Archives For public libraries

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.

The Story Center Director – you guessed it – directs the Story Center at MCPL, supporting digital, oral and written storytelling for Kansas City and beyond.

Continue Reading...

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.

Title

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.

Qualifications

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.

Salary

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.

Organization

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.

Overall

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.

photo of Heather LoweHeather Lowe manages the Fine Arts Division at the Dallas Public Library, where she’s creating community around art.

Can you talk about your career path?

I had an art degree and was thinking I wanted to be studio art professor. So I went to grad school and got my MFA at Cranbook Academy of Arts. In the process of being in grad school I realized didn’t really want to take professor route for a lot of reasons. There’s not a ton of security, art professor jobs are really hard to come by – but also I just happened to have a job in the library there.

Cranbrook is the kind of place where you rely on other students. The things my fellow students were coming to me for were book suggestions, artist suggestions, help with research. I began to think about libraries as a potential career path.

After I graduated there I got a library assistant job at the University of Michigan, where I worked in access services and their visual resource collection. I really enjoyed that environment and particularly enjoyed the visual resources cataloging and thinking about digital resources. I decided I did want to pursue librarianship and went to UCLA for my MLIS.

There I worked as a graduate assistant in the archives and special collections at UCLA. The Center for Primary Research and Training matches grad students with particular expertise to process other scholars’ work but to do so in a way that’s subject area informed. It’s kind of a skills trade – they teach you how to do archiving and you use your knowledge. I found I really enjoyed that.

After I graduated from UCLA I had the opportunity to work at Cal State San Bernadino as the director of their Visual Resources Center. That position was really about teaching students information literacy, visual literacy skills, basic software skills, as much as it was about building digital collections. I really took on a teaching / tutoring role there.

I was there for a few years and then was ready to expand my skills and try something new. I saw a position at the Dallas Public Library for a subject-specialized library in the arts and it just seemed like a perfect fit, so that’s where I am now.

What are your responsibilities there?

As a manager, my primary job is to coach my staff to use their strengths and expertise to make the library more relevant to our community.

A typical day might involve a meeting with a community group, a meeting with a group of staff from various units talking about a library-wide program that’s going to happen in the future, a little time on the reference desk, maybe working on weeding or a overseeing a collection maintenance project.

There’s 8 floors in our central library and each floor has a subject focus. We cover art, theater, film, and dance. We’re totally the fun floor of the library.

One of the successes you’ve had is getting the community involved in the fine arts collection – like the recent vinyl sale at the library. What do you do to get the community involved in the collection?

Sometimes you get the tone right and sometimes you don’t.

For me (and what I tell my staff), being a public librarian, you are a librarian 24 hours a day. When you go to the coffeeshop, you’re still the face of the library.

Everyone on my staff is an artist of some sort – either a musician, or a dancer or an actor. Everyone has a life in the arts outside of the building.

I tell them, “Continue to support the arts and don’t make it a secret that you’re a librarian.”

Out of that, and because of the changes that are happening, there’s been a real openness to what’s possible.

4 library users peruse the record selection

(Jason Janik/Dallas Public Library)

For example, with the LP sale. There’s clearly an outside interest in LPs. We had this fantastic collection that was locked in a room and gathering dust.

To justify keeping the collection and make it visible to the public, weeding it and having this big sale and celebration makes that possible – it sounds really weird to some people in the community that by selling off the collection you’re actually protecting the collection.

It ended up being a really fantastic event. People were interested and surprised that the library had such a collection. It was something that was really fun.

You talked about how your primary job is to coach your staff. Can you share more about your approach management and leadership?

Because I am in a management situation where I cannot have the knowledge that my staff have, really focusing on them as individuals and their talents is extremely important and the coaching metaphor seems to be really apt in my situation. Staff have been selected for my library because they have certain talents.

People will perform the best when they’re engaged and they feel like they’re appreciated. My approach is to get to know the staff, really honor their differences.

I have one staff member who’s really into experimental music and he has really great ideas about programming and ways to engage the community. But he doesn’t get to do that 100% of the time – he still has to weed the film book collection. To be able to find things that are really personally meaningful for staff creates an environment where everybody feels respected, and respects each other, and gives a lot to the library.

