Julie Todaro – Candidate for President of the American Library Association
I Needed A Library Job, Too!
Do I want you to vote for me for ALA President? Yes, I do. And I could spend a great deal of time articulating why I think I am the best candidate, but instead let me just say that my presidential initiative focuses on the value of librarians and how we need to lead with that message. And while I think we have extraordinary content in the profession on the value of libraries we have much less – if any – on the value of librarians. To meet this need I want to provide a body of work that explains what our professionals do in general, the unique aspects of what librarians do, the value of that work, correct terminology for articulating in the variety of job environments today, and specific ways to link librarians to the value of libraries. This content will encompass all types and sizes of libraries. Please visit my candidate website also referenced below for links to articles to help you in your job search. BUT…since I needed a job too and I can’t resist the opportunity to help others….here are my recollections with some guidance for today based on my first job search.
My dreams of a first job in libraries were – literally – all over the place. Although I had a mentor in the profession and she was a library school educator specializing in children’s literature and children’s services, I explored the idea of a librarian on a military base (See the world!,) a public librarian for a small West Texas town where the librarian was given an apartment OVER the library (…no kidding…), a large Midwest public library children’s librarian in a branch library setting, and school librarianship where I would be the only high school librarian in my library in a large system. The interviews were very different and while I prepared for each interview by reviewing information on that type of library and library setting, I didn’t explore the environment or setting of the library until after the interviews. And I didn’t do that because no one suggested it and, initially, my focus was the job – not the location. (Of course, I NOW recommend that people explore the location as much as the institution!)
My first set of “interviews” were incredibly varied (with my follow up comments in italics below each interview):
- Someone who spent the entire time talking about himself and his relationship to the library, the library board, etc. I don’t recall more than one question about me and I was too inexperienced to turn the discussion to me or what I could bring to the library.
As attractive and unique as the apartment over the library WAS, I was single and the town was VERY small and remote and from the interview I could tell the business of the library was very much the business of the Board as well. And while they were a governing board – so that was appropriate in some ways – it was clear I would have little or no latitude in planning and decision making.
- A team of people who asked me specific questions about issues in the field but primarily issues about how to handle these issues or problems in public settings – so there were red flags all over that discussion.
It was obvious to me I did not have the skills set to handle the myriad of problems and issues implied by the interviewing team. While I appreciated the “real world” explanation and questions of the public library managers who interviewed me – my interest was more in what I could do in my first professional setting, rather than what my public couldn’t do – or the problems they caused.
- A discussion with someone representing civilian employment for the military who explained that the majority of bases (in more desired locations) were closing and those that remained open were cutting library services.
After a little looking I found out that many librarians in these positions were called gypsy librarians – not unlike tenure track librarians in academic settings were – so called because people moved annually and were constantly having to justify existence of themselves and their services and resources and – in this case – the library.
- A formal interview with a school library coordinator who interviewed prospective staff about the position – a professional one – but could not and would not share the locations open for placement. In fact, I was surprised to learn that I would be hired for the system and once I accepted I would be placed – with no preferences asked – anywhere they wanted to place me.
While this was an enjoyable interview, I wanted a little say so in placement or location of my first position. In addition, the size of the system and the answers to my questions left me feeling as if I would be almost completely isolated from other librarians. Although the school building community was a strong one (with site-based management on the horizon) I really wanted to work with other librarians – at least more frequently than outlined.
During this process, it never occurred to me that professional associations were the place to go for employment. I knew there were conference placement centers, but the educational setting I was in – graduate school – owed me guidance and direction and although these were pre-guarantee-of-employability-of-today that so many workforce and professional schools must have today, I very much expected my graduate school to assist me in getting work not only through their placement center but through my relationships with my faculty – who were serving as my first set of references as well.
So why do I bore you with this reminiscences? Oddly, because I still hear all of these issues today. And – for your enlightenment (heady, but because I think that’s what the “old guard” should do…) let’s break them down into “happens and not good” and “happens for a reason and although not great – might have to happen that way.”
