Last week a tumblr user asked the following question:
Question from a soon-to-be-graduating MLIS student, if you don’t mind: did you have any publications under your belt before being hired as an academic reference librarian? Also, how active were you in professional associations/organizations? With graduation so soon and the market still so saturated, I am worried that I don’t have the on-paper qualifications to land an academic library job (can you tell?).
I replied on tumblr, but thought I would expand on my response here.
I’m in my third year as an academic librarian, and I still have never published. I’d certainly like to; I have a couple ideas bouncing around my head. The degree to which it matters depends on the institution you are applying to. An academic institution with tenure-track or faculty-status librarians will generally have higher expectations regarding professional publishing, but many academic libraries don’t expect their librarians to publish. Read the job ad closely and look at the librarians on staff. If they have extensive CVs, it’s a good bet that institution has publishing expectations. If you haven’t published and you are applying to an institution that expects librarian-led research, address your interest in participating in research and publishing in your cover letter.
But you can definitely get a job without having published. I’d recommend having another outlet for your writing — a professionally-focused blog, for example. The pressure of updating a blog can feel like a burden (see the frequency of posts here). However, it can be a venue to practice and improve your writing (an essential skill for both unemployed and employed librarians, from cover letters to grant applications), engage with the professional community, and think more deeply about pressing industry issues. It doesn’t necessarily matter how many people do or don’t read your blog. It’s the fact that it is there when you apply for a job; it is essentially the special extended edition of your résumé & cover letter — it shows the hiring manager just how connected you are to issues within the profession.
In terms of other professional activities, coming out of library school I was already active in my local professional organization (in my case, CARL). Through a mentor librarian, I was offered a position on a CARL committee around the time I was graduating from SJSU SLIS. I also attended the CARL Conference in that year, and the conference of another local organization, CCLI. Attending those conferences at the tail end of my education was transformative; I went from speaking the theoretical language of my graduate program to speaking the practical language of working professionals based on the quality content of their presentations.
Being able to show professional involvement by attending conferences and joining a committee did my otherwise limited résumé a world of good. It made it clear that I was committed to academic librarianship, and what I learned in the conference presentations and workshops gave me the language I used writing my cover letter and during interviews. Major national conferences like ALA and ACRL are incredibly expensive once you factor in conference registration, travel, and lodging. But those local conferences are often much more affordable, and you’ll be meeting local people — the same people who might be advertising a position in their library shortly thereafter (or at the conference itself).
The other thing I did before landing a permanent gig was co-found a meet-up group for local librarians. Right around the time we were graduating, a library school friend and I were lamenting the end of library-school organized activities, so we just decided to start organizing our own. We’ve since held a couple dozen gatherings and have nearly 200 members. People meet people at these kinds of events; it can lead to jobs, or just good conversations that keep you talking about libraries even when you’re not working in one. Above all, it’s fun, and there is always something to be said for that.
To sum up my recommendations:
- apply your writing skills to a professionally-focused blog;
- volunteer for local professional organizations;
- attend whatever local conferences you can afford to, and;
- seek out (or create!) a social group of librarians in your area.
That sounds like a lot, especially if you have other professional or family commitments. But you don’t have to update the blog every day, there are volunteer positions that don’t take too much time, conferences are infrequent, and a social group can start with just a few local friends. It’s doable, and it will make you a stronger candidate.
- Becoming a more thoughtful library job seeker: Look beyond the bullet points | Veronica Arellano Douglas, College & Research Libraries News (coincidentally posted the same day as my post above, with very thoughtful advice for job seekers; h/t to laura-in-libraryland).
Originally posted to tumblr, Sept. 2012.
I was giving a friend cover letter advice for a librarian position and she suggested I go public with it.
My admittedly limited credentials: I have written cover letters that were ignored, I’ve written cover letters that got me interviews, and I wrote the cover letter that got me my job. I’ve been on hiring committees where I have read dozens of cover letters for both full time and part time librarian positions, and I remember what made some stand out while others headed straight to the circular file. I’m not an expert; the following are just my own opinions. Feel free to agree, disagree, or add your own perspective in the comments.
My headline suggests an unobtainable goal. It is absolutely impossible to write the perfect cover letter. The fact is, every hiring manager, library director, potential boss, or hiring committee will have different criteria and a different perspective. Some institutions have an expectation of formality, while others have a preference for informality, and unless you know personally the person who will read your cover letter, you’ll never know which is the perfect approach.
