Will COVID End the All-Day Academic Librarian Interview? I Hope So!

I come from a working class family. As I was approaching the end of my MLIS program and job hunting, I was perplexed by this all-day academic librarian interview thing. I kept thinking:

It takes the library ALL DAY to figure out if they want to hire someone?

Why All Day?
Then it was explained to me: The all-day interview is really just a series of shorter interviews with different groups of people, who often ask you the same question. At the end of the day, you’re either REALLY good at answering those questions, or so frazzled that your brain is fried. Also, in cases where the academic librarian position is faculty status with research expectations, they may want to ask you about your research agenda. I was told that it has to be an all day interview to see if you are a “good fit.” Today, more attention is paid to the inherent biases of interviewing for fit, which workplaces need to focus on eliminating.

Virtual World
With COVID, a lot of interviewing has gone virtual. Now is the time to re-evaluate if you truly need an all-day academic librarian interview. Rule #1: Be kind. Pity the job candidate who has to sit through an ALL DAY VIRTUAL INTERVIEW…and shame on that library! I even heard of a MULTIPLE DAY virtual interview. Or virtual interviews where you eat lunch on camera with library staff. Seriously?

In hiring during COVID times, I re-examined our interview template and decided we do not need an all-day interview for librarian positions–whether it is virtual or in-person. I had a dry run in late February 2020 for a librarian position and it worked well. I didn’t feel like I was missing out on important information to make a hiring decision. It’s also a more humane experience for the interviewee. For the record, I’m a library director at a small academic library (5 librarians, 3 support staff, 5 part-time evening/weekend staff) where librarians are classified as professional/administrative staff. All of the librarians report to me. So your mileage may vary.

Interview Template

9:00-9:50am
9:50-10:00am
10:00-10:45am
10:45-11:00am
11:00-11:15am
11:20-12:00pm

Welcome/Search committee/Library staff
Break
Presentation (no more than 15 minutes) + Q&A time
Break
HR/Benefits overview
Meet with Library Director

This interview template comes in at three hours. It gives me 135 “active” minutes to see the candidate one-on-one, in a group setting, and a teaching session/Q&A. This is in addition to the first-round preliminary phone interview. This is enough “face time” for me whether it’s on Zoom/Teams or in-person.

Criticisms
One criticism is lack of feedback from members outside of the library. This can easily be fixed by inviting campus faculty/staff and student representatives to sit in on the presentation to gain that perspective. You should also include people from outside of the library on the search committee from the get-go.

Another criticism is the lack of “social time.” I would push back on this too. We’re getting back to the “fit” question and its biases. Once COVID is over I might consider offering a wrap-up lunch as a thank you. But this is just a professional courtesy for investing your time with us as a candidate. The only time slot I would add back in for a physical interview is a library walk-through/tour.

Advantages
This template peels back the layers to what is essential: library staff face time, a short presentation, and one-on-one with the supervisor. In higher ed, we often have a tendency to add more window dressing. Let’s stop with that. Frankly, it’s a bear coordinating common meeting times when setting up interviews. I’m not one who thinks pulling all ideas from the business world into libraries/higher ed is good, but this is one.

The other big advantage is that it is more friendly toward the candidate. Everyone is trying their best to make-do in COVID time. Let’s not waste the candidate’s time or overburden them with an obnoxiously long Zoom/Teams call. Going forward, even after COVID is over, I could see us continuing to offer virtual interviews if that is what the candidate prefers.

Tips

  1. Give candidates an itinerary of the day’s events with their Zoom/Teams meeting links. Make sure time zones are clearly stated, if needed.
  2. Send an org chart with names, FACES, and titles. This is especially helpful in online-only environments.
  3. Give the presentation topic AT LEAST ONE WEEK in advance.
  4. Reiterate that there will be time reserved for the candidate to ask questions in each time slot.
  5. Reassure them it’s ok to have a water bottle, etc. at close hand.
  6. Consider that taking a barrage of questions from 5 or more people during a search committee time slot can be intimidating. It may make more sense for 2 or 3 people to ask the list of questions while others listen in.
  7. Consider giving interview questions in advance.
  8. Participants in the interviewing process should mute their microphone when not speaking.
Image: clock, representing the theme of an all-day interview
Image: clock, representing the theme of an all-day interview

Staff Trivia, or How I Got Through the Semester

Some people will groan at the mention of “staff trivia” and that is totally OK. However, it helped get me through the semester–and was a nice little weekly 5-minute distraction from all things pandemic.

Here’s How It Came About
I returned to work at the beginning of September after taking parental leave for a new baby. In the midst of the pandemic, my first duty was to check in with co-workers to see how they were doing. Staff rotate for in-person duty when not working remotely. All meetings moved to virtual-only. Comments from co-workers indicated they missed social interactions, lunch talk, and general chit-chat that was suspended due to social distancing.

How It Operates
At our weekly virtual all-staff meeting (8 daytime staff members), I reserve the last five minutes for a “staff trivia” question to end on a fun note. I generally just ask whatever pops into my head–being careful not to embarrass anyone or pick something that’s too private. I also try to avoid library-related “stuff” (e.g., how many books were checked out this week?) since that’s our job…staff trivia is meant to add some levity.

Hint: Avoid asking questions that other staff members might know (e.g., a lot of them knew my favorite movie is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Instead, re-phrase the question to: Name a (e.g., any) favorite movie of yours.

