Thoughts From A Search Committee Chair Running Two Searches

This spring, I’m chairing concurrent searches for two new librarians role in my department. I’m thrilled to lead these search committees and bring new colleagues to the team. These roles opened up due to faculty retirements and gave the department and I a chance to reflect on what our institution needs right now. 

For weeks, I’ve been thinking about how to write a blog post about this experience. At my past institution, I didn’t get too close to faculty librarian searches. I was at a large organization and had a supervisor who had me focus on other work priorities. I hired student interns and research assistants, but I was relatively removed from other searches. At my current institution, we are a smaller shop and as a department head, I have a different responsibility and focus on things like searches. While these two searches aren’t my first time chairing a search at my current institution, I feel a different search chair pressure since these are colleagues joining our department. This pressure is probably mostly internal pressure I’m putting on myself, but with every search, I feel there’s pressure for it to go well and find a successful candidate. 

Instead of continuing to spin my proverbial wheels about how to write this post, I’m going to share a few highlights. These are big ideas or themes that continue to stay top of mind. As always, I’m curious if these ideas and themes resonate with others! 

The Library Job Search + Emotions

In 2018-19, I collaborated with former ACRLogger Dylan Burns on a research project around emotions in the library job search. Dylan and I met in graduate school and noticed that during the second year of our on-campus program, there was a new energy in the air. A competitive and sometimes secretive energy as we all went on the job search. Our research was inspired by that experience and the emotions we felt as we went on the job market. We sent a survey out and had over 1,000 people start our survey! The paper we eventually wrote explored the themes we saw along with focus groups we conducted with survey participants. This research project was informative in so many ways, beyond learning so much about survey design, this research really solidified for me the challenges and struggles librarians experience. There’s such a black box when you apply for a job; you put your materials out there, invest time and energy in crafting a compelling cover letter and thinking about a potential institute that might employ you, and hope you hear something. As I navigate this search from the position of search chair, this paper is top of mind. I do what I can to communicate and move things along as quickly as I can. But I’ve also seen the various ways the systems and structures (or lack of those structures) slow a search down and rely on the chair and hiring manager to be organized. 

Not everyone is invested or as tuned into the search as you are

Everyone has different capacity levels to think about these searches. As the chair, I feel like I’m really in it but that’s not the same for everyone around me. I continue to remind myself that it is my responsibility to pave the way and make it easy for folks to engage with our candidates. And part of that means I have to keep articulating what these jobs will do, and how the folks in the room might interact/collaborate/rely on these roles.    

Searching for new people means less time to think about your current people

Something I’ve thought a lot about is how I’m refocusing my energy into bringing new folks into the department. That means something has to give and that has been some of the energy I’ve been able to put into the people on the current team. I feel fortunate these searches are happening almost three years into my time as a department head; I have a better sense of what folks need and they have a better sense of how to get feedback/support from me, especially when my time is in high demand. This also means when the searches wrap up, I can refocus my energy on the current department. Ultimately, just because I’m running a search doesn’t mean I have double the emotional energy. I’m still working through this, but try to be aware of what I can give and where I need to pull back. 

Bottom line: searches take time and energy

For the past three months, I feel like I’ve been thinking about these searches constantly. I might be brainstorming questions, finalizing finalist interview schedules, noting strengths and opportunities for growth, or scheduling meetings. I’m pouring a lot of energy to prepare for finalist interviews and t once that interview week comes, I’m tuned in to running smooth interview days. I keep thinking of the comment my high school band director told us in the pit orchestra – the best pit orchestra is the one where people don’t even realize there’s a pit orchestra right in front of them. To me, a good search feels like that; it’s running and people are comfortable and supported but don’t necessarily see all the work spinning in the background. But that of course, takes time and energy, and weeks of planning and coordinating!

What happens after the search

I also think frequently about what happens after the search – a successful candidate joins the team. That naturally spurs a bunch of follow up questions: What will onboarding look like? How is the department involved? What are scoped projects I can give these folks to get acclimated to the organization and feel a sense of progress within the first six to eight months on the job? I keep reminding myself to finish the searches and then worry about what’s next. One step at a time. 

At the end of the day, I’m really excited for what’s ahead. I feel like I’m learning and I’m growing in this double search chair role. I’m also going to be very thankful for when these searches wrap up!

Learning to Fly: Life as an Early-Career Academic Librarian

Editor’s note: We are pleased to welcome Justin Fuhr to the ACRLog team. Justin is a Science librarian at the University of Manitoba. His professional interests include reflective practice, librarian philosophies, organizational culture and community, and support for early-career librarians such as mentorship. His current research assesses researcher profile library workshops and profile usage at his institution, as well as a project on relational practice in Canadian academic librarianship.

