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.
September 11th, 2013 Brian Herzog
I was tinkering with fickr over the weekend, and it wasn't letting me do what I wanted to do. So, I hit Ctrl+U to view the source code and instead of what I was looking for, I found this:
What a great way for a computer company to target the kind of people it wants to hire - the people who look at source code.
Not that there is any shortage of applicants for library jobs, but with any great idea, I immediately want to steal it to apply to the library world. Although the question is, where could a library put a message like this that hard-core candidates would naturally find, but casual patrons wouldn't? In a MARC record? The webpage listing the library's policies?
In all honesty, we could probably just hang a big sign in the library saying as much, because it seems like only librarians read the signs in libraries. I am now going to be preoccupied with this all week.
September 19th, 2012 Brian Herzog
This week we started the first round of interviews for my library's Head of Reader Services position. Which means, I've been reading a lot of resumes and cover letters lately.
Since we advertised for someone who is really into books and reading, many of the cover letters included more colorful adjectives than usual: passionate, voluminous, enthusiastic, voracious.
That got me thinking about mean cover letter word distribution, so I ran the text from the 26 leading cover letters we received through Wordle. I removed any identifying information (current/previous employers, phone numbers, emails, urls, etc), and Wordle also removes some words, and the resulting cloud is interesting:
View the large size to see some of the smaller words, but overall, a lot of the most common words were what we were hoping to see ("love" ranked well).
Here's something else in this process I found interesting: This is the first time (for me) that every single resume was submitted electronically. They were all sent to the Library Director, who then forwarded them to those of us doing the interviewing.
To keep them organized, I created a "Jobs" folder in my inbox:
The red boxes cover peoples name, but looking at the contents of this folder really shows how alike and "just part of the crowd" applicants can seem. From now on, I will always include my name in the subject line when I submit a resume.
September 12th, 2012 Brian Herzog
I thought this fit nicely with the job ad post from last week. A little while ago, a reader emailed me with this question:
I'm a recent MLIS graduate, and just moved to a new state. I was wondering if you could give me some job hunting tips? It's such a specific area, and well... there are really no jobs available that I'm qualified for (manager, coordinator, etc). How do I start the hunt and get my name out there? Do I visit libraries and drop off a resume? I know networking is huge in the library wold, I just don't know how to start.
I am certainly no expert, but I did come up with some ideas:
- definitely find your state's online job boards and watch those. Also, if you're in a region or consortium or something, get signed up for their email listservs, as jobs are often posted on those too
- I don't think it's a bad idea to drop your resume off to local libraries, but most of them probably can't hire anyone until there is an opening - so a lot of it might be a waiting game. But introducing yourself, telling them what you're interested in, certainly can't hurt - so long as you know there's not much they can do until a position opens up
- Sometimes libraries will hire you just as a sub, and will call when they need someone to fill in for the regular staff. It's not steady in the least, but is a way to get your foot in the door and build your reputation
- In the meantime, I would highly suggest volunteering at libraries - it's a good way to meet people and show them what you can do, as well as stay involved in the field. Volunteers are kind of a double-edged sword for libraries - on the one hand it's free labor which is great, but on the other hand it usually takes twice (or more) as much work to supervise volunteers as it does staff. So sometimes, libraries are reluctant to take on new volunteers (or just might not have anything for you to do), but it's good to let them know you can handle more sophisticated special projects (leading a book group or storytime, recataloging a section, working on the website) - but shelf-reading is always beneficial too
- You can also suggest projects more in the community than in the library - like setting up a community events calendar, volunteer opportunities website, community Facebook page, local information wiki, or something like that - a role the library can play in the community, but might not already be doing. Just make sure something like this is sustainable after you leave, otherwise they might be reluctant to start it
- Another volunteer opportunity is with other local groups doing things similar to the library - the local historical society, town hall, museum, whatever - if you can volunteer there and spin that into some kind of liaison-with-the-library or library-related project, it could bring you into contact with the right people. Also, push yourself outside your comfort zone - if you're a public librarian, remember to look at school libraries, universities, special libraries, corporate libraries, etc, for volunteer opportunities
- Part-time or assistant jobs aren't bad while you're waiting for something more permanent to open up. Be honest with them in that you're looking for more, because it can be a pain to hire someone, train them, and then they leave a few months later for a better job
- If you can, go to regional or national library conferences. Probably the more local the better when it comes to networking, and they'll also be cheaper too
- Check out what the state library offers as far as training classes, and if you have any special skills (like really good with WordPress or Facebook or something), offer to give classes of your own (either to local libraries or through the state, or at the library for patrons to attend)
- You could also always try to become a library trustee - that could be interesting
Taking that first step is tough. If anyone has any advice I missed, please post in the comments - thanks. And good luck to all the job seekers out there.
September 5th, 2012 Brian Herzog
There are two job openings at my library right now: Head of Reader Services and Circulation Desk Manager.
The Circ Desk Manager will do all the circ staff scheduling, work at the desk, but also manage ILL, book club kits, museum passes, and hopefully be the lead on our Evergreen ILS.
That's all well and good, but just look at the description for the Head of Readers Services:
Do you love answering that age-old question "Can you recommend a good book?" When you sit on an airplane do you find yourself giving unsolicited reading advice to the person beside you? Do you always have a book in your car for emergencies? Are you up on the latest reading devices, social media, book blogs, websites? Do you love to talk about books, write about books, listen to books? Did you go to library school because you love to read?
How about that?
Our Head of Circulation is leaving, and instead of just hiring a straight up replacement for her, we decided to split the position to create two jobs (because the work was more than one person could handle anyway). This new Head of Readers Services will focus completely on encouraging and supporting the use of our entire collection (books, audiobooks, DVDs, etc), through social media, programs, desk coverage, a personal shopper-like reading suggestion service, and anything else we can do.
We're accepting resumes now, so check out the job listing. The Circulation Desk Manager hasn't been posted yet, but should be soon on the Massachusetts Library Job Board. General employment information is also on our website (and I still like my unofficial rules for resumes, too).
September 10th, 2011 Brian Herzog
This week's question is one we get asked many times a day - it's not difficult at all, but this time had a sort of heart-wrenching twist.
A woman in her early twenties walked up to the desk. Very politely, and with a little hesitation, she asked:
I just printed something for my school, but I don't know where to pick it up. Can you please help me?
For public printing in my library, we use Envisionware's LPT:One, which works well for us. All the print jobs from our public computers go to a central print release station, where patrons pay for their job before it actually gets printed. So that patrons know which print job is theirs, when they print they get prompted to name their job:
Once a patron goes through this once, they understand how it works. But the first time isn't totally intuitive, so we do get asked for help in printing frequently.
My personal rule is this: if someone asks me where they pick up their print job, I take that to mean they've never printed here before, so I go with them over to the print station and walk them through the steps to pay for and release their print job.
That's what I did in this case, and while walking over to the printer, I asked the patron if she had entered a name for her job. She replied,
Well, a little box asked me to name my job, so I typed in "waitress."
I don't know why this struck me as so sweet and sad - maybe her innocence and naivety, maybe the idea of someone working their way through college. Maybe I'm just getting sentimental in my old age. She didn't mean anything by it though, so when we got to the print station, I showed her how to select the job named "waitress" and print it out. She thanked me and left.