Archives For Human Resources

circulation diagram with title

Even if you’re not actively job hunting, reading job ads is a great way to prepare for the next step in your career.

Job postings convey a whole lot of information: what you’d do on the job, the experience and knowledge the hiring manager wants in a candidate, and (ideally) a sense of the organization and working environment. You can also get a great feel for current trends in librarianship.

This Library Lost & Found series dissects job ads for library leadership positions. We analyze library job postings from the perspective of building your career. We’re also interested in how to write a great job description that will attract the best candidates.

Today I’m analyzing a job posting for a Senior Librarian for San Mateo County Libraries* in California.


Senior Librarian is an unusual job title for public libraries, and it’s part of what drew me into this posting. I wanted to know if this job had leadership responsibilities – or if it was a specialist in library services for senior citizens.

It’s the former: this is a managerial role. The posting explains that the senior librarian is at the “front-line supervisory level in the librarian series.” It sounds like this librarian is responsible for internal management in a library branch – supervising staff, managing service desks, and leading projects.

This person reports to a branch manager, who would take care of external management and administrative responsibilities like budgeting and strategic planning.

Job Duties

Management of staff is the first responsibility listed for this job ad. I really appreciate this realistic assessment of how much time it takes to manage people well. I’m also charmed that they include “mentor” as a responsibility in the management bullet point. This tells me that SMCL values a culture of learning and development.

I like the inclusion of “excellent customer service.” This tells me that the library has a user-centric philosophy, which is a huge plus in my book.

Several of the responsibilities center around providing input to the branch manager as they work on the budget and strategic plan. This job would be a great opportunity to develop the skills needed to take on an even greater leadership role.

Also of note: this position is required to create and implement new programs. That shows a dynamic, evolving organization and a need for candidates to be innovative.

When looking at the job duties in a posting, it’s important to read with an open mind. You can be a great candidate despite not having direct experience doing 100% of the job tasks listed. The hiring manager writes a dream list of everything they want. Candidates will come in the door with strengths and weaknesses in those areas, but very few people will be strong in every single area on the wish list.


There’s a hard requirement for an ALA-accredited MLS. After that, they take an interesting approach to experience required, saying:

Any combination of experience that would likely provide the required knowledge, skills, and abilities is qualifying. A typical way to qualify is three years of experience as a librarian, or a combination of library and supervision experience.

That’s a great way to phrase the requirements. It’s flexible, but also gives a good idea of what they need in the position.

The specifics are divided into knowledge and skills/abilities. I would guess that you could demonstrate knowledge through things like MLS classes or reading up on current trends. The skills/abilities, however, would most likely need to be backed up through on-the-job experience.

Interestingly, they require knowledge of supervision rather than ability, so they would probably be open to someone without supervisory experience if they had thoughtful answers about their managerial philosophy.

Two skills that jump out to me are “Analyze library problems and implement their solutions” and “Learn and grow in a changing environment.” This library doesn’t want someone to keep the status quo – they want someone to come in and change things for the better. If you applied for this job, you would want to have specific stories about solving problems creatively.


The awesomeness continues: this job ad is super-transparent about the salary range for the position. They even convert it into hourly, weekly, bi-weekly, and monthly, so that you have a point of comparison for whichever way receive your current pay.

It’s always wise to plan for coming in on the low end of a salary range, so let’s say that a decently qualified candidate would make $70,000. That’s a good salary for a librarian – but not great for the high cost of living in California. A quick look at Craigslist shows that a 2 bedroom rental would easily be $3500/month, if not higher, and it would be hard to find a 1 bedroom for under $2000/month. That’s pretty tight on the $70,000 salary, so candidates would want to take a thoughtful look at their budget.

The posting has not even a whisper about benefits – you have to dig. Since library staff are employees of the county, they’re covered under San Mateo County benefits – which look pretty darn good. The health coverage is very affordable and the fringe benefits look great. They help with child care placement and explicitly lay out the amount of funding available for professional development.


I already saw the organizational values shining through in the responsibilities, but this job posting also includes a glowing description of San Mateo County Libraries:

San Mateo County Libraries are an invaluable community resource, an amazing family, a springboard for opportunities, and our staff are what makes it so special.

The word “champion” appears twice in the first paragraph. This is emphatically a library for people with big ambitions for community service.

The posting also includes some impressive statistics about library circulation and services. The county library system has 12 branches, and it’s not clear to me from the posting in which branch this position would work. That could make a big difference to applicants familiar with the locations.


The Senior Librarian looks like an amazing entry-level management position. I love that the job posting explicitly frames this as a growth opportunity for librarians to develop supervisory skills.

While the salary is moderate, the fringe benefits seem to support a healthy work-life balance.

The job posting gives me a really good idea of the kind of candidate SMCL wants: librarians with a few years of library work experience who are interested in leading change, improving service, and growing their careers even further.

What questions do you have about library job postings? What makes you consider applying?

