Archives For interview

The Editorial Board of LL&F invited all three candidates for ALA President to talk about leadership. We strongly feel that the next president of our primary professional organization needs to not only address the need for strong leadership in libraries, but also exemplify the traits we promote in this blog.

All candidates were sent the same questions via email. They were given the opportunity to provide a bio. The first candidate spotlight is on Christine Hage.

Meet Christine

Hage Head Shots 001Christine Lind Hage has been a full-time public librarian for 45 years and has been responsible for five major library construction projects. Recognized as Michigan’s Librarian of the Year in 1997 she has published and presented widely on various public library subjects both nationally and internationally.

Christine has been a frequent contributor to PUBLIB and is the author of The Public Library Start-Up Guide published in 2004 by ALA.  Within ALA Christine is a past president of the Public Library Association and is the past president of United for Libraries. She also served as an ALA Councilor for 12 years, and Chair of the Office of Information Technology’s America’s Libraries for the 21st Century Committee.

She knew she would be a librarian since she was 8 years old and has never worked anywhere but a library.  She is currently the director of the Rochester Hills (MI) Public Library.

Q&A

What does library leadership mean to you?

My primary responsibility as a library director and leader is providing the essential and relevant resources our staff needs to serve the community and the profession. This includes financial resources, work and learning spaces, equipment, supplies, responsive and flexible schedules, and the empowerment and independence they need to be successful leaders in their own areas of service to others. As a team manager, I partner with my staff to create a collaborative, cooperative, dynamic, and visionary work environment. This shared vision translates into how we all serve our diverse demographic of patrons who come to us with a wide spectrum of resource needs, interests, and expectations. Likewise, the ALA has been instrumental in teaching professionals to be advocates for serving our public, respect all of our members and the profession, and creating responsive and responsible output from our committees. Our history shows that we are all better and stronger when we make decisions based on the needs, skills and contributions of our diverse membership. Being a leader, one must be first a team member who values new ideas and strategies for setting and accomplishing ambitious and valued goals and outcomes.

Who has inspired you as a library leader?

My first mentor was a library school professor Rose Vainstein who showed her students how important it is to create libraries that center on patrons while pulling together information, vision, and expertise from other professions. Sue Sutton, a former reference librarian, also modeled great reference librarianship to me. Sarah Long, former ALA President, additionally, has provided me insights and wisdom throughout my career. The new librarians also inspire me with their grasp of the emerging digital realms of information and the value of protecting and advancing the profession.

Tell us about your career path. When did you decide to take on a leadership role?

From the time I stepped through the Tudor designed libraries of the Detroit Public Library system, my dream has always been to be a librarian. My life and caraeer have been dedicated to libraries, patrons, and the profession. In 45-year of service, I have been the full spectrum of a page, circulation assistant, children’s librarian, reference librarian, and director. Advancing libraries as public, academic, and specialty institutions is at the core of who I am. Libraries are the fortress of a free society and our profession must defend and protect them as they increase society’s awareness of the value of free speech and the right to publish one’s ideas.

Before going to library school I worked in my school library, college library and as a page/reference assistant/circulation assistant in a public library.  While in graduate school I worked for Rose Vainstein.  I received my MLS when I was 21 (went to school year round) and started in my first professional position as Head of Adult Services in my hometown library.  I worked there for six years and moved on to the directorship of a small library and 4 years later became an assistant director/head of adult services and eventually director in my current library, the Rochester Hills Public Library. After 18 years I was recruited to start a new library and was the director of the Clinton-Macomb Public Library.  Seven years later, my work was done there and I returned to the Rochester Hills Public Library as director, where I still work.  It has been a 45 year career that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed! I believe I lead by example and it seems to work well.

What specific skills would you recommend ALA members learn to enhance their leadership abilities?

One skill at the heart of librarianship is membership and networking to create a unified organization that recognizes diversity but honors the profession as the defender of free speech and the right to access information.  Building this network is as simple as introducing yourself to others at conferences or online and then taking an active role by volunteering for committee work and service projects. Open your mind to all the possibilities by approaching your career with zest, curiosity, and an exemplified willingness to listen, invetisgate, share, and learn.  Find people you admire and ask them to mentor you.  And don’t forget to help others to build the profession and the institution of libraries.

What change do you want to see in the library world? 

We have certainly changed the formats we work with.  When I started 45 years ago one of the first decisions I had to make was whether to purchase paperback books for my public library.  Later I moved us from reel to reel tapes to cassettes, to CDs to downloadable music.  We moved from 16mm movies to VHS to DVDs.  So over the years our formats have certainly changed, but in most ways we’re in the same business of providing information and recreational materials to our users, in the format and timeframe they want and need.  We are still people working with people.  Our tools change, but our mission is pretty much the same…give them what they want and need.


 

Thanks Christine with sharing with us your vision of library leadership! The polls open on March 15 and close April 22. For more information visit the ALA Election Information webpage.

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?

