Category Archives: ephemera

Hints for Job Searchers

I’ve been on many library search committees in my eight years as a librarian, and about half of them have been in the last two years. After looking at that many resumes (so. many. resumes.) and going through that many interviews (so. many. interviews.) there are a few things that happen again and again that never cease to surprise and frustrate me. I’ve hesitated to write a post with advice to job seekers, because I feel like there are already a lot of these kinds of pieces out there. But I still keep seeing the same tiny mistakes that make a big difference, and I figured one more thing on the internet aimed at helping those applying for work in libraries can’t hurt.

Please keep in mind that my experience is related entirely to the academic library environment. Hiring may work very differently in public libraries, and I’m sure it works differently in corporate and special libraries.

In every environment in which I’ve worked, and in most of the places I’ve applied, there’s a search committee made up of people who work in the library who are responsible for most of the process, from drafting the position description to reviewing resumes and conducting interviews to making a recommendation for hire. It’s almost never the decision of a single person, and because the work is done by committee, it takes a long time. You may apply for a job and completely forget you applied by the time you hear anything. This is terrible, and we do our best, but it’s inevitable when you have people who already have full-time jobs who are taking on this additional task. We try really hard not to leave people hanging for too long, and we hope you’ll be patient with our timelines.

When you are looking at position announcements, there are a few things to think about. Generally, if the description says that an MLS is required, that means an MLS is required. Other requirements may be more fungible, but where I’ve worked, that one never is. It might be ok to apply if you will have the degree by the time you begin the job, but that depends on the position and sometimes the institution. When I got my first full-time library job, I interviewed before I’d completed course work and got the job offer on the day of graduation, but I’ve seen other positions and worked in other places where that doesn’t happen as much.

And yeah, I said other requirements may be more fungible. I know position announcements usually have a section for required qualifications and one for desired qualifications, but I also know that sometimes those required qualifications can be interpreted broadly. Think about whether or not the qualification has a definite yes or no answer. For example, if the requirement is “fluency in Chinese,” you either are or aren’t fluent. If it says “at least three years experience,” that is a specific number and you need to have at least three years experience. But if it says “familiarity with COUNTER stats,” well, there’s no specificity about what familiarity means. Do you know what COUNTER stats are? Can you read up a little bit about them and be able to say something halfway intelligent about them? Then you’re familiar. “Experience” can also sometimes be interpreted broadly. I think a lot of people (ahem, mostly women) take themselves out of the running because they are strictly interpreting criteria where there is flexibility. Likewise, though, sometimes people put themselves out there for positions they really, really aren’t qualified for. Be flexible in your thinking, and willing to do a little research, but don’t be unrealistic.

When you’re writing your cover letter (and you should ALWAYS write a cover letter, unless the position announcement specifically says not to include one), think about the people who are looking at it. They are probably looking at a stack of applicants, and trying to do it quickly (because they have that other full-time job, remember?). The easiest way for the committee members to see that you are qualified is if you specifically mention points from the position description. Use the same language used in the position description. Use bullet points if it makes sense, because that will make it really easy for the person reading (let’s be honest, skimming) that letter to see that they should interview you. Same thing for your resume. And yes, you should tailor your resume specifically for the position for which you’re applying. Highlight the experience and knowledge that is specifically mentioned in the position description. Make it easy for the committee to know they should interview you.

Another small detail that people don’t seem to think about is how you submit your interview materials. The committee is probably getting a big batch of digital files filled with a lot of very similar documents.

  • Use a consistent naming convention for your files (like krier_cv, krier_reference, krier_coverletter).
  • Include your last name in the filename (like krier_cv, krier_reference, and krier_coverletter). And put the last name first, so things sort in a useful way if the files are all in one folder on someone’s computer.
  • Submit PDFs, please please please, unless the position description specifically asks for another format. PDFs are way easier to deal with than Word docs, and you can be more certain your formatting will show up the way you want.
  • If it’s an option, submit your cover letter, resume, and references as a single file.
  • ALWAYS put your name on every page of the documents, and especially on the first page. Page numbers never hurt a person, either. I can’t tell you how many cover letters I’ve seen where the applicant’s name is only at the end. And pages of references where the applicant’s name doesn’t appear at all!

