Wanna Be a Librarian?

I hope I’m preaching to the choir here! As members of AISL, most of you are currently employed in school libraries and have successfully navigated the hiring process. When I first applied to an independent school, the whole process opened the door to a mysterious, and intimidating, world.

Recruiting agency profile?
Multiple conference calls? (This was a pre-Skype era.)
A fly-down to see the school?
Dinner with administrators?
Eight hours on campus meeting seemingly everyone?
And I didn’t even teach a sample class…

I think it was probably helpful that I wasn’t anticipating the intensity of the hiring process and thus was able to experience each step with fresh eyes and optimism.

I have since been through the process on the other side frequently, and that’s definitely the preferable side. If you aren’t part of the hiring process for new faculty, you might want to ask if that’s a possibility. I have fifteen to thirty minutes with most Upper School faculty candidates, and while I have minimal say in the final hiring decisions, I think the time is well worth it. It gives the impression to candidates that there is an expectation of library collaboration, and candidates are quick to share their best collaboration stories with me. It’s professionally invigorating.

But, hiring for a librarian is both invigorating and stressful. I’ve just finished a midyear  hiring process and am ready to turn over the lower school library to an energetic and experienced librarian and refocus my attention on my library.  I thought this could be a break from our fascinating recent discussions on digital and news literacies before most people begin thinking about the spring hiring cycle. These are my observations from what I’ve seen over the past decade in the field.

  • Details matter in your application. Apply with the correct title of the position that’s been advertised. It’s important for librarians to be detail-oriented, and it shows me that you’re more likely to have read the expectations for the position itself. While it seems small, it might matter to the school if you are applying for the position of middle school media specialist, director of the learning center, or research librarian.
  • Along the same lines, apply in the format requested, whether it’s an email to the librarian or a phone call to human resources. Institutions have processes for hiring and applications sent to the wrong place may get loss in the process. It’s appropriate to check in once if you want to make sure your information has been received, but you probably don’t want to contact the school more frequently than they are contacting you.
  • Don’t just include a resume but also a cover letter or email explaining your background and interest in the position in narrative form. It helps you stand out to the school when they can hear your voice telling stories about your experiences and your values.
  • Only claim expertise in areas where you have expertise. While it might seem obvious, it’s easy in the moment to pretend you’ve used a system you’ve only heard mentioned in passing. It’s much worse to feign knowledge at first only to flail on a more-detailed follow-up question. No one is expected to know everything and we can probably teach the school’s course management system or Koha or Google Sheets or libguides.
  • Be cautious how you ask about money. Independent schools operate individually and quite differently from public schools, and each school has a unique culture around salary. If you ask too early or too often, it may stand out to the people interviewing you, even if they have no say in those decisions. Likewise, holidays and days off.
  • Do your homework on the schools where you are interviewing; research them online. If you’ve been working as a librarian, share stories about what you’ve done, but don’t start every sentence, “At my last school…” Be open to creating new traditions that fit the school where you are interviewing. Think about non-Googleable questions for when you are, inevitably, asked if you have questions for your interviewer.
  • Be yourself! Independent schools value that individuality and spend their marketing dollars sharing what’s unique about their offerings. It’s helpful to know if you’ll fit into the school culture, especially as librarians who pride ourselves on working well with others.
  • If you are invited for an interview, be on time, be yourself (again), show curiosity about the people interviewing you, and get a copy of the interview schedule if possible. Show kindness to everyone you meet, from the receptionist to the lunch staff to the individuals who are officially meeting with you. You want to leave a positive impression on everyone who interacts with you. If it fits your personality, it can’t hurt to have samples of past work with you as examples if anyone asks Also, a water bottle is a good idea.
  • Thank you notes still make a difference! Paper or electronic, no one will ever fault you for being too polite. If you were able to get a schedule, you’ll have the list of people who interviewed you. Otherwise, the headmaster, principal, or person who set up the interview are all good choices.

Just like we’ve been telling our seniors all month as college admissions decisions arrive, keep your options open. There isn’t one “perfect fit;” there are a lot of matches that will work. If you are someone looking for your first library job or hoping to relocate this spring, good luck! If you are someone with an open position, happy hiring!

Other suggestions, especially for boarding schools, large schools, or specialized positions, welcomed below. Also, something that greatly interests me is whether people still believe there is a standardized resume format. I’ve seen documents ranging from one to four pages, in bullet and narrative format, listing schooling and not. As someone who has stuck with the format she learned as an undergraduate, is anyone willing to share their thoughts on resume structure in 2017?

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One Response to Wanna Be a Librarian?

  1. Shannon Acedo says:

    Good thorough coverage, Christina. What a complex process compared to my first interviews back in the 80’s. It’s a good sign, I think, as the more complex application process reflects greater appreciation of our profession.
    Thanks, Christina, and a Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year to all!

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