Friday, February 1, 2008

Stop dissing other professionals

What do we need a library for? We have the Internet! I've got Google, who needs a librarian! Librarians just check out books, they can't help me at all.

Now that I have your attention and have raised your ire, I would like you to remember that feeling the next time you dis other professionals. You know who I am taking about: the career counsellors at your college/university who you refuse to see; the third party recruiters who you think will charge you exorbitant fees for zero service; and the financial advisors who you are convinced cut their ethical teeth at Enron. You are languishing in stereotype land, and from a professional whose profession has her/his share of stereotypes (cardigan, bun and odor of mothballs, horn-rimmed glasses, wool socks and Birkenstocks...sound familiar?) you should be ashamed of tarring another profession.

Especially when they can really help you with career planning, since career planning is more than scanning the want ads and filling out an application form. For example:
  • Career advisors/counsellors: may have advanced degrees in psychology or previous experience in human resources. They are invaluable when it comes to polishing your resume or mocking up your interview skills. They may also be able to help you with the stresses of relocation, salary negotiation, dealing with a career that may, initially, mean some contract-to-contract living, and some insight into the job hunting industry. Even expert researchers need help sometimes.
  • Financial advisors: may have degrees in business, commerce or accounting, or may have learned their trade working for a credit agency or financial firm. You should visit one for help laying out your budget--the necessary first step in all salary negotiations and decisions--for information about paying back your student loans, like how fast, or if you have used a line of credit or credit cards to finance your graduate education. They can also help you determine what perks or benefits to look for in an employment offer since they have experience putting a monetary value over time on things like pensions, insurance, and tuition remission. Start with your bank to see if they have a financial advisor on board, ask about their credentials and make an appointment to see them.
  • Third-party recruiters (also known as "headhunters" or "executive search") : are sometimes a little more wild West, but they may have several years working in human resources or another profession (some librarians become third-party recruiters). Third party recruiters make their money charging the employer who is looking to hire, not the job seeker. In Canada, start with the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services (ACSESS).
Yes, there are "bad" career and financial advisors, as well as bad recruiters, but there are also bad librarians. I remember in one of my first year classes, how we were all asked if we had had a mean librarian experience--where someone scared us, angered us, or struck us with a vicious shush--and everyone in the classroom had met a mean librarian. I don't think that any of us went on to be mean librarians--but everyone has bad days--so don't let a stereotype or a prejudice fill your head against working with other professionals who can assist you with your career.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Moderated forums at LISjobs

Moderated forums for career-related questions are now open at LISjobs. The boards are very active with a wide variety of topics from if you hate library school will you love being a librarian to setting up a new members round table. The forums appear to offer a venue to talk about the full range of your career, starting out, selection, transitions. I even posted a response to a question about references while I scanned the forum.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

I've got you babe: Dual Career Search

Sometimes, a librarian is a package with their partner who may also work in the same or similar field. If that is academia, Inside Higher Ed provides the vertical search engine, Dual Career Search. You can search by keyword "librarian" and then search for a position for your partner at the same institution, or an institution close-by. Positions are displayed on a map, with green for the first position type selected and orange for the second selection.

As you can see from the test search of "librarian" and any in chemistry, some of the positions are at the same institution or nearby, meaning that you may have to commute but that both of you can stay in academia. Currently, this job post mashup only works on the US, but Inside Higher Ed does post jobs from outside of the US, so it is possible that they may add Canadian postings in the near future.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gray but not going anywhere

According to the 8 Rs, The Future of Human Resources in Canadian Libraries, one-quarter of the professional and paraprofessional staff in Canadian libraries is over the age of 55 [summary]. Indeed, there have been a few presentations, including an ALA Town Hall, that state that the "graying of the profession" may lead to a shortage of librarians. But if librarians are getting older, may they also be staying at work longer?

