Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Full-Day Academic Library Interview, From a First Timer's Perspective, Part 1, by Alex Barton

The position I hold right now, my first, focuses on e-learning information literacy initiatives at an academic library. For this position, I had a single interview that ran about an hour and the total hiring process took about three months from application to offer. Up until now, that was my only experience.

I submitted an application some months ago for a liaison librarian job at a different library. (Note: all identifying details, including my name, have been made vague or changed outright to keep things anonymous.) I was contacted for a phone interview with the hiring committee about seven weeks later, and then, shortly after that, I was invited to a full-day interview at the campus. Hurray! My first!

Some librarians new to the profession may or may not know this particular drill, so here it is: the full-day visit includes a teaching demonstration, a panel interview, tours, a talk with human resources, as well as some informal meet-and-greets with various people on campus. This, and the phone interview, amounted to the polar opposite of the hiring process for my present position. It was new; it was scary; I needed help.

I've often found interview advice or anecdotes comes from veterans of both sides of the table. While this advice has been invaluable, I'd yet to read about experiences from new librarians who just went through the all-day interview process for the first time. But here I am in that position, so, as a big fan of this blog, I’m filling the gap. Here’s how my experiences went:

Like a good librarian, I prepared for the phone interview and by the time they called, I had a lot of notes spread out across my desk. We got started: there were three people on the hiring committee, each of whom asked three or so questions. I’ve listed most of them here. You will see they are a combination of what I would call standard-issue with some specific to the position:
  • What do you see as your teaching techniques and how do you measure success? 
  • What is your experience with collection development? 
  • What are the methods and tools you use for competing demands? 
  • Describe a project where you collaborated with colleagues. 
  • A problematic assignment in your subject area keeps popping up at the reference desk. How do you approach the instructor to address the assignment? 
  • What do you see as the current and major trends in librarianship?

The interview lasted about 90 minutes and, at the time, I thought I had done pretty well. It seems that the feeling was mutual, since they asked me to come for an in person interview shortly after. During the conversation in which they invited me to visit, they let me know what the day would look like. I received the agenda and the topic for my teaching presentation a couple of days later. As I’ve already mentioned, the agenda was absolutely packed. The information they provided to help me design my teaching demonstration was similarly detailed:

Dr. Jane Smith has invited you to give a 50-minute library instruction session for her 2nd-year Sociology course. The major assignment is a literature review on some aspect of consensus-building in not-for-profit organizations. The professor would like you to teach her students how to:
    • find articles using discipline-specific databases
    • understand and properly utilize controlled vocabulary
    • recognize and understand different types of scholarly articles
    • evaluate sources
You are to design a lesson plan for this 50-minute session to give to the panel, and come prepared to present a 20-minute excerpt, with the audience members acting as your students. The physical space includes a projector and internet connection only, no lab.

My elation at making it past the phone interview gave way to panic, primarily about the teaching demonstration. I had less than a week to build the lesson plan, complete the PowerPoint presentation, and write the script for the portion I would present. In all, I’d say I spent about 30 hours on it.

On that day, I arrived on time and met with my official escort for the day, who was also one of the committee members. [Editor’s Note: If you are coming from a long distance, the interviewing institution will typically pick you up at the airport, put you up in a local hotel, and drive you around.]  I was given a bit of time to caffeinate and prepare for my presentation. When the audience arrived, I began. I gave the 20-minute slice with an initial preamble about the choices I’d made. After polite applause and a few questions from the audience members (who had their student hats on), I was told that each attendee would fill out an evaluation form and submit it to the hiring committee.

I had a quick break and then it was time for the panel interview with the same people who interviewed me by phone. There were a few repeat questions with some minor variations, but there were plenty of new ones:
  • What sorts of scholarly resources would you consult for [subjects a, b, and c]?
  • What do you consider effective ways to reach out to faculty who are resistant to an information literacy component to their courses?
  • A student approaches you and wants to know about self-medication and the frontal lobe. How do you begin?
  • Please describe an element of service excellence and provide an example from your own experience.
  • What is your philosophy of modern librarianship in an academic context?
  • How would this position fit in with your short- and long-term career goals?

I tripped over a couple of questions (and initially drew a complete blank on the first one) and very likely rambled throughout but on the whole I felt fine.

After another quick break it was time for lunch with the committee and other library staff. This turned out to be a smaller crowd than I expected, with only one member of the committee there, and it was primarily intended for small talk.

