A Rose by Any Other Name.

What’s the “real” story about the library and information workforce today? We don’t know. What’s the real story about the library and information workforce of tomorrow? Frankly, we don’t know that either.

There has been, however, much discussion including: not-one-but-two congresses; workshops—including my very own; IMLS leadership grants; strategic plans of associations; consortia and institutions; symposiums; dissertations; and buckets of opinion. Will there be a consensus? Is it possible to achieve a real direction for the near and distant future? Have we done much more than talk to each other? I don’t know if we’ll ever know, but we do know there are many issues relating to the library workforce, many of which seem to be two sides of the same coin. They include:

  • Rumors of massive retirements—although not on the horizon yet—threaten to leave huge gaps in higher and the highest levels of management.

  • Not enough beginning librarians and library employees—whether first or second career—are out there applying for jobs.

  • There are currently areas of librarianship where ongoing openings threaten services such as school libraries and children’s librarian positions in public libraries.

  • People appear to be reluctant to move around among institutions during mid career so middle management positions are harder to fill.

  • Librarians who migrated to the private sector during the information boom are returning—post-boom—to lower-paying but more stable non-profit, library/institutional positions.

Now you might think that this article will attempt to answer the issues/questions I’ve raised, but I’m not going to. Instead I want to discuss how we might attract those limited numbers of librarians out there now! How can we encourage people to apply for our jobs? What would send the message that your job is the one to apply for? What makes people stay away from jobs? What do all those things in job ads mean????

Job Ads

As I’ve said in these columns before and as many Human Resource professionals will tell you, while job ads are an important recruitment tool, all too often we don’t get to write our own ads for many reasons including that they are too expensive to distribute/publish widely. In addition, while print job advertising was the primary way to reach potential applicants, we now have print ads, subject-specialist electronic list distribution, library school distribution through e-lists and alumni postings, brochures/job ads through direct mail, profit and non-profit career web environments, library association web environments, independent career sites, and institutional home page/web environments posting their own available positions. So.. Do we post the same ad on each site? Should we invest in posting in print? Are we measuring the success of postings? Is anyone? And once we decide, what do we say in the ad?

Do we post the same ad on each site?

Obviously, the beauty of the dynamic nature of the web is the ability to be flexible and stay/keep current. It stands to reason, therefore, that we should take advantage of the flexibility of web job posting opportunities to choose venues and then match job ads to venues. Key recommendations include: find out what legal statements must be included to maintain consistent and valid job postings no matter where the posting and no matter how long or how short the ad; match job ads to venues to pique interest and increase applicant pools (key words, highlighting job functions); don’t forget to track what is said in which venue and don’t forget to identify applicant and institutional timelines clearly in all venues; and, clearly state the application process and who applicants should contact. While the beauty of the web includes access to people and information, managers don’t want to end up answering—literally—dozens of the same questions and receiving bits and pieces of applicant packets through email rather than through the standard application process.

Should we invest in posting in print?

If managers can afford to publish job ads in print, print publication is still an important venue for posting. Print venues provide some unusual benefits including allowing applicants to more easily compare among jobs in regions or by type of library or level of position.

Are we measuring the success of postings? Is anyone?

I’m not and I should be. I know associations are trying to track hits on job websites, and I know institutions often ask applicants to note on applications “where people heard or saw the ad,” but we should all be attempting to track which ads “work” and “what” works in ads. For example, asking applicant pools questions that include—during the pre interview timeline:

  • Where did you see our job posted?

  • If you saw different postings in several places, did one ad interest you more than another? Why?

  • What initially attracted you to the ad overall?

  • What made you decide to apply for the position?

  • And, if possible, asking post interview applicants.

  • Was the job process what it was outlined to be?

  • Name two things about the job process that worked well for you.

  • Name two things that you would recommend to improve our job process.

  • So—what’s in the ad?

Although there are standard elements of job ads such as titles, primary responsibilities, required education and experience and legal statements such as EEOC statements, my favorite parts of job ads are those phrases and words used to capture—more than likely—the current or desired culture of the work place. That being said—and with examples coming later—my favorite job ads are those that are trying to illustrate the attractiveness of the environment and include things like “pastoral, low cost of living, quiet environment amidst rolling hills.great first job!” Does this mean “in the middle of nowhere?” or “Please take this job, no one else will and if you just give us two years, we’ll make sure we give you a good reference for your next job!” SO.once you’ve decoded the geographic or demographic descriptive phrases, what are a few other phrases and/or key words to look for and “decode?”

Great first job—While I think most people use this phrase genuinely, it does make someone think about being told upfront that the job—for whatever reason—may be short term.

Issues Applicants now have the opportunity to ask—since it was stated in the ad—”Why does it make a good first job, that is, why wouldn’t I want to make this position a career? Name three elements of the job that would make it my perfect first job. What experience would I get coming here for my first job that I wouldn’t get going elsewhere? What would you see—given what you know I would doing in this position—my next job being? Do you have different expectations or timelines for the responsibilities or work products for this job, since you might expect applicants to stay shorter periods of time?” In general, applicants need to decide—before they go in for the interview and certainly before they take the job what their career goals are; if they want a short (er) term first job; and if the job really will make a good first job—giving successful applicants excellence to build on or unique experience that fits into their overall career plan. They also need to ask what the average tenure is within the organization in general and in this job.

