November 14th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I've written a few times here about different aspects of library employment, interviewing, and job goals. A little while ago I received the following email from another librarian, which really captured my interest:
I am a reference librarian [and] recently applied for a job as head of reference services at another library and just found out I've gotten an interview. I've done dozens of interviews for reference librarian positions and have done pretty well at them. However I've never had an interview for a department head position and was wondering if you had any sense of what I could expect, how they differ from reference librarian interviews, or any other advice? Anything you could tell me would be very appreciated.
This is a good question, and one that I've never specifically considered. Of course every interview is different, whether because of the job requirements or other hyper-local reasons.
After I thought about it a bit, I realized that the differences between librarian and department head is a laundry list of the least-fun things about my job: paperwork, staff management, more meetings. The prospect of conveying in an interview that you're aware of these differences, and how you'd handle them, is an interesting challenge. Here's a few of my thoughts:
- Supervising a variety of people
The biggest challenge when I started my job was that I was a young guy suddenly in charge of women who were older than me, and who had been doing their job for years. Supervising people has a host of challenges, and while gender and personality differences may not apply to every situation, it's good to consider them. Other supervising situations are: having both "good" and "bad" employees, or having one particular person who is a gossip or troublemaker, staff who don't get along, a person who is chronically late, someone doing too much personal stuff at work, etc.
I don't think a new supervisor would be expected to know how to handle all of this right off the bat, but it is certainly fair game for an interview. The questions might be something like, "one of your staff people is terrible with technology and hates ebooks. How do you handle this?" Or, "one staff person refuses to help a particular patron. What do you do?"
- Setting goals for the department
As department head, you're not just doing the work anymore, but setting the course. I do lots of things that my non-professional staff don't understand or are annoyed with, but most of the time down the road it all makes sense. Or at least, it helps me down the road, so it's important to be transparent and get buy-in when doing things or making changes.
- Staff management
Doing the desk schedule to make sure shifts are covered (which is a constant pain), calling subs, covering vacations and sick days, doing payroll timesheets, etc. It doesn't seem difficult, and really it's not, but it can be very time consuming. Another part of my job is performing staff reviews - those are uncomfortable for everyone.
- Dealing with problems
Being the department head means everyone brings their problems to you, no matter what they are. You've got to be responsive and fair, and most of all effective, in addition to knowing when to ask your supervisor for help. This applies both to staff/department problems, as well as patron issues/questions that escalate beyond the usual.
- Working as a management team
Staff librarians probably work as a team within the department, but being a department head means you're working with other department heads to run the library. There's not always a lot of overlap, but it is good to all be on the same page and know what everyone else is doing - especially so for Reference, because we get asked questions about everything. Unfortunately, knowing what's going on requires meetings.
An additional source of meetings are regional meetings with staff from other libraries, to find out what works for other people, compare notes on products and services, etc. "Professional development" and "keeping up with the profession" might also come up in an interview - staff librarians need to do this too, but I suppose it's expected more from a professional position.
- Desk management
This kind of goes along with some of the others above, but it's worth pointing out that everything about the reference area is now your responsibility: how the desk looks, how staff functions while they're there, what kind of handouts do you have, do you have enough of them, does the printer have enough paper, why have those light bulbs been out for two days, is the copier working, and all the other little stuff that slips through the cracks - until something goes wrong of course, then it's a glaring error that everyone blames you for. Keeping on top of all the little stuff - or delegating it as projects - keeps things running smoothly.
I'm sure there are more differences - does anyone else have additional interview advice? Thanks.
November 9th, 2013 Brian Herzog
This reference question can be filed under "just one more thing a librarian may be asked to do sometime." A patron came in one day this week and asked if I could write him a letter so he could get into the library at Harvard.
He said he had found two books in WorldCat that he wanted to use, but he needed a letter to be allowed to use them in their reading room. I've never been in Harvard's Widener Library myself, and have heard that anyone who isn't affiliated with Harvard needed special (and hard to get) permission to use their collection.
I'd never been asked to assist a patron in gaining access, so while he got to work on his laptop, I went to work figuring out what I could do to help.
A quick search turned up a webpage for Harvard's Library Privileges Office (the existence of which amused me but someone's got to do it), on which I found the criteria for Independent Researchers not Affiliated with Harvard:
Necessary Documentation: A valid photo ID card AND a letter from the reference librarian of your university or public library stating that the specific library materials needed are not available elsewhere.
Free of charge:
Application for a Visiting Researcher Card should be made in person at the Library Privileges Office.
Before writing the letter, I looked up in WorldCat the two book titles the patron had given me. Both were indeed at Harvard, however: one was also available at Boston University (just across the Charles River from Harvard), and the other was at Amherst College (about 70 miles away).
I don't know how strict the Library Privileges Office is about "materials needed are not available elsewhere." Although, even though each book was available in another MA college, only Harvard had both, so gaining this access would save time for the patron - who did tell me he had a deadline.
So I typed up a letter [pdf], which I hope is good enough to help the patron. I wasn't sure if there was a proper format or anything, but I really do hope this works. The patron thanked me, took the letter, and I think immediately left to go present it in person at Harvard. I hope the he lets me know how he makes out.
November 6th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Here's another great take-away from the NELA conference a couple weeks ago - this awesome comic:
Thanks to Meena Jain for including this in her Ebooks as an Adaptive Technology, and to Gerbil with a Jetpack for coming up with this in the first place. Oh, hipsters.
Tags: comic, ebook, funny, gerbil with a jetpack, hipster, humor, kindle, libraries, Library, nela, nelib, public
November 2nd, 2013 Brian Herzog
A big thank you to everyone who sent in your best reference question - there were 28 submissions, and 395 total votes for the four finalists. At the end, it was close - the winner got 30% of the vote, and second place got 27%.
