A Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights

Let’s face it: Job hunting is a grind. Oftentimes a soul-sucking grind. But once you get that invitation to interview, you feel great. Here is where the library, as the hiring organization, needs to put its best foot forward and make the experience for job candidates a positive one.

I’m not mollycoddling here. This isn’t about bringing your mom or dad to an interview (please don’t!) or sending the interview questions to the interviewee in advance (umm, no…I want to see how you think on your feet!). This is about having a set of protocols, a little common sense, and some human decency.

Below are ten tips that I’m calling the Library Interviewee’s Bill of Rights that should be afforded to all job candidates.

1. The library will give you lead time in preparing a presentation
Many job candidates are required to give a presentation (short lecture, teaching demo, storytime, etc.) at an interview. When the offer to interview is extended, please provide the topic (or if it’s “open-ended” then say so) and the time limit of the presentation. A couple of times when interviewing, I was given a topic only 2-3 days in advance. Give people time to prepare!

2. The library will give you a schedule
When inviting a job candidate to interview, send them the schedule in advance (even if it’s a draft schedule at first). Include the names (or groups) of the people they will be meeting with and the length of time for each meeting.

3. The library will plan a humane schedule
This relates to #1 and #2. Can we not schedule a presentation immediately after lunch? There’s nothing like trying to eat a meal knowing that you’re going to have to give the “show of your life” immediately thereafter. I know it’s hard to get people together to watch a presentation, but I always appreciated it when these things are scheduled before lunch.

4. The library will provide reimbursements
What is reimbursable? Be upfront with job candidates. For overnight stays, is the library booking the hotel? For long distance visits, is the library booking transportation? Or is this the responsibility of the job candidate? What about things like gas mileage or airport parking? Provide a list of what will be covered. Remind the job candidate to bring along (or send) any applicable receipts.

5. The library will provide info on hotels/dining
Related to #4. If it’s an overnight visit, where is the job candidate staying? I remember being dropped off at a hotel by a potential future co-worker in the middle of nowhere. I was on my own for dinner. No car. Nothing walkable. The only thing I could get was a pizza delivered. Some welcome! Invite the job candidate out to dinner. Beforehand, give job candidates a few options for dinner (may have dietary restrictions) and let them pick.

6. The library will give you salary info
I know many institutions (or more likely the library’s parent organization) do not post salaries in job ads, but please provide this info during the interview day whether it’s the minimum salary, a salary range, etc. I know there will be some that will say, “well then the job candidate can’t negotiate if the salary is on the table!” Well…this isn’t the business world and the ability to negotiate for several thousands of dollars generally does not apply to most library positions. So be upfront!

7. The library will be prepared
The job candidate is prepared for the interview day. The library staff should be prepared to interview the job candidate. Have notes in order and questions to ask. Also KNOW which person is being interviewed and don’t call the person by another job candidate’s name.

8. The library will have a good attitude
Yes, the library might be interviewing 3 or 4 people in a row. At least act like this is a fresh and new experience and not a chore to get through.

9. The library will keep matters confidential
Example: If the job candidate marked “you may not contact my current supervisor” on HR forms, then the library needs to follow it! This happened to me. After marking the form to not contact my current supervisor, the library director then asked to contact my supervisor. I had 3 good references (my immediate former supervisor at my workplace, a current co-worker, and a former co-worker). I said no. I didn’t want my supervisor to know I was looking for greener pastures. It was an awkward situation.

10. The library will provide a follow-up in a timely manner
Make sure candidates know the length for the decision-making process. Also ask job candidates how they prefer to be notified (phone, email). I know from an HR standpoint, many things cannot be disclosed. However, you can still say “the library is in the decision-making stage and you can expect to hear from us within the month” or whatever. Once I didn’t receive a “this position has been filled” letter until 6 months after the interview! We can do better.

What else would you add? Leave a comment!

The Librarian Shortage Myth & Blaming Library School

Update: Received a couple of comments about being a “male librarian” and how I’m ignoring my own privilege. Yep, these readers are correct! I wrote this post in haste without taking in to account how my own privilege and status play into this–or in my case, I dismissed it–which is wrong. For that, I apologize and will try to do better the next time. However, I do stand by my advice to critically evaluate the state of the job market. -joe, 3/18/15

Don’t blame library school if you cannot find a professional job. You are an information professional. Did you not research the state of the job market?

