Do Academic Librarian Searches Take Too Long?

Without knowing much about the average length of a job search in academia, I wonder if, as Todd Gilman claims, job searches for academic librarians do take an excessively long amount of time to complete. Gilman has authored a series of career-oriented articles (sharing his experiences as a Ph.D. migrating to a career in academic librarianship) for the Chronicle, and in his latest one he takes academic librarian search committees to task for failing to complete their work in a reasonable amount of time – which should be one semester according to Gilman. In his Chronicle piece Gilman provides a laundry list of offenses that search committees, personnel librarians and library directors need to avoid. When they don’t, says Gilman, top candidates are likely to reject the position in disgust.

One point I can’t argue with, and would encourage all search committees to do more of, is the need to maintain regular contact with job applicants. It should be relatively easy to create a distribution list (using BCC: to avoid anyone spotting e-mail addresses of others) for the candidates, and simply provide them with a status report on the progress of the search every few weeks or at least alert candidates to those times when the search is bogging down – for whatever reason. That would certainly alleviate some of the anguish of the “endless searche” problem Gilman describes.

Please share your “endless searche” stories here – as a comment – or provide your tips on how to avoid them from happening. Were you ever so disgusted by a search process you encountered that you decided to withdraw from the search? Let us know.

8 thoughts on “Do Academic Librarian Searches Take Too Long?”

  1. I’m really lucky in that 1. we have HR staff and 2. said staff is pretty darned good about notifying candidates of their status. That said, my other experiences were far different and I have been kept waiting (finally figuring that a job was first offered to another person who they were afraid might turn it down) and offered a position in a very offhand way via email. On the other hand, I’ve had to withdraw or turn down jobs and tried to do it as quickly as possible so that the above situation did not happen to other folks awaiting notice.

  2. I also brought this article up in a recent post on my site, and didn’t really hear the level of irritation Gilman described. I don’t know how my experience would compare to a tenure track job search, but as a former techie now in LIS, it seems that the HR process is not significantly more convoluted than in corporate america. In fact, the turnaround to hear about my first position in an academic library was shorter than for my first post-college job (at a dot-com!) I think folks in academe, expecially those who haven’t had as much private sector experience, underestimate just how convoluted even for-profit bureaucracies can be. That said, I think it’s important for candidates to be proactive (though not annoying) in checking on their status via email every week or two (and email the hiring manager, NOT HR.). Also, asking at the interview about when you should expect to hear back helps too!

  3. I think Sarah’s experience is unusual in academia. The shortest job turn-around I’ve ever had is about 2 months (current job). The longest was almost 8 months, from first posting of the job until the search committee decided to close the search & rewrite the job description. There needs to be a balance between offering no updates at all to too much information. I’m sure we’ve all had times when we’ve forgotten about a job application by the time the ding letter arrives, but on the other hand I have a colleague who was applying for a great job–good location, excellent institution, great people. The hiring committee kept him informed of every step in the process, to an extreme. They maintained confidentiality, but were so open and friendly with him that he developed a level of friendship and attachment to the people and the job–making it more heartbreaking when he ultimately was not offered it.

    In the end, I prefer the places where everyone is very business-like about the process, sending updates on a regular basis, but treating everyone the same. No personalizing of updates–that just makes the applicant try to read between the lines, looking for cues!

  4. Nate,

    I’ve also heard some horror stories, so I know I’ve been lucky relative to at least some searchers. I’m in a part of the country that doesn’t (I think) have as much competition for open MLS slots, and the aforementioned tech company did go belly-up in 2002, so maybe the poor internal processes hastened its demise! 🙂

  5. I’ve applied and been hired to 4 academic library jobs and I agree that some instituions can make the hiring process convoluted. After not hearing back from an almost ivy league university, I had decided to apply and interview for other jobs. Turns out I was the top pick and it still took them 6 months to get around to letting me know. I’ve also noticed that smaller places, like colleges, can be much quicker with the hiring process. The more HR red tape and committee members involved, I think the slower the process ends up being. I’ve often wondered how many great candidates those places bogged down in processes end up losing.

  6. One thing Gilman does not really focus on in his example is that perhaps if you have applied for a position and interviewed for it, but you are not getting any information updates from the institution – HR dept. or hiring dept. – and you feel like the process is being horribly mismanaged, PERHAPS you are better off not working there! Maybe it is a good warning sign that you would not want to be employed by such a place.

    A friend of mine went through a job application and interview process that ended up lasting 9 months, which amazed me at the time. And guess what? The institution was horribly mismanaged and said friend only ended up staying there for 2 years. Live and learn.

  7. I applied for two different jobs at the same institution, two years apart, and each search took a year. I’m serious. And I never heard a word. You’d think I’d learn.

    This university uses an automated system (yes, I also sent hard copies, just in case). For the first opening, I heard from a colleague after over a year that they had just hired the internal candidate.

    The next year, for the second position, I checked through the automated system every few weeks for 12 months. One day I logged in to the system and found a brief notation beside my application: “Not hired.”

    So I’ll never apply there again. Really, who would want to work in a place like that? I’ve been on plenty of search committees, for 4 different academic institutions, and never–NEVER–did we treat the candidates in such an offensive manner. At my colleges, the candidates were first sent a recognition that we had received their application (one also sent information about the school and library). All 4 colleges sent formal rejection letters to the candidates who were not hired–including the ones not interviewed. Not one of those 4 colleges took more than 5 months (and some of us thought that was too long!).

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