How to Land a Library Job – Part 1
Published: March 25, 2016 by Kate M. Spaulding
Two library hiring managers discussed what they look for in applicants and interview preparation tips. Here, I share them with you!
Last month, Jill Klees (our iSchool Career Center Liaison) hosted a Colloquium entitled “Applying for a Library Job? Do This!” that featured two library hiring managers who discussed what they look for in applicants and preparation tips. They also answered audience questions at the end of the hour. They shared a ton of really relevant, practical information. In the first of a two-part series, I’ll share what I learned, and I also promise to get answers to your questions. Keep reading!
First up was Angie Miraflor, the Associate Director of the West Bronx Neighborhood Library Network (in other words, she oversees New York Public Libraries in the West Bronx). She has a lot of experience interviewing and hiring librarians, especially in the past few months (so if you want a librarian job in NYC, take note!! They are still hiring). She peppered her talk with lots of real-life examples, and I would absolutely recommend listening to or watching the whole presentation.
Public Librarian Qualifications
Ms. Miraflor looks for four broad qualities in job applicants.
- Customer-service focused. Her Bronx libraries attract a broad range of people and she strongly believes in “access for all.” So a prospective librarian should want to interact with patrons and facilitate that access.
- Community knowledge. At the very least applicants should be able to express the importance of the community and demonstrate that they understand that as a community changes, so does its needs, and available resources, programs, and services must reflect that.
- Adaptability. Applicants should provide examples from work (or life) of how they’ve adjusted to change in the past, especially how they went through a change with a group. Did you help everyone adjust? How did you? What did you do to make the process easier?
- Understand that being a librarian is not just about the books. In fact, she prefers applicants who say they love working with people to those who just love books. A lot of the job is about how to get materials to patrons.
Application & Interview Tips
Read the job description carefully. Often the way it’s worded will help you understand the organization’s priorities and favorite qualifications.
Think of your skills that match what the employer wants. Especially for new grads, those skills don’t have to come from library experience. Consider soft skills that might translate to the job like event planning, time management, promotion, and written/verbal communication.
Research your future employer. One of the biggest frustrations for interviewers is when a candidate asks questions he/she could have easily found the answer to on the library’s website.
Have your background question down (she’s not alone in this, btw). Be concise and specific (practice!) when you get the “Tell us a little about yourself” variation you know you will be asked.
Think of three work or school-related stories, craft them, and rehearse them. Ms. Miraflor suggests one customer service story, one about a group project, and a third about problem solving. Although you won’t know the exact questions the interviewer will ask, if you have these stories down cold, you can use them to answer relevant questions or highlight specific skills. This is the time to highlight how great you are! So remember that and make sure you give yourself credit for your contributions to group projects.
Practice! Record yourself if you have to! (try our on-line mock interviewing tool Big Interview). You can tell a lot about yourself from a web cam recording (including body language).
Follow Library Trends
Ms. Miraflor recommends paying attention now to the trends you are learning about and continue educating yourself once you’ve graduated. Check out Pew Research Center’s Libraries at the Crossroads report. Pew asked the public what they want from public libraries, and they really break it down with charts and data.
Notice that Americans want services and programs more than they want “just books.” So you can connect the national trends to the library where you want to work. For example, you see that poll respondents want early literacy programs. Look to see how the library is addressing this need. If it’s not, have that data+suggestions ready. Especially if you are unfamiliar with the city the library is in, do some demographic research before your interview. Again translate that information to the library; if City A has a large Spanish-speaking population, is Library A serving the needs of that community? If they’re not, you have great ideas to help them do so.
Another place to spot library trends is through national and regional professional associations. Look online at their conference programs, and you can quickly see a what topics speakers are focusing on.
What You Can Do Now
- Volunteer or do an internship (in any kind of library). It gives you experience and “ammunition” you can use to make your case in an interview.
- Keep your resume (and LinkedIn) updated, even if you’re not looking for a job. Add anything you think is noteworthy as it happens so that when you do decide to apply for a job, you have information you can comb through to include in your tailored resume and cover letter.
- Use your group projects as opportunities to develop those oh-so-important soft skills. Having group work skills and being able to talk about them can go a long way towards impressing your future employer.
Ms. Miraflor’s presentation was incredibly helpful and packed with information and examples. Her experience is specifically in public libraries, but much of her advice translates not only to other types of institutions, but to other industries as well. Do you have questions about interviewing at public libraries? If you do, leave a comment, and the Career Development Team will get you an answer!