The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www.emeraldinsight.com/0888-045X.htmBL PEOPLE MAKE LIBRARIES23,4 In the beginning . . . Stephanie Walker222 Brooklyn College, City University of New York, Brooklyn, New York, USAAccepted October 2010 Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to present a ﬁrst installment of a new column on human resource matters in libraries. It aims to focus on the beginning of a professional career in libraries. Design/methodology/approach – The paper looks at beginning a professional career in libraries, including exhibiting appropriate behavior and caution on professional discussion lists, understanding the realities of a difﬁcult job market and utilizing opportunities for part-time work and for professional ´ ´ development, highlighting exceptional attributes on a resume, and doing research on hiring institutions. Findings – The paper reveals advice for beginning a career in libraries. Originality/value – The paper provides useful information for those who want to pursue a career as a librarian. Keywords Librarians, Career development Paper type Viewpoint Welcome, everyone. This is my inaugural column on HR/Personnel/Workforce (choose your terminology) Matters in Libraries. I think of those terms in capital letters, for a reason – because I strongly believe that yes, people make libraries; hence the title of this column. (The subtitle comes from the beginning of the column, and the beginning of one’s career in libraries, which I will be discussing.) We are all used to seeing a large volume of statistics in our profession. We count volumes in collections, journal titles, e-book titles, e-resource usage, and much more. Many of us also assess the effectiveness of instruction, the usability of web sites, and other things. We do count people, but often, those tend to be somewhat bald numbers – the number of faculty positions in academic libraries, the number of “professional staff”, the number of part-time vs full-time positions, and so on. And yet, it seems to me, as a long-time manager, that we as a profession do not do a whole lot of talking about something that is one of the most difﬁcult tasks in management – managing people, and doing it well. There are so many aspects to this, and it is the hardest thing I know – the most difﬁcult part of any job – because people, well, they are people. They are not numbers, or statistics, or budgets, or lines. They bring their various talents, skills, quirks, strengths, weaknesses, eccentricities, passions, dreams, and personalities with them to work, at least to some extent – because however professional people may be, it is impossible to check everything that you are at the door. You cannot be a robot – andThe Bottom Line: Managing Library no good manager should expect that. Fostering leadership, fostering professionalFinances development and growth, helping an employee to become stronger in various areas,Vol. 23 No. 4, 2010pp. 222-226 arbitrating disputes, having “difﬁcult” conversations to deal with problems, andq Emerald Group Publishing Limited0888-045X getting people to get along with people they would not necessarily have chosen asDOI 10.1108/08880451011104072 colleagues, so that the whole organization runs well, is not easy! And these are skills
that are critical for all. Non-managers, as well as managers, can beneﬁt from learning In theabout the “people” parts of the job. They can learn to work with those they ﬁnd beginning . . .challenging, to provide services to challenging patrons and to ﬁnd ways to ease theproblems – hopefully all without incurring blood pressure spikes! In terms of the work environment, I would argue that the people, above anythingelse, have more to do with how you feel about your job. If the work environment isrelatively harmonious, if people are on the same page and support each other and the 223overall mission of their organization, if people will ﬁll in for each other and can trusteach other, if people feel supported by their managers – that is a good workenvironment. You can put up with a smaller book budget more easily than you can putup with a hostile work environment. Because no matter what, no matter all thecollections, services, hours, statistics, computers, scanners, laptop loan programs, orwhatever else we count - well, it is the people who provide the services, deal with thepatrons, and who put their time, and sometimes their hearts and souls, into their jobsevery day. And so, yes, along with the resources, services, buildings, and everythingelse – People Make Libraries. So where to begin, with so many possible topics? Let’s begin at what, for many ofus, is more or less the beginning of our professional career as librarians andinformation professionals – with our ﬁrst job search. Times are very difﬁcult rightnow, and for those of you who have been following electronic list discussions, blogs,and other venues where such things are discussed, you are undoubtedly well awarethat there is a great deal of frustration out there. Many new librarians are angry anddisappointed at the lack of jobs out there, and some feel that they have been misled, orthat a rosier picture was painted than turned out to be