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On CCLI: A personal story of why to attend

Posted on 12 March 2014 at 4:12 pm in Career.

Registration is now open for the California Conference on Library Instruction, the best little conference that could. It’s an annual, one-day conference focused on librarian-led instruction and information literacy.

CCLI played a critical role in my career. A couple months after graduating library school, while working part time in a temporary position, I attended CCLI. The keynote presenters that year were Nicholas Schiller, Char Booth, and Karen G. Schneider. I had (once) previously met Karen, but it was my first time seeing any of them speak.

Nicholas Schiller presented about engaging students by teaching Google search strategies, SEO, and how Google Search works under the hood. Char Booth presented topics from her (then) new book, Reflective Teaching, Effective Learning, including how to be a self-aware, reflective teacher. Karen Schneider spoke about incrementally transforming a small academic library. In addition to the keynote speakers, there was also a panel that featured Nicole Greenland discussing faculty outreach through technology training.

Nicholas’ presentation formed the nucleus of a freshman workshop I developed later that year, a workshop that has evolved but is still in use for our first-year English students. Char’s presentation gave me confidence and inspiration in finding my voice as a teacher, something that at the time I had very little experience with. Four years later, I’m happy that I can now say I am friends with both of them. But equally importantly, Nicholas and Char gave me ideas to use when discussing library instruction and librarianship during a job interview I had a month later. I was a green, inexperienced librarian, but I approached that interview like I knew what I was talking about. Thanks to CCLI.

That interview was with Karen and Nicole. They hired me into my first (and current) librarian position.

CCLI is small, and compared to national conferences, affordable. It’s only a one-day commitment, and I guarantee you will learn new things and come away with practical ideas. If you’re a northern California instruction librarian or MLIS student, it’s a great place to be.

Also: I’m also quite happy to say that this year I’ll be one of the panelists (alongside my great colleague and frequent co-presenter Nicole Branch.)

Post mirrored on tumblr.

Hitting the softballs: Academic librarian job interview advice

Posted on 26 February 2014 at 10:36 am in Career.
I’ve got an interview Friday for an academic librarian position (electronic serials). What was your hiring experience? Any interview prep you would suggest that is unique to the academic environment? Thanks! :)

I’ve got an interview Friday for an academic librarian position (electronic serials). What was your hiring experience? Any interview prep you would suggest that is unique to the academic environment? Thanks! :)librarian-wanderer

Hi! First of all, good luck!

Going into an interview, comfort and familiarity are your friends, from wardrobe choices to the topics that will be discussed. Look professional but don’t make yourself so uncomfortable that you squirm and sweat.

While there can be some unique questions and concerns that come up in an academic environment, you’ll also get many of the same boilerplate questions asked in every job interview everywhere. For me, when I’ve been on an interview panel and a candidate flubs one of these questions — which I consider softballs — they’re out.

  • “Describe [x]# of trends in [electronic serials/ERM/digitization/technical services/academic libraries/etc.]

Be able to name trends! Be able to discuss trends! I’ve seen candidates be confused about this question. How does that happen? If you asked me about trends in academic libraries, I could name 20 before I have to take a breath.

Yet I’ve seen candidates fumble around, mumble a short response, and look up hoping the question is over and we can move on. That was the softball! Hit it out of the park. If electronic serials aren’t actually your specialty, get to looking in a few journals, or find blogs written by electronic serials librarians. Get up to speed before the interview.

  • “Describe an situation in which you [did the wrong thing/failed/could not complete a project] and what you learned from it? Be specific.”

There’s always a question like this, and others that ask you to describe specific scenarios, positive or negative, from your past work life. Have a few anecdotes in mind going into the interview so you’re prepared for this. Candidates who don’t have examples in mind before the interview starts always get flustered at this point. Don’t be that candidate.

  • What makes you want to work at [University/College]?

This is the slowest pitch softball in the game. Heck, this is a swing at a t-ball. And yet…I’ve seen some of the vaguest answers to this question (which often comes first — and first impressions are important).

If you’re asked why you want to work there, and all you can say is that you need a job and your skills matched the job description, that’s not going to cut it.

Talk about the institution — why that particular institution is a perfect fit for you. That means doing a little research in advance. Know what that school is proud of. Look in every corner of their website. Walk around the campus if you can. Read the school’s mission statement, and if the library has one, read that too. Incorporate that vibe into your response. If nothing else, even the cynical panelist will respect that you did your research.

Doing your research

Speaking of doing research, use your investigative skills and go in knowing what types of library systems they use. If you’re savvy, you should be able to figure out what ILS they use, what ERM product they use, and whether they focus on “big deal” journal package purchases from publishers or on aggregation databases, just from looking at their website. That familiarity can then come in handy when you are talking to them (it’s always odd to me when a candidate doesn’t come in with a sense of how we operate).

Also be ready to talk about how the work of the electronic serials librarians can influence other aspects of the library’s work — this, of course, can apply to other specialties as well.

Finally, does the library director or any of the librarians at the institution blog about their work? That’s another way to come in with a sense of how they operate (although don’t spend the whole interview saying, “Well, I saw on your blog [this] and [that]” — use the blog as background research, don’t keep citing it in the interview! That comes off sycophantic.)

There will probably be some very specific technical discussions. But those revolve around things that can be learned. It’s when the candidates can’t even hit the softballs that I get worried.

Originally posted on tumblr, February 26, 2014. Comments are closed here but open on tumblr.

How to write the perfect cover letter

Posted on 29 January 2013 at 11:19 pm in Career.

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?

Hired!

Posted on 22 June 2010 at 9:21 am in Career.

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.

The Iconography of Business Cards

Posted on 4 April 2010 at 1:16 pm in Photography.

Since I’ll be heading to the CARL conference pretty soon — a great place to meet interesting library professionals and make new contacts — I thought it was a good time to get my own set of business cards. In the hopes that I’ll hand a few out, and a few of the recipients might find there way to this website, I thought I’d explain the images on the back of each card.

I used a printing service called Moo to make my cards, and one of the options they offer is to print a photograph on the reverse side (fantastic print quality, by the way — I’m very happy with the results).

I chose six different images, all taken by me.

BCard

The one in the upper left is a photo of the grand reading room of the New York Public Library, which was one of the first things I posted on this blog and the background image on my twitter feed.

The second image, upper right, is a little more personal to my family. In the late 1920s and early ’30s my grandfather was a marionetteer, and the image is a detail from the letterhead of his company, the Domino Marionettes. The surviving collection of his handcrafted wooden puppets — a mix of billy goats, characters from Greek myths, and Punch and Judy handpuppets — is one of our most treasured family possessions.

The third and fourth photos were both taken in the printing press room of UC-Berkeley’s Bancroft Library. I find the iconography of print — both in its historical context and the newer, digital iterations — fascinating, so I took a few photos during a Lissten-sponsored tour and chose to use these two on my cards. One is the stack of type trays, the other is a page laid out ready for printing.

The fifth photo, on the lower left, is the first image I used in the ongoing Diptych project. It’s actually a photograph of the penguin tank at my erstwhile place of employment, the California Academy of Sciences. Obviously, there are no penguins in the photograph — it’s just an abstract image meant to capture the concept of “water”. The sixth photo, on the lower right, is a spinning sand table at San Francisco’s Exploratorium (I recommend going to their webpage and pressing the button. The one they tell you not to press).

Full size images — plus an uncropped version of my grandfather’s letterhead — are available on flickr.

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