This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions
by Kristen Jaques, Head Editor, INALJ Maine
Sarah Lauderdale, Head of Reference at the Hamilton-Wenham Public Library
Sarah Lauderdale is a seasoned library professional who has been happily employed in her dream job for over four years. She loves writing fiction, exploring the beaches near her home, and taking care of her pet rescue rats. She was my classmate at Simmons College’s Graduate School of Library and Information Science program, a coworker at Simmons College’s Beatley Library, and a lifeline during my job search. She is a talented, incredibly dedicated reference librarian who always goes above and beyond to be helpful to patrons, coworkers, and helpless-looking strangers she meets on her commute. Below, she will share some insights on getting a job as a reference librarian and doing the job well.
1. How did you end up choosing librarianship as a career?
I graduated from college as an English major with vague hopes of working with books and/or writing. For two years I worked two jobs as a part-time circulation assistant at a public library and a full-time project coordinator at a publishing company. Once I realized that I preferred library work, I started hunting up ALA-accredited graduate programs.
2. What experiences from your pre-librarian days help you the most as a library professional?
I give mad props to the writing center I worked at in college, which emphasized a collaborative model between tutor and tutee in tutorial sessions. This is ideally at work in the reference interview, shaping the give and take between patron and librarian.
Communication is important to find out not just what patrons want, but what they want it for, and what they are trying to achieve. Reading people is important as well: sometimes people know exactly what they want and they really are not looking for a conversation when they come to the reference desk. But if a patron wants to know where all the science books are, it’s good to ask if he or she is looking for anything in particular and open the interaction up for some give and take, because that’s when you find out that the patron actually wants peer-reviewed articles on current environmental topics, or a biography of a prominent early woman scientist, or a comparison of the locomotive gaits of dogs and cats, or some other need that just saying “The 500s” wouldn’t have answered.
3. Can you tell me a little about your journey from library science graduate to employed librarian?
I graduated from Simmons College in May of 2008 with my Master of Library and Information Science. My job hunt took up April and May of my last semester and continued from June through early January of 2009. During that time I submitted 136 applications (I should totally have done more), went on 12 or 13 interviews (why is it easier for me to remember how many applications I submitted than how many interviews I went to?), and wrote I-don’t-know-how-many thank-you notes. I also made two moves, and my mother scared the willies out of me with talk about the recession.
4. How did you find (and get) your current job?
In December of 2008 I applied at Hamilton-Wenham and was asked to interview. I told the director at Simmons’ Beatley Library, where I used to work about my upcoming interview, and she told me that a former coworker of mine had interviewed for the same position and had actually been offered it, but had taken another job offer instead. I’m very glad that I talked to my old director about it, because she gave me the tip I needed to call up my old coworker and get the scoop on his thoughts about the library, the job, etc. Networking in action!
After my first interview I wrote thank-you notes to both of the people who interviewed me: that is, my current director and the interim reference librarian. That should be obvious, but I guess a lot of people fail to do this, because my director has remarked a number of times that that disposed her to look on me favorably as a job candidate and to ask me back for my second interview. Incidentally, nearly a month elapsed between my two interviews. It was some days after I went back in January that I was offered the job. So just because you haven’t heard anything for a while doesn’t necessarily mean the job is a wash.
5. What skills and personality traits help you succeed as a Head of Reference?
Friendliness and interest in assisting the patron. Being willing and eager to bodily get up and help. A short attention span is also helpful: that is, an ability to drop what I am doing and redirect my energy and focus on short notice. And avid curiosity, of course.
6. What are your favorite aspects of your job? What have been some challenges?
My favorite aspects are the people, both patrons and fellow staff. I also love the resources available to me at the consortium and state-wide. There is so much to draw on! Follow-through is probably my biggest challenge: there is SO MUCH to be done, and one task will interrupt another, and since many of my duties of a continuing nature, without an endpoint as such, sometimes days can go by when I feel like I haven’t actually gotten anything “done.” It’s silly to feel that way, though. As long as people come to my desk each day and I help them, I am getting things done.
7. Can you tell me about one way you’ve grown as a librarian since taking this job?
I’m a lot more confident than I used to be. If someone approaches me, I have no reason to think that I shouldn’t be able to help them. If I don’t know the answers off the bat, that just means I go find out, or give them the tools and the guidance to do so themselves. If even that has me baffled, I can ask for more time to research the matter, or inquire with others. After all, I don’t work in a vacuum. I can use the expertise of my director and coworkers and librarians at other libraries, and other people as well.
8. What is your favorite piece of job hunting advice?
I will give you several. Talk to other people about your job hunt! Write and send any thank-you letters right away! Also, when you come back from an interview, try to submit another job application that same day, if possible (and after you have written your thank-you notes, obviously.) That way you are not biting your nails over the job you interviewed for: you are constantly thinking ahead. Keep going! Don’t stop! Forward ho! MUSH!