the case. There are newgraduates who feel they have done everything right – they have networked,volunteered, worked part-time jobs, and participated in the profession, only to ﬁnd that ´ ´they are sending resumes into what feels like a black hole. They may have been toldthat librarianship is a graying profession, and that there will be a wave of upcomingretirements – and yet they do not see jobs opening up. So what to do? From the perspective of someone who has been on both sides of the hiring equation– a lot – I have a few thoughts to offer. I do not claim to be the “last word”, and I realizethat others may have other opinions and thoughts – but I do have a lot of experience inthis, and I have seen many, many mistakes (and made enough of my own over theyears). So, with that caveat, please take these thoughts as one person’s views andexperience. First, although I know it is incredibly difﬁcult, try to avoid getting an angryattitude – or at least try to tamp it down when having discussions with others in yourprofession, whether in an interview situation or not. Expressing fury at the idiocy ofthose who do not realize your potential will not help you. Indeed, it will probablysubmarine your chances of getting other positions. You may not realize it, but thelibrary profession is, despite its size, much like a small town – everyone knows at leasta little something about everyone else, or knows someone who knows someone whoknows you. Six degrees of separation? Ha! Not likely – more like two or three. It is avery small, tight knit world – and if you give the impression of being a potential bull ina china shop, you are operating at a serious disadvantage. Also, many libraryenvironments are unionized, and many academic library environments also have theissue of tenure. When we are interviewing you for a job, we may well be interviewing
BL you for a job where, if you do not work out, it may be very, very difﬁcult to get rid of23,4 you. Even if faculty are denied tenure or reappointment, there is always the possibility of ﬁling a successful grievance. So if the profession seems very cautious, there are reasons for it. We may have to work with you for the rest of our working lives – we want to be sure you are the right choice. In a discussion on a mailing list, I once saw a new librarian begin quite literally attacking all her prospective professional colleagues224 as out-of-date, frightened mice who were just intimidated by her and who should all retire and get out of her way; I wondered if she realized that she had probably just completely blown her chances of ﬁnding a job, by insulting several thousand people who, if they did not make hiring decisions themselves, might well have input. We all understand the frustration of new graduates – most of us struggled ourselves. Second (and this is somewhat discouraging) – realize that the situation, bad as it is right now, is not really new. Library hiring has gone through boom and bust cycles, but it seems that most of the time, things are tight. We are rarely “ﬂush” as a profession, even when times are fairly good. Over 15 years ago, it took me 2.5 years of working part-time, temporary, and contract jobs, and working part-time in libraries while working full-time in related IT jobs, to ﬁnd my ﬁrst full-time professional position. It was a six-month contract, replacing someone on sick leave, which turned into a long-term sick leave replacement of a further two years, and only then became permanent. So it took me a full ﬁve years from the time I graduated library school before I had a full-time permanent professional library position. I graduated in 1995; it was 2000 before my position was permanent. And times were supposedly better then. Yes, we have all heard that the profession is graying, and jobs will be opening up. It seems to many like this is untrue, because many positions are going unﬁlled, and people are constantly being asked to do “more with less”. As well, many people who would like to retire cannot afford to do so. But we are starting to see some movement. There are some retirements, but many of these are in senior or middle management positions. If you look at the job advertisements, there seem to be plenty of openings for chief librarians or middle managers, and very few for new graduates or people seeking entry-level jobs. This is not terribly comforting – it means it will remain difﬁcult to get one’s ﬁrst professional position. But there is a bit of domino movement – some of the middle management positions are being ﬁlled by people moving up, and there are some openings slowly being created. In the meantime, you need to stay in the profession and stay current. Trying to get one’s ﬁrst professional position is an exercise in extreme patience, persistence, and luck – do anything you have to do to make money and keep body and soul together, but in addition, try to stay working part-time in a library. Then when there are openings, you will still be in a good position to step in. Also, take advantage of any learning opportunities that come your way. If you are working part-time in a library, and they offer courses or workshops or seminars to their staff, try to take them. Sign up to learn whatever you can. You never know when something can help. I am in an academic library, and we run a series of database workshops as well as extensive software training, all of it free; many of our part-time ´ ´ librarians take advantage of these. Keep putting these on your resume. You never know what will click. As well, although you may well need to be very persistent in chasing your dream (like hanging on to a part-time academic library job for years while working in other areas, if you want to be an academic librarian), try to keep an open mind. If you cannot get your dream job, or a job in your dream organization, right