From a CBC Money story today, based on an RBC poll, 82% of Canadians may not retire when they hit 65, even if they could afford to retire. That means, if you love your job and you haven't wrecked your knees from brick laying, you are probably going to hold on to it. And an older librarian keeping their job could translate into a longer wait for the first promotion of a younger professional. Not to mention the possibility that some boomerang retirees may decide to return to the workforce in part-time positions that might normally provide the entry for a rookie librarian. So for young librarians, staff cuts to libraries are not the only the problem; competition from a professional who has many valuable skills accumulated over a career of several years may mean another obstacle to their first professional position.

Well, there could be worse news. For young librarians, this means it isn't enough to just learn XML, you need to learn some Excel. Here are some skills that you can acquire, and you may have already acquired but discounted as not Web 2.0 enough:
  • Budgeting: More than your bank balance, though many have tried that response. Have you secured funds for a program, fulfilled the mandate of the program and came out even or with some money left over? If you spent it all and came out with a negative, what would you do differently after having this experience? You should ask if you could spend some money to fill a deficit in a collection or planning and delivering a program. Keep your own records and spreadsheets and get permission from the person who supervised your work to use it in show and tell at the interview.
  • Plan and deliver. What gap is there in the training or the information skills at your library, workplace or volunteer job? Is there a class for seniors to use the computers; a session on getting more from your handheld; or a talk on getting letters of reference? Can you volunteer to give them and keep the documents--including the evaluations--that you get from this experience.
  • Supervising staff: Supervising staff involves a whole range of skills, from creating schedules to directing and delegating work loads, to recruiting, hiring, firing, evaluating and commending staff. Any one of these skills can make you stand apart from your peers who may have spent a lot of time taking orders, but not giving any.
Look critically at your past work experience, as well as previous or current volunteer experience, and determine if you have done any of these management-related tasks in your BLS (Before Library School) Life. Highlighting these skills in your resume, discussing them in the interview or documenting them in your portfolio can make you seem more like a manager, someone ready to step into the shoes of the master.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Inexperienced Interviewer

You do everything you can to prepare for the interview: you have read their webpages, raided their catalog, prepped for all possible behavior descriptive questions, got your suit pressed and your hair blown out and made an annotated list of the last fifteen books you read, just in case they ask. You arrive, five minutes early, with enough time to sweetly compliment the assistant on her own excellent coif and attire, ready to give this interview your best shot. After all, it's this or your parents' basement. However, having done the best you could, the library you are interviewing with has not done the same: they have dispatched their inexperienced interviewer to deal with you.

There are several signs of the inexperienced interviewer, as well as their sister-in-arms, the deluded interviewer. The Inexperienced Interviewer has probably not interviewed anyone before, or interviews only rarely, since most librarians don't like living in their parents' basement and tend to hold on to their jobs. The subspecies, the Deluded Interviewer, is the one who has interviewed for years and thinks she's an ace when she hasn't even bothered to write her own questions; she usually works from a list she got from HR or inherited from the previous director. When inexperience and delusion come together you have a terrifying hybrid, like the Greek chimera of myth, or a love-child of Microsoft and MySpace. They will devour you whole and tend to make their hiring decisions based on their "gut" or a flipped coin. At least the lions knew what to do with the Christians; these interviewers like to play with their food.

