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Career Strategies for Librarians
Pursuit of Employment in the New Millennium
Felicia A. Smith

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their
Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
– Declaration of Independence, 1776

Background

I was recently subjected to the utterly exhausting pursuit of employment. At the behest of my colleagues, I
decided to share my experience -- which was educational, inspirational, and comical – to show other job
seekers that there are opportunities to work anywhere.

I am currently employed as a Librarian-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame, a position that
ends in one month. Two months ago I began looking for work elsewhere because there were no
vacancies at our library. (While people have left their jobs here, the university, like many organizations,
does not simply replace those employees. Instead it "re-purposes” the position, which means that
position is added to a pool of potential vacancies. This enables the organization to prioritize employment
needs to ensure the most essential jobs are filled.)

Want Ads

In previous job searches, I bought newspapers, especially the Sunday edition, and I would scour the
want ads. This was a cumbersome and time-consuming process. This time I simply subscribed to
relevant listservs and RSS feeds so that I could receive job postings by email. Fortunately there is a
plethora of job posting websites. I used many library employment resources such as HigherEdJobs.
com and Educause.

As it was winter in Indiana, I began looking for jobs in warmer climates such as Florida, the Virgin
Islands, and New Zealand. I used resources that listed jobs by state or country, such as Library Job
Postings on the Internet. I also used the International Federation of Library Association’s LIBJOBS site to
locate postings in other countries. Instead of reading through all of the postings, I used the Find in this
Page function (CTRL+F) to search for keywords.

Applications

Once I began finding vacancy announcements, I needed a way to sort through the selected listings. I
developed a set of criteria, such as jobs requiring experience that I already had (e.g., reference,
bibliographic instruction, web design). After I narrowed down the list, I began applying electronically. I
typed one master cover letter that highlighted the experience that all my selected jobs required. Then I
tailored the cover letter for each position prior to emailing my curriculum vitae. I applied to a few postings
that required regular mail; of course, the electronic application process was much easier and quicker.
With the emailed applications, I typically received a confirmation email that verified my application was
submitted successfully.

Many organizations, such as Yale, required me to apply online. Online applications have several
advantages; for example, you can apply for multiple positions simultaneously and check the status of
your application. Some search committee members said that this is easier for them as well; instead of
requiring one person to photocopy and distribute copies of incoming application materials, each
committee member can log in and print copies.

Scheduling

My hard work really paid off. In two months, I had over forty phone interviews which resulted in more than
ten campus interviews, four additional campus invitations, and most incredibly, one videoconference
interview with a library in New Zealand.

While scheduling these phone interviews, I used time converter websites such as the The Official U.S.
Time. For instance, I had to figure out that Thursday 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time was actually Friday 10
a.m. in Wellington, New Zealand. When I was away from my computer and needed to verify time zones in
different places, I sent text messages to Google SMS, which offers business listings, driving directions,
movie show times, weather, stock quotes, and definitions on mobile telephones.

While researching living conditions in different countries I used Celsius to Fahrenheit Converter
websites. This was especially useful when trying to ensure that I would not be moving to an undesirable
climate when considering job postings in other countries.

Google SMS was one of the many new things I learned about while doing research to prepare for my
interview presentations. My presentation topics were all different, so I was constantly preparing for each
and trying to keep them separate. I was given a wide range of topics including public speaking,
advanced Google, evaluating internet sources, making instruction engaging, reference services, and the
role of information literacy in universities.  Creating presentations, sometimes two in one week, required
intense organization.

In one month my schedule pretty much went as follows:

8 am – 9 am   Telephone interviews on my cellular phone in my car

9 am –12 pm   Work (eat lunch if possible)

12 pm –1 pm   Telephone interviews on my cellular phone in my car

1 pm – 5 pm   Work

5 pm – 9 pm   Telephone interviews

After all of my daytime slots were booked with telephone interviews, I began conducting telephone
interviews more frequently in the evenings and on weekends. These became preferable after I received
my cell phone bill, which was $200 more than usual due to peak time usage! Only after I got that bill did I
learn that I could have asked to use my manager's private office. Interestingly, my late-night and
weekend interviews were not only the most economical, they were the most amusing. One evening
telephone interview was interrupted when the interviewer had to go break up an escalating fight between
her dog and cat.

Campus Visits

Naturally, that schedule was thrown completely off when I had two campus interviews in different states
during the same week. That required me to perform a lot of my work duties in the evenings and
weekends, at the same time that I needed to prepare interview presentations. This also forced me to
conduct telephone interviews on the road, at the airport, and once even at the doctor's office. I had one
telephone interview while waiting to get a prescription for strep tonsillitis. The employers gave me the
option to reschedule, but it had taken so long to arrange that day and time that I did not want to begin
looking for another time; I explained that this was an opportunity to illustrate my ability to multitask and
persevere.