Life’s hard as an early-career academic librarian working on contract, not knowing if your contract will be renewed or where you will be working three years, a year, or even six months from now. It’s tough job searching; there’s so many qualified candidates, not enough positions, and it can be hard to make yourself stand out with experience, education, certification, volunteer work, interviews, public presentations, and on and on.  

I was relatively fortunate. I’ve been working at the library at the University of Manitoba for over seven years, starting out as a library technician, then working as a term librarian at the beginning of 2020. After several interviews for different positions, I got a continuing position in May of this year. Working at the same institution for so long helped to know our library system, run through my public presentation with my work buddies, and know of upcoming vacancies. Our library also started giving candidates the interview questions in advance. This improves accessibility and helps to prepare for the interview in advance.  

For all my worries and whinging — and trust me, my coworkers can attest to that — I’m now working as a science librarian. I moved from supporting Catholic studies, religion, and peace and conflict studies to mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Suddenly I find myself moving from B (Philosophy. Psychology. Religion.) to Q (Science) — that’s fifteen whole letters away! And what do you mean mathematics profs like old books? Oh wait, that didn’t change from the humanities.  

I now have the task of learning my new subject areas, getting to know the faculty and students, my coworkers, how to manage and develop the collections, learning how best to instruct sciences students, new databases like MathSciNet, signing up for new mailing lists like PAMNet (who endearingly refer to themselves as a PAMily), and where the closest and cheapest coffee shop is on campus.  

This is the fun stuff. It’s intimidating to learn a ‘new’ position, but it’s rewarding in so many ways. I used a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers song for the title of this post — we’re all learning to fly in some ways, maybe early-careers librarians the most — but I could have just as easily used another Tom Petty song: “You Got Lucky.” 

Earlier this year I was speaking about librarianship as a career to undergraduate English literature students at the institution where I got my B.A. I was amazed at the interest they showed. I mean, I was talking about a research project I’m doing on researcher profiles, and at one point I stopped, apologized, and said this must be excruciatingly boring for them to listen to. “No,” my previous English professor said. “This is really fascinating.” I got lucky.  

One piece of advice I can offer to librarians currently job searching is to rely on your colleagues, librarians at other libraries, friends, family — whoever! — for support and guidance. I found it especially invaluable to hear from other librarians of their experience job searching, even if it had been many years since they’d gone through it. We work in a helping profession and one thing I’ve found is librarians want to help other librarians. Rely on your community, look to others for support and provide support to others when they need it. We are lucky.  

If you’re looking for a job, considering a career change, or finding early-career librarianship challenging, please keep going, you can do it. You got this. It may take time. It will take time. It will be worth it. You’ll get lucky.  

If any academic libraries are considering giving interview questions ahead of time – please do! It helps the candidates immensely. I also encourage any librarians that know of early-career colleagues currently job searching to reach out, be available, offer encouragement and to answer any questions they may have. If you can think of any other advice to job searchers or those in new positions, please leave a comment.  

For all that academic librarianship deals with and is going through, you can help guide the profession positively and I feel it’s a great profession to be in. I’m teaching students, involved with library associations, working with my colleagues on different committees, completing research with fun and collaborative coworkers, and talking all things academic librarianship with whoever will listen; sometimes I think I’ve found my dream job. I got lucky. Now it’s time to get to work. 

Recruiting New Librarians

It’s been such a tough pandemic for academic librarian job seekers, particularly new graduates. Enrollment declines led to shrinking budgets which in turn meant disappearing job opportunities when so many librarians needed them most. I feel very lucky to be in a library that has had the budget, personnel, and time to hire several new librarians this academic year. Later this summer I’ll be in a position to hire both a Teaching & Learning Librarian and a Student Success Librarian. I’ve been working on the job description and thinking a lot about the recruitment of new colleagues. I definitely have the usual concerns about the construction of the job advertisement:

  • Is the language used to describe the position responsibilities accessible to librarians new to the profession?
  • Are we including a salary range?
  • Am I asking too much under Required Qualifications?
  • Does the job ad emphasize our library’s commitment to anti-racism, equity, and inclusion?
  • Will the position description sound appealing and welcoming to librarians from different backgrounds and communities?
  • Does it make our department sound like a good place to work?

I shared my initial draft with our assistant department head and two new(ish) librarian colleagues who had recently been through the job search process. They offered helpful edits and suggestions, and I was able to pass on our draft to our Associate Dean for Organizational Development and Learning.