  1. I send out the staff trivia question in advance.
  2. Everyone emails me back with their answer.
  3. Then I send a staff email with everyone’s responses (minus names).
  4. People email me back with their guesses on “who said what.”
  5. I tally up the points each week.
  6. At the staff meeting, I share a Powerpoint/Google Slide with everyone’s responses.

The last few minutes of the staff meeting, we share our responses. We’ve all learned new things about each other—even those of us who have been here awhile. At the end of the semester, the person with the most points gets a food delivery gift card (which seems appropriate in these socially distanced times). It is a low-cost, low-stakes activity to keep interaction going. It helped keep us “glued” together in a challenging semester. Below are the questions that I asked. If you have any good trivia questions, let me know!

Staff Trivia Questions

  1. Name a favorite movie of yours.
  2. Name something that you wish your house/apartment had. This could be practical or “big dream.”
  3. Name a place in the United States that you’ve been to that you think…wow, once this pandemic is over, I’d really like to go back!
  4. If you could be any TV character (scripted, animated, etc), who would you pick? Tell me the character and TV show.
  5. Name a TV show that everyone seems to love/loved (can be current or old) that you just never had any desire to watch.
  6. If you could only pick one food item (like a dish, recipe, entrée) to eat the rest of your life, what would it be?
  7. What’s the weirdest or strangest thing you have in your work office or desk drawer?
  8. If you could jet off to a country (once the pandemic is over!) that you have never been to before, what country would you pick?
  9. In an alternate reality or 2nd chance, what career would you choose if there were no limitations?
  10. If you could invite three living “famous” people (however you define it) to dinner, who would you pick?
  11. What is your least favorite “earworm” song? – one that gets stuck in your head and you hate it!
  12. By the time Christmas rolls around, what Christmas song do you NOT WANT TO HEAR for a great while?

PS–If you want to know my answers…
1) My Cousin Vinny 2) Professional landscaping 3) Cannon Beach, Oregon 4) Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm 5) Game of Thrones 6) Fish tacos 7) Orange safety/traffic vest 8) New Zealand 9) national parks photographer 10) Dolly Parton, Sonia Sotomayor, Amy Sedaris 11) “Mambo No. 5” – Lou Bega 12) “Santa Baby” – Madonna version.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach, Oregon – taken by me!

Faculty: Do This! Working with Your Academic Librarian for Student Success

This has been an tough academic year so far–on students, on faculty, on library staff. At times, I’ve felt like a teacher, therapist, commiserator, coach, and cheerleader all wrapped into one.

We’re getting by–the semester will be over soon. Some of us have been working mostly in-person while others are exclusively doing remote work. Some of us our teaching in-person, some online, others both. We’ve had to scramble, learn new technology, alter assignments, and just…adapt.

In doing so, don’t forget your academic librarian! Here are 8 simple tips to make the relationship successful and how your academic librarian can contribute to your students’ success.

Sharing
Do share research assignments with your librarian. A quick email to your librarian with your assignment will keep us on the lookout for students who might be struggling. Always upload a copy to your LMS course–this is often my first question to a student: “Did your professor upload a copy of the assignment to Canvas?

Research v. Writing
Do understand the difference between research assistance and writing assistance and know where to direct students. It will vary from institution to institution, but generally library staff can help with research assistance and a writing tutor will help with thesis statements, etc. A librarian usually doesn’t do both. I’m great with research, finding sources, and talking about topics–but I direct students to a writing tutor to talk about essay structure, thesis statements, and how to proofread.

Required appointments
Do check with a librarian before requiring students make a research appointment as part of an assignment. Sometimes we get blindsided by requests like “My professor told me you had to approve my research topic.” Well, no. This should be a partnership between the professor and librarian. In a lot of cases, an information literacy session would be a better alternative.

Streaming Content
Do check access/availability when assigning streaming content for students to view. Streaming is the wild west of content. Maybe it’s available through the library? No? How about Netflix, Hulu, Amazon? A bootleg YouTube video? Tsk. Tsk. A lot of time, the content is exclusive to one provider. Do not frustrate your students. Do not expect them to have paid subscriptions to different streaming providers. If it’s not easily accessible, pick something else. Also, a commenter offered this helpful suggestion: “Consider sending your librarian a list of films you’d like to use. Given advance notice, your librarian can research the collection and streaming options to see if they have what you need, and if not, they can offer available alternatives.”

E-Resources
Do understand that different libraries may have different e-content (databases, e-books, etc.)–especially if you are new to teaching at an institution or you adjunct at several institutions, this can be hard to monitor. Just ask your librarian!

Sources
Do be clear about the types of sources you want your students to use. Terminology can differ across subject areas, but students may not necessarily know that. I’ve seen students question if peer-reviewed articles, scholarly articles, and academic articles are different, when they are “roughly” the same. Also, the term primary source is different in history or literature versus biology or chemistry.

Citations
Do be kind about citation requirements. The most important component is simply making sure your students understand WHY they should cite something. Pick a popular citation style (APA, MLA, Chicago). Avoid extremely narrow subject-specific styles (examples: APSA, ASA, CBE) since most of your students are not going directly into graduate research programs in your field of study.

Information Literacy vs. Tech Literacy
Do know that students often overestimate their information literacy skills. Being good with tech doesn’t necessarily carry over to having good info-seeking and evaluative skills. That whole “digital natives” things was not necessarily true anyway.

Ask for help and advice. We would love to partner with you. We want your students to be successful in their courses.

Lessons on Working from Home

I used to think I was the textbook example of a classic introvert–that is until I started working from home.