Multi-tasking—Although previously used in general job descriptions rather than primarily or specifically in professional position descriptions, this phrase has gained popularity in all job ads in recent years.

Issues Multi-tasking—for all levels of employees is a critical element for almost every position in libraries. Multiple timelines, multiple delivery methods and modes, coordinating and supervising, serving as liaisons with many departments, multiple budget responsibilities and budget lines, collaborations and cooperation with diverse audiences, and multiple work environments (including working at work as well as the portable office for working at home). Managers seek individuals who can do more than one thing at a time! What applicants need to ask is what are they expected to multi-task—all professional activities or both professional and clerical—more than usual? Is multi-tasking due to the lack of professionals in the work place and the need for more employees? Is the organization “in control” of timelines and activities? Are individuals completely responsible for and in charge of the “multi” tasks at hand or do professionals work in (either internal or external) teams? Applicants—with the answers to these questions—can get a sense of the volume of work, the nature of work and management expectations of employees.

Ability to deal with conflict—Although this is becoming a more standard phrase in all job ads, and especially in customer/public service positions, applicants should seek specific examples of types of conflict in the organization that is, they should ask “Why this is included in the ad?”

Issues While this phrase may be in the job description—is there any reason why it has been chosen as critical to the shortened job ad? While conflict is natural in organizations—both in the patron/customer arena and between/among staff members, is there more conflict than usual? A difficult question to ask—applicants might ask for specific examples of conflict—both among staff and between staff and the public. If no questions are asked of the applicant during the interview process, applicants might follow up at the close of the interview, during their question and answer period. Their questions might include asking questions about several areas left un-discussed and might be framed as “The job ad includes “ability to deal with conflict.” Can you give me some examples of conflict that you see in the organization? Are there standardized processes for dealing with and resolving conflict? Could you give me an example of a conflict situation and how it was resolved?

Responsibility for coordinating.—” Coordinating” can be found in almost every job description of every professional librarian these days.

Issues A good word, in and of itself, and issues include “Does this position coordinate activities or people? If this position coordinates people, does this position supervise or coordinate or both? Will this position be responsible for work product of those who they don’t supervise?

What we should have in ads

All public service or management of public service positions should contain—in some form or fashion—references to teaching, learning, information literacy, and/or instruction. Library staff need to begin at the very basic level of job description—the job ad—communicating the library’s role in teaching and learning.

Whether you call it continuous learning or professional development or training, applicants need to view the institution as one that requires their employees to complete initial position training as well as participate in ongoing professional development or continuous learning throughout their “life” in the institution.

No matter what type of library you work in or what you call your patrons, we have customers/patrons whether they are external or internal. Interacting with customers, whether they are the general public, others within our institutions or in umbrella institutions or entities, we need to emphasize—in our primarily service world—excellent customer service.

Research—in libraries—occurs almost every day, but seldom is the word “research” used in job ads other than in academic research library ads. The reality is public, school and special library employees don’t just help others do research, but instead librarians do research to investigate needed technology, make decisions on print and e-resources, assess patron learning, and gather and apply data on service and resource usage.to name just a few areas. Managers need to better define the research process critical to the success of libraries and librarians.

Although “proactive” is what most library staff need to be, few library and information education programs and library training identify what proactive is, how it relates to reactive and in what areas staff should be proactive. Managers hiring need to identify proactive areas of responsibility and articulate how applicants might need to approach “reaching out.”

So what does self-directed really mean? Does it mean staff that—once trained—are self-starters? Does it include closely managed staff? Staffs who work in remote locations and, therefore, managers aren’t available? Managers who are around but aren’t visible managers? Does it include risk takers? Is risk possible? Is risk encouraged? Do self-directed staff members need to come up with their own projects? Do they work alone or with others/in teams?

Advocacy is typically used to describe activities that surround local, regional, state and/or national policy and legislative issues. Advocacy, however, should be among the responsibilities of all types of librarians and library staff who need to speak up for library issues with customers, within the organization (at budget time, during strategic planning, etc.) at employee organization events/meetings, within the community, and within umbrella entities.

Finally, in this era of needing to justify decision making for hiring competency levels used in job ads and for assessing applicants during interviews need to be specific and measurable. Terms frequently used include “working knowledge,” “hands-on experience,” “in-depth knowledge,” “demonstrated” something such as “demonstrated commitment to professional development,” and/or “enthusiasm for” and “proven experience.” Managers need to decide how they will assess “working” and “proven” and how they expect applicants to “prove” or “demonstrate.”

So review your ads; do they match your job descriptions? What do your job ads say about you and ‘most importantly’ what do they communicate to your applicants?


Julie Todaro, PhD, is Dean of Library Services, Austin Community College, Austin, TX.