It drives me crazy to get disorganized, unlabeled documents. I mean, come on. You’re applying for a job as a librarian. Submit organized documents.

Oh, and people often think a cover letter and/or resume should be no more than one page. That’s not a requirement. No one wants to read a five-page cover letter or a 47-page CV, but sometimes you can’t describe your amazing qualities and attributes in one page, and that’s ok. In academia, it’s actually a little weird to have a one-page resume or CV.

It goes without saying that you should proofread, although I’ve been known to overlook tiny typos and errors. Some people are real sticklers about it, though. And if your materials are riddled with errors, you’re not getting an interview.

And finally, for the love of god, get the name of the library and/or university where you’re applying right. I’ve gotten applications for CSU Sonoma (we’re actually called Sonoma State University), and even cover letters that were clearly written for another position because they mention a different university entirely.

I’ll write a separate post about interview preparation and etiquette, because I have a lot to say about that, too. And interview etiquette goes both ways! I’ve definitely seen not-so-great behavior on both sides of the table.

I hope at least one person out there finds this advice useful. And if I’ve saved one search committee from receiving a page of references with no name on it, I’ll consider this post a grand success.

Any other tips for job seekers? Do any of you have pet peeves that you see in applications, things that just make your want to bang your head on the desk? Share in the comments!

One Year In

Hello, internet. I’ve missed you. Holy moly but it’s been a long time since I’ve had any kind of regular presence in blog-land. I’m not really sure how to account for that, other than to say that I’ve been busy. But aren’t we all?

I’m a little over a year into my job as the Web Services Librarian at Sonoma State and I’m happy to say that I still love it. It is hands down the most demanding, engaging job I’ve ever had. I don’t know that I’ve ever found myself bored at work, and I’ve never had a job about which I could say that. I might have shared that here before, but it still kind of amazes me. What it also means is that I’m actually mentally tired when I get home from work (in a good way), and I often feel like I don’t have a whole lot of energy for other things, like blogging or sewing or cooking. My work feels kind of all-consuming, again, in a good way.

So after one year in, what have I managed to accomplish? The biggest thing I did this year was to take stock of the existing SSU Library website and make some big changes to the underlying information architecture and content organization. I feel like this year was all about laying the foundation for the continued growth and increasing usefulness of the Library website.

I also took a seat on the University’s Academic Senate, participated in a couple of search committees, took on the role of marketing coordinator for the Library, and became the Library liaison to the Computer Science, Engineering, and Math departments. I’ll be teaching my first Engineering info lit class later this month, about which I’m both excited and nervous.

There are a lot of things that went into all the work I did last year that I really do want to write in more detail about. And I’m also excited about all the things that are coming up this year. The biggest thing is that the University is finally adopting a content management system for the web sites.

All of the campus sites are currently manually created and maintained with basic HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. We in the Library are also lucky enough to have access to a server with PHP and MySQL installed so we can do a few more slightly fancier things than other campus departments. It’ll be a huge leap forward for us to move to a CMS, and it also means there are some governance, infrastructure, and management things that need to be decided between the Library and IT. The Library has always had its own server infrastructure, and I’d really like to keep it that way so that we can continue to do the work we need to do without being tied to the timelines of the under-resourced campus IT department. So far it’s been a bigger diplomatic struggle than I anticipated, and I am definitely having to practice a lot of patience and compromise, which aren’t always my greatest strengths.

I’m also working to craft an effective content strategy for the Library website, which is tied to a bigger marketing strategy for the Library overall. I think we struggle sometimes with putting forward the right content at the right time for the right audiences. We just put ALL THE INFORMATION on the website without being strategic or thoughtful about how we’re crafting our messages. I will just say that changing this practice is going to be an uphill battle. It has proven really hard to make people understand the role of the website and the content we put up there. So I want to amass a lot of data and information to help me argue for the changes that I think we need to make.

And I really want to make it a regular practice to come back to writing in this space. I haven’t been writing very much at all, and I think it makes such a big difference in how I process and work through what I’m doing. I’d also really like to share some of the things I’ve learned so far, and the things I’m sure I’ll continue to learn. I feel like this past year has been a HUGE learning experience, although I can’t think of a single year in my life that hasn’t been.