Now I realize how much I crave those social interactions. My family is at home with me, so it’s not like I’m “alone alone” but it’s just different not seeing co-workers and patrons/students every day. The now ubiquitous Zoom and Microsoft Teams video meetings get the work done, but are not a replacement for our in-person interactions.

As Covid-19 was ratcheting up nationwide, it was just starting to gain attention in my corner of Wisconsin. The week of March 9 we were on Spring Break (read: super quiet in the library). Then the university extended Spring Break by an additional week as it assessed the situation. I migrated the library to skeletal staffing (2 people rotating per day with the remainder working remotely). Then the situation became worse as the number of cases in our county started to rise. On March 20, we closed up the library building and have remained closed. The university moved the rest of Spring classes all online. Since then, we have all been working from home.

I’m grateful for this privilege–for all of our staff to have this privilege–recognizing that some in the library profession have not been afforded this opportunity. They should have.

It’s also given me time to think about working from home. Something I always wished I could do. I guess be careful what you wish for! Now that I’ve been doing it for the past two months, I’ve learned some things about myself and some about being a manager. Here are a few things that come to mind.

Don’t Say “When We Get Back to Work”
Nothing raises my hackles more than someone saying “when we get back to work.” Just don’t. What you are trying to say is: When we get back to the building. We HAVE been working: answering chat questions from students/faculty, holding Microsoft Teams meetings with student groups doing research, loading e-books into our catalog, processing interlibrary loan requests for e-content, and figuring out how to transition services/resources to online only. We’ve been doing this from home and actually it’s been A LOT of work.

Forget Productivity
So when a lot of Americans began telecommuting during Covid-19, people started tweeting how productive Isaac Newton was during the bubonic plague (read this rebuttal)–like he should be our role model. This is the time to write that novel, discover a new breakthrough, or learn to speak another language. OK, more power to you, but how about just trying to get through the day? I consider that productive. As a manager, yes you should check in with your employees and work toward goals. But productivity is a myth. I know some managers require remote workers to log their activities. Please STOP. I don’t have time to read that! Let. People. Breathe. (just not on each other)

Try New Things
Productivity aside, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the opportunity to try new things. In the library setting, this whole online-only world is new for most of us. We’ve done great work in turning our libraries into community hubs. But what do you do when everything is now virtual? At our academic library, we experimented with offering online professional development for faculty/staff. Our Library@Home series, conducted via Microsoft Teams, was well received. Sessions focused on: genealogy research, citation management, Wikipedia, and journal publishing. We’ve had requests to offer more sessions. So it has been a good time to do some beta testing.

Kid and Pets: All in a Day’s Work
Participating in a lot of Zoom meetings or Microsoft Teams calls? The occasional appearance of kids, babies, and fur babies is OK. This is not a sterile office environment. You’re working from home; there are no boundaries. You’re managing to be a parent or pet parent AND working from home AND social distancing? This likely isn’t the work life (or home life!) you signed up for. We even did a Twitter post of library employee’s pets just to show a different side to us. On Fridays we do a “virtual happy hour” where those kids and pets are even invited to make an appearance. It helps keep us as a cohesive team while we are all distancing. Managers, cut your employees some slack. It’s not unprofessional; it’s called life.

Ready for Your Close Up?
All of these video calls can be draining. Don’t force people to use a webcam. Yes, I like to see faces (and the fun backgrounds!). However, it’s more important to respect people’s privacy. You can make do with audio. It’s not the end of the world. Same goes for wearing “professional” clothing. There’s a lot of classism tied to that. I’m not getting “dressed up” to work from home. Also if my webcam is off, it might be because I’m in my pajamas. OK, that last line is a joke…or is it?

Encourage Self-Care
If I hear “we’re all in this together” again I think I will scream. But that’s my cue to take a walk. That’s what relaxes me. As a manager, support self-care for your employees. In a remote work environment, that might mean taking lunches at weird times (as in, OMG it’s 10:08am and the sun is shining…I need to go outside!). In general, remind people to TAKE YOUR LUNCH. Going for a walk, taking the dog out, supporting a local business, etc. are all good things.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term
One of the hardest transitions has been navigating short-term vs. long-term projects. Working from home I’ve encountered a lot of starts and stops. When I’m at the library, I typically do some short-term stuff at the beginning of my day. At home, keeping a running list of short and long-term projects has been helpful. Some library staff have also had to switch their routine around. A few staff who had more physical tasks in the library had to switch their work-from-home routines to focus on long-term projects that we typically did in the summer. That’s OK. It’s not “back burner” work. It’s stuff that needs doing anyway. We’re just doing it now.

Everyone Needs an Office
Even though we are working from home, it’s made me think about how when we are back at the library everyone needs an office. Will Covid-19 officially kill the open office plan? I hope so. Having worked in a cube farm before, I didn’t like it. Everyone needs privacy and the ability to concentrate. Now they need a space that also protects them from viruses.

Managers Need to Lead
If you’re the library director working from home while the rest of the staff has to come in, you’re doing your job wrong. If you’re the library director who is having staff out doing curbside pick up and you’re not participating, you’re doing your job wrong. I get that sometimes things are above your control (the library is part of a municipality/county or the library is part of a school/university). In those cases, you need to be the advocate. You may not win, but you at least need to make your case.

Protect Staff
It’s a weird time to be a librarian. Budgets are precarious. We’re not sure what will happen on the horizon. Above all else, protect staff–from a financial standpoint and public health standpoint. Again, you’re probably not going to win every battle, but you owe it to them to try. They are at the core of the library. Not the building, not the books.

lone tree

lone tree

Come work with me! Electronic Resources/Systems Librarian

Note from Joe: This position has been filled. Thanks!