Public libraries demand a lot from their staff. There aren’t a ton of jobs that tell you that you have to play this particular role in your community even when you’re not being paid, or that you have to work on Christmas Eve. It’s even more important in the library setting to respect the staff as individuals.

You have to have a passion. Every individual has to have that fire burning inside of them to serve the public.

It’s a really demanding job that can grind you down if you aren’t connected to values. I do consciously remind my staff why we’re there.

On the arts floor we have a very specific mission to promote cultural equity, to provide access to the arts to people who may not feel comfortable in other cultural spaces but feel comfortable in the library.

That’s a role that the public library in particular is really positioned to take and to push forward in our communities.

That’s a really beautiful mission.

That’s part of what drew me to libraries. If you look at any kind of polling about how people feel in public spaces, libraries are pretty much the friendliest spaces.

As an arts person with arts training, taking people who don’t have that training to art museums and watching how they react to that environment, you see very often in institutions that are trying to educate, people feel a little dumb.

I think museums are awesome. That’s not to knock museums. They’re greatly changing their spaces and making people feel more comfortable. [But] people go in and look at a piece of modern art and think that they should like every piece of art in the museum, and if they don’t it, they think “Oh well, art’s just not for me.”

Libraries have this really safe feeling so people think, “I can just go try it.”

There’s more of a self-directed learning in the library.

Hearing about your staff and how you’re coaching them, it sounds like you’re an awesome manager. When you came into this role where you were supervising staff, what skills did you already have and what did you need to develop?

I have always been a very empathetic person. I think I’m naturally fairly perceptive. I can read body language pretty well. So to some extent I brought those skills with me.

I had to develop intentionality. A team is not going to become a team unless you’re really intentional about creating opportunities for them to socialize and to see each other’s skills.

This is the first time I’ve supervised people who are more veteran staff than I am. I have a staff member who’s been with the library for 17 years. He has a lot of institutional knowledge. I’m figuring out that landscape and how to respect that knowledge and still coach him through a lot of change and see the change in a positive light while not feeling threatened.

So I would say being intentional and working on some of the skills I already possess.

It feels like you’re talking about my experience, as someone who’s coming in and supervising people who have been in a library for decades and managing change. needing to honor their knowledge and also lead them through change is this really tenuous landscape.

You have to do a lot of translating, and really thinking about how broad changes affect the individual. When we were hiring people and expanding library hours, I did the calculation: “How much desk time would you be doing with the new staff?”

I tried to break it down in very understandable ways that my existing staff’s life would change. “You’re going to go from doing 7 hours of desk time a day to 4 hours or 3 hours.”

Ugh – 7 hours of desk time?

If you’ve worked in a public library, you can understand that 7 hours of desk time in a day is a lot.

You talked about how exciting it is to be in a library figuring out the future. What do you see as the future of art and visual resources in public libraries?

Library has always been a place of self-directed learning. Parallel to the trends in technology and how much technology is making things easier, there’s also a trend toward going back to the handmade, to the tradition of crafts and exploring your creative side.

You can see interest in weaving and knitting and quilting. All of that has skyrocketed in recent years. The library is really well-suited to help people explore those kinds of interests and be a real stepping block to the arts communities.

The arts community can be – not exactly cloistered, but it can feel very much like a clique. In many cities it’s a very small community.  If you’re a printmaker, you know all of the printmakers in your city. Libraries can provide spaces for people to experiment and become more confident, and to connect with others.

Libraries have always been a community hub. Going forward, public libraries, particularly arts libraries, really need to reclaim that role as the place you can go and try out printmaking and find other quilters. We offer keyboard classes and guitar classes. We have an open mic night. There’s a real community beginning to form around those things, and I see that as the future of arts libraries.

It’s not just about art and art output, but bridging the gap between people who want to be supporters of the arts and the art itself.

What big projects are on the horizon for you in 2016?

cover of the dallas public library coloring bookWe had a couple of high profile things this fall, like the record collection and we produced a coloring book from local artists.