But there are the OTHER factors to consider when thinking about recruitment, ones inextricably linked to the pandemic, politics, and legislation. The last few years have been and continue to be difficult for people with disabilities, compromised immune systems, families, income precarity; and all of the most vulnerable individuals. Are new or experienced librarians in a position–financially, emotionally, personally–to move for a new job? What kind of support and flexibility can we offer to individuals who may have unique health, family, or other needs? Are we prepared to have those conversations when negotiating with potential candidates? I hope that we’re ready.

Living in Texas I’m familiar with the common refrains online urging people to either (a) get out and vote or (b) get up and move. Both make a lot of assumptions about finances, personal situations, and other extenuating circumstances. So as we are hiring I will continue to think about how we can make work as safe and welcoming a place as it can be for the people who work within it.

Are you also hiring and onboarding new librarians this year? If so, what’s been your approach?

Credentials, Credentials!: Demonstrating Your Potential Value in Academic Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.

The ACRL Webcast that I presented last fall, “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” had a particularly lively Q&A session. Attendees shared detailed questions about how different types of credentials and work experience will support their case as they apply for academic librarian positions. In this post, I will respond to eight of the most common questions, moving from easiest to trickiest.

Special shout-out to Rachel Minkin of Michigan State University. In addition to being a wonderful moderator, Rachel managed to copy down and categorize the questions most important to attendees while keeping the presentation running smoothly. Thank you!

And now for the questions:

Does a library school “field experience” that I performed for credit count as work experience?

  • Absolutely! Work is work, no matter whether you received pay, course credit, or simply gratitude for doing it.

Does GPA count for anything?

  • Honestly? Potential employers typically don’t ask for your GPA. I don’t recall ever sharing my library school GPA, except for when I applied to my doctoral program. That said, making a positive impression of your work ethic within your program is important. So are your skills in respectful communication and collaboration, as well as insight and creativity. Your professors may be the ones to recommend you for work experiences that you want to have during library school. They may also serve as references for professional positions. But no, it’s unlikely that anyone will ever ask you to state your GPA. You don’t have to focus on that goal of earning a 4.0.

CV and cover letter: I have a gap in my library work history, how do I talk about it? (In this case, it was to work in K-12 education)

  • This situation is easy to “spin” in a positive way. You chose to spend several years working in a profession that librarians value highly. Depending on the area of academic libraries that you want to work in, you probably built many skills that will support your librarianship—perhaps teaching skills, curriculum building, and so on. You’ll only need to discuss this in a sentence or two in your cover letters. Be sure to phrase it positively: You chose to pursue your interests in K-12 education through studies and work. Now you look forward to returning to academic libraries and applying skills that you’ve developed in multiple settings. You’ll have the chance to discuss this in more detail when you interview.
  • If there’s a period of time where you were not formally employed, whether you were caring for a family member, dealing with medical concerns, searching for work after a lay-off, or another scenario, that gap will show up on your CV or resume. Make sure that you address it in a sentence or two in your cover letters. You can mention your situation in more detail at interviews—but make sure to stick to a level of detail that you and your interviewer will both feel comfortable with. Stay as positive as you reasonably can.

Second master’s degree: Necessary? Not really necessary? Does this mean I’m overqualified? Should I emphasize my second degree?

  • Oh, my goodness—one of the trickiest ongoing debates in academic libraries. Let’s address the easier parts first. I’m going to assume that we’re discussing positions where a second master’s is either preferred or not required. (If it is required, then it’s probably only worth applying if you do have that second master’s—though you can take a chance.)
  • Don’t worry about seeming overqualified due to a second master’s. If no second master’s is required but you have one, it will typically be seen as value added. You have extra expertise in a subject area, PLUS you have additional experience with graduate-level studies and research. Those experiences are worth emphasizing in an interview. Discuss the ways in which your research in the other field would help you to better support faculty and students. This will be true even if you’re interested in a subject specialist position in another field.
  • If you’ve earned your MLIS degree but don’t have another master’s degree, the choice is up to you. Whether candidates with an additional master’s degree are placed above you in a candidate pool depends on the nature of the jobs, as well as on that institution’s values.
  • Many articles and blog posting on this topic exist online. Try searching for “second master’s degree librarians” to find articles with a variety of perspectives. You may want to get more specific with your searching if you’re interested in a type of position that sometimes does require a second master’s.

Can one create their own internship, (i.e. get meaningful experience outside of library school program) and still call it an internship on one’s resume/ cv?

