Monday, June 20, 2011

So You Want to Work With Me...

Background: we’re hiring, but calm down, unemployed librarians, and there are a lot of you, because it’s for a part time position. Initially my place of work (MPOW, because why not) conceived of this job as an intern position. It’s paid, and intern doesn’t quite cover what the people in this role do. They are often the senior staff in the library. Under my leadership I haven’t been able to expand full time staff (someday, someway), but I have been able to double the number of part timers. I suppose in this way, we mirror the rest of higher education. Think of them as library adjuncts, and yes, that sounds better than “intern.”

Posting a library job in this economic climate leads to a lot of applications. For two intern positions MPOW received over 65 of them, and quite a few of the applicants had more experience than I. Then again, quite a few did not. All in all, the (virtual) pile of resumes and cover letters paint a depressing picture of the job market for librarians and library science students.

More depressing, however, is the picture of the applicant pool. Many lacked cover letters, one otherwise qualified candidate misspelled her location, right below her name on the top of the resume. That prospective employee did not make the cut, simply because of that typo. I have thick enough skin to be called shallow, but attention to detail matters in a library. We’ll teach the person in this position how to catalog, for example, and if there’s a glaring error at the top of a resume, I’m not letting you near a MARC record.

About that cover letter, read these first. Then, it’s not about you. Your resume is about you. The cover letter? That’s about us, in that, “what can you do for us?” Answer that and you’re well on your way to a call back.

We don’t score the applications, mostly because we don’t have to. It’s obvious to library staff and I who we’d like to interview and who we wouldn’t, often within about 15 seconds of opening the application package. We showed one of our interns this process, going through about 10 resumes in under 4 minutes, and she was mortified, but then again, she passed the eye test, and the interview (more on that below). I told her to tell her MLIS friends: know that this is what’s happening with employers. You’ve got about 15 seconds of my time, and if I’m not interested after that, you won’t be considered. This doesn’t mean you have to resort to gimmicks (and they're out there), but it does mean you need to be qualified and competent at presenting yourself on paper, which means you’ve checked out the library website, thought a bit about the library, and how you might fit in, among other things.

The people we’ve offered the job to had a clear narrative in the interview. They stuck to that narrative and presented themselves in terms of what they could do for us. They asked questions of us, about my management style, about the future of the library, and about a world without books, among others. And yes, I asked about retail experience, which netted us some great stories about the life of a flight attendant (job offered and accepted!), and how working at the Smoothie Hut isn’t really about smoothies.

In sum, folks in libraryland looking for work
  • Be competent. Just by doing that you’ll separate yourself from the pack.
  • Show interest in us. We may be just another library to you, on your 4th cover letter of the day, but your application doesn’t have to reflect that.
  • Sell yourself in the interview. What can you do for us. Ask questions, be curious.

Best of luck out there, recent MLIS grads. Those of us with jobs, we’re rooting for you.


  1. This is a great post. Though ALA Joblist shared it on FB so you'll probably get that a lot.

    I was happy to see a blog called "Beerbrarian". I'm a new youth services librarian and my fiance works at a small brewery. The entirety of this blog is relevant to my interests; consider me subscribed!

  2. Speaking of details: "It’s obvious to library staff and ME (not I) who(M) we’d like to interview and who(M) we wouldn’t . . ."

    Sorry, I couldn't resist! ;)

    But seriously, thanks for the advice! It's nice to hear something from the other side of the hiring process.

  3. Thanks for sharing this informative post. I'll call my friend, she's a librarian, right away and tell her about your blog. :)

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