In 2016 we’re really looking at community-building endeavors. We’re looking at series of classes and ongoing events. We have an improv class that we’re going to start providing to the public completely free of charge. We’re going to have a series on

how to create photographic work in the spring, and then a professional skills for photographers series in the fall. We’re going to start doing a weekly arts-enrichment program for home-schooled kids.

We’re also trying to coordinate our programming a bit better to increase our impact on the community. For example in music, we have music classes where we teach basic keyboard and basic guitar. We now have an open mic night. We also in the spring and fall have weekly concerts on Sundays.

You can go learn music, you can go perform music, you can go listen to music. We’re looking at creating a series of classes on writing music, and then publishing music, and really strengthening our connections with people who self-publish music and the underground scene in Dallas.

If you really want to support the arts in a city, you really have to provide access to each part of the process. You can’t create art lovers if there’s no art to enjoy, and you can’t create robust arts-creating community unless you have every level of creator, from those that are pretty successful to those that are just starting out.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring library leaders?

Don’t let your fear guide you. It can be scary to step out and take a risk or suggest something that’s not been done or to make a critical comment.

Particularly in a field like libraries, we all tend to be more meek individuals. It really is important that leaders in the library are able to shed some of that fear and some of that meekness and let the values that led us into the profession lead us into pushing the profession forward.

photo of Vanessa MorrisVanessa Morris is the Assistant Library Director and Braille and Talking Book Librarian at Taylor Community Library. She founded the Library Access Foundation, which supports public libraries in serving people with print impairments. Follow her on Twitter: @Nessa_Morris.

You’ve been in multiple library leadership positions, including at a specialized library for people with vision impairments. Can you tell us about your career path and your current role?

Short Version: Library Assistant → Youth Services Librarian → Small Public Library Director → Library for the Blind Director → Large Public Library Assistant Director / Braille & Talking Book Librarian

Long version: I was hired as a Youth Services Librarian within a few months of getting my M.L.I.S. A few years later, I became director of the River Rouge branch of Wayne County Library in Michigan.

In part because of my interest in technology, I was offered the position of  director of Wayne County Regional Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. Services for people with vision impairments, like the rest of the world, are moving to an increasingly virtual environment. Refreshable braille is my favorite technological invention so far.

After Wayne County Library sadly bit the dust, I began working with Taylor Community Library (TCL), also in Michigan. TCL has generously allowed me to help establish a new Braille and Talking Books program that serves residents in Wayne County.

What skills or competencies do you see as important for library leadership?

Communication skills are vital. Budget cuts and program cuts happen when you aren’t around to stand up for your library. Always be present, and make sure to listen and think about what people say.

Librarians are often wordy people thinking a million thoughts a minute due to all the exciting knowledge our brains come across and that we want to share with non-librarians, but non-librarians, which includes many politicians and library board members, don’t always want to spend time pondering the mysteries of the library universe. They rely on library experts to relay pertinent information needed for them to make decisions about the future of libraries, and sometimes our messages get lost in our attempts to provide detailed information (i.e., don’t be wordy).

In summary, be present, be attentive, and be brief.

When the future of the Wayne County Braille and Talking Book Library was uncertain, you founded a nonprofit organization, the Library Access Foundation. What inspired you to take this step?

Service to people with disabilities has become a passion of mine. Everyone has a right to use public library materials. Libraries are great at providing materials, but not always so good at making sure people can use the provided materials, especially at smaller libraries where resources may be more limited. I wanted a way to support public libraries with providing accessible services after Wayne County Library closed.

After talking with a few former colleagues and patrons, I worked with them to establish Library Access Foundation (LAF)t, which could continue to provide minimal services no matter where I personally ended up. You can find out more about our projects at LibraryAccess.org.

What have been your successes with LAF so far? Lessons learned?

Photo of woman using a walker with a basketMy first success was the purchase of a walker with a basket for the use of patrons at Taylor Community Library. I happened to be at the library the first time a patron used the walker. For me, it was exciting that a Foundation I helped establish was able to provide something useful. The woman who used the walker felt like a celebrity when I took her picture to add to the library’s website.

