Career Strategies for Librarians
The Small World of Librarianship: Be Wary of Taking Test-Drives
by Michelle Millet
This past April, I joined thousands of other academic librarians for our migration to the biennial
Association of College and Research Libraries Conference in Minneapolis. Conferences always have
fabulous presentations, flashy exhibits and cramped poster sessions, and ACRL was no exception.
Most importantly for the new job-seeking librarians, conferences are the backdrop for informal
discussions and networking opportunities. Much of the discussion overheard at the 2005 ACRL
Conference had to do with the tightening job market for new librarians. When you're looking for a job,
everyone has advice for you. I'm here to tell you that there is good advice when it comes to interviewing
and job seeking, and then, there is bad advice.
Watch What You Say!
While mingling and answering questions after my own presentation at ACRL, I overheard one new
librarian offering advice to a new graduate who had been on the job market for nearly a year without one
job offer. The employed librarian assumed the problem was the unemployed librarian's interviewing
skills. So, she enthusiastically offered her some advice. "Go on practice interviews! That's what I did,"
she exclaimed. As library school students and new librarians, you may have heard this advice before. I’m
here to ask you to refrain from this practice. In fact, I’m here to beg and plead with you not to do that.
Why? The larger answer, and the point of this piece, is that librarianship is actually a pretty small world.
The more immediate response is because we are all struggling in times of budget cuts and fewer job
openings. Spending vital resources on candidates that aren't interested in a position is a waste of
everyone's time and energy.
When you accept an invitation for an on-campus interview, it should be with full faith that you actually –
from what you know from your research, possible phone conversations, and the job description – would
be willing to take this job. When you are invited for an interview, the interviewing library is doing you the
same courtesy. From what we know of you, we think you might be a good fit.
It’s a Small World After All
As a native Floridian, I am intimately familiar with the Magic Kingdom. One of my favorite rides, ever since
childhood, is the "It's a Small World" exhibit. What’s my point? I would like to impress upon everyone that
librarianship is a small world too. As proof of this assertion, I’ll offer a few personal examples. I
happened to chair a committee of the ALA New Members Round Table last year. Out of the dozens of
volunteers for committees, a person was placed on my committee that happened to be interviewing for
my previous job. She took the liberty of asking me my thoughts on the place and position. I also attended
a work-related program in 2004. My instructor for the program worked at the very first place at which I
interviewed right out of library school. I did a presentation this year with a woman who works at another
place where I once interviewed. You will repeatedly work with the same people through e-mail and in
person; you will bump into people you meet at conferences and during interviewing; and you might even
work with people in places where you'd previously interviewed or with people who have the job that you
applied for and didn't get.
One of the most surprising things to me since becoming a librarian is realizing how small our
professional world actually is. I have been fortunate to meet fabulous colleagues along the way and I’ve
run into them again and again. I have had contact with librarians informally through listservs who work at
the school where I went to graduate school. I once received e-mail from a librarian who was an
undergraduate at the institution where I worked. As the next generation of librarians has been warned,
those in positions of hiring you and furthering your career can easily search for you on the Internet, find
your blog and read your comments. The same advice holds true for your in-person impressions and
conversations at national conferences.
The Other Side of a Search Committee
Treat others in a professional and courteous manner--all of the time. Someday, you might be on a
search committee that occupies six or eight months of your life (from job description to hiring) and you
want the best fit all around. There is not, however, a library out there that wants to be your practice
interview. We’re all in this together, and if we start promoting unethical behavior, we run into the chance
of losing the collegiality and mutual respect that actually drew many of us to this profession.
I'd like to offer you a view of what an academic library goes through when conducting interviews for open
positions. I've tried to make this a general outline and it's not specific to my institution. There is, of
course, the initial screening of many applications, followed by meetings and discussion. Then there are
usually phone calls, recommendations, and more discussion. After we invite an average of three
candidates to campus, we reserve hotel rooms and create information-packed interviewing sessions.
This takes a lot of time and money. We often pay for meals, hotel rooms, and staff time to create a day
revolving around you and your interview.
A day in the life of a search committee member is frantic and, actually, often comical. You need to be on
the ball, ready to ask and answer questions at a moment's notice, and actually doing your own job while
also being a Search Committee Member. Here's a view of what a day might look like: Librarian picks the
candidate up for breakfast at 7:30. They meet in the lobby of candidate’s hotel. Librarian drives candidate
to campus at 8:30 and drops candidate off at the front office. Librarian sprints to her office to check his or
her e-mail and put personal belongings down, then dashes to the conference room for the first meeting
of the search committee with the candidate. Librarian then escorts candidate somewhere at 10:00.
Librarian now has two hours to go through four shelves of approval books, answer twenty-five e-mails,
read through a final draft of a committee report, and look over notes for a class next week. Noon—time
for lunch with the whole search committee! Then, from 1:30-2:30 Miss Librarian again has time to run
back to her office, finish planning for said class, consider the candidate, check e-mail again and make
photocopies for said class. At 2:30, it’s back on for the search committee for presentations, more
meetings, and then a wrap-up in the afternoon. No doubt, interviewing is exhausting for candidates, but it’
s also hard on those already working at the library.
Even in a Tight Market
Ideally, we should all work together for the good of the whole. That is true at the institutional level, outside
of the organization, or even within a department. An academic library search committee takes a long time
to find the right person to hire because they want to make an investment in that person’s professional
future, just as you will be investing in your place of employment. As a professional librarian, you will also
undoubtedly make many contacts along the way. You may choose to be involved in a state, regional or
national library association and serve on committees. When you apply for jobs, be honest with yourself
and the institution. If you do not want to live in Texas, then do not apply for a job there. If you can’t live in
cold weather, then Chicago might not be for your cup of tea. Go with your instinct, but the best advice I
have to all of the job seekers out there is to read the job description carefully. If someone offered you this
job, would you take it? If everything else were perfect, would you be interested? It’s perfectly fine to go out
on a limb and apply for a wide variety of positions; just make sure you’re not leading anyone on or
playing “practice” with other people’s time and money.
If you really feel you have questions or need help preparing for interviews, ask your library school to hold
mock interviews or get a group of interested students to do so with you. Your local librarians might even
be willing to help out as well. Check out the American Library Association's New Members Round Table
Resume Review Service. If you have questions about a job, I highly suggest contacting the institution.
Show them that you really are interested! There are also several active listservs that might be able to
help you with interviewing questions as well.
As librarians, you might find yourself in the situation where, right in the middle of an interview or even
right at the beginning, you can tell something is not right and this is not the place for you, despite all of
your own research. This can happen. I certainly do not mean to insinuate that it wouldn't occur and that
everything should always be perfect. Make the best of a disappointing interview and keep going right on
to the next interview.
Remember, we are all in this together. If you're having problems landing a job, keep trying and do not be
discouraged. You happen to be entering an encouraging profession and we will do our best to help you
along the way, as long as you do your best to uphold the ethical standards of interviewing.
About the Author:
Michelle S. Millet is the Information Literacy Coordinator at Trinity University in San Antonio, TX. She
received her M.L.S. from the University of South Florida in 2001. Check out her website at http://www.
Article published July 2005
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not
necessarily represent the views of the LIScareer editors.