And the winner is: Erin Apostolos!
Here's her winning entry again:
I had a genealogy question from a patron who lives locally. She has an alabaster stone on her property that says "Mary E." born 1910 died (date is lost) wife of Peter E. Hadley. She wanted to know when Mary had died and what her story was. I was able to find their marriage info and find them on the census in Goffstown, NH but Mary disappeared by 1870 so I assumed she died between 1860-1870. I poured through our genealogy books at the library but did not find her or her husband.
After exhausting our genealogy databases, I googled Mary and Peter. After looking around a bit I found this link: http://www.hadleyfamily.us/album/album.html If you scroll about halfway down, you will find a picture of Mary Cochran Hadley, dead in her coffin with her date of birth and death! My jaw just dropped when I found this. In all my years of doing genealogy, I have never found a subject in such a state! What a find. The patron was absolutely thrilled. I was able to connect her with the man who had created the family's Website.
This was by far my favorite reference question and answer!
If you're interested, be sure to read all 28 contest entries.
For her prize, Erin wins a custom-imprinted six-pack of Jones Soda, with the Swiss Army Librarian logo on the label. She, and the other three finalists, also each get a cool Swiss Army Librarian sticker.
Thank you again to everyone who participated, and especially for reading my website. I hope everyone has as much fun with this as I do.
October 28th, 2013 Brian Herzog
There were 28 submissions for the Best Reference Question Contest, and the panel of judges narrowed it down to the top four (it was a four-way tie, so there are four finalists instead of three).
Please use the link below to read all four and vote for your favorite - voting will be open until October 31st, and then the winner will be announced on November 2nd:
Thank you to everyone who submitted an entry - they were really fun to read. After the contest is over, I'll post all of the questions so everyone can enjoy them. Thanks also to the judges for helping out - it's much easier for me not having to be subjective.
Go vote already!
October 26th, 2013 Brian Herzog
Instead of a single reference question this week, I wanted to detail a series of unusual things that all happened on Friday - none of which had ever happened before.
- A patron walked up with with a stack of about five books, and asked if she could leave them on the desk for a minute. Of course that was fine, and a couple minutes later she came back with another big stack. She then asked if she could put one of the stacks on hold, so she could pick them up tomorrow. That sounded odd, but then she explained that she had walked to the library and couldn't carry them all home in one trip. I suppose this is no different than someone placing items on hold from home, but I have never had a walk-up hold request like this before. But the best part was at the end - ask she was leaving, the patron said,
My daughter always tells me I have too many books, and I say you can never have too many books. I'm not going to tell her that she's right, but sometimes, you can have too many books... to carry.
- A patron came up and asked for help using a flash drive on the computer. She said she wanted to work on a Word file that was on her drive, but when she plugged it in the drive was blank, and she was worried our computer erased all her files. When we got back to her workstation, initially I didn't see her flash drive even plugged into the computer, but then noticed it plugged into the USB ports built into the monitor. Those have never been hooked up, and in five years no one has tried to use them (or at least asked me about it). We moved her flash drive to one in the CPU, and everything was fine.
- We recently added a public scanning station, which is just a regular flatbed scanner hooked to a computer. When we put it out, we decided we'd have a "scanner first" policy, meaning that if someone was using the computer but not the scanner, and another patron needed to use the scanner, we'd ask the non-scanning patron to move to a different computer. Today was the first time I had to do this.
- A patron came in and said that her car was hit in the parking lot yesterday. It turns out, the library's truck was also hit in the parking lot yesterday, but was parked about as far away from the patron's car as you could get. We've never had a hit-and-run in our parking lot, so two in the same day is either a coincidence or one very bad driver careening all over the place. In neither case was the damage very bad, but still - bad driving and library parking lots is a bad combination.
- Circ staff called me to the circ desk because a patron asked for help signing up for a SafeLink cell phone - but by the time I got there, the patron was gone. It turned out he only spoke Hindi, and one of our Hindi-speaking staff members was helping him. I checked on them at a computer, but they were doing fine - it's not often I'm dismissed from a reference interaction, especially a tech-support one, but I was absolutely irrelevant to this patron's need. Luckily, my co-worker wasn't.
- Near the end of the day, the same patron from #2 came back up to the desk. She had been working on her Word document all day, and said her computer restarted and she lost everything, because it turned out she'd been saving her updated document to the computer, not to the flash drive. She had printed a draft shortly before the computer restarted, so she had most of it, but had to retype the whole thing, and ask me to show her how to save to her flash drive to make sure she didn't lose it again. However, scanner to the rescue! We took her printed draft to the scanner, which has a "scan to Word" OCR function, and in less than a minute had a new Word document for her (and saved on her flash drive). I can not tell you how happy this made her - scanner win!
- And finally, the weirdest thing of all came when I checked my personal email right before I went home. In there, sent to my Swiss Army Librarian email address, was this message:
Hello, I am writing in an unusual case ... Some time ago, I used your services, and one of your employees face was familiar to me. At dinner with my wife, it turned out that he was a burglar, who 5 years ago broke into our home!!! This is ridiculous!!! How you can hire criminals? I found at least 3 bad entries for him at website for background check!! I am sure there are more!!! Please do something about it, things like that are ridiculous!!!
Now this seemed like spam, but just to be on the safe side, I looked the "from" email up in our catalog, and got no hits. I know spam is inexplicable much of the time, but this was just bizarre. And pointless.
So those were the highlights of my day on Friday. I guess this is more like a Library Day in the Life post than a reference question of the week, but it was an odd day.