After lunch I spoke with a higher-level library representative who filled me in on assessments and competencies for librarians at that institution, especially as they are considered members of the faculty. Interestingly, although this position is a contract one, not only would I receive health benefits, sick days, and vacation days, I would receive funding and “research days” for a variety of professional development opportunities (courses, conferences, papers, and so on).

Then it was a campus tour with my escort, after which I talked with the human resources representative about general nuts and bolts like pay schedules, benefits, and institutional policies.

After a meet and greet for coffee-and-cupcakes with various drop-ins, I was cut loose with promises to contact me 2-4 weeks later. And now I wait.

How do I think I did? Fine, but not outstanding. As the minimum experience required was indicated in the job ad in months, not years, I’m sure there were quite a few candidates like me. Also, given the current economic climate, quite a number of people with more experience probably applied, as well. Bearing that in mind, I’m very happy that I made it past the first round and won’t be devastated if I’m not the successful candidate. Well, I say this now. Since this is going to be a two-part post, I’ll let you know how I feel after I hear the committee’s decision.

Alex Barton (a pseudonym) is an e-learning librarian at a university in Ontario. She worked in book publishing prior to her current position.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

I'm Not Sorry (Unless I Really Am)


I had an odd experience the other day. I saw a patron engaged in inappropriate behavior, and when came out of my office to put a stop to it, she looked startled. I said something like, "I came out of my office because I saw someone who doesn't work for me behind the circulation desk." Her response startled me: "It's okay. [Explanation of why she'd been back there.]"

The explanation wasn't satisfactory, but in a way that relates back to some policies I need to implement and/or enforce. That wasn't what startled me. No, that was caused by the "It's okay." She said it like I'd apologized, which I hadn't, and she was forgiving and/or reassuring me. I'm still not exactly sure why she responded in that way. One possibility is that I came off as apologetic, but I doubt that. Instead, I suspect it's a cultural thing, and that made me want to write this post.

You see, for a few years now, I've made a point of avoiding variations on the theme of "I'm sorry, but..." unless I am actually sorry. This didn't used to be the case, but it is now. However, since women of a certain age and above (say 12 years old) have been conditioned to apologize for everything, I suspect this patron was responding to the behavior she expect of me instead of my actual behavior. In the words of a friend with whom I discussed the incident, it was probably "an auto-pilot response."

Further, I know the "I'm sorry" impulse is not just a gender thing. I've seen both men and women in my profession (and others) apologize for no reason. "I'm sorry, ma'am, but you can't let your children run around pulling books off the shelves and throwing them at other patrons." "I'm sorry, Professor Doe, but we don't have room in the budget for a ridiculously expensive book that only you will use, and then probably only once." "I'm sorry, Jane Doe, Esquire, but I can't find the case law precedent if you don't give me all the information I need."

Admittedly, there are nuanced ways of interpreting the phrase, but the most obvious is "I apologize for [fill in the blank]." I'm not going to apologize for not being able to find a source with incomplete citation information, or for budget restrictions, or for the IRS being slow to send the 1040 instruction booklets. These are events over which I have little to no control.

There are multiple other reasons why I eradicated "I'm sorry" from my regular speech, even though it's a modern convention of sorts. More than anything else, I made this change because this way it feels like it really means something when I do apologize.

So, no, I'm not sorry, unless I really am. And neither should you be.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Managers Need Friends, Too, by Caro Pinto


In December 2012, my boss promoted me to be the interim head of technical services at Hampshire College. I was excited; management experience had previously felt like a distant opportunity. In library school it had seemed an abstract idea; and having only worked in libraries professionally since 2009, I could not believe that I was being asked to step up and lead a department. Moreover, as a research and instruction librarian, management opportunities tend to be harder to come by, unlike the pipeline that can lead catalogers to become heads of technical services and later library directors. As someone who wants to lead an organization one day, I knew that I needed to take advantage of this unique opportunity to lead a unit so I can begin building my resume. I accepted enthusiastically.

Things started off well; my co-workers were happy for me, and my new direct reports were supportive of the move. Yet, once I started the day to day work - signing off on time cards, putting out random fires - I began to see that I had a new perspective about the organization. This makes sense: I had more context about employees, policies, and decisions that I did not have before. I suddenly noticed that I had to hold my tongue since knowing what I know now makes participating in some office scuttlebut problematic. I now have my staff’s confidentiality to protect, since, I have access to sensitive information. Further, I realize I should lead through a positive example. This is a balancing act - one I am excited to take on - but I also know that I am a social being who wants to tell jokes and participate in office culture.