However, you can do a bit of research to improve your odds. Read the job ad. Read any ancillary posts about the position (such as the library director’s blog, if s/he has one). Try and get a sense of the library’s personality from their website and current outreach methods: are they formal and fussy? Are they casual and fun? Try and match your style to what you can tell about their institutional personality.
Once you’ve done your research, focus on the objectives of your letter. First up, and I feel this is the most important point:
- Your cover letter is not a recitation of your experiences.
That’s what your résumé is for.
- The goal of your cover letter is to paint a picture: you want to the reader to envision you, in their available position, solving their problems.
The cover letter is a narrative. You are telling a story in which you are the protagonist — a problem-solving, enthusiasm-generating, can-do person who has the skills they are looking for and directly addresses all the areas in which they need help. They should get a sense of who you are and your personality, because that is what sets you apart.
The side benefit of conveying your personality in your cover letter is that if they don’t hire you because of your personality, then they were unlikely to be a good fit for you!
Now for a hail of bulleted advice:
- Instead of listing your experiences, you are relating your experiences to their job.
- If their job ad mentions three main areas of responsibilities for their new position, you better mention all three in your cover letter, and how your skills, attitude or experiences specifically prepare you to fulfill those responsibilities.
- If you’ve been working in a different type of library than the one for which you’re applying, address that in your cover letter. Make it clear that the type of position they are offering is genuinely your career goal, and your experience at other types of institutions just brings you perspective from (x) field that will help you in (y) field.
- If you live far away, make it clear you are willing (and in fact excited!) to move.
- If you’ve had a gap in employment or other red flag, address it.
- This might sound obvious, but…no typos, no grammatical errors, and no spelling mistakes.
- Formatting matters. Put together a clean, attractive page, not just a standard Word template (also true for your résumé).
- Have a responsible friend read it and give you unfettered criticism.
- Always throw away your first draft.
Another question that comes up a lot when discussing library applications: yes, both your cover letter and your résumé can be over a page. This is a professional-level position you are applying for. There are different standards!
Questions? Thoughts? Replies? Rebuttals?
This past week I got to attend my very first American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference, a dizzying gathering of over 20,000 librarians (a far cry from the 1876 inaugural event, with its paltry 103 attendees). I got to attend various professional presentations, meet online contacts and make friends in real life, explore New Orleans by foot, trolley, and ferry, and, much to my surprise, perform in the improvisational slideshow competition Battledecks.
I have organized sessions I attended and events I participated around a couple of the most recurring themes.
Cushing Library is currently implementing a new tool for our end users to use for search and retrieval of our items in our collection. This system, called WorldCat Local (WCL), finds and retrieves items be they print or online, and whether they are book, article, journal or other media. WCL and similar products are referred to as “Discovery” systems within the librarian profession.
I attended several programs relating to the implementation of Discovery systems. Two directly related to the implementation of OCLC’s WCL technology, tasks I am involved in right now, and another on the rate of return various libraries have seen since their implementation of Summon, a competing but similar product to WCL offered by ProQuest. There is strong evidence, from both libraries operating WCL and from libraries utilizing Summon, that full-text article retrievals are up, most notably from smaller, more specialized sources. At WCL libraries, print circulation tends to rise post-WCL implementation as well.
For example, the University of Idaho, which has implemented WorldCat Local, has seen usage over print materials rise 20%, interlibrary loan requests rise 34%, and a 78% increase in full text article downloads. Summon libraries, such as the University of Houston, saw a 50% rise in full text article retrieval. They have also found that the Summon search service is pushing users to finding underutilized resources, such as special collections and multimedia items, and that it favors direct journal services (such as Sage) over aggregators such as EBSCO.
Part of my continuing duties at Holy Names University is my role as an instruction librarian. I provide information literacy education to students via workshops and research help sessions.
One of the best instruction-related programs I attended was Making Information Literacy Instruction Meaningful through Creativity. The three speakers were current or former faculty for ACRL’s highly-regarded Immersion Program, a “boot camp” for instructional librarians, and the session reinforced many themes that are part of Immersion training — creative lesson planning; interactive, motivational presentation styles; and pedagogy grounded in research and assessment.
In addition to these presentations, I also had chances to sit and talk shop with a good mix of other instructional librarians, such as Michelle Millet, Tiffini Travis, Lea Engle, and Nicholas Schiller. In Schiller’s case, I’ve been reading his articles and stealing his classroom ideas for a year so it was great to get a chance to admit that to him. He didn’t seem to mind.
