Career Strategies for Librarians
Lessons from Hiring Librarians
by Emily Weak
In February 2012, I started asking people who hire librarians to tell me just what the heck they were
thinking. I had been post-MLIS job hunting for about nine months, with increasing seriousness and
desperation for the last five. Even though I had done hiring myself in my former incarnation as a grocery
store manager, as a job seeker I often felt like I was trying to communicate in a language I could barely
speak, with unseen and vaguely ominous individuals. Library hiring, especially in the bureaucratic
context of a government agency or the baroque one of academia, is a confusing and drawn-out process.
I wanted to find some way to talk to the people on the other side of the table without the pressure of trying
to get hired.
In our current economy, there is no shortage of advice for job hunters. It often seems like anyone and
everyone has hung out a shingle to give out their top five tips for resumes, or to let us know the ten things
we absolutely should not do in an interview. But there is no certification process for library career
advisors, so it is hard to know whose opinion to take seriously and which advice is applicable in which
situation. There is great diversity in what libraries and librarians are looking for in job candidates. My
blog, Hiring Librarians, uses a survey to solicit the opinions of people who hire librarians, presenting
each result so the reader may examine it individually and also determine for themselves what the
aggregate looks like.
As of May 2012, 122 hiring librarians have completed my survey. Respondents include hiring managers,
committee members, HR professionals, and library directors. The majority of these individuals come
from public or academic libraries, but special and school libraries as well as archives and library
support organizations are also represented.
There a few multiple choice questions for which I can present statistics. Just under half (60) of all
respondents believe a cover letter should be just one page. The rest of the respondents feel it may be
longer, but urge brevity. Only one respondent chose the option “as many as it takes, I love reading.”
Similarly, more than half (64) of all respondents think a resume or CV should be kept short and sweet,
although they acknowledge that it should use as many pages as it takes. The majority of respondents
(75) do not have a preference for the format of application documents, though a substantial minority (35)
prefers PDFs. The majority (101) either do not care if a resume/CV has an objective statement or think it
should be left out; only 9 respondents wanted to see one. Finally, there is no majority answer on the
question of how application documents should be submitted: 45 respondents chose the option “as an
attachment only” and 40 indicated they do not care.
Nobody Wants You to Fail
My biggest lesson in this undertaking has been this: The people on the other side of the process want
you to succeed. They want you to do your best and to be the right candidate because it would make their
lives easier! If the perfect candidate appeared right under their noses, they could hire that person with
enthusiasm and be done with the whole hassle of finding a new employee. They would also have
someone to help them get that huge load of work done! The people on the other side of the table are
your allies, not your adversaries.
This is a Very Tough Economy: Get Library Experience
I have also gotten a better sense of just how tough it is to find library employment in this economy.
Respondents have shared that they are seeing an increased number of applications for open positions;
for example, one academic librarian spoke of receiving more than 50 applications for a staff-level
position, many from candidates who had an MLIS and were willing to relocate. People who hire
librarians understand that it is tough, but do not necessarily comprehend how desperate the situation
can be. Readers have shared their stories of increasing frustration and desperation, both directly with
me and in impassioned comments about the interviews.
Even though those people on the other side of the table want to hire you, you are just one in a crowd of
qualified, passionate, and experienced individuals. Although some of my respondents have revealed
that they will take a chance on candidates without library experience, the saturation of the job market
makes it unlikely that candidates without experience will make it to the interview stage. Internships and
volunteering do count as experience, particularly if you have completed significant projects in those
It Really is like Dating: You’ve Got to Find a Good Match
I have also learned that job hunting is about fit as much as it is about skills. People who hire librarians
are looking for individuals who will do well in their workplace culture. They are looking for people who
share values, work ethic, humor, and other intangible but vital ingredients. Working with someone
necessitates compatibility of personalities. This makes the candidate’s task more difficult; there is no
“formula” for getting hired because it depends on the particulars of the organization and the
personalities of the individuals involved. The best advice is to be yourself -- albeit the polished,
professional version of yourself. Finding a workplace where you can thrive may mean applying or
interviewing with several wrong fits before you find the right one.
About the Author
Emily Weak earned her MLIS from San Jose State University in May 2011. She currently works as a
substitute public librarian and part time as an assistant in an academic library, but has been an
administrator, cheesemonger, manager, and circus student, among other things. Visit her blog at www.
Article published June 2012
Disclaimer: The ideas expressed in LIScareer articles are those of their respective authors and do not necessarily
represent the views of the LIScareer editors.