We’re hiring!

Carroll University in Waukesha, Wisconsin is looking for a full-time Electronic Resources/Systems Librarian. Details are on the university’s employment site.

About the Electronic Resources/Systems Librarian
The person in this position will be responsible for the overall management, access, and assessment of the library’s electronic resources, discovery layer, integrated library system, and proxy server. We use Sierra as our ILS and and implemented OCLC WDS for our discovery layer in Fall 2019. There will also be opportunities to help shape the library’s policies, programs, and outreach on topics such as open access and OER.

All professional librarian positions participate in the library’s liaison program for assigned subject areas (research assistance, information literacy sessions, and collection development) and share in teaching information literacy sessions for the first-year general education program. We have a budget for professional development. This usually gives each of the librarians the opportunity to attend/travel to one large national conference per year or multiple smaller regional/state conferences. Librarians are administrative staff. Publishing, presenting, and research are not required, but encouraged and supported during your work time.

Todd Wehr Memorial Library, Carroll University

Todd Wehr Memorial Library, Carroll University

About Carroll University
Carroll University has approximately 3,400 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The university has a strong focus in health & life science programs, but with a grounding in the liberal arts. The library employs 5 professional librarians, 3 support staff members, 5 part-time evening/weekend staff, and approximately 50 student workers. The library prides itself on a team environment.

Carroll University

Carroll University

About Waukesha, Wisconsin
Waukesha (pop. 70,000+) was recently named most livable city in Wisconsin. It is located 20 minutes from downtown Milwaukee (with a metro pop. of 1.5 million), one hour from Madison, and two hours from Chicago.

Downtown Waukesha, WI

Downtown Waukesha, WI

 

Starting a Food Pantry in an Academic Library

It started with library student workers.

We noticed that some of them were skipping meals, not eating, or out of meal swipes (ID card “swipes” tied to the university’s dining plan). It was a combination of several factors: being over-scheduled with classes, navigating between their library job and a second job, long commutes, and money. Typical issues that almost any U.S. college student has to deal with these days. And for anyone complaining that younger folks have it “easy”…yeah, just stop with that nonsense.

Our library marketing/events team* started brainstorming the issue. We had long had a “snack drawer” for student workers, but wanted to do more. What started with just student workers ended up being rolled out to any student. Aware that nothing else at the time (more on that later) was being done on campus about food insecurity and college students, we started a food pantry.

Starting the Food Pantry
The library’s Info Commons is a high-traffic area that houses research help, study space, librarians’ offices, and a busy computer lab. It also houses a rotating book tower. This book tower was often neglected and we struggled to find time to put together an interesting or eye-catching display. Realizing we weren’t getting the best potential out of it, we co-opted it for our food pantry. We had discussions on where to place it. Some staff felt that by putting it in a high-traffic area, people who feel shame (for lack of better word) about using a food pantry might avoid it. On the other hand, if it’s not visible, how do people find out about it? It can definitely be a balancing act, but we chose to keep it in the high-traffic area.

Our Philosophy
To stock it, we first asked staff for donations of non-perishable items. One of our librarians, Meghan, came up with our guiding philosophy of “take what you need, give when you can.” This means that if you’re in need, take something–no questions asked. When you want to “pay it forward” then drop off a donation. That’s why we refer to it as a “food share” on our campus. We also strongly felt that the food pantry should be unmediated. With sensitive issues such as food insecurity, people may feel embarrassed to ask for help. The food pantry is self-service. We promote it as judgment-free zone. It doesn’t matter if you’re out of money for meals or you’ve had back-to-back classes and you just need something quick from the pantry to nourish yourself. It’s there for you.

Campus Response
I took a “ask forgiveness, not permission” approach to this. You know what’s best at your institution, so this approach may not be appropriate for you. I informed my direct supervisor that we were starting the food pantry and then I let word of mouth take hold. We did a soft roll out by simply making the items available on the book tower starting in January 2019. Students began using it right away and donated items would “magically” appear on the shelves, reflecting our “take what you need, give when you can” philosophy. So it works! In hindsight, I should have approached our wonderful Student Affairs staff about partnering on this. Instead, they wanted to know more about what we were doing. Over the summer, we collaborated with Student Affairs who brought the library’s idea campus-wide. Their expertise helped us expand the project by adding two additional university locations: one in the student union and one at a branch campus facility. Our Student Affairs staff also helped sustain the project for the long-term–something that is a concern about food pantries. The university’s chaplain will coordinate efforts and our Institutional Advancement folks set up an online giving form for employees, alumni, and the community to donate monetarily.

Potential Criticism
When starting a food pantry, you may come across folks who feel that a service such as this does not teach students “self-reliance.” First of all, eff that. We’re here to meet students where they are. At my institution, we have an ethos that centers on respect, integrity, and stewardship. Cultivating and caring for our students is one of those hallmarks. Another potential criticism relates to the increasing cost of higher education in the United States. If tuition and textbooks weren’t so high, then food pantries across college campuses might not be needed. I can’t argue with that–but I’m simply working in the moment right now. Lastly, another typical criticism is that a food pantry does not relate to the academic library’s mission. I disagree. We strive for an academic library where students feel welcomed. It becomes a second or third home for them. For students to succeed academically, we need to care for them in a holistic manner. If students aren’t living a life of wellness, it’s hard to succeed academically.