Teenage Pages on the Job

Mary Kelly —  January 21, 2015 — 1 Comment

prepare for shelf readingFor the last 4 years or so, I have been doing a teen job search workshop. I got this idea from my daughter who was waitress all through high school. Even as a teenager, she was hiring and firing. She also complained that kids didn’t know how to even fill out an application or had their parents hovering around. Like any decent librarian, my first thought was PROGRAM IDEA! (If you want to read about my program click here to my personal blog.)

My daughter was not exaggerating one bit. I couldn’t believe how little the kids knew about getting and keeping a job. During this workshop, I talk about interviewing, job applications and on the job behavior. It is one of my favorite continuing programs at our library. The kids themselves have told me that no one has ever talked to them about jobs.

I mention this because I have had some recent experiences with hiring teen pages, and it wasn’t pretty. (This is also when I start a rant about “these kids today….”) Even though I knew teens were pretty green at what real world work was about, I was shocked at how much kids really didn’t know. In the span of 3 months, I hired and fired a total of 5 people. So far, my last 2 hires are working out, so crossing fingers. (This is where I tell you that you must start a similar program at your library. I am quite sure this problem isn’t limited to South Eastern Michigan.)

I finally realized I had to re-think training, especially for young people. A branch manager friend of mine told me that as a “first” job for many kids, we have a duty to teach about what it means to work for a living. So, if you have teens on your payroll, shore up your training to include a few of these tips.

  • Give an overview of a library’s functions in terms of how materials move in and out of the library. Remind them that when there is a clog in one place, it will mess up so many other library activities. Don’t assume any prior knowledge about ANYTHING.
  • Don’t overwhelm an employee with too many tasks. Roll out the duties slowly.
  • Telling isn’t teaching. Make sure you explain fully how your process works. Test your pages and offer feedback right away. Lather, rinse, repeat until it everyone involved feels comfortable.
  • If a page isn’t catching on within a couple of weeks (depending on often they work), chances are they aren’t going to ever catch on. Cut your losses now and let that person go.

After my recent foray into page hiring, I found one of my newbies in the stacks shelf reading (without prompting!). He told me it “bothered” him that stuff was out of order. I wept with joy! All true library people are “bothered” when things aren’t arranged correctly. Finally, someone drank my Kool-Aid.

Perils of Pages

Mary Kelly —  January 13, 2015 — 4 Comments

womanscreaming1The director of our very tiny library is on maternity leave and I have been “volunteered” to handle the pages. In the last 2 months I have interviewed, fired and hired about 5 people. Here is what I have learned, the hard way.

  • No one reads a job posting, looks at the requirements and THEN check to see if they have the necessary requirements.
  • Even if you tell someone (multiple times) that paging is often difficult and frustrating job, everyone seems surprised that it is difficult and frustrating job.
  • People think it is a good idea to wear flip-flops (or slippers!) to work-even when they have been specifically told to wear appropriate footwear.
  • One cannot assume that people know the alphabet.
  • Not everyone cares about the library as much as I do.

By the time I was hiring person number 3, I learned a few things.

  • Pre-screen with a phone call before wasting time with interviews.
  • Point out all the job “negatives” : kids/parents that constantly mess up the shelves, snow shoveling, weird patrons, etc. Emphasize that you are never “done” shelving or shelf reading. The books just keep coming.
  • Ask how a potential employee stays organized.
  • State, out loud and in the job description, expectations for dress/shoes, timeliness, and any other deal breakers.
  • Remind every interviewee that not everyone is cut out for library work and that you have no problem letting people go.

Even if you do everything right, you can still be wrong in hiring people. The best you can hope for is to minimize the mistakes. No one really ever shares their real self in a job application or an interview. Think of interviewing as going on a really questionable blind date.

In other news, I really want my boss back handling this stuff. I’m better at the reference desk.

I have mentioned these sites before, but it’s worth repeating. If you aspire or already are a manager/supervisor, you really need to read Ask A Manager and Evil HR Lady regularly!

Jessica Jones (@bibliographics), Branch Manager of the Larry J. Ringer Library in College Station, Texas talked to us about the unexpected turns her library career path has taken – from academic cataloger to director, then a jump to public libraries. She also gave us the scoop on the difference between managing an academic library and a public library. We love Jessica’s management philosophy: “Hire good people, train them well, and then get out of their way.”

Tell me about your career path. What was planned and what was unexpected?

photo of Jessica Jones SalgadoI came to graduate school with the goal of being a preservation librarian. I was just a few credit hours short of a double specialization, but graduated a semester early with the Library and Information Services concentration since I thought it was safer than Preservation Administration. This was during the recession, but I had public library experience already, having spent a year at the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) prior to grad school, and I volunteered/interned with the Ann Arbor District Library. I hoped that if all else failed, I could go back to the SAPL to wait out the recession until preservation positions started opening up again.

I reached out to SAPL a few months before graduation, and they were in a hiring freeze. The job market in 2009 was . . . grim. I was offered a full time position with benefits in New Mexico two months after graduation, and I took it. I packed up and drove the 1500 miles out to Espanola, New Mexico to be a cataloger for Northern New Mexico College (Northern).

