusiasm. More than anything, I wanted to prove to everyone how capable and awesome I was. I wanted to DO ALL THE THINGS!! Aren’t you glad you hired me??!! I’m so good at everything.

As a noobrarian, I read a lot of blogs and kept track of rockstar librarians and was constantly on the lookout for cool things that cool librarians were doing. No doubt, it’s great to keep abreast of what’s going on in our field, and these days I prefer following a lot of librarians on Twitter and reading a few key publications to keep track of awesome ideas. But the more you read, the more insecure you might feel- especially as a noobrarian. You can start to think that if you’re just doing your job, you’re failing at being an awesome librarian. And I don’t want you to feel that way. If you’re reading this, I THINK YOU’RE AWESOME!

There are three main reasons I want to encourage noobrarians not to fall into the trap of trying to Do All the Things. First of all, you’re new! People are thrilled that you can sit at the reference desk unattended without drooling or falling asleep and that you know where to send people when they need to fax something. For the first few months, the very best thing you can be doing for your library is learn how to do your job really well. Don’t try to give yourself extra work. Once you’ve learned how to do what’s actually assigned to you, then you can branch out. You can be a tremendous librarian without putting so much stress on yourself. You don’t have to be a rockstar. A much better use of your energy is trying to be the kind of librarian you’d want to work with. Put your energy into that, my friends. And try to be the kind of librarian your patrons want. Maybe that means working on your business reference skills instead of getting on an ALA committee before your 30th birthday [Editor’s note: or even before your 40th]. So be it!

The second reason for taking things slow at first is that, if you don’t, you run the risk of steamrolling the librarians who’ve been working hard at your library for years and years. You don’t yet know what the culture is like. Sit back in your first few meetings and just observe what happens. Find out who is generating new ideas and who is resisting them. Try to get a sense of what’s been tried before. The coolest idea ever that you want to start doing today might have been a catastrophe at your library because the service didn’t fit your clientele. Wait to propose major changes or new services until you figure out who will be happy to help you implement them and who will dig their feet in and try to thwart your ideas. Things might get ugly if you try to bring “new and awesome” changes to your library before you have a good grasp on the scene.

Lastly, if you try to Do All the Things, people will start to think of you as a sucker. Yes, you’re being nice and awesome and getting shit done. But your colleagues might see the situation differently. Undesirable committee appointment? Ginger will do it! Teach an instruction session this afternoon with no notice? GINGER. Cover a weekend shift when another librarian is sick? GINGER. Tell someone to stop masturbating in the library? GINGER. You see how this is going? Try to be a team player and do awesome things without getting taken advantage of and without getting burnt out. It’s a fine line, and it starts with saying no every once in a while. It starts by telling your colleagues you can’t Do All the Things.

Ginger Williams is a Reference Librarian/Assessment Coordinator at Valdosta State University. She tweets about cats and beer at @GingerInGeorgia. She is not a rockstar librarian.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Long and Short of It, Part II: ACRL 2013, The Sessions


So, last week I shared some of my observations about ACRL 2013. At that point, I was planning to make this follow up post about individual sessions - highlighting the good, the bad, the tools. While I did catch a few dud presentations, I also attended a lot of great ones - for instance, the one where the presenter was talking about using Google Earth as a language learning tool was particularly fascinating. However, the idea of talking about each session I attended no longer seems appropriate. Maybe it's because I went to and presented at LOEX in the meantime (yes, I know - too many conference presentations). Maybe it's just laziness. Regardless of the reason, I think I'd rather talk about how I approach attending sessions instead of the sessions themselves.

You see, at this stage of my career, I've done and seen and thought about a lot of things in this field. Not trying to affect a "been there, done that" attitude, but ten years is a long-ish time. I do still encounter sessions that cover topics with which I'm completely unfamiliar, but that's fairly rare these days. Instead, I usually range between having some awareness to having lots and lots of knowledge on the topic being discussed. Does that stop me from going? Well, it used to, but it doesn't anymore.

Now I go hoping to pick up a few new tidbits, but also hoping to be able to add to the conversation. Here are some recent examples:

All of this is to say that I no longer go to sessions hoping to get something out of it. Not in a overweening, know-it-all, show-off-y kind of way, but but nowadays I mostly go to sessions hoping to give something back, hoping to add to the conversation. How about you?

Thursday, May 2, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Thrift-a-holic

There's no two ways about it, I love thrifting. Secondhand stores and consignment shops and thrift stores and even antique malls... I love them all. Well, maybe not all, but the ones I dislike have more to do with the politics of their parent organizations than the content of the stores themselves. But that's neither here nor there for the purposes of this post.

Here are some of my favorite finds from recent years:

Surrealist Games
I found this one recently, at the New Castle Farmers Market. No, I haven't had a chance to play this game yet, but that doesn't lessen my joy in it. For those of you who aren't in the local area, and are wondering what the heck something like that was doing at a farmers market, I'm with you in your confusion. Apparently, it's a thing around here to combine flea markets and farmers markets. The result? Pure awesome.

This blue glass bowl came from Treasures Flea Market. I almost didn't stop there that day, but I had a little time to kill and decided to go.

I call her Blorpy.
My favorite thrifting find of all time is this oddity. It's a dragon made from wicker and metal, and it's wearing a babushka. She's also missing one ear, but I love her all the more for that flaw. Why did someone think this was a good idea? I have not a clue, but I don't care.

How about you? Any thrifters out there?