Going to so many on-campus interviews led to another interesting problem. I only get paid once a month
and am opposed to non-emergency credit cards. So it was not economically feasible for me to accept
campus invitations that required me to pay for my airfare and hotel and be reimbursed afterwards.
Luckily those libraries strongly interested in having me interview were willing to purchase my airfare and
hotel themselves. The topic of who should be responsible for payment for campus visits was debated
among some coworkers. I just got out of that debate by joking that going to all of these interviews would
be the death of me. Ironically, on several occasions when search committee members drove me to and
from the airport, we came dangerously close to colliding with semi trucks! But I digress.

After visiting campuses in Ohio, Tennessee, and Boston, I began to re-evaluate my selection criteria as
a result of jet lag and frustration at having to deal with airport security and the “3 ounces of liquid and one
carry-on” restriction.  (Although when I returned home to snow, I seriously reconsidered my decision to
decline invitations to California and South Carolina campuses.) While talking to immigration officials on
my visit to Canada, I realized that I needed to create some coping mechanisms to keep myself
motivated. I pretended that I was an international speaker traveling to different states for speaking
engagements. When running through airports, I positioned myself behind large groups of people and
imagined they were my entourage or security detail. That helped me cope for one hour, until the pilot told
us that we had to deplane because our destination airport was shut down due to inclement weather.
During my four-hour delay at that airport, I once again revised my selection criteria to include distance
from my family and the availability of alternative transportation such as trains and buses.

Interview Innovation Proposal

After the final round of re-evaluation I was experiencing early onset symptoms of Interview Overload. I
was growing weary of people asking me questions. That is problematic since the point of interviews is to
exchange information. Unfortunately, I had answered the exact same questions ad nauseam. But since I
am a "glass-half-full" kind of person, I decided to channel my increasing frustration into a positive outlet.
Therefore I am proposing an innovative way of conducting interviews in the new millennium. I call it the
"Librarian Audition Web Cast." Library candidates could create web casts that they post on a site like
Youtube.com, where they showcase their presentation skills and answer basic questions such as why
they are qualified for and interested in this position or where they see themselves in five years.

I strongly encourage libraries to request audition web casts for a number of reasons. Search committee
members could view the web cast at their leisure. I think a lot of time was spent trying to schedule a time
that worked for me and all the search committee members. The audition web cast would also eliminate
the need for people to take notes during telephone interviews. One library actually emailed me their
interview questions prior to the telephone interview. This was incredibly helpful since I could prepare
effectively for my interview. I hated hanging up the telephone and then thinking of something else I
wanted to add. The audition web cast could solve that problem. This approach could be used for
libraries who want their candidates to answer certain questions during their initial interview. I firmly
contend that by conducting open cast calls instead of traditional phone interviews, library search
committees could be at the forefront of innovative interviewing at their university.

I think this could be very beneficial since every search committee I interviewed with commented that they
felt as though they already knew me as a result of reading my blog and viewing my Citation Cop
Commercial on YouTube.com.  (Both are available from my Notre Dame web page.)

At the conclusion of my interview process, I received a few generous job offers. The hardest part of this
process was trying to decide where to take my career from that point. The final resources I used to help
make my decision were cost-of-living websites that compared salaries in different cities, such as
Sperling's Cost of Living Calculator.

Happily Ever After

I was fortunate enough to be offered an amazing position at the University of Notre Dame -- that of their
very first Outreach Librarian.  People have asked if I resent having to jump through so many (interview)
hoops just to end up staying where I am. Even though the process was incredibly stressful, I
nevertheless taught myself a great deal. For example, one of the most interesting things I learned about
was Harvard University's CyberOne class, which is conducted in the online virtual world of Second Life.

To celebrate the end of my pursuit of employment, I rented the movie The Pursuit of Happyness, which is
based on Chris Gardner’s inspirational autobiography. I especially enjoyed his explanation that the
Declaration of Independence states that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, not happiness.
For this article, that translates to “the right to the pursuit of employment.” The manner in which you
pursue employment directly impacts the outcome. My coworkers were amazed at the number of
interviews I secured in such a short period of time. Like Mr. Gardner, I applied maximum effort to be the
most impressive candidate to create the right to employment.  Another aspect of the movie I really liked
was the way Mr. Gardner gives sections of his life titles. I would give this period of my life, in which I am
happy in my life and in my employment, the title "No Place Like Home!"

About the Author:

Felicia A. Smith is the Outreach Librarian at the University of Notre Dame. She has worked in academic,
medical, and public libraries in various capacities. Before becoming a librarian she worked as a
Certified Criminal Defense Private Investigator in Chicago, Illinois, specializing in homicide and
narcotics cases.

Article published July 2007

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