Thursday, August 03, 2006

Academic Library's & jobs

I have been thinking about Gilman's article and the tips he presented to academic librarian search committee's. Though I like my current position, it did not result from looking specifically to work in academics. Point of fact, I only applied to one university/college for a job opening, this one. After graduation, armed with my fresh MLIS with school library certification (I have a teaching degree, it made sense), three years of public library work, teaching experience, and a variety of retail management experience, I sent resumes to a variety of targeted places. Since the best time to look for a job is when you have one, I took my time and only applied for jobs that interested me. My current job's description/advertisement was a combination of many different library, teaching, and management skills I possessed. And, even though sure I was not qualified, I sent out the information as requested.

The interview process was lengthy, more so than I imagined. There was a phone interview, something that I have only had twice since then, and the offer to come to campus for a day long interview. That was new to me, day long interviews (when they said day long, they meant day long). For anyone who has never interviewed for a job in an academic library, it can be a bit overwhelming. The day included an initial meeting with the library director where I presented my portfolio and left it in his office for viewing throughout the day, an open question and answer session with the entire library staff and faculty, the requisite presentation with assigned library topic, a lunch meeting with key members of the library faculty and college of education chair, a quick meeting with human resources followed by a short campus tour, a late afternoon meeting with the university provost, and a closing meeting with the director. In a nod to Gilman's article, there was over a month between the actual visit and contact from the library director or a search committee member. I had decided not to bother when I received a letter and follow up phone call and job offer.

With that instance in mind, other - shall we say oddities? - continued to nag at me regarding interviews I have participated in during the last few years. For what it's worth, here are some of the more interesting occurrences and a few tips:

  • Walking a mile in those shoes: It is always necessary to dress appropriately for an interview. For one interview I wore a lovely black suit (long coat with the slacks and a nifty splash of color with my Bill Blass scarf from QVC) with comfortable and stylish black boots. At least they were comfortable until I was obliged to take a walking tour around the entire campus, in the cold. My advice? Heels are great and we girls have our fair share of shoe vanity; just be sure you can really walk distances in the shoes you choose to wear to a day long interview.
  • The dark room: Be it a bibliographic instruction session or a topic driven assignment, presentations are a given in the academic library interview. In this technology age it should be safe to assume power point, a data projector and accompanying screen, and a well lit room are part and parcel with the presentation. At one university I was asked to present on the future of resource centers in a room that had no blinds, a computer running office 97, and a stand alone screen. During the presentation I had to straddle the power cords and surge protectors running from the wall to the computer. Since I am not one to just stand in front of the computer when presenting, this was a definite challenge. I won't get in to the rickety table and lack of mouse. My advice? Check what technology is available before the presentation. Then, save your presentation in various external devices (disk, cd, or pen/flash drive). If you have web access to an email account send the presentation to yourself. Consider taking overheads, yes transparencies, as backup. Technology is our friend, but stuff happens.
  • Degree's of separation: When applying for a job, I expect my name to be divulged only to those on the search committee on an as needed basis. Maybe that is naive, but the process should include a degree of privacy. The fact remains academic librarianship is a small community and people talk. I was taken by surprise several years ago when after applying for a job and being asked to attend an on campus interview, I received an email from a colleague wishing me luck. What? After overcoming my initial shock, I asked how he knew I had applied for the job. Seems the institution in question sent out an email via their student LIS list serv inviting participation in the open question portion of the interview. Not so bad, but they listed the names of all the people being interviewed. This disappointed me enough to consider calling off the interview. My advice? Remember the academic library applicant pool is a small one. Don't burn any bridges, don't name names, and be professional at all times regardless of the actions of the interviewing entity.
  • Separation, part deux: The same institution that sent out the list announcement also sent a letter less than a week, maybe ten days, after the interview. Not so bad, especially considering the time this often takes. The catch? They named their new hire and invited us to congratulate him. I found myself hoping the person in question had the chance to tell his supervisors before the letter went out. My advice? Live and learn.
  • University prestige vs paycheck: When interviewing at a larger institution it's easy to let the name and prestige temporarily blind you to the potential downfalls of the application process. After the successful completion of a day long interview I had the opportunity to speak with the HR people and they talked money. With my experience in an academic library, at that time three years, I was offered a salary less than what I was making. The move would have taken me to an area where the cost of living was almost double my current location. Do the math. I came back to earth with a big thud and spent the plane ride home worrying I might be offered the job and would have to turn it down. My advice? Do not be blinded by the big name as big money does not always follow.
  • Sins of the father: What can you learn about the person who had the job previously? Why did they leave; reassignment, firing, other opportunity? I rarely ask that question unless it becomes obvious in the interview that I am paying the for the previous applicants sins. During one interview day I was asked the same question by six different people concerning management style. Despite the obvious indication that the committee did not coordinate who would ask about management (since they all did), I was puzzled and then, well cranky, at the constant necessity of restating my position. On the way to speak with another group I apologized to my tour guide and asked why the different committees were harking on this topic. I learned the previous person utilized a management style difficult to work with and they had a hard time "getting rid" of her. Great. My advice? Keep eyes and ears open when interviewing. It is hard to remember when you want the job, but you are interviewing them as well.

Looking back over this post it seems I had a few less than stellar experiences. Keep in mind that on a whole the library job search is no better, nor worse, than looking for a job in any other profession. The six instances I mentioned were only from three interviews. In the scheme of things, that is not such a bad average.

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