What to Stock in a Food Pantry…and Going Beyond Food
This will be dependent on your population, but we have seen the following items move quickly:

  • granola bars/fruit bars
  • packages of raisins, dried fruit, nuts
  • peanut butter
  • individual servings of noodle cups, ramen, mac n cheese–anything ready to go
  • Soup cups that can be microwaved
  • toaster pastries (like Pop Tarts)
  • pudding cups
  • fruit cups (like Dole)

As for what has been slow to move?: Canned goods and boxes of dried pasta (e.g. penne, etc…). Our population doesn’t do much cooking.

We limit to non-perishable items. However, ventures like campus/community gardens could provide fresh veggie/fruit options.

People bringing in donations wanted to know if we could expand beyond food and we said, “YES!” Popular non-food items include:

  • tampons
  • toothpaste/toothbrushes
  • bath soap
  • laundry detergent/laundry pods
  • notebooks

Also important: We have found that most students do not want to take an entire box of something (tampons, Pop Tarts, granola bars), so we generally just open up those boxes and place the individually wrapped items from those boxes on the shelf. Those move much more quickly.

Resources

*Credit to the Library Marketing/Events Team:

  • Rachel Aten, Library Business Manager
  • Meghan Dowell, Teaching & Learning Librarian
  • Denise Friestedt, Circulation Manager
  • Joe Hardenbrook, Director of Library Services

 

Tips to Answering 5 Common Library Interview Questions

One request I have received repeatedly to Nailing the Library Interview is answers to interview questions. I put out a lot of resources on questions YOU might be asked on library job interviews, but answers? Not so much.

The reason I have hesitated is that an interview requires you to think on your feet. It’s more of an art than a science. Canned responses won’t often work here. This isn’t like a multiple choice exam with only one correct answer.

However, there are a few common questions you will likely get asked regardless of the job. Below are a few pointers to help craft your responses.

1. Why are you interested in this position? / Why do you want to work here? 

  • The Job Description: You need to mention something related to the job description. Did you read it and think “this is something I can’t pass up!” – let the hiring manager know that.
  • Your Prior Experiences: If you have experience in areas related to the job description, you need to work that into your response. Or perhaps you have transferable experiences.
  • Passion: Hopefully there is something in the job description that you are passionate about (e.g., children’s services, information literacy, scholarly communication). Try to work in your philosophy or vision to that specific area.
  • Personal Stuff: Avoid leading with something personal to your situation. That will put a lot of hiring managers off. Case in point, at my current institution, the real reason I was interviewing there was because my husband had accepted a job in that geographic area and frankly it was the first job posting I saw that I was qualified for. Did I lead with that? No. However, at the end of my response, I did mention my husband’s job and the fact that my in-laws live in the same community to demonstrate my commitment to the geographic area since I was an “out-of-town” candidate. Some people will say avoid anything personal. I disagree. It shouldn’t be your first answer, but personal anecdotes help to humanize the interview process. We’re not robots!    

2. What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses? 
I HATE this question, but some hiring managers will still ask it. I don’t ask it as people are apt to spin the negative.

  • Strengths: Know what your strengths are (e.g, organized, good communicator, strategic thinker) and have a list of 3-5 in your head. Try to tie them to specific examples from your past experiences.
  • Weaknesses: Rule number 1: Don’t raise any red flags (e.g., “I’m always late to work.”). Rule number 2: Avoid spinning your response into something trite like “I’m too dedicated” or “I care too much.” We’ve heard that before. Rule number 3: It’s OK to admit something that you would like to improve upon, as long as it doesn’t break Rule number 1: “In the past, I’ve had a hard time saying no to people often to the detriment of myself. So I’m learning to set more boundaries since all of us have large workloads. So really, it’s about communicating with my co-workers and making sure high priority projects are getting completed first.”    

As opposed to biggest strengths and weaknesses, I prefer asking:

Based on the job description, which of the duties do you feel most comfortable with and which do think may take some time to learn?

I like this question because it demonstrates to the interviewee that the hiring manager is a human being and doesn’t expect you to know ALL THE THINGS on your first day. In response to “which duties do you think may take some time to learn” it would likely be institution-specific tasks and processes that would take the most time. Try explaining how you plan to get up to speed. For non-institutional specific duties, try to address how you would plan to increase your knowledge in those areas (e.g., training, free webinars, networking with other library folks in similar positions).

3. Describe a failure you experienced and what did you learn from it?
Like the question above, this is another question I DON’T like. For me, failure on the job is to occasionally be expected…and it’s part of the learning process.

  • Know a Failure: Be prepared to think about a failure you have encountered. Stick to work/education-related failure, not your personal life.
  • Be Succinct: Don’t dwell too much on the explaining the failure during your response. Instead focus on your reflection, what you learned, and what you would do differently.
  • Self-Improvement: Self-improvement is the key takeaway that hiring managers want to hear. I prefer asking a slightly modified version to the “failure” question:

Can you describe a time when something you did at work didn’t go as planned, and what did you learn or what would you have done differently in hindsight?

