Starr Hoffman, Success Story & Journalism and Digital Resources Librarian

This interview is over 1 year old and may no longer be up to date or reflect the interviewee/interviewees’ positions

Naomi House’s interview with success story Starr.

starr2Naomi:  How did you find your current job?
Starr:  I found my job by periodically searching Columbia website (I also did this with CUNY) and also saw it listed on INALJ. However, I decided to apply after talking to a friend at Columbia about the position. From talking to her, I realized that it was very focused on providing support for data-intensive research, which really piqued my interest! Sometimes it’s hard to determine what a job is really “about” from the title and description—so this is a great example of how networking can be extremely helpful.

Naomi:  Favorite library you’ve been to?
Starr:  My favorite libraries, ranked according to purpose (how nerdy am I?):
·      For atmosphere and architecture, it’s a tie: Library of Congress, NYPL’s Schwartzman Building, and Boston Public Library (added benefit of being across the street from another of my favorite buildings, Trinity Church).
·      Favorite library cafe: Seattle Public Library’s Chocolati, which has excellent food!
·      Favorite specialized library (tie): The Senate Library in DC, and Scholastic’s library at their NYC HQ.
·      Favorite reading spot: The Nonfiction adult room at Frisco Public Library, near my old home north of Dallas, Texas. There are big, low armchairs (my feet reach the floor!) and huge sunny windows overlooking a green space.

Naomi:  Favorite book?
Starr:  This is always such a cruel question for a librarian to answer! I’m tempted to say: check my Goodreads account and let me know.
·      Fiction: The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
·      Non-fiction: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard, Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle

Naomi:  Favorite thing about libraries or library technology?
Starr:  I love working in a learning organization, both in the sense of working at a library and of working in higher education in general. There is such a sense of community to libraries and higher education, and there’s typically an emphasis on self-development and learning not only for students and faculty, but for librarians and staff. Honestly, as much as I love books, for me the appeal of academic libraries isn’t in the books themselves, it’s in the learning.

Naomi:  Websites, feeds, or blogs we should be following?
Starr:  The jobs front is pretty well covered at INALJ, but if you’re hunting in a specific city, especially NYC, it’s important to check out individual institution pages, as well. For NYC-ers, here’s my go-to list of institutional employment pages:

Similarly, I think the best library blogs are well-documented and talked about. The real stand-out for me is A Library Writer’s Blog <>, which lists conference calls for papers and publication opportunities. It’s probably a given, but any academic librarian should also be checking out The Chronicle of Higher Education <> and Inside Higher Ed < > (a more frank and sometimes irreverent take than the Chronicle!).

The rest of what I read on a regular basis is related to current events, geekery (huzzah for The Mary Sue! <>), technology, and design / fashion / DIY.

Naomi:  Best piece of job hunting advice?
Starr:  1. Schedule your tasks (when and where you search, when you apply). This keeps you on task, and keeps you from spending all your time on the hunt, keeping you refreshed and giving you time for #2…

2. Have another project. Could be personal (home renovation, writing a novel) or turn that research/thesis/idea into an article. Volunteer at a local organization—it doesn’t have to be a library. READ the literature, and blogs if you like—keeping up with College & Research Libraries articles and news on The Chronicle of Higher Education meant that I could always speak knowledgably about current academic librarian things. This is key when networking and when answering interview questions, so that you’re up on the current hot issues

3. Stay professionally active, plug into a group of librarians. The benefits here are many: meeting new friends, getting out of the apartment and being social, networking (you never know when someone you meet may know of a job or be on a search committee), and learning something!

If you’re in (or hoping to be in) the New York City area, join METRO <> and attend their classes, meetups, and join a discussion group or two. If you’re an NYC academic librarian, definitely join ACRL/NY <>, one of the most locally-active chapters of a national organization I’ve ever seen. Also in NYC, The Foundation Center provides lots of FREE workshops on how to write grants, how to get scholarships, etc.—great for students or those interested in adding grant-writing to their resume or looking to get research funded.

4. The two most-desired and frequently-mentioned job skills I read in academic librarian position descriptions were:
·      — Information literacy instruction experience
·      — Grant-writing experience (particularly in administrative positions, but a plus in ANY position at a college/university)

If you don’t have either of those skills, try to find a way to work on at least one of them through an internship, a class, or a workshop/webinar. If you’re a student or new librarian, get as MUCH speaking experience as you can—especially submit papers to local events, conferences, offer to speak at your local public library—whatever you can to get public speaking skills. That’s the first step to information literacy instruction, and it will look great on your CV / resume.

5. You will get discouraged during the process; reach out to your support network whenever possible. My job search started informally in June 2012 and became “serious” in November 2012 when I finished my PhD, so it took 9 – 14 months for me to find a job. However, I had been unemployed even longer, because I quit my position at the University of North Texas in October 2011 to move to Ukraine and finish my dissertation! Many weeks, I couldn’t even remember what it felt like to be employed, and despite being professionally active once we moved to NYC, I felt disconnected and professionally adrift. I constantly had to remind myself that this is a rough job market and NYC itself adds two or three levels of difficulty to the job search. Staying connected to family and friends near and far, as well as finding lots of workshops and library events to attend, were essential to my well-being and determination to keep going. Reach out to your people, whoever they are, and make new connections whenever possible.

6. Finally, here are some great resources I used for updating my CV and writing cover letters. Susanne Markgren and Carrie Netzer Wajda are library job geniuses! Don’t let the presentation titles throw you off—the content is just as relevant for not-so-new-librarians! (The first link concentrates on formatting your CV/resume and writing cover letters, the second is about creating an online presence. The third is an article on professional writing and mentorship.)

Starr Hoffman, PhD/MLS, is the Journalism and Digital Resources Librarian at Columbia University in New York, where she’s tickled that her job is divided between social media reference and support for data-intensive research. She will also be adjunct teaching for Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science and is an active member of ALA, GODORT, ACRL, ASHE, ACRL/NY, and METRO. Her dissertation was titled “The Preparation of Academic Library Administrators,” a quantitative study to determine preparation methods experienced by academic library deans, and which they perceived to be most valuable. (This sounds far more scholarly than she feels.) Starr is a geek, reads voraciously and indiscriminately on the subway, and in her spare time can be found traveling, scuba diving, cosplaying, photographing, weight-lifting, cooking, and painting random things on her walls. She is addicted to great shoes and being busy. You can find her online at: @artgeeklibraria or

All Jobs for INALJ can be found here: Updated daily

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