To put it more succinctly: managers need friends, too.

So, what’s a new manager to do? Here are a few solutions I’ve found in my first months in my new role:

Dive into the larger world of librarianship: When you work in a small shop, it's harder to find a friend to talk office politics with or freak out about how to write a performance evaluation. So, I reached out to some colleagues in the Five Colleges Consortium and had some coffees and lunches. So often, we build community around the practice of librarianship, be it teaching or collecting, but I am also excited to build a community of practice around management, too.

Add some seats to your personal board of directors: In my last job, I read a Harvard Business School piece about cultivating a personal board of directors; these individuals can be mentors and/or other individuals you admire outside and inside of your organization, people who have already navigated some of the tricky management terrain before you. They can help troubleshoot problems, be a supportive ear, and help craft a professional roadmap for the next phase of your career. I think that this board of directors should also include individuals who are in the same career places as you; people grappling with some of the same issues for the first time, too. Since starting the new position, I've added some new members to my personal board of directors and I feel good about what's percolating.

Watch your relationships evolve: I had good relationships with my staff before I became their boss. As we’ve worked together more closely, I am getting to know them better. I’ve enjoyed goal-setting with them, and I’ve especially enjoyed seeing the start of a new type of relationship, one that isn’t a co-worker banter-and-prank-filled one you might observe in sitcoms like The Office. Together, we are all flexing different social muscles to do the work of our organization - and that’s extremely rewarding.

While shifting into a managerial position has changed the complexion of my day-to-day life, I realize how much remains the same; I am still a member of a dynamic team of research and instruction librarians, I still work with amazing students and faculty, and I still enjoy the camaraderie of my colleagues. The major difference in my life at work now is that I have more agency - agency to shape my staff, to set goals for my unit, and to develop my leadership style in earnest - but agency does come with its costs. I am lucky to be a manager with friends to navigate these exciting developments with over the next few years.

Caro Pinto is the Critical Social Inquiry Librarian at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. This is her first post for this blog. You can follow her on Twitter @caropinto. She writes about higher education, digital humanities, and libraries at

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Library or School Supply Warehouse? You Judge!

Picture by ME!
I've been thinking about office supplies a lot recently. To be fair, it's not just recently, but it is more on my mind now that I'm in charge of the budget where I work. More specifically, I've been wondering when it was that libraries got in the business of supplying pens, pencils, staplers, hole punches, and so on. To my mind, it's not a natural association.

Although I know better than to judge the members of my community (or any library's community) by my own standards, I can't help thinking about my behavior when I was an undergraduate. I would never have presumed even to ask to borrow a stapler or a paper clip or the like, let alone assume that one would be provided. And yet, now that I'm on the other side of the relationship, my undergraduate population does assume. It is such a matter of course that I've actually seen and heard students at multiple institutions getting testy when the stapler runs out of staples.

In the past, I wondered at the presumption, but now that I'm the boss lady, I'm also flinching at the money involved. This kind of thing isn't sustainable, obviously, and even less so with ever-shrinking budgets. I do have a few ideas of how to address the money vs. student needs issue, for instance I saw someone tweet about office supply vending machines in academic libraries and LOVE that idea. I've already started, in a somewhat desultory manner, to investigate what it would take to have such a set up in my library. I will definitely pursue this idea with more gusto in the future.

However, beyond how I'm going to slowly ween our community off of expecting the library to provide such things, I'm wondering what you all think of this phenomenon: is this normal? Do your patrons get huffy when you won't loan them a pair of scissors? Am I being obtuse by objecting to spend my budget replacing broken stapler after broken stapler? And, finally, when did this become a thing?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

You Are Paid in Smiles, by Ryan Claringbole


So you are a new public librarian. Congratulations. Here’s a bit of clarification about what’s to come for you. That ticker tape parade? Not going to happen. Making it rain when you treat your friends to a night out after getting that huge bonus? Nope. Fame? Glory? No and no. Now is the time to ask yourself why you have chosen to enter into this profession. Actually, that questions should have been asked before you entered it, but better late than never. 