  • Many MLIS students create their own work experiences in one way or another. I did this myself—when I realized that I wanted to gain experience in collection development, I inquired in that department at the library where I was working. A librarian generously offered to train and supervise me in a project that we designed together. My advisor and I were able to arrange for me to receive course credit. Work experiences that you co-design can be incredibly valuable. And yes, you can often call them “internships.” One word of advice is that you should agree with your supervisor on exactly what you will call this work experience on your resume or CV. Regardless of what the two of you decide to call it, you don’t want someone who is serving as a reference for you to sound surprised at the beginning of a reference call.

How I can I use my background in teaching online to market myself for “in-person” instruction positions?

  • When academic libraries hire for instruction positions, they’re looking for a number of qualities and specific areas of experience. These vary, depending on the nature of the position. As colleges and universities offer more and more courses and degrees online, there is increasing demand for instructors who can teach online. If you have experience teaching asynchronously, you already have very marketable skills for those positions: for example, choosing content and creating online teaching materials, and interacting with students online.
  • If you’re looking to move from teaching online (synchronously or asynchronously) to teaching in person, yes, you do have marketable experience with some of the necessary skills. You understand selecting content, creating lesson plans and curricula, and interacting with students. To make yourself more marketable, it’s worth trying to build experience and confidence with day-to-day interactions in the classroom. Find opportunities to work on your teaching confidence, as well as your skills with classroom management. Think broadly: Can you volunteer to teach workshops at your local public library? Could you practice teaching in another group that you’re involved with, such as your child’s scout troop, your church, or another community organization?
  • Different library instruction positions will have different levels of competition. Some may have three applicants; others may have a hundred. You may need to keep trying before you get your first opportunity – but once you have an instruction position, you can build from there.

How can I start building a scholarly record if my MLIS program and/or my current job don’t give me opportunities to do so?

  • Getting started building a scholarly record can feel overwhelming, especially if you don’t have opportunities from your degree program or workplace. It can still feel overwhelming if you do—I’ve been there! (You can learn more about what a scholarly record is beginning on slide 19 of the November 12, 2019 webcast.)
  • I’ll reiterate a couple of points from the webcast for readers who are still enrolled in an MLIS program.
    • It’s unusual that your professors offer writing a manuscript for a scholarly paper as an option for an assignment. However, they’re often open to this as a course final project if you ask well in advance.
    • You may have opportunities to gather data, perform cutting-edge work in informatics or many other subspecialties, or simply to spend significant time thinking about theory and praxis. The data you gather, and the thoughts you put together, can form the basis of articles, presentations, and blog posts when you write them, or later.
    • Speaking of “later”—you can absolutely revisit the work you did during your MLIS and write about or transform it later.
    • Speaking of articles, presentations, and blog posts—remember that a scholarly record usually *doesn’t* begin with peer-reviewed articles. Rather, it often begins with a few thoughtful professional blog posts, a presentation at a local or student-oriented conference, or an article for a professional magazine (“non-peer-reviewed publication”). Look creatively for opportunities to show off your writing and analytical skills. (Check out the slideshow linked above for suggestions on finding opportunities.)
  • If you’re working in the field, you can almost certainly write and create professional or scholarly materials on your own time. That isn’t as great as having work time set aside—but it’s how many librarians start building a scholarly record.
    • Ask your employer if you may write about innovative work that you and your colleague have done. Aim for a professional publication—or for a scholarly one, if you feel that you have the information needed to meet that publication’s requirements. Or present locally—that’s a great way to build recognition for your library as well.
    • Talk with your employer about whether you may analyze data that you have available to serve as the basis for a scholarly manuscript. Or consider designing a project that will ethically gather data about your work. You will need to investigate policies at your institution to make sure that you are following all of their ethical regulations related to patrons and patron data, if applicable. That said, once you’ve made sure that you are following regulations, you’re set for meaningful and productive work.

As always, I look forward to hearing additional questions, as well as insights based on your experiences. Please feel free to comment, or to contact me.

Best of luck to you with your career goals for 2020!

Big Transitions: Changing Jobs within and between Libraries

ACRLog welcomes a guest post from Karen Sobel, Teaching & Learning Librarian, Auraria Library, Denver, CO.

Happy new year, everyone!

During the ACRL Webcast that I presented, titled “Making Yourself Marketable for Academic Librarian Positions” (12 November 2019), many attendees asked questions about transitions. In particular, they asked whether it’s possible to transfer from one type of library to another, or from one type of librarian position to another. The webcast organizers and I felt that those questions deserved thorough answers, along with some resources. Thus, here we are in the new year, ready to talk about creating change and working toward your goals. Let’s discuss the two questions one at a time.

Transitioning between Types of Libraries

Imagine that you’re working in one type of library – let’s say it’s your city’s public library. You’ve been there for a few years, and you realize that you want to find a job at another type of library. We’ll say that your new dream is to work at an academic library. Could you realistically make this transition happen?