away, try to build your skills in other positions, positions that have some relevance to In theinformation management. In my own case, years of working as a database manager or beginning . . .technical support specialist actually helped me to get my ﬁrst full-time academiclibrary job: I came upon a small academic library that was still largely not automated, ´ ´and they needed someone to automate the library. My resume, with a lot of part-timeacademic reference work and a separate page listing “Computer skills,” stood out fromthe pack at the time. Also, the job was in a health sciences library, and while I had 225dropped science in grade 12 in high school, I had taken a course in health librarianshipand I had worked as a database manager for a non-proﬁt organization that gatheredstatistics and managed databases of health information, such as the success rates oforgan transplants. It was enough – and thus began nearly seven very happy years. So ´ ´build your resume, and if what you have is related, but not exactly what a certainadvertisement calls for, then stress the related aspects. It is up to you to explain to thehiring managers how your experience ﬁts their needs. ´ ´ While we are on the topic of resumes, I would like to offer a tip or two. Aside from ´ ´the usual advice to customize your resume and cover letter for each position, I also ´ ´recommend that you try to look at your resume as if you were the person doing thehiring. Stop thinking about what you are most proud of – and look at what the jobrequires, and what would set you apart from all the other applicants. Long ago, I ´ ´taught resume writing, and a colleague of mine, looking for his ﬁrst professionallibrarian job, approached me. He was not getting any interviews, and he could notunderstand it. He had been working for ﬁve years as an IT manager, but this was ´ ´buried in his resume. Right up at the top, he highlighted, in big bold letters, the fact thathe had an MLS, as well as a degree in Classics. He also put in all kinds of informationabout classes he had taken. I looked at it and asked him why he highlighted his MLS,and he said “I’m proud of it.” My answer? That is all well and good, but really – sowhat! The MLS did nothing to set him apart from the 200 other applicants for anygiven position – the MLS was the basic criterion of qualiﬁcation. Every singleapplicant would have that! I told him to put the degrees in, of course, but to pull hisoutstanding technological qualiﬁcations forward, even if he was not applying for asystems librarian job. It was 1997, and librarians with stellar technology skills wereexceedingly rare. He was slightly miffed, as he wanted to show people what he wasproud of, and wanted them to appreciate all the work that had gone into his MLS and ´ ´his Classics degree. But he saw my point. I told him that his resume was a sales pitch,and he was the product – as ugly as it sounded, it was true. So he re-did his resume, ´ ´ ´ ´and yes, he got interviews and a job. Of course, simply redoing your resume is rarely ´ ´enough – there have to be jobs out there. But a great resume can help. If you feel too ´ ´close to your own resume, get a friend or mentor to take a look – in fact, get several. Finally, when you do get interviews, do your homework! Try to learn as much asyou can about the library, the institution of which the library is a part (if applicable),the position for which you are applying, and anything else you can ﬁnd out. Askcolleagues, friends, friends of friends. Look at the web site – you would think thiswould be a given, but in the last three searches I have run, there were candidates whoclearly knew absolutely nothing about our library or our college, and who could notmake a clear case as to why they, in particular, would be the right choice for us. Take aquick look through newspapers and other sources of local news for relevant storiesabout the library or the institution of which the library is a part. Be prepared!
BL But then what? How do you go from an interview to a job – and how can you tell if a job is right for you and you are right for the job? In the next installment of this column,23,4 we will take it from here – what to do once you get an interview, and some tips of ﬁguring out if you are the right ﬁt for an organization, and just as importantly, if the organization is the right ﬁt for you.226 Corresponding author Stephanie Walker can be contacted at: email@example.com To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Or visit our web site for further details: www.emeraldinsight.com/reprints