Landing the first librarian job

Editor’s Note: Please join us in welcoming Emily Zerrenner, Research and Instructional Services Librarian at Salisbury University on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, as a new First Year Academic Librarian blogger for the 2022-2023 year here at ACRLog.

The process of landing my first academic job was a whirlwind with a steady downpour. From about February on, nearly every day I was scouring job boards, writing cover letters, tweaking my resume and creating a CV. First interviews were always exciting before nerve-wracking; I could count on some of the questions asked (Why do you want this job?) and I would daydream about the location. In every place I applied, I checked PetFinder. I wanted a job, and I wanted a dog. Sometimes my questions would have less of a straight answer. Could I fit there? Could I make a life there?

I distinctly remember the first interview I got. I was so excited, because it was on the East Coast and the campus was beautiful, and, and, and. I came up with many reasons. I thought I nailed the interview. It was a bright spot in the seemingly endless gloom of a Midwestern February.

Then I wasn’t invited for a second interview.

I wasn’t surprised, necessarily; but I had hoped so hard that it would work out. I had long been warned about the academic job seeking process, and I saw the graduate assistants a year before me go through it in Spring 2021. At that point, I steeled myself for the marathon ahead.

I had a spreadsheet to input information about every job I applied to. Light green highlight meant I got a first interview, dark green meant a second round, and I just moved the rows of rejections to a separate sheet so I didn’t have to look at them. No highlight meant my application was received, but I didn’t hear anything. (This happened to more jobs than you might expect.) Google Drive learned my habits of opening that sheet pretty much anywhere I went: “you usually open around this time.” I had a general resume and CV, a general cover letter with everything I could possibly talk about, and folders where I dropped the customized materials for each position.

I was still in three graduate school classes during this time, working 15 or so hours a week as a graduate assistant, and teaching workshops and one-shot library instruction in the meantime. Even though I began graduate school in Fall 2020, this felt like the hardest pandemic semester yet; I was so close to the end of my degree and so burnt out from juggling not only my responsibilities as a full-time student, but also managing the risk of COVID-19 at every turn.

April was the worst month. I had a second-round interview every week; all of them were over Zoom (which, eight hours over Zoom is perhaps its own form of torture) but I was flown out to visit one campus. The day after I got back from that campus visit, I had the second-round interview for the place I work now. I was so incredibly exhausted that I was convinced I wouldn’t get that one, but I kept pushing through. It was like having a final project every week, except these final projects determined the course of my life. In total, I applied to 17 jobs and completed 30 hours of interviews across institutions (not including the travel and preparation time).

I received and accepted a job offer at Salisbury University a week before I graduated, which I recognize is so lucky on my part. Moving to an entirely new state alone, away from everything I knew was its own challenge – one that I am still adjusting to. In this field, it’s almost expected that you will move away from friends and family; you have to follow the work. The long job application process is well known and documented, and yet we’re still using that same system. Additionally, I have a lot of thoughts about reimbursement culture in academia; grateful as I am for moving cost reimbursement, that initial financial burden almost made it impossible to actually make the move for this job.

But I’m happy to report that my Petfinder browsing paid off, and I’m slowly making a life here – both as a new academic librarian, and as Emily.

A dog's face with black and white markings

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?