As for lessons learned, establishing and administering a foundation is a long process. Make sure you plan ahead, break items into manageable steps, and delegate. You cannot manage an organization on your own. People need a shared vision and that requires communication.

What’s your library leadership philosophy?

Be practical and use common sense. Also, be your own customer. My daughter is a excellent loser of library books, and it’s a humbling experience to pay your co-worker for a lost book. I highly recommend trying everything your library has to offer from the patron perspective, including losing a book.

Then, use a common sense approach to figure out how your library can make experiences less humbling and less threatening, especially to a person who has never used a library before. Libraries can be scary places for non-users.

How is leadership different in the nonprofit environment than in a traditional library?

In my personal experience, the main difference has been lack of a paid staff for the nonprofit, but I’ve only been directing a nonprofit less than a year. At this point, we’re all volunteers with a shared vision.

I’m sure that a larger nonprofit would have more differences, but LAF is a small recently established foundation. We’re still getting our feet wet in the nonprofit world.

How can library leaders broaden access to library resources for people with vision challenges?

library patron seated at video magnifier

Video magnifier in Taylor Community Library Assistive Technology Lab

Experience your library from the patron’s perspective. Put on vaseline-smeared glasses and try to use your library. What do you find most frustrating? How can you fix it?

Some easy changes to make: Put large print stickers on computer keyboards. Position screens away from glare. Use large print with high-contrast on signs and fliers.

Other changes may be more expensive, but you can look for partner organizations like Lions Clubs or Rotary. Video magnifiers enable low-vision patrons to see photos or diagrams in print books more clearly than magnifying glasses. Screen reader software can be purchased on a USB-drive, so it can be used with any library computer, rather than a dedicated workstation.

Send staff to events specializing in services to people with vision impairments, regardless of whether they’re library-related or not.

What are the most exciting projects you have on the horizon, either with LAF or Taylor Community Library?

The new “Braille & Talking Books @ Taylor Community Library” grand opening celebration is tentatively scheduled for early April. Information about the celebration will be posted on TCL’s website in March.

LAF volunteers are evaluating assistive devices in order to create Library Access Boxes (LABs) to distribute to nearby libraries in order to help patrons with low vision.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring library leaders?

Whether we want to or not, librarians to engage with politicians.Politicians often decide the fate of your library. Do you really want uninformed politicians making decisions? Educate them.

Politicians should be patrons of your library. If they’re not, figure out why, and get them library cards. Don’t wait until an emergency. Make sure your local and state politicians understand, not just the governance, but the services your library provides to their constituents.

"Everyone has a right to use public library materials." Image of hand on book set in Braille.

As a new library director, Douglas Crane wanted to learn more about his role. He started interviewing peers nearby, then expanded to connecting with directors from public libraries across the United States.

Eventually Crane ended up talking to more than a dozen library leaders about their roles and wrote up his findings. I was struck by the steep learning curves that directors encounter after stepping into that role for the first time, especially in politics and finance:

I was warned that bad financing and unbalanced budgets can quickly undo a director’s tenure. Unfortunately, library directors rarely have a background in finance. Sharon Hill served as my mentor for many years after hiring me into PBCLS in 1998. Her main advice about directorship was to learn about the government budgeting process, since it is the director’s duty to draft and defend the yearly budget.

A lesson for aspiring library leaders: find ways to learn about finance! And the meta-lesson: informational interviews are great tool for growing in your profession. After talking to lots of library leaders, Crane not only learned practical lessons about how to do his job, he also built his profession network.

We also love interviewing library leaders about their jobs, and are so grateful to those in library administration who are willing to share lessons learned along their career paths.

If you’ve got a commute, use that time for one day to learn about library leadership. Download the Public Libraries Online podcast to get a fascinating peek into the minds of a large cadre of library directors.

 

For those of us who prefer reading over listening, check out Douglas Crane’s summary of his public library director interviews on Public Libraries Online for more insights on how library leaders view finance, politics, and more.