How to Land a Library Job – Part 2

Career Blog

Published: April 1, 2016 by Kate M. Spaulding

Part 2 of this two-part series reveals what two library hiring managers say they look for in applicants and provides interview preparation tips.

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. This is the second (Part 1 here) of a two-part series where I’m sharing what I learned, and I also promise to get answers to your questions. Keep reading!

Angie Miraflor presented first, and then Amanda Folk, Director of Millstein Library at the University of Pittsburgh and Coordinator of Regional University Library System Libraries, also at the University of Pittsburgh, spoke. I’ve taken the section headings below from Ms. Folk’s presentation.

First, Ms. Folk pointed out that while various kinds of libraries all have different stakeholders and missions, there’s actually a lot of overlap in terms of what hiring managers are looking for. This is a good thing because it demonstrates that there are a lot of threads that connect librarians, even though they may be working in vastly different settings.

Before You Write Your Cover Letter

  1. Read the job posting. Then read it again. Then read it again, because you probably got excited about the job and skimmed the description instead of really reading it. You don’t want to jump into writing without knowing what you’re writing about! 
  2. Make notes in the margins of what skills or experience you would bring to the position. These will be what you want to highlight in your cover letter and/or resume.
  3. Do your research. Visit the library’s website and social media pages to learn about the organization’s mission, staffing, and activities. For an academic library job, it’s also important to look at the college or university’s websites as well. In fact, Ms. Folk states, “if you can demonstrate, even just once, in your cover letter that you took some time to learn more about the institution and the library, that would go a really long way with me because, again, it shows that you did your homework and that you’re diligent” (at time 25:27). This research will also begin to help you figure out if the institution and library is a good fit for you.
  4. While you are reading and rereading and rereading the job announcement, start writing down questions you have for the library staff. If you have the chance to interview, tthey will really come in handy.

A Cover Letter is Not a Prose Rendering of Your Resume

Ms. Folk argues that cover letters should be used to answer the “so what?” questions. They are your opportunity to show how and why your experience and skills are relevant to the position, and to show why you would be a good fit. All applicants say they are detail oriented or collaborative, so use examples to prove that you are and set yourself apart from the crowd. Your cover letter shouldn’t be more than a page, so make sure your examples are relevant (reread the job description again if needed!). And, of course, proofread. Ideally, find someone else to read over your documents for errors.

Resume v. CV

At about the thirty-minute mark of the video, Ms. Folk introduces a slide that delineates some of the differences between a resume and a CV (Curriculum Vitae). I recommend that you look at that list and let us know if you have any questions. We also have this handy CV page to help you sort it out.

She echoed Ms. Miraflor’s advice to keep your resume updated with everything, including awards, presentations, publications, etc., so that you can pick and choose when crafting applications.

Furthermore, don’t necessarily think that your resume has to be beautifully presented; she cares much more about the content. So put together a neat, organized, and relevant document. As a courtesy to the hiring manager, Ms. Folk also recommends submitting your documents as PDFs (if possible) and including your last name in the file name.

Interview Tips

  • Like Ms. Miraflor, Ms. Folk recommends having your background story down and knowing about library trends. Be prepared to answer questions about the future of your particular field (like metadata or cataloging), as well as your strengths and weaknesses.  
  • If you don’t understand the question, ask for repetition or clarification or repeat the question in your own words. Search committees really want answers to the right questions, so clarifying is ok to do. I’ve also sometimes asked for someone to repeat a question to give me a second to collect my thoughts (obviously, you can’t do this for every one!).
  • Take a moment to think about your answer before you begin to speak. Ms. Folk likes when candidates clearly give thought to their answers.
  • I was surprised, but she says that it is ok to admit you’re nervous. However, only do so once!
  • Bring questions. Remember earlier when she suggested writing down questions? Here’s where that comes in handy. She views candidates who come prepared with questions as people who are looking to find the right fit because they plan to stay in the position long term and are committed to the job.
  • Finally, it’s not unusual in academic libraries for search committees to ask candidates to come to the interview with a presentation or mock instruction session prepared. Make sure you practice and be especially strict with yourself about sticking to the time limit. Read the provided prompt carefully, and ask questions ahead of time if you need. Creating learning outcomes might help you thoughtfully tailor your instruction session. It’s also ok at the end of your presentation to tell the interview panel what else you might have talked about with more time (like if you were teaching a real, hour-long class).


Ms. Folk’s presentation was incredibly helpful and packed with information and examples. Her experience is specifically in academic 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 academic libraries? If you do, leave a comment, and the Career Development Team will get you an answer!

More interested in public libraries? Be sure to check out Part I of this series!

Image credits:

1. timetrax23 under a Creative Commons License
2. Mark Hunter under a Creative Commons License
4. AJC under a Creative Commons License


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