4. Tell me about a workplace conflict/issue you have encountered and how you went about resolving it.

  • Preparation: Don’t get stumped on this answer. Be prepared to provide an example. Hiring managers don’t really want to hear “Oh, I haven’t encountered much conflict.” Really? You’ve never disagreed with anyone or any policy at work?
  • Negativity: Avoid badmouthing a workplace. Do not specifically name a co-worker or a library patron. I also tend to avoid the pronouns “he” or “she.” Instead, I use “this person” or a job title like “Assistant Manager” (e.g, “The Assistant Manager and I disagreed on…”). This demonstrates discretion.
  • Be a STAR: Use the STAR approach to responding to behavioral interview questions. S = situation,  T = task, A = action, R = result.
  • Example:
    • Situation: Library Administration implemented a no “large bags” policy that impacted homeless visitors.
    • Task: As a librarian, it was my job to enforce the policy even though I disagreed with it. Homeless visitors were often upset with the policy and staff were often berated over it. It caused a lot of low morale. I often felt like the “bag police.”
    • Action: I started to do some research and see what other libraries were doing. I also talked with social services agencies in our community. I met with my department head to see if we could find a solution.
    • Result: Although Library Administration wasn’t willing to budge on the policy, we worked with our Friends group to install 10 large lockers near our entrance where people could secure belongings. This improved the library experience for our homeless visitors and helped with staff morale.

5. In the library, how would you work to create an environment that is welcoming, inclusive, and diverse?

  • Brainstorm: I love this question because there are a million different ways you could go with it. Could be services/programs for your community, online resources, or library spaces itself. I want to hear both practical ideas and big ideas! Provide 3-5 examples of your vision. This is a chance to display your creativity.
  • Connections: Explain connections the library can make in the community (or school, or campus…). Libraries are about PEOPLE.
  • Follow-up: When you have the chance to ask questions, it might be good to ask the hiring manager how the library is accomplishing this. Remember, interviewing is a two-way street!

 

 

The Library as a Third Place

Like any good librarian, my ears are piqued when I overhear discussions about libraries. I love serendipitous encounters like these. Yesterday I was invited to sit in on a symposium sponsored by my university’s humanities center. It was entitled “Space and Place in City and Suburb.” Beforehand, we read two articles (full citations at end): one involving gentrification in Brooklyn (paywall) as analyzed through storefront signs and one article on “placemaking” in Gary, Indiana.

We discussed how your home is considered your first place, work is your second place, but that most of us happen to have third places too–a place where we like to hang out; a place that (ideally) feels welcoming. At my table we shared our third places. I don’t want to get too specific to protect people’s privacy, but in general, people mentioned places like coffee shops, restaurants, gyms, parks, or places from childhood.

Now here is where libraries come into play. Almost every table of students (unprompted by me, mind you) mentioned libraries as a third place. Keeping my emotions in check, this was my “inside” demeanor:

Librarians have been talking about libraries as a third place for awhile, but it was nice to see it reflected in a wider audience.

I tend to avoid over-simplification of generations, but millennials are more likely to use a public library compared to other generations. I recognize that many of the college students now fall into the Gen Z category, but I think similarities can still be drawn.

Photo Jan 27, 1 04 21 PM

A “genius bar” at Odegaard Undergraduate Library, U. of Washington that combines writing tutor assistance with research assistance from librarians

We discussed how places can be welcoming (or not) and the subtle messages – positive and negative – that exist just beyond a first glance. Questions to ask: Who are these places intended for? Are these places there for people who have existed in the community for a long time? Or are these places trying to attract a different clientele? It had me thinking more about libraries.

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New York Public Library reading room during a 2013 visit

  • Who uses your library? 
  • Who is your library’s marketing and outreach efforts geared towards?Are public libraries catering kids’ story times to upper middle class parents with disposable income? — Who does that leave out? Is it reaching the children who might need it the most? And what stories are you using–are they diverse?
  • How would you describe your library’s physical space? Do you have to keep library restrooms locked because of drug use? — What message is that sending? Do you have comfortable seating? — Might that cause people to linger–is that good or bad? Can someone in a wheelchair or pushing a stroller gain easy access to the building and down aisles? What does that tell folks in those situations?
  • What policies do you have that may impede library use?fines, food/drinks in the library, no sleeping. How does this impact the use of the space?
  • How has the lack of investment and resources in other government services impacted libraries?Are we social workers, tax preparers, drug counselors, mental health professionals, and career advisers–in addition to being a librarian? There seems to be an expectation that libraries need to be everything to everybody, and that has both positive and negative aspects.

I also thought about my recent tours of libraries in the Seattle area and the use of “kindness audits” at libraries I have worked at. For me, a comfortable and inviting third space is open and airy, with natural light. I also want to be able to move around from spaces to collaborate, to those that offer more privacy. Sometimes I need to concentrate and focus, but at other times I like to daydream. A library generally fits the bill for my needs.

Below are a few recommended readings on libraries as third place.

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Open spaces, Seattle Public Library

Links

Articles

Small(er) Academic Libraries: Highlights from the Field

This week I visited the local MLIS program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s School of Information Studies. The instructor of the Academic Libraries course invited me to present about working in smaller academic libraries–a career I have thoroughly enjoyed! Below are my slides and notes.

It was a pleasure talking with the students and their instructor!

Slide1

Small(er) Academic Libraries: Highlights from the Field

  • I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and Carroll University’s library.
  • We’ll do a quick comparison between a small academic library and large academic library.
  • Then the bulk of the presentation will discuss highlights of working in a smaller academic library.