Out and About
New Orleans: what a city. While I admit I’m not such a fan of colorful drinks in plastic cups — I’d rather have one well-crafted cocktail than a half dozen cups of syrup-flavored alcohol — I have to admit that New Orleans knows how to have a good time, and a good time I had, passing from place to place with a gang of roving librarians I befriended. It’s hot in New Orleans in June (that’s not a newsflash, I realize), but the heat and humidity didn’t keep me from walking continuously from the Garden District, to the Warehouse District, along the river and into the French Quarter, and back again throughout the conference. Café Du Monde was naturally a regular destination, both late at night and after lunch, and I was shocked that a plate of three beignets was only two dollars and change — here in San Francisco, our tourist traps won’t sell anything for less than five dollars.
While I expected to meet hip, smart librarians from Brooklyn (and did) (stereotypes for the win!), there were smart, interesting people coming from all corners of the country — Indiana, Texas, Florida, and even Southern California. In between the beignets, coffee and occasional cocktails there was plenty of sharp chatter about information services, instructional technique, and emerging tech. All of it pointed to my original thesis in founding the Information Amateurs Social Club — that the best, most enlightening professional conversation happens in the informal air of casual conversation. Preferably with a drink in hand. Between the ALA Dance Party, the ALA Tweet-up, the ALA Facebook Afterparty, the Radical Reference Social, the HackLibSchool Social, and all of the more informal connecting in between (including a trip to the Voodoo Museum), I met many of my internet heroes and formed some genuine bonds of friendship I’m going to hang onto. And hopefully, someday, all of them will move to San Francisco. It’d be killer.
No report on the goings-on in New Orleans would be complete without mention of Battledecks, the competitive, improvisational battle of slideshow presentations that concluded the conference Monday night. My participation was not strictly speaking voluntary, but it was thrilling to speak right between Lisa Hinchliffe, President of ACRL, and widely known executive and public speaker Stephen Abram. However, I’m going to save my extended thoughts on that experience for a future post — once the videos have weaseled their way online and I can embed my performance right here on The Pinakes.
Locke Morrisey, Head of Collections, Reference and Research at the University of San Francisco’s Gleeson Library, passed away today, the victim of cancer. Locke served as my supervisor during my internship in Gleeson’s Reference Department in the fall of 2008 and I cannot begin to describe the degree to which he influenced my career, and I’m sure the careers of countless others.
Locke set the bar for reference services. He was an expert not just at finding answers or doing research but in showing others how to do the same. He was patient, his explanations were measured, and he also knew how to make you laugh or smile in the midst of teaching you. He could not be flustered.
He took great glee in the challenges of the profession — his “Intern Quiz” was legendary for its toughness, the most obscure, difficult and challenging reference inquiries he had ever received in his career (he claimed they were all real, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple were embellished for difficulty). His real objective wasn’t to see if you could come up with the answers. With many of the questions, we couldn’t, or it would take us days to figure out. His real goal was to see your process. How you went about performing research, and the depth of your knowledge of the different tools in a librarian’s toolkit. You weren’t punished for the questions you couldn’t answer; it simply gave Locke the opportunity to teach you the skills you needed to have in order to have answered it.
When USF librarians Joe and Penny stepped in to mentor interns during Locke’s absence this fall, they admitted they couldn’t figure out half the answers themselves!
I came to USF in 2008 having taken a year’s worth of classes in librarianship at San Jose State. I had never worked in a library, and still wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to do with my “career”. Five months at USF under Locke’s tutelage completely changed that. After coaching and coaxing me into being a competent reference librarian, he encouraged me to try teaching information literacy and research to students in a classroom, something I had never thought of doing or pursuing. Today classroom teaching is one of my specialties and one of the most important components of my job. Heck, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to work in an academic library before going to work for Locke. It was seeing his example of professionalism, his commitment to spreading good ideas, and working as a part of his incredible reference team — even if only as an intern — that completely shaped how I view what I do and why I do it.
Ever since interning at USF I have encouraged virtually every MLIS candidate I have met to intern at Gleeson Library before they graduate. While I enjoyed my experience in library school, nothing taught me more about being a librarian than trying to act like one under Locke’s guidance. I’m sorry that new up-and-coming students won’t get the opportunity that I did.