The cataloger position did not technically require my MSI, but as I started work there, I began to realize how much that position had needed someone with the degree. I worked very hard to improve the standards and consistency and thus won the trust of my superiors. When the Assistant Librarian left a few months after that, I seized the opportunity to assume a position that actually required my degree and added the responsibilities of access services, collection development, and teaching information literacy. About a year later, the Director retired, and I was nominated to be the Interim Director while still performing the duties of Assistant Librarian. At this point, the only things I was not doing were cataloging and ILL, and I was the only academic librarian in a county the size of Connecticut. I kept the place afloat, expanded our digital offerings, and shed the “Interim.”

Post-recession, as a director in my early 30s with supervisory, administrative, and budget experience that is easily translated into other areas of librarianship, my next job hunt was much easier. My husband was offered a position as a PhD student at Texas A&M University, and I had an offer in College Station shortly thereafter. I am currently the branch manager at a public library, and I supervise 18 people who are fantastic and have made me feel very welcome and appreciated.

What’s your leadership philosophy?

It is difficult to completely separate my leadership philosophy from my management philosophy, which is: Hire good people, train them well, and then get out of their way. As my library’s leader and manager, I consider myself an enabler. Librarians don’t go into this line of work because it’s lucrative, it’s because they care; so, as a leader, I try to help my employees feel like they the opportunity to do things they care about.

I realize that I have been very fortunate in my career trajectory; I worked very hard for my experience and titles, but I know others who have worked hard and just weren’t in places where those titles were up for grabs. I currently supervise 6 masters-holding librarians, and several of them have been in the field longer than me; as their leader, I advocate for them constantly so that they can pursue the projects they love. The best leaders I have known in my professional life have tried to do the same; let people aim high, and try to meet them there with the guidance, skills, and supplies they need to achieve the goal.

When moving from an academic to a public library, what adjustments did you have to make to your management style?

My academic library experience involved a lot less face time with patrons than my public library experience. You often have more tech-savvy patrons in an academic library, which means more email and chat reference requests. In this public library, most of the reference happens in-person. What this has meant to my management style is that it has gone from a more process-centric method to people-centric. If a librarian is spending 8 hours a day on a reference desk, I worry more about burnout than email efficiency, for example. You can answer emails at your own speed, but if someone is standing at the desk, they need you right now.

To manage a place where almost every situation is more acute means that I have to spend a lot more time thinking about my people and making sure they are taken care of. This is not to say that I am perfect at this; I miss things sometimes, and I try to remind my librarians and clerks that I rely on them to be self-aware and tell me what they need. In an ideal world, everyone’s needs would be perfectly communicated and met in a timely manner. That’s not always the case, and I can always do better; this is a lifelong learning process.

You mentioned your library is adding services that demonstrate value to the community. Can you talk a little bit about the changes and new services?

photo of blue skies, a rainbow, and america flags over the library building

Jessica’s library comes complete with rainbows

It isn’t news to anyone in this audience that libraries often face an uphill battle when it comes to expanding (or even maintaining) our budgets. Because the immediate association many people have with libraries is “books” – specifically, popular fiction – we are often seen as a luxury instead of a community investment. Changes, therefore, are often creative (the nice word for “on a shoestring”) until their value has already been demonstrated. We have several librarians here who are doing some really great and creative things in their programming that rely on their inherent interests and expertise, such as: English conversation circles, themed storytimes for the entire family, collaboration with outside groups like our local NaNoWriMo, and early literacy workshops for parents and educators. We are reaching out to all age groups at all levels of literacy in an effort to provide the kind of engagement that improves the lives of all of our patrons and promotes a sense of community ownership.

What’s the top thing you think librarians need to do in order to succeed?

There are a lot of things that I attribute to any personal successes I’ve achieved so far. Some things have come more naturally than others, but, for where I am now, these are the top takeaway lessons:

Project confidence and be direct. Be creative and offer a solution whenever you bring up a problem. Admit when you are wrong or when you don’t know something; this goes a long way toward proving trustworthiness, which leads to more responsibilities. Challenge yourself and acquire new skills and knowledge whenever you see the opportunity. Say “Thank you” and “Please” and show your appreciation for others’ hard work as often as you can.

What do you see in the future for public libraries?

Because we are publicly funded, predicting the future of public libraries is inherently tied to politics. The political climate right now feels very polar, and I do worry a little about the public library’s future in some communities. I feel fortunate to be in a college town that appreciates the value of education and lifelong learning, but not every library is so lucky. My branch here is a wonderful example of what you can do without a lot of money, but we do definitely think about what we could be doing with more of it: workshops, maker spaces, guest speakers and author visits, web development, enhanced automation, etc.

This is all to say that I think the future for public libraries will be dependent on the values of their respective communities. I think the future for librarians is a little more predictable; whatever new technologies are introduced, and whatever technologies we are given the funds to procure, we will continue to do our best to bridge the Digital Divide, provide our communities with opportunities to learn and entertain themselves, and serve as guides for a world of information that expands exponentially every year.