You can identify them by their warbles:
  • He begins with a behavior descriptive question but when you pause to think for a moment, he clips on, hypothetically. First, behavior descriptive questions usually begin with Tell me about a time when and they are looking for a past behavior, a previous example, so they can predict what you would do in a similar, future situation. You can't answer about a past event hypothetically, unless you are going to deliver an alternative history. Hypothetical questions are a different type of question. These interviewers will also judge your response, when asking about something in the past, and complain, but they didn't answer with a hypothetical, I wasn't looking for specifics. If you use a behavior descriptive question, you want to know about the past, not a fairy tale.
  • She latches on to a library fad like a pit bull and won't let go. Worse, she doesn't know what she is talking about. The worst: she asks questions about her specialty in libraries and still doesn't know what she is talking about. Throwing out questions about manga management, tagging in the catalog and making a library Facebook group, are all legitimate questions...when the person is on the team and can make decisions about internal practices. It is good to be up-to-date, but interviewers can ask a candidate about the professional literature that he/she consults, how often, and his/her professional areas of interest. If the candidate is an "expert" on an area that you feel your staff has a gap, give this person a point for the question and move on.
  • He says, I like to have a chat, to get the feel for the person. Warning, Will Robinson, Danger! You're about to get a meteor to the head: informality means he has gone off script and may veer into inappropriate territory, such as are you married, planning on getting knocked-up, younger than a boomer and have no health problems. Additionally, he is also going to blow up a planet if you answer in a way that offends him or inadvertently mocks one of his hobbies.
  • She asks about an internal policy that you cannot possibly have any reason to know about since the policy is not publicly available. Asking about internal documents related to discipline, professional development and benefits is cheating, but it happens all the time because the person thinks the library's policies are "just plain common sense". Clearly, if you think policies always make sense, you have never read a policy. Policies are for training day. What experience do you have with our OPAC? is an interview question. Look at that: clear, quantifiable and library-related.
  • He doesn't smile. You have to work with this person: if he is your adversary from the very first instant, it will take a lot of Listerine to get that antagonistic taste from your mouth. Some interviewers will respond, I don't want to be too friendly because I don't want to give false hope. Please, we have been reading American Libraries for the past two years and we still want to be librarians. False hope is our bread and butter. Smile, or at least make a kindly gesture if your culture doesn't use smiling or eye contact to convey greeting or comfort.
The final interview nightmare occurs when you have a top dog/queen bee who hogs the interview or you watch all of their betas and drones throw longing glances at the leader to punctuate each of their questions. This is a Sign, as sure as a burning bush: they are inexperienced, as well as deluded and no one will ever tell them otherwise.

As a New Librarian, you can install wireless in your parents' basement.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Should you share the wealth?

You realize that one of your colleagues in the library is working many over-time hours to offer programming for patrons and that he has had to take from his collections budget to offer some additional services. This colleague is quite humble and has asked other members to downplay his extra hours in front of the director. Another colleague with a different program is much louder at staff meetings--citing her carefully accrued statistics and satisfaction reports from clients--and she is always good at securing additional funding for her programs, above what other departments receive. You have done a head-count and your modest colleague has a higher attendance at his programs, whereas your documented colleague has a lower attendance, and she has cancelled a few sessions, due to few or no attendees, and spent time on other projects.

Budget time is here: do you point out to the director that your quiet colleague could use some extra cash, even though you know your calculating colleague is counting on that money for her programming?

Do you stand up for the quiet man, who may go after you like John Wayne if you decide to help him, or do you stay silent and let the scrivener keep her scribblings? I would reason my way through this problem, stressing that I would like to see an equal distribution of the budget, especially in a case where the public--and the library--is benefiting from higher attendance.

Here are the points to touch on:
  • You can't punish one librarian for getting her work done on time by taking her money away.
  • However, the public is benefiting from another staff member's programs, so we need to support them with more funds, a refreshed librarian and stats that we can use to get some more money.
  • You will have to decide: talk with your colleagues, stressing the benefits to the public, or straight to the director, if you believe that a direct order is the only recourse. (The latter is the least favoured in the interview, but really the most likely in an actual workplace.)
  • There may be an HR shuffle that you feel you can give a (temporary) assist with. Taking on too many extra hours means that you will feel the burn-out and will only seem like brown-nosing to an interviewer: I'm so keen, I may never go home. Turn it into a temporary benefit, part of your professional education: gathering stats for the quiet one and marketing for the collector.
Your quiet colleague should be prompted to keep his stats--though he doesn't seem to have enough time to meet his programming requirements--so you may have to volunteer for an assist. After all, some of his overtime will have to be caught up by someone: try to package it as a learning experience for you, the rookie.

I hope an interviewer will indicate that you will have a mentor who can assist you with these problems, and will accept your rationale that you can't rob Peter to pay Paul. If you have encountered this problem in the past and you felt the situation was successfully resolved, tell the story and point out what you would replicate in a future situation to have the appropriate happy ending.