Slide2

A Little Bit About Me

  • BA in history from Ball State University.
    • Changed my major a few times.
    • Starting my freshman year of college, I began as a library student worker.
    • I saw the work that the librarians were doing. They enjoyed their jobs and by senior year I knew this was what I wanted to do.
  • After my bachelor’s degree I got my MLS from Indiana University.
  • Been working as an academic librarian for 16 years now.
  • During most of this time, I’ve been an information literacy and reference librarian.
  • Also spent time working as an instructional technologist – helping faculty integrate e-learning tools into their courses.
  • Worked at 5 different universities and have been at Carroll University now for 5+ years. 
  • While at Carroll, I decided to go back to school and completed my master’s degree in education.
    • It wasn’t a job requirement. Did it for professional development.
    • For me, my MLS was all about library content (books, journals, databases).
    • But to me, libraries are all about people!
    • The master’s in education was a good connection between people and content.
    • Did my research on makerspaces in academic libraries.
  • I hate the question: “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” because I’m not a person who plots out a career trajectory–it’s just not me. I’ve always been more interested in making sure I like what I do and feel supported and valued at work instead of wanting to hold a particular job.
  • Being library director is still new (less than 2 years) and something I never intended or thought of.
    • Especially when you work in a smaller library, you have to be prepared to step up.
    • When our previous director left, none of the other librarians wanted to serve as interim director, so I agreed to.
    • Eventually I interviewed and became permanent library director.

Slide3

A Little Bit About Carroll University

  • We are Wisconsin’s oldest university. Founded in 1846. 
  • Still primarily a residential campus. Around 3,400 students.
  • Focus is on undergraduate education, but growing graduate programs: Doctor of Physical Therapy, MBA, masters in education, masters in occupational therapy, masters in nursing, masters in exercise science, masters in physician assistant studies, masters in athletic training.
  • About 60% of our students major in the health sciences or life sciences. Popular majors are: Exercise Science, Business, Nursing, Biology, and Psychology.

Slide4

Library by the Numbers

  • Above are some statistics about Carroll University’s library.

Slide5

Small Academic Library vs. Big Academic Library: A Comparison

  • A comparison between Carroll University’s library and UW-Milwaukee’s library.

Slide6

What is a Small Academic Library?

  • No straightforward definition.
  • Generally less than 5,000 students.
  • Overall, I would say a total staff of less than 15 to 20.
  • Comparing resources (like number of books, databases) is harder because it depends if the university is part of a system or consortium.
  • So I primarily look at the number of students and number of library staff members. But your mileage may vary.

Slide7

Flat Organizational Structure

  • Smaller academic libraries generally have a flat organizational structure.
  • Not a lot of hierarchy–simply because there’s less staff.
  • As a smaller library, communication is fairly informal as we see everybody almost every day.
    • The library staff meets formally as a group every other week to share what’s going on.
    • The librarians meet formally as a group when needed. 
    • I meet formally with each of my direct reports once a month. It’s a chance to get updated on projects and to share things one-on-one.
    • We generally don’t handle library business by committee unless it’s for a job search.
    • We currently only have one committee: marketing and outreach.

Slide8

Carroll University Library Organizational Structure

  • Each of our librarians coordinates a specific area of the library.
    • Public/Technical Services Librarian & Archivist: technical services and archives.
    • Teaching & Learning Librarian: research assistance and information literacy.
    • Electronic Resources Librarian/Systems Librarian: back-end systems.
    • Life & Health Sciences Librarian: serves our life/health sciences students because we have so many. Needed a dedicated position.
    • And I coordinate access services (Circ, ILL, reserves) in addition to being library director.
  • I report to the Provost/Vice President for Academic Affairs. I meet with him formally every other week and then all of the deans/directors in Academic Affairs meet together formally once a month.
  • Most smaller and a lot of larger academic library directors report to the Academic Affairs side of the university. The exceptions are some academic libraries, both large and small, that work under a merged Library/Information Technology structure and then the library reports to a person who often holds a title like Vice President and Chief Information Officer.  

Slide9

Public Facing

  • Regardless of your job title, every library staff person at a small institution is public facing. We have direct contact and interactions with students, faculty, and staff everyday.
  • No one sits in a “back room” — and that’s not a criticism of larger institutions. It’s just daily work life at a smaller institution.  
  • For example, our technical services librarian and our electronic resources librarian – job titles that are often considered “back of the house” – participate in teaching information literacy sessions, provide research assistance, and other library liaison duties.
  • At a smaller residential campus, face-to-face is key. That’s why students choose to go college there.

Small(er) Academic Libraries (1)

You Wear a Lot of Hats

  • For me, one of things I’ve loved about working in smaller academic libraries is that there is never a chance to get bored.
  • Because our staff is small, we do a lot of different things.
  • I’m the library director, but all of us do a lot of things.
    • I oversees access services. Each of our librarians coordinates a specific area of the library.
    • I’m also a liaison to several academic departments on campus. Each of our librarians is assigned to departments to liaise with.
    • I teach in the information literacy program and provide research assistance.
  • Generally, Library Directors at larger institutions wouldn’t do much information literacy or research assistance.
    • I do. I want to see the issues that our students and faculty are experiencing first-hand. And frankly, if I didn’t participate in research assistance and teaching information literacy sessions, it would be too burdensome for the rest of the staff.

Slide11

Other Duties as Assigned?

  • The next thing I pulled here is a job description so you can see the examples of wearing many hats.
  • Last summer, we hired for our Teaching & Learning Librarian position–what a lot of academic libraries refer to as a Reference & Instruction Librarian.
  • I’ve highlighted the different “hats” that this librarian wears.
  • Variety is key in smaller academic libraries.
  • Also wanted to share this because when you are job hunting, don’t be intimidated at what at first glance looks like a laundry list of job duties. It looks daunting, but remember we’re smaller, so you’re not devoting as much time to each individual bullet point as you might at a larger institution. Apply! We need you!