*We have no connection with San Mateo County Libraries and no insider scoop on this job posting.

sneakered feet ascending stairs with text "embracing next-gen librarianship"There has been much talk in the library world and beyond about generations. We are attuned to generational differences when it comes to our patrons, how they learn and use libraries, how they navigate the overloaded information landscape.[1] In the hushes of our faculty meetings and hallways, however, we sometimes talk about millennials and Gen Y with an air of dismay, ambivalence, or even disdain when it comes to their digital, phone-obsessed, tech-loving ways.

So, it comes as little surprise to me that I tend to be met with a certain measure of dismissiveness when I use the term “next-generation librarian” to describe the kind of leaders I want to attract and develop at The Collective (a new kind of professional development event I co-founded with Corey Halaychik) and to see thriving in academic libraries.

First, people often assume that next-generation has to do with youth; age, however, is not a prerequisite for being awesome, embracing change, or thinking forward. Next-generation pertains to the next stage of development or version of our profession; there’s no expiration date on participation save an individuals’ decision to assign themselves one.

Second, there is an unhealthy and prejudicial stereotype that those who embrace technology wholesale do not appreciate the analog or the “traditional” library values. I’m not sure if this comes from a lack of exposure to tech-savvy librarians or a fear-based tactic to defend a Luddite’s value in the institution, but we should celebrate how mad tech skillz and core librarian values are not an either-or. Indeed, we when choose to hire candidates who have both, the rising tide lifts all boats and nobody drowns.

At our best, I have seen how we can celebrate how much next-gen librarians improve our services, creativity, and research outputs. At our worst, we dismiss them as somehow not “real” librarians and stagnate our organizational growth and learning.

So, I’m on a crusade to redefine what we mean by next-generation. The next-generation librarian is a concept that transcends the traditional generational boundary of tabloid research and listicles. Not defined by birth year, next-generation is about a mindset, a disposition, an outlook.

Next-gen librarians are:

Less change averse, more risk embracing

They are not threatened by new ideas or technologies; they are willing to experiment, test, and fail.

Skill developers

They are not afraid of being pushed out of the workforce—they hope to reinvent it—and as such are constantly training up. They may be more mobile and willing to change jobs based on the climate of the workplace.

More likely to be hybrids, blended or feral

They range from advanced career librarians pursuing JDs to better meet user copyright needs to young professionals choosing a career in librarians rather than Silicon Valley.

Impact driven

Citation counts don’t cut it; they want to see their work have meaning in the communities they serve in tangible ways. They believe libraries are curators, creators, and collaborators, not simply service-providers.

Leading from the middle

They are pushing the profession forward by starting programs and initiatives without necessarily being in traditional leadership roles; they create opportunities rather than waiting to be tapped or moved up on the organization chart.

vintage photo of a robot "Librarian 2.0" dispensing books

Future librarian of the past (via Flavorwire)

So, to sum up: next-generation is:

  • An attitude, not an age.
  • A willingness to learn, adapt, and evolve, not a particular skill set.
  • Seeing the librarian’s role as more than service.
  • Asking “How can we try that?” instead of “Why should we do that?”

Given the qualities above, it might seem daunting to attract, develop, and retain next-gen librarians, but it shouldn’t be so. In fact, many of the opportunities that next-gen librarians need and desire are what managers and administrators should be offering anyway if they want to steer a healthy living and learning organization. I would encourage administrators to:

  1. Provide professional development opportunities, internally and externally. It can be expensive, but there are many low cost initiatives, such as THATCamps, Library Juice Academy courses, and subscriptions to….and, whenever possible, create opportunities to attend more expensive options such as HILT, DHSI, etc. Furthermore, use individual skill-building to build towards an overall re-skilling program for the library.
  2. Consider internal working groups or skill-building programs. This is an essential step in cultivating a culture where having a single digital humanities or digital scholarship librarian does not mean others are “off the hook” for using technology to enhance their research and service.
  3. Support from above and below—allow for middle leadership. Create opportunities to lead projects and groups, start initiatives and programs, and build managerial skills through supervising student workers, graduate assistants, and practicum students. Giving leeway with low-level supervision and managing small budgets has the added bonus of grooming a next-generation of qualified managers and administrators who have on-the-job experience.
  4. Acknowledge and reward risk-taking, from good work to good failure. It’s hard to put yourself out there and maintain a next-gen mindset and energy if those individuals feel they will become pariahs for presenting outside-the-box ideas or conducting cutting-edge research.
  5. Create room in your cultural climate for new ideas and viewpoints, including dissent. Sometimes library departments lean towards attracting like-minded, introverted, not rockin’-the-boat types. Remember: civil disagreement and constructive criticism is collegial, too! If there’s no conflict or debate in your faculty meetings, you’re stagnating.
  6. Commit to invisible forms of diversity. We can’t always see difference—be it socio-economic, veteran status, or disabilities. Diversity in thinking and learning styles, thought processes, personality, disposition, and problem-solving is equally an asset to your organization, just like the forms of visible diversity we have come to appreciate and value.