And in non-work and non-Libary related things, this weekend is my husband’s and my first anniversary. It’s hard to believe it was only one year ago that our friends and family were descending on Oakland for what was the most fun party of my entire life. I almost wish we could do it all again.

Another Shiny New Year

Despite the fact that I’ve been a bit slow-moving into 2012, it is, in fact, here. It’s another new year, and for me, that always means time for reflection and planning.

I’m kind of sad to say that in 2011, I yet again didn’t write as much as I wanted to write. Not even on my food blog, which normally, sad but true, gets a lot more attention from me than this space. 2011 was a big year for me, with a lot of huge changes, so I’m feeling a little more forgiving of myself. But it might also be time to give myself a reprieve on that goal. Maybe I’ll want to write more if it doesn’t feel like such an obligation? Either way, I’m moving into 2012 without making the empty promise that I’ll have more to say.

That being said, I did just submit my first scholarly article for potential publication. I don’t have high hopes that it will be accepted, but I’m glad I went through the experience. It was a far more difficult process than I expected, but it was totally worthwhile: I learned a hell of a lot about linked data (although I still have SO MUCH more to learn), and I got the chance to think through some complicated problems and propose some potentially innovative solutions. I’ve always been more of a big picture person than a details person, so I think I could have done much better at laying out the actual work that would be involved in achieving this vision of mine, but still. I’m glad I had the chance to spend a few months imagining something and problem-solving in big, long-term-future ways. If the article isn’t accepted, I’ll probably share at least parts of it here. And I have to say that I’m extremely grateful to my organization for allowing me the time and space to work on this article, and for considering this kind of work as part of what I’m here at CDL to do.

We wrapped up a major project milestone right before the holiday break at work, which was awesome. We loaded 106 sets of MARC serials records into our database, and are ready to get to number crunching. I learned way more than I ever thought I wanted to know about MARC and holdings records in this process, and while I still wish MARC nothing but a quick and painless death, I’m so glad I had this chance to work so intensely with so many records from so many different institutions. I feel like I have a unique perspective on serials cataloging now, thanks to this project.

In 2012, I’m hoping to find the time to polish my PHP skills and learn more about application development. I’m looking forward to seeing the WEST archiving process play out, and to wrapping up the registry website component of the PAPR project. I’m looking forward to taking on new projects at the CDL, and to meeting more UC librarians as I start serving on CAMCIG (Cataloging and Metadata Common Interest Group). I’m excited for ALA Midwinter in a few weeks, and I really hope I get to see some of the people I met at Annual last year, and to meet more awesome librarians.

And here, at the end of 2011, I want to extend another “Thank You” to the wonderful people at Whitman College. I loved working with all of you, and appreciate every thing that you did for me as a new librarian. In many ways, I wish I could still be with you, working to push the library into new directions and building a great team to tackle all the challenges the future brings. Leaving was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made, because you were one of the best groups I’ve ever had the privilege to work with. Thank you, again and again and again.

Here’s my late toast to 2012, and to all of you fellow librarians out there. I look forward to meeting even more of you this year, and to continuing to be inspired by all of you.

My long and winding road to the library

I’m guest blogging over at The Desk Set this month, and I’m pretty excited to have the chance to write about my work. My first post is up this morning, in which I recount the long and winding professional path that brought me eventually to the library. Throughout the rest of September, I’ll be talking about my work at the California Digital library, the awesomeness that is Harvard’s Schlesinger Library, and my advice for newly matriculated library school students. Go check it out, and if you’ve got some time, read some of their archives. They’ve had some very interesting guest bloggers in the past who really demonstrate the variety of work that we librarians do.

Library Day in the Life, Monday

Another year, another round of the Library Day in the Life Project. The last time I participated, I was a shiny new librarian in a new job as Systems and Metadata Librarian at Whitman College. Now I’m a slightly less shiny new librarian in another new job, so I thought it would be fun to participate again, and share some of the day-to-day details of my new job.