Slide12

Generalists vs. Specialists

  • Speaking of job titles. We can talk about the differences between generalists and specialists.
  • For the most part, in small academic libraries, we’re all generalists when it comes to subject matters and library expertise. We know a little bit about a lot of things.
  • At larger academic libraries, of course, you have generalists, but you also have specialists too.
  • On the left are librarian job titles from Carroll.
  • On the right are some examples of job titles I’ve pulled from large academic libraries like UW-Milwaukee, UW-Madison, and the University of Minnesota.

Slide13

Less Roadblocks, but Less Resources

  • One of the outcomes of a flat organizational structure is less red tape. This is one of things I enjoy about working in smaller academic libraries.
  • If I have an idea, or if another staff member has an idea–as long as it’s low cost, you can try it. If it’s a success–then great, but if it fails, that’s OK too since it’s a learning process. I like to promote the idea of always operating in beta mode.  
    • Example: I was meeting with the library’s marketing committee and somehow we got onto the topic of how we noticed that some of our student workers skip meals or were out of meal swipes.
    • The conversation then moved on to how many of our college students are food insecure.
    • So on a whim we decided to convert an unused book tower display into the campus’s first food pantry.
    • There was no red tape or approval process we had to go through. We’re a small campus, so we know what services are provided–so we just decided to do it.
    • Another example: I supervise our Circulation Manager and we were talking about library fines. Recent studies have shown that library fines aren’t necessarily a good way to get library materials returned. So we did away with library fines. Again, no committee. No having to go up the “food chain” to get things approved. We just did it.
  • The flip side? Less resources.
    • So it’s just Carroll. We’re not part of a system or consortium.
    • We need to have most of the services and resources of a larger academic library, but scaled down to our size.  
    • Example: For library databases, we rely a lot upon databases that are provided to us for free (though paid by taxpayers) by Badgerlink, though the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
    • Then we pay for specialized databases to support specific programs at Carroll.

Slide14

Typical Day?

  • Well there is no “typical” day.
  • That’s not unique just to smaller academic libraries, I think larger academic libraries experience that too.
  • Some of it is just dictated by the cyclical nature of the academic calendar.
  • Here is my calendar for Wednesday of last week.
    • Walk through: We have mostly movable furniture now. I like to see how students have been using it and I like to return everything to its original location so we can start fresh each day.
    • Monthly meetings w/ my direct reports.
    • Taught an information literacy session for the required English composition/writing course that first-year students take.
    • The university is embarking on a new audience & degree program, so there was a campus meeting. Important units like the library, the learning commons, academic advising, the registrar’s office, and financial aid have been meeting regularly to plan an outline for student services.
    • Lunch is always blocked, whether it actually happens or not!
    • Library staff is testing a discovery layer. So our Electronic Resources Librarian hosted a session where we did sample searching and asked questions about search results, etc.
    • I have some open time in the afternoon where I can catch up on email, work on projects, etc…
    • Also when I’m at my desk, just like all of the other librarians, we are logged into the library chat program so we can take questions. About 1 in 6 research questions comes through library chat now. So it’s important that we have multiple people staffing it.
    • Then my day wrapped up with campus emergency planning meeting. I left work at 4pm.
  • As far as smaller academic libraries: Here’s an example:
    • Today when I opened up at 7:30am, I noticed that the door handle to one of the library front doors had fallen off. So the first thing I did was to do a Facilities work order to have it fixed.
    • Then when I did my walk through, I noticed tables in our group study rooms had not been cleaned. So I had to file a Janitorial work order.
    • At larger academic libraries, there’s often a staff member who might do this. At a smaller academic library, it’s you!

Slide15

Who Are We Here For: Students or Faculty?

  • This headline is misleading because it’s not really one or the other.
  • The difference though: Carroll University, and most smaller colleges/universities are teaching-focused–primarily at the undergraduate level. We’re not a large research university like UW-Madison or the University of Illinois or University of Michigan which supports faculty and graduate student research.
  • Our mission at a smaller institution is much more tied directly to the undergraduate curriculum.
  • Here is our mission: “The library services students by providing access to information, maintaining an environment that promotes a culture of academic excellence, offering instruction that fosters scholarship, integrity and independent intellectual growth, and the sophisticated information skills necessary for lifelong learning.”
  • The question we ask ourselves: How can we support students in a particular course?
  • We’re not as focused on supporting faculty research, though we do help when we can.

Slide16

Management Skillz

  • In a smaller academic library, you may find yourself managing student workers or library staff. Even as a first job out of your MLIS program.
  • Don’t expect much formal training.
  • Remember, if you’re at a smaller academic library, then other departments on campus will be small too. Like Human Resources, for example. They may not have a lot of time to conduct workshops on manager training. You are kind of left to fend for yourself.
  • Regardless of whether you are a manger or not, everyone in a smaller academic library has to be a leader. Each of us have a portfolio we are responsible for. 
  • Importance of being a team player: In a small academic library, if someone is not a team player it’s immediately noticeable. It can negatively impact public-facing library services.

Slide17

Why Smaller Academic Libraries?

  • To wrap up:
  • #1: You are here for the students. Without them, the university ceases to exist.
  • #2: You see the impact first-hand: I get to see those light-bulb moments when working with students. And that’s really memorable for me. At small place, everyone gets to know you.
  • #3: Variety of job duties – no chance to get bored!
  • #4: Less silo-ing: You really have the chance to collaborate with people from across campus.

Slide18