If you’re doing all of the above, I doubt the term next-gen will ruffle any feathers. You’ll have probably already moved on to the next big thing…



[1] See, for instance: Sweeney, Richard T. “Reinventing library buildings and services for the millennial generation.” Library Leadership & Management 19.4 (2005): 165-176.

McDonald, Robert H., and Chuck Thomas. “Disconnects between library culture and millennial generation values.” Educause quarterly 29.4 (2006): 4.

Gardner, Susan, and Susanna Eng. “What students want: Generation Y and the changing function of the academic library.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 5.3 (2005): 405-420.

LibFocus (a great collaborative library blog) recently shared a post on How to Become a Library Director.

Alex Lent, a public library director from Massachusetts, offers some great tips. His first step (Read Job Ads) is a habit that I think is crucial for any kind professional development. As Lent says:

Job ads don’t just tell you what positions are available, they also tell you what skills, experiences, and traits are needed in order to get the job.

Once you identify the skills needed for a next career step, you can begin to grow towards that goal.

I checked out job ads for academic library department head positions for a full three years before I ever applied. I would think about the skills I was lacking (like managing a budget) and look for ways to practice in my current role.

If I’d waited to check out the ads until I was actually ready to make a career move, I would have been dismayed by the skill gap.

Check out the full post on LibFocus for all of Lent’s tips on becoming a library director.

My library instituted a new staff recognition program recently called “Above and Beyond.” It was meant as a way for staff to recognize and celebrate each other and the extraordinary contributions they all make. It is a way to create positive energy in the workplace, which we can all use more of!

photo round squeeze toy with excited face, arms, legs, and thumbs upAnyone can nominate anyone else for an Above and Beyond award. They can even nominate anonymously if they want. They just fill out a form or email their nomination to the Public Relations and Marketing person saying who they are nominating and why. The nominee receives a “Squeezable Praise Thumbs Up Thanks for Being Awesome” guy and a certificate. They don’t get anything fancy or monetary, since that really wasn’t the point of the program. They get recognition and we all get warm fuzzies when we hear these positive stories.

The program is not meant for managers. If we start nominating people for awards, it could look like we are playing favorites. We have had managers (including myself) nominated anonymously (thank you, Anonymous!), but that is possibly so that they don’t look like they are sucking up to their boss. That said, managers could certainly nominate each other. We wanted to minimize all possibility for unnecessary and unintentional drama with this program and focus on the celebration of each other. So far so good!

Internal Candidate Interviews

Eva —  March 16, 2015 — 1 Comment

Like most public libraries who are coming out of the recession, we’ve begun hiring again. Several public libraries in my region invite other library directors in to help conduct interviews, so in addition to doing a lot of interviewing at my library, I’ve also taken part in some civil service exam interviews for my neighboring libraries. Library directors talk–as you know–and one conversation I’ve had several times is about internal candidate interviews.

The interview is the audition, the time for that candidate to dazzle us. Being an internal candidate gives you an edge over external candidates, but you still have to demonstrate that you are the right fit for that particular job, and the way you demonstrate that is by giving an excellent interview. To borrow the attitude of Debbie Allen in Fame, my take is “You want this promotion? You want this permanent position? Well, right here is where you start earning it–with a great interview.”

My library is small enough that I know who you are and have an awareness of what your work is like, but large enough that our interactions are usually limited to a smile, a nod, and perhaps small talk at the Staff Day coffee station. The interview allows me to get to know internal candidates better and get a personal sense of how often they raise their heads above the day-to-day and look around to get the big picture of where our library is headed. So it disappoints me when an internal candidate violates the best practices of a good interview.

A weak handshake, poor eye contact, lackluster or pat responses, too-casual dress, not knowing our strategic plan, and the inability to answer questions taken straight from the About Us section of our website are mistakes that interviewees should avoid. When an internal candidate commits any of these no-nos, I think it’s worse than when it happens with an external candidate because internal candidates should know better. I cringe when internal candidates take themselves out of the running by giving answers such as “I am interested in the position because I need more hours/I need benefits,” “I actually can’t name any of the library’s strategic plan goals,” “I don’t have an answer to that question,” or the kiss of death: Wandering sentences stringing together random thoughts that don’t actually answer the question we asked.

Internal candidates should be slam-dunk hires. They have had the advantage of our training, professional development, and mentoring. You know their work habits, their attitudes, how they serve the public, and how they interact with other staff. The candidates know how the library operates, know what the work atmosphere is like, have demonstrated on a daily basis their commitment to the work, and are familiar with the expectations and personalities.

Don’t get me wrong; many fantastic staff are also fantastic interviewees who have the right balance of passion without being psychotic, demonstrate their knowledge of the library without being nitpicky or arrogant, and are diplomatic in their responses without lying to themselves or to us. I’m being earnest when I say that I don’t understand why some internal candidates don’t seem appropriately prepared for the interview, and I’d like to hear from you, library leaders, about what your expectations are of internal candidates. Do I expect too much?