The answer is yes – plenty of librarians have made this sort of change in the past. However, it does require careful preparation, and may not occur in a single move.

The most important aspect in making this sort of a shift is finding opportunities that align as closely as possible with your experience. Have you gathered experience in all of the required qualifications, and in some or all of the preferred qualifications for the position? If you begin searching for positions at a different type of institution from the one where you work, and you find that there are qualifications that you like, make a plan for developing that experience. You may need to get creative. Seek out experience at your own library. If you cannot develop the skills or experience that you need there, search for opportunities, or for professional development, elsewhere.

When you’re applying, highlight your experience honestly, echoing the language of the position posting. Different types of libraries may describe similar types of duties differently; make sure that your description will resonate with search committee members who will read your application. Your application will of course come across as “different” from those written by librarians whose experience comes closer to the job for which you are applying. Highlight the strengths that you have built which will set you apart. You would bring unusual positive qualities to the job.

Show that you truly understand what it would be like to work in the type of library where you wish to work. Talk with librarians who work in that type of library. Use the preferred language of that type of library in your application – and make sure to run your cover letter and CV or resume by librarians who work in that type of library. If you’re chosen for an in-person interview, research the library and the community it serves in great detail. Being able to discuss the context is important in rising to the top of the applicant pool.

Remember that different libraries and different positions will have different levels of competition. You could be one of three candidates for one position, and one of 200 candidates for another. That means that it may take several tries to make the leap from one type of library to another. Or that you may require a couple of leaps before you reach your dream job (which is true for most of us anyway). With careful planning and application, you can make the move from one type of library to another happen.

Transitioning between Types of Library Positions

Typically when librarians shape their career paths, they move from one position to another, built on a related set of skills and qualities. However, occasionally a librarian wishes to follow a career path that uses a dramatically new set of skills—moving from instruction to technical services, for example.

Building skills and experience are of course key to switching tracks within librarianship. If you already have your MLIS or similar degree and some experience, you’ve got an advantage. You just need to build credentials and experience specific to your new goals. Once you’ve decided to make the switch, it’s time to research the skills that you’ll need to build. Talk with professionals who already do the work that interests you. Read position postings and look for trends in required and preferred skills.

Once you’ve identified skills and experience that you need to build, think about what you could learn through on-the-job experience and what requires coursework or professional development. A lot of that is up to your judgment; you may want to seek out thoughts from professionals who already do that work. For example, you might decide that you’d learn skills for instruction most effectively through on-the-job practice at your institution. However, you’d probably learn the details of working with MARC records most efficiently through a course.

If you’re already working full- or part-time as a librarian, it’s well worth inquiring as to whether you can gain experience through making special arrangements in your own library. Interestingly, you may find that it’s easier to make this sort of arrangement in a smaller library, where each individual tends to have a broader range of duties. Think carefully about whether you can build this into your job, whether you can do the work as part of a full-time work schedule, or whether you may need to make adjustments to your arrangements in order to find time to support your goals.

It probably doesn’t need to be said, but you can likely be open with your colleagues regarding your changing intentions. New aspects of librarianship have sparked your interest. As long as you’re continuing to work hard at your current job, good colleagues tend to be supportive of your evolving dreams. Be open with your supervisor as well. Just like your other colleagues, your supervisor will likely be supportive as long as you continue to work hard. You may find that you need to request support, or to discuss the possibility of shifting some arrangements at work. Keeping your supervisor involved from early stages will only make this part easier.

Final Words

I wish you the best in working toward your goals! Feel free to reach out to librarians in your network, including me, as you move forward: karen.sobel@ucdenver.edu.

Resources

Strategies for Changing Your Career Path within Librarianship:

“Adaptable Applicants: Preparing to Change Your Library Path,” by Lindsey Homol for the American Library Association New Members’ Round Table: http://www.ala.org/rt/nmrt/news/footnotes/february2014/adaptable-applicants-preparing-change-your-library-path

The richest source of information on how to prepare for a “big transition” (from one type of library to another, or between roles in libraries) is articles from scholarly and professional library publications. If you have access to LISTA, LISA, Library and Information Science Source, or other library and information science databases through your library, you may want to explore those. Google Scholar will also point you toward many of those articles.

Writing Effective Library Resumes/CVs and Cover Letters:

“Common Library/Info Science Action Verbs,” courtesy of the Massachusetts Library System: https://www.masslibsystem.org/wp-content/uploads/LIS-action-verbs.pdf Terms on this sheet are commonly used to describe librarians’ work. Read through the list & consider incorporating some of these words into your next cover letter, CV, or resume.