Sure, you literally get paid in dollars, and while it is not a large amount (especially considering the amount of education needed to land the job) it is usually enough to live on. But in reality, this is a profession where you are paid in smiles. And nods. Mumbled thank you-s. And those are from the people that will actually acknowledge what you’ve done. This is not taking into account the people that do not say thank you, that curse the heavens that you dare charge them a $.35 late fee for that item and ask when did the library begin having a policy that charges for items not returned on time. The grumps. The frumps. Screaming children, neglectful parents, people that smell, people that revel in your suffering (so it seems). This is, after all, public service. 

Is it worth it? 

Oh, yes. Yes indeed. 

You now have the opportunity to help everyone that walks through that door and help solve so many problems. You can be a mentor for children and teens, show various worlds to people, and more. Imagine being the first person to hand over a Dr. Seuss book to a child, or having a wicked Halloween-themed job fair for teens, teaching them the best practices interviewing for their first job. Helping someone use a keyboard and mouse for the first time so they can go on to apply to their next job online, or maybe even publish their first novel via self-publishing. The joy, the sheer joy on someone’s face when you find the book they want to read! I’ve seen eyes glisten with tears when you help them track their ancestors using library resources. They shake your hand, look you in the eye, and thank you repeatedly for your help…after finding that book that their child needed for their book report, along with a list of other helpful sources. 

Now, that’s not to say it’s all grand. It’s not all terrible either. Whatever else librarianship is, it’s definitely a job for those that enjoy helping others. No, you usually do not get to read on the job and the library is not a peaceful and relaxing place (the #1 and #2 answers I’ve heard in interviews when asking someone why he/she wants to work in the library). It can be a raucous environment, dirty, making you unkempt to the point of verklempt. But when you see those smiles, or even maybe just one smile if it’s a particularly off day, you will go home happy. I promise. It’s knowing that, bit by bit, you are helping your community be better and happier. And in my opinion, that is priceless. 

This may be new to you or maybe you knew it all along. That’s not necessarily the point. You will have to remind yourself why you are doing the job every day, and why you need to keep pouring time and energy into it. It’s not easy. Things do not fall into your lap and not everything will go your way. You might excuse yourself to your coworkers, go into the restroom and splash some cold water on your face. You might lie awake in bed, unable to fall asleep as you figure out the last minute planning for that program. You might see your library’s infrastructure change due to funding, or lament the direction the system is going as the importance of the latest fad comes into play. What is the library about to you? Is it books? Information? Computers? To you, from here on out, it is about helping those that come into your building any damn way you can. Smiles of gratitude aren’t handed out haphazardly, so do everything in your power to earn them. If you receive a genuine smile of thanks, it has that funny way of making you smile, too.

Ryan is a Digital Services Librarian at the Chesapeake Public Library System, and is always looking to learn more from others. Please contact and/or share your thoughts with him on Twitter @librarianry.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

When Publishers Attack

Before I get into the heart of this post, let me be completely up front about something: I consider Dale Askey to be a personal friend. Not only has he written a guest post for this blog, but he was also a member of my Frye Leadership Institute cohort. (A slightly unrelated note: Frye has recently been renamed The Leading Change Institute.) That all means that when it comes to Dale, I am definitely biased. So I'm sure you'll understand that when I learned that Edwin Mellen Press is suing Dale (and Dale's employer, McMaster University) for libel, I was beyond astonished.

If you want details about the case, many others have written about it already:
Rather than duplicate their efforts, I'm going to talk about the online librarian community's response. 

You see, the truth is that academic publishing has been broken for a long time. The prices are astronomical; the way authors end up having to sign away their copyrights in order to publish with top tier journals and publishers seems almost criminal; and the fact that getting tenure is dependent on publishing in the top tier outlets makes the whole thing a vicious cycle with no way out.

I feel like Edwin Mellen suing Dale is yet another escalation in this increasingly adversarial relationship between publishers and librarians. It brings to mind a recent strip from Savage Chickens:

Citing Savage Chickens might seem ludicrous, but an academic press metaphorically biting the hand that feeds it is equally unbelievable. It sounds like a headline from The Onion.

So what has the librarian community done? Mostly, we've "thrown rocks" at Edwin Mellen Press by highlighting the absurdity of the situation and bringing it to the attention of a broader audience. There are blog posts and a hashtag: #freedaleaskey. There is even a petition with 1500+ signatures. I'm sure there are blog posts and articles that I've missed that discuss the case, and I'm equally sure there will be many more written. (This page seems to be tracking what is written.)

