How to Find the Right Fit

By Michael Casey & Michael Stephens

Dear MLS grad (and others who may be looking for a new position),

We’re glad you are ready for the first (or next) step in your career. We know that the job market can be tight and that most newly minted librarians are happy to get their foot in the door, recognizing that no one library will conform to your workplace ideal. Still, we’d like to offer some pointers for a good fit.

First, look at “In Search of an Emotionally Healthy Library,” by Nancy Cunningham (now director of the Learning Resources Center at Southwest Florida College, Ft. Myers) for tips, interview questions, and warning signs. Then, ponder these questions.

How things work
Ask about the library’s mission and vision. Sure, you went to the library web site-checking on the currency of the web presence, as well-in preparation. But how does the library actually live those values? Are the library’s goals your goals? If your vision of a library and your perspective employer’s image don’t exactly mesh, can you still live with them?

How does the library celebrate staff? What opportunities are there for staff development? What outside learning opportunities will you have? Even if you must go to outside training on your own dime, will you be allowed to attend conferences and seminars?

If there’s not a lot of library money for continuing education, there should at least be a willingness to send staff to local workshops and state library functions. Time to participate in online learning activities should be included as well.

Celebrating staff entails something as simple as an annual staff day. Does the library administration recognize teamwork? Does it reward those appreciated by peers?

How does the library communicate internally? Externally? Is it an open process? How is staff feedback addressed and used? We heard more than one speaker at the recent Computers in Libraries conference note that soliciting staff input but not putting it to use can lead to a breakdown in trust.

A structure in place for staff to submit ideas and be heard by top-level management is a good sign. Libraries that have internal blogs, allow all staff to contribute, and ask that their administrators field questions are more likely to be less rigid or autocratic. The Virginia Beach Public Library’s “VBPL Talks” blog even responds to anonymous questions.

Participation 2.0
What’s the library policy on blogging and social networking for staff? Can you maintain your personal/professional blog if you accept a position? We’d urge hiring librarians to encourage new staffers to continue their blogging or participation in social networks.

Does the library employ vertical teams for planning and implementation of new services? Can new hires participate and share their voices from day one? Inviting new staffers to play a role in service creation signals a willingness to hear new ideas. Ask for examples.

What mentoring opportunities are there? A recent job listing from Davidson College in North Carolina included this bit: “We want your newbie enthusiasm and fresh ideas, and we’ll mentor you in your growth.” This is a promising trend; it’s vital for veterans to mentor and encourage new librarians.

Due diligence
Also, don’t forget to spend some time researching the conversations and coverage concerning your potential workplace via sites like Yelp, Technorati, and Google News.

Look at the social networking presence of said library. Are comments enabled on the recently updated, thriving library blog? Are images of the library’s recent events being posted on its Flickr account? What other clues can you find about the library’s online presence?

Real-world outreach also can be telling. Does the library offer programs and services for a variety of user groups and populations? In the public library arena, story times and adult book groups should be a staple, but look for outreach and programming for teens, seniors, and other constituencies to gather a wider picture of the service philosophy. Academic libraries should offer outreach to students, faculty, and staff.

Finally, remember that no decision is permanent. You may find, no matter how good your questioning, that you’ve ended up at a library that just doesn’t match your expectations. Do your best to enact change, learn as much as you can, and then start to look elsewhere. Build bridges and move on.


Davidson College

In Search of an Emotionally Healthy Library

VBPL Talks

Michael Casey is Information Technology Division Director, Gwinnett County Public Library, Lawrenceville, CA, and co-author of Library 2.0.

June 15, 2008 Library Journal