Two years after I worked for Locke, he didn’t hesitate in providing the referral that helped secure my librarian position. The last time I saw him — July this year, when I was about to start at HNU — he cheerfully waved and said that now that I was a librarian myself he looked forward to seeing me on the conference circuit.
I’m sure a thousand people knew Locke better than me – his family, his partner Al, his coworkers at USF, and so on – and I mourn with them. I mourn a man who served his profession, who valued his friends, who loved to laugh and teach. The world could use more men and women like Locke, not less. Rest in peace.
I’m now a couple weeks into my new permanent position at Holy Names University and I’ve finally started to process everything that’s going on around me. We’re a small university and the summer is very quiet on campus, so while the library hums along with just a handful of users each day we prepare for what will be a very busy fall.
The library itself was built in 1958 and looks it from head to toe. While that does mean a few things are a bit worn, I think it has exceptional charm — not to mention a spacious main floor reading room, hand-painted lettering on the doors, and a certain Mad Men-esque mod styling. I like it here. It’s comfortable. I even have an office, which may not seem that special, but I’ve lived my life in cubicles.
We made tremendous strides today in achieving faculty buy-in on our proposals for what is an essentially new Information Literacy program, one that will have me working front and center in front of students. I’ve been gathering loads of ideas for how to promote research skills — events like the CARL conference and the CCLI workshop were both eye-openers — and now I’m trying to devise a lesson plan that incorporates all those good ideas I’ve heard (without over-complicating the stew).
I feel very fortunate not only to have found a job in what remains a tricky market, but to be working in such a positive community environment with an extremely savvy and dedicated group of professionals. Our staff is small enough that our “staff meetings” can fit in the library director’s office, but each individual has interesting, strong ideas for improving library service. And the beauty of being such a small library is that a lot of ideas can be implemented right away.
Did I mention our million dollar view? That’s our library — and Oakland, the Bay, and the San Francisco Peninsula stretched out beyond us.
Meanwhile, away from the professional front, I’m about to be subsumed by 48 hours of my favorite band. I’m going to a Wolf Parade concert at the legendary Catalyst in Santa Cruz tonight and another tomorrow night at Oakland’s majestic Fox Theater. Then next week I’ll be in Brooklyn to see my sister, celebrate my nieceling’s second birthday, and see Arcade Fire at Madison Square Garden.
Life? It’s busy, but fun.
Today I officially signed the offer letter to become the Librarian for Outreach, Digitization and Electronic Resources at Holy Names University in Oakland, California. This marks both a personal and professional milestone; while I have been working part-time since the beginning of the year in temporary positions first at the California Academy of Sciences and then the University of San Francisco, this is my first permanent, full-time role since leaving The Nature Conservancy three years ago to go to graduate school. Moreover, this is my first professional level position requiring the MLIS degree I completed in December.
In simpler language, I’m a librarian now. And not only am I librarian, but this position specifically, and the institution for which I’ll be working, match exactly what I want to be doing and where I want to be. Holy Names is a small but historic institution that has been a part of the fabric of Oakland for well over a century. Founded on the shores of Lake Merritt, first as a convent for girls and eventually developing into a teacher’s college for women, the school moved into the Oakland Hills in the fifties and started to expand its programs into a broad variety of disciplines. It became coed in the 1970s and went from being Holy Names College to Holy Names University in 2004 (with the addition of graduate-level programs).
What do I love about HNU?
- It’s small. Enrollment just tops 1,000, meaning that I’ll get to know students and faculty personally, and work with them in-depth.
- The staff at Cushing Library are energetic and creative. While it is a small team, they are ready to adopt cutting edge ideas, such as trialing OCLC’s Navigator.
- Instead of getting lost in a big department at a large school, I’ll be on the front lines and get to do a little bit of everything: instruction, reference, digitization, and managing online resources.
The details of this position — which my new boss, library director Karen Schneider wrote about on her blog, Free Range Librarian, encapsulates much of my philosophical approach to the profession that I wrote about in my e-Portfolio. I believe strongly that information is information (and a book is a book be it paper or pixels). It is our job as librarians to provide the easiest and most convenient access to that information, be it digital, print, online or off. In this position, I’ll be responsible for the library’s digital assets and ensuring easy, navigable access to information to our patrons.
I also believe in educating our students and faculty about critically judging source materials and improving their searching skills both through the library’s resources and through the internet at large; I will be in charge of building a program to teach exactly that to our University community.
My duties will be substantial and the challenges significant. I can’t wait.
I start July 14.