- The Library Loon (source)
Over the past two weeks at my place of work (MPOW), we interviewed five people for a part-time position in the library that is either a part-time librarian position, the adjunct, or an intern position. Either way, it pays. We brought five people in for interviews. All looked good enough on paper; resumes gave the appearance of care and effort, cover letters discussed strengths and what one might bring to this position. Some had extensive library experience, right down to the kind of integrated library system (ILS) we use (Voyager), and some did not. But all appeared, on paper, as both trainable and interesting.
Interviewing someone for a PT position today. The candidate has an un-googleable name because it's the same as a semi-famous author.Applicant 1, you are brilliant. You will be an amazing librarian, probably a better one than any of the other applicants I've seen in this round of interviews. You understand our mission and you're already committed to it. You've lived it. You code switched three times in the interview in ways that felt organic and natural, not forced. But you won't become a great librarian here, and I'm disappointed in myself for writing that. I realize that oftentimes a discussion of "fit" is an excuse for all sorts of biases in hiring, especially in academia. However, fit applies here. As a manager, I have no idea, none, how I would harness the frenzied energy and passion you would bring to this job. I get the sense that you would kill for librarianship. These two things, the energy level and enthusiasm, terrify me. Our styles do not mesh. There is a mentor out there more suited to your needs. You'll find that person. But not here.
— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) May 15, 2013
In the meantime, it's probably cold comfort to know that I've been beating myself up about this for the past week or so. I'd love to have you here, but I'd need to change my management style to do so, and that's what I've been thinking about for the past week. I don't know how to work with you, with someone like you, and that's challenging. It's my hope that there are more people like you out there, though perhaps their motors run at seven instead of ten, and that when I meet them, I'll be ready. I'm not ready now. "It's not you, it's me," may be a cliche, but sometimes it applies.
Applicants 2 and 3, you are librarians. Or "librarians." When I ask non-librarians to picture librarians, they picture you. That's not always a compliment. You like books. "Books are central to the library's mission," you tell us, without having seen our (dismal) circulation statistics. We ask you if you like the content of books or the container, and you stare blankly back at us. We ask about e-books, about databases, about the internet. You nod, but your world-views appear to be set. It seems hard for you to contribute to this discussion. You are Ptolemy in a book-centric world. Another library director has termed people like you "f--king bunheads."
You are tense, Applicant 2. You don't sit back, you clutch your umbrella for support and never take off a bag throughout the interview. You are boring, Applicant 3. We ask you questions to draw out your personality, but it never comes through. You've gotten back into writing? Please, tell us about it. What was the last interesting thing you've read? We're working way too hard to extract this information from you.
In hindsight, it was probably telling that the word "book" or "reading" or some variation thereof are in your email addresses.
Applicant 4, you look solid on paper. You know our ILS, our consortium, and our neighborhood. You want to work in an academic library and teach library instruction sessions. I have no idea how you would go about doing this when you can't form a coherent sentence in an interview. You are beyond tense and nervous, graduating to a blubbering mess. You tell us that libraries have been central to your development and maturation, dating back to grade school, but when I ask you to recall a negative or sub-optimal experience in a library, you draw a blank. Do you really mean to tell us that you've never had one? Are libraries immune from customer service issues in the service sector? Have you never encountered a staff member having an off day? You have extensive library experience. I ask you what you like and what you dislike about working in libraries. I want to know this because it's important for us to put people in positions where they can succeed and grow. You don't answer the question, so our reference librarian asks it. Yet again, you don't answer it.
Question I really wanted to ask that last applicant, but held back on: "Have you ever killed someone by accident, but secretly enjoyed it?"I hope you're not always like this, and it's not fair that I only have two documents plus this interview to assess your abilities, but here we are. Please, sit back in the chair. We don't bite. You end the interview with "I won't let you down," but you already have.
— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) May 16, 2013
"Connecting with people through information." - Something a job applicant here said. There's still hope for the future.Applicant 5, you have knowledge of self. You are honest about your strengths and weaknesses, and you can articulate them both on paper and in person. This helps us better manage people, and it helps applicants because it turns potential negatives into positives. You make eye contact, you are engaging, you laugh at our jokes, and appear enough at ease to contribute a few of your own. Like the other applicants, you have retail experience. Unlike the others, you seem able to not only apply this to librarianship writ large, but also to your experiences therein. That you have been a non-traditional student, like many members of our community, is a plus. More importantly, not only do we know this, but you do. You make the connections. You don't tell, you show. We have a sense of who you are, and where you might fit in our organization, our library. During the interview we can picture you working here. Thank you for accepting our job offer. Welcome aboard.
— Jacob Berg (@jacobsberg) May 15, 2013
UPDATE: Based on feedback in the comment section and on other forms of social media, there is another post that follows up on comments, complaints, critiques, and questions.