Why is all this happening? Because the truth these days is, "When publishers attack, librarians fight back."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

First Thursday's Just For Fun: Celebrikitties

At some point in the not to distant past, I realized that I have little to no use for human celebrities on Twitter and/or Facebook. I do follow/like a few, but most of them don't know how to use social media (which is, admittedly, true of the broader population as well). They post too much or too little, are too personal or too impersonal, etc.

Who do I follow, then? Well, a lot of librarians mostly, but there's a growing number of celebrity cats in my feeds. Here are some of my favorites:


Who is Sockington? First, how do you not know that? Second, he was one of the first big internet celebrikitties. He has 1.4 Million followers on Twitter. What does he tweet about? Exactly what you'd expect cats to tweet about... which is hilarious if you're a crazy cat lady or gent. Plus he's had a song written about him:

Henri, le Chat Noir

Poor Henri. He rocketed to fame more recently, due to the efforts of the "thieving filmmaker," but Henri continues to feel completely misunderstood. He is also plagued by ennui. Don't believe me? Hear it in Henri's own words:

Colonel Meow

The Colonel demands your obedience, your kitty treats, and your scotch - but only if it's the good scotch. None of that cheap crap for the Colonel.

So how about you? What kind of celebrikitties and celebridogs do you follow/like?

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Could I Show You the Wine List?, Or, How Waitressing Made Me a Better Librarian

Like a lot of people, I was not born with a silver spoon. The relevant ramification of that fact is that I had to work while attending graduate school. Waiting tables was the most profitable job that had a flexible schedule, and since I had prior experience, that's what I did.

Little did I realize, going into it, that not only would I be making money on which to live and with which to pay for graduate school, but that I'd also be learning to be a better librarian. Don't believe me? Look at the skills I gained by waitressing:

I can...
  • Juggle multiple simultaneous projects. At different points in my career as a waitress, I was responsible for anywhere between three and fourteen tables at the same time. I quickly learned to write EVERYTHING down so I could truly keep track, to make quick decisions about priorities ("Table 413 probably needs a coffee refill, but 412's food is up now, so..."), and to be able to shift between different modes at a moment's notice. Sounds a lot like what a librarian at a small college library does, doesn't it?
  • Tailor my approach to the needs of the customer. With a customer who had never been to my restaurant, but who was obviously there for a special occasion, I acted one way. With a family of regulars who had been coming to that restaurant longer than I'd been alive, I acted another. And so on. Similarly, with a first generation college student in his/her first semester of college, I act one way. With a graduate student who just needs help refining a search strategy, I act another. And so on.
  • Leave it at the door. Any stress from outside of the restaurant needed to stay out of the restaurant, otherwise it would interfere with how much money I made from tips. Likewise, a bad day at the restaurant needed to stay at the restaurant if I was going to get homework done. The same philosophy applies with libraries, since patrons, students especially, don't care if my commute was stressful - they just care about finding that errant source that eludes them.
  • Ask for help when I need it. Anybody who's ever worked in a restaurant has been "in the weeds" at one point or another, so overwhelmed and lost and behind that you can barely breathe let alone keep track of what you're supposed to be doing. The only way to dig out from under all of that is to ask your fellow servers and/or your managers for help. I've had the same thing happen in libraries whenever I have too many projects going at once, and my colleagues came to my rescue.
  • Focus on the customer. I've talked before about what customer service really means, but whether you call them patrons or customers or members of your community, they are still the reason we all have jobs. I don't work in a book mausoleum; I work in a library. The people who come into my building need to be the underlying reason for everything I do.
  • Appear calm, even when I'm not. I think of this as "waitress face," because that's where I learned to keep internal turmoil off of my face and out of my body language. This is probably the most important thing I learned while working in restaurants, and it has served me well while facing angry administrators, trustees, faculty, and students. I might feel like scratching someone's eyes out, but it doesn't show. Besides, it serves no purpose to get angry back when someone is screaming at you. (Full disclosure: I can't always manage this, but I'm up to 95% of the time. Practice makes perfect.)
I explained all of the above when I was interviewing for what turned out to be my first professional librarian position, and I know that it was part of what got me that job. Looking back now, I know why it worked that way.

How about you? Have you ever waited tables? What other pre-library jobs, that might not seem to fit, did you have that you know helped you do your library job better? (Or, for the library science students reading this, what jobs do you think will help you once you join the profession?)