I made that very blunt point in a 2011 blog post: “I graduated from a top library school.” Yeah, so what? – It’s generated a lot of comments since then and struck a nerve with some readers.

One person commented:

I do not agree about NOT blaming the ALA and the school. There is a lot of false information put out by the ALA ..remember all those retiring librarians. Also as a male you are at an advantage. I have seen some really dopey male librarians hired at our library I asked one about a book I was looking for and he googled and turned the screen and told me read this stuff. When I persisted he pointed to an elderly female librarian and told me to ask her because she’s really good at that stuff. This after being told that library only hires the creme de la creme. Guess that creme got stale googling. You can be all positive because you got a job. People have done all you suggested and still have no job in a library or have a part time job in a para professional area. There is an article in the Library Journal called that lucky few – referring to people like you who got a library job.

Blaming Library School

Looking back at my original “blunt” advice, I stand behind my underlying principle: You are responsible for the usefulness of your education and the decisions you make. Putting aside the reader’s baseless “male librarian” comment, I DO agree with the reader on this point: some library schools and the American Library Association have marketed this “myth” of a librarian shortage.

I graduated from library school in 2002 when this “myth” was being pushed. Take a look at this 2000 press release from the University of North Texas on the nationwide librarian shortage. Here’s a similar story from SUNY Buffalo from 2002. Even the Bush administration was involved with this 2003 news release from “first librarian” Laura Bush. On the ALA website, you can still see (outdated) vestiges of this thinking:

…these sources indicate that there is a need for sustained effort to recruit new people into the LIS professions and to retain those who are working in libraries today. As large numbers of LIS professionals reach retirement age, there is a corresponding need for new people to replace them.

However, as information professionals, we should know not to take things at face value. Looking back at all of the stories about a “librarian shortage” from the early 2000’s, I decided to pull my library’s print (read: dusty) copy of the 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook. The outlook for librarians is as follows:

Applicants for librarian jobs in large cities or suburban areas will face competition, while those willing to work in rural areas should have better job prospects.


Employment of librarians is expected to grow more slowly than average for all occupations over the 2000-2010 period. The increasing use of computerized information storage and retrieval systems continues to contribute to slow growth in demand for librarians.

[Source: 2002-2003 Occupational Outlook Handbook (pgs. 188, 190)]

I’d call this a pretty measured response from an authoritative source. Don’t you think?

More current, the 2012-2013 Occupational Outlook Handout certainly isn’t promoting a shortage of librarians:

Employment of librarians is expected to grow by 7 percent from 2010 to 2020, slower than the average for all occupations.


Jobseekers may face strong competition for jobs, especially early in the decade, as many people with master’s degrees in library science compete for a limited number of available positions. Later in the decade, prospects should be better as older library workers retire and population growth generates openings.

[Note: bold emphasis is mine. Source: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/librarians.htm#tab-6]

Overabundance of MLSs

So, are library schools churning out too many MLSs? – probably. Take a look at this insightful analysis by Brett Bonfield from In the Library with the Lead Pipe. The one thing to remember: If you throw out the noble goals of education and focus on the bottom line, it’s the library school’s job to get butts in the seats (tuition). Nothing more. Nothing less. Other disciplines have focused more attention on this. For example, news of job woes among law school graduates have resulted in law schools capping admissions. Should library schools do the same?

The librarian job crisis – both unemployment and UNDERemployment – isn’t about library schools. In the words of political strategist James Carville: it’s the economy, stupid. I’m not just talking about the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, either. I graduated library school during the post 9/11 economic slump. In my mind, much of the 2000s was a general economic malaise that contributed to library budget cuts, unfilled openings, and senior librarians who have deferred retirement (and I don’t blame them for that).

This is compounded by the fact that some librarian positions have been re-classified from MLS positions to paraprofessional positions (yes, I know the debate about the term paraprofessional–spare me here, please!), further de-professionalizing the workforce. In addition to this, what might have been one full-time MLS position has been converted into two part-time positions. Also, as experienced librarians have moved up, those entry-level positions have often been unfilled or converted to something else entirely different.

No one should be sugar-coating the job market for librarians. It’s tough. I’ve been lucky and I know that. At the same time, I like what I do and I don’t feel “guilty” about having a job. Nor has being male held an advantage. I’ve been successful because I’m good at what I do.

For anyone thinking of going to library school: do your research, be aware of the employability issues, network with working librarians, investigate alternatives to “traditional” library work, and see whether you would be a good fit.