Happens and not good
- There are still bad interviewers who give you no information and only talk about themselves. You can turn it around – although it might be question by question and there are a number of articles out there explaining how you insert yourself or – as some say today – leaning in.
- Sadly, in many environments – and sometimes especially in non-profits – people – on governing and even advisory boards – want to control what happens and these people are looking for someone they can manage closely. This is easy to spot and if you think that’s the case or even if it isn’t, interviewees should question latitude through simple questions such as “How does the Board involve itself in the library’s planning?” or “Could you give me an example of how the Board works with the librarian to prepare the annual budget request?”
- Professional positions – if at all possible – should provide an environment for professional growth which can be characterized in a variety of ways and not just be professional development funding. If the location or number of people in your job category at a location is an issue, institutions have a responsibility to provide and identify professional networks within the institution to offer professionals – especially new ones – avenues for working with others. (That being said, this is so much less a problem today with e-networking and our vast infrastructure of digital and virtual discussion. While this availability doesn’t lessen an institution’s responsibility for professional development and networking, it does it make it possible for professionals to create their own network.)
Happens for a reason and although not great – might have to happen that way.
- It is still common to be hired for a system (both in public and in school) where you hired for the system, then placed in a location of their choice. In fact, most workplaces today do not guarantee your placement in a certain location at first or in general. In many settings, locations are not specified in the hiring process or present in any kind of an agreement or contract. That means, the institution has the right to move you – whether it is a performance issue or not.
- Oftentimes interviewers do us a favor by asking questions that give us insight into politics or “how business is done” so these are our clues for making our own decision of “Do I want to live this way?” or “Do I want to work this way?” and even more importantly “Do I have the skills set to handle these issues?”
- Political and financial support information (closures, defending resources and services, etc.) should be disclosed in interviews for fairness and to give the interviewee the full picture of what they will be spending time on. Surprisingly, this doesn’t always happen so interviewees should ask these questions. Also, this situation doesn’t drive everyone away…an interviewee may want the experience, the challenge or the location and the possible “one year” – ending on its own without performance issues – for example – might give that person the flexibility they need to have a nice resume “first job” but be able to move on quickly.
So – why do I hold on to these experiences? I have spent a career trying to help others by providing employment, professional development, and education and experiences. I done this not only through my workplace, but I have also focused on sharing experiences, data, research and opinions with others. This sharing has included my ALA work with HRDR Advisory initiatives, through publications such as Mentoring A to Z, 2015, Neal-Schuman, and a myriad of presentations and workshops for job seekers – whether it is their first professional work or whether or not they want to switch from one type of library to another or to move into management. The titles below are linked from my candidacy website (julietodaroforalapresident.org) by type of library. But since I designed them to be helpful beyond one type of library, there IS duplication across the four type-of-library sections. So besides ALA’s job list and ALA’s HRDR’s website and the other excellent publications – online and in print…here is a list of my publication found on my website. I hope they help you.
- The Application Form. TXLA. 2011 to the present.
- The Art of the Job Description. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005.
- A Book by Its Cover. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2007.
- Crafting Your Cover Letter. TXLA. 2011 to the present.
- Identifying and Conveying Transferable Skills. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005.
- Preparing For Your Application Process. TXLA. 2011 to the present.
- Professional Associations…Moving Past Membership into Involvement. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005.
- Thinking Outside the Hiring “Box.” Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2005.
- Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Your First Ten Days of Work. Library Worklife. ALA-APA. 2007.
- To Supplement or Not To Supplement: Post-Interviewing. TXLA. 2011 to the present.
About the Author
Julie Todaro is the Dean of Library Services for Austin Community College in Austin, Texas – a 40k+ student institution with 11 campus libraries – and a candidate for the 2016 – 2017 ALA Presidency. Julie has experience in all types of libraries and library settings and is an author and frequent presenter at meetings, conferences and in organizational settings. She is past president of both the Texas Library Association and the Association of College and Research Libraries and has been active in a variety of ALA areas in her career including ACRL, LLAMA, ALSC and LIRT and was chair of ALA’s Advisory Committee of the Office of Human Resource Development and Recruitment.