I’ve been a Metadata Analyst at the California Digital Library for three months now, and have been working primarily on a project that, at this stage, is very closely aligned with the Western Regional Storage Trust (WEST) archiving program. We’re working with the Center for Research Libraries to build a system called PAPR (Print Archives Preservation Registry) that is designed to help archiving programs with collection analysis and archiving prioritization. The site will eventually provide a directory of archiving programs and a catalog of archived materials. We’ve been working furiously on test data and building the backend programs and databases for the last three months, and are just beginning to accept library data for the next round of archiving by WEST. It’s pretty exciting: We’ll finally be seeing our system in action!

It’s been an interesting project for me so far, and in many ways different from anything I’ve done before. This project has several different stakeholders, and is moving at a very rapid clip to meet some imposing deadlines. I’m learning a lot, not just about serials records, but about project management, prioritization, and communication. Not to mention all the things I’m learning about archiving programs, MARC records, regional collaboration, and the programming that needs to happen on the backend for a system like ours to work.

So, there’s the background about my job. What about the day-to-day? This morning, I came in to find that about 20 WEST partners have submitted contact information, so I spent the morning sending all of them emails about how to submit their MARC records, and updating our project management system accordingly. Hopefully, we’ll start receiving data very soon, at which point, I begin the fun work of closely analyzing huge sets of MARC records to find the outliers, anomalies, and oddities of each library’s records.

Then I spent some time looking at data from our test records that has been loaded into our database. We’re basically putting MARC data into a relational database, which has some fairly significant challenges. I was checking out various control numbers to ensure that the correct data was loaded into the correct fields in a usable way. Our load worked as expected, so yay! But library data is often a complete mess, so boo. Unfortunately, the phrase “Garbage In, Garbage Out” comes up way too often these days.

I’m this year’s chair of the 3M/NMRT Professional Development Grant committee, so I spent my lunch break deleting all of last year’s work from the ALA Connect site before sending an introduction to all of this year’s new committee members. I’m excited about this committee; I had a lot of fun on it last year, and I’m looking forward to meeting the new members and getting to work. Hopefully we have as many excellent applicants this year as we did last year.

The rest of the day will be filled with two meetings: a weekly project meeting, and a meeting to update one of my colleagues on the hiring process for another metadata analyst to join the team. I have some QA work to do on a final set of test data that we’ve converted and loaded, and I have to write a draft of my performance evaluation self-assessment, which is due before we head out for a short vacation on Thursday: We’re going to Portland, OR, where two of my favorite people in all the world are getting married.

This job is very different from my former job, in some ways better and in some ways not as good. But I’m still being challenged and learning new things everyday, which is, to my mind, what really matters, and what makes being a librarian so awesome.

I’m planning to update everyday this week (well, at least through Wednesday), so hopefully there will be some exciting work in the pipeline. Come back tomorrow to find out more about the oh-so-exciting life of a metadata librarian!

The Phantom Tollbooth, revisited

A few years ago, I discovered that the classic children’s movie The Phantom Tollbooth wasn’t available on DVD. I considered this a terrible, terrible tragedy, and I signed some weird petition online and then kind of forgot about it.

It appears that signing that petition was effective (clearly, it was all about the petition!): The Phantom Tollbooth is now available on DVD! Still doesn’t look like it’s available from Netflix, but you can buy it. And I just might have to.

Some design thoughts I appreciated

Being on break and all, I don’t have too much to share in the library and information science realms. However, I did read a great article yesterday (with an equally interesting follow-up piece today) that I thought I’d share: Josh Porter talks about making the design process transparent and how that can benefit an organization, not just design-wise but in other ways as well. While I don’t have a lot of control over process in my current work situation, I am definitely gathering ideas and forming a general design and process philosophy to perhaps implement some day. Porter offers a lot of food for thought, and his site Bokardo, has become a must-read for me since one of my professors introduced it to me. If you’re intrigued by the idea of an open design process, the follow-up post is also worth checking out.

The Creative Library

The Urban Library Journal’s Spring 2008 issue is dedicated to creativity in the library. There are some really terrific articles in here, on library transformation, using technologies in new ways in the library, and promoting work and leisure in libraries. I’ve never read this journal before, but I want to sit down and read this cover to cover (or, uh, html tag to html tag?).

Urban Library Journal is an open access (free!) journal published by City University of New York. Well worth checking out.