Tech librarian hiring from a tech perspective

This is in response to Metadata for Breakfast’s two excellent articles regarding the search for a librarian job, and what the requests for tech-savvy librarians look like. And we who search job listings (of any kind) know the feeling, when we see a job listing and say “They really want me to know all of that?”

Well, I’ve been on both sides of the hiring/applying line and both sides of the library/tech line. The answer to the above question is “Yes… well, honestly, no. Well, we’d be delighted if you knew all of that and you were willing to work at the salary we want to pay you!” Here are some of my observations about hiring for technology jobs, and its applications to libraries.

  1. You are selling yourself short. And we like that, because the ones who aren’t are usually raging narcissists. We (the hiring committee) have (mostly) all been in your shoes before. We remember how utterly new we once were. And, in some areas (like me and metadata!), we know how new we still are. “Knowledge of AACR2” doesn’t mean “memorized AACR2,” it means, “Do you know enough vocabulary to talk about AACR2, how it differs from similar standards, and can you demonstrate that you’ve touched it?” In other words, are you able to learn what you don’t know, and are you able to admit what you don’t know? Believe me, in tech world, we ask interview questions where we hope the answer is, “I don’t know, but here’s how close I am to knowing.” All too often, we get answers like, “I totally know this. Allow me to spout buzzwords and BS for five minutes to try to convince you of this.” In fact…
  2. We assume you’re lying on your résumé. Sorry, I know that librarians just don’t do that. But in tech world, we know that those HR people just won’t let us see applicants unless they put the magic words on their applications. After all, we wrote “five years of experience with HTML,” and HR just doesn’t understand “three years, but really, really smart!” That’s why, in tech world, we sometimes require people to make a small project at our specification, one that can’t just be copy/pasted from somewhere. I don’t know why libraries don’t do this. True, sometimes, the answer would require accounts on certain resources, but come on, you asked for this ability, test for it!
  3. We have “really required” knowledge, and “aspirational” knowledge. You ever go to a library’s site after reading the requirement, and think “They said they wanted x, but I don’t see anyone who knows it, or any unit that uses it.” Sometimes, we’re honest enough to place something under “preferred qualifications,” but yeah, sometimes, even tech people are like, “Wouldn’t it be cool to have an Android dev? Let’s get one of those!” Boy oh boy, do we pay for it, since we do a lousy job of checking for lies (see above). And applicants get good at seeing the “wishful thinking” requirements. Maybe we asked for a ridiculous amount of experience. Maybe we listed two techs that don’t work well together in our laundry list. Maybe we just listed a blatant buzzword without any evidence that we know what that word means. If MIT asks for a semantic web expert, they mean it. If ___ Community College does, they’re probably hoping and praying.
  4. We want more than we can afford (unless we’re SUPER big). I worked in a lovely academic library. We BLED tech people (including me, although I wasn’t tech). It’s not that we couldn’t pay as much as the “private world” (although we couldn’t). We couldn’t pay as much as the university IT department. We depended on the kindness of those with insufficient background to get past the HR people at the “big places,” but with a real desire to help our library do its best. And even the “big places” had problems finding people; we had 23,000 residents in town, which meant that our employees were usually someone with ties to the place (or the university), or married to someone so tied. Or we could hire students, but they were usually more interested in graduating and LEAVING. And thus…
  5. The most important qualification is “fits with our culture.” It’s true so many places, but definitely for libraries and tech in libraries. Unless the skill set is so specific that ONLY libraries utilize it well (original cataloging?), we need people who can answer the — often unspoken — question: Why won’t you leave once you have experience and marketable skills? Well, okay, most everyone does, sooner or later, but we’d like it not to be “sooner.” And the short answer is, “If we like talking with them, then they’ll like working with us.” That’s good from the applicant side, as well. It’s just not worth going to work at a library that’ll make you unhappy; for one thing, you can usually make a LOT more money if you’re willing to be an unhappy tech person.

I hope that helps some folks over their “job requirement panic attacks.” If you want me to expand on this, let me know.

Tech librarian hiring from a tech perspective

5 thoughts on “Tech librarian hiring from a tech perspective

  1. Thanks for sharing your perspective. It did quell some of my application anxiety. I agree with you about the “fits our culture” as an important qualification. As a former healthcare administrator, that quality was of utmost importance for me when I interviewed candidates. At this point in my current job search, I’ve decided to apply to any jobs I find interesting in locations where I want to live, with hopes I can find a job with a great group of people.


  2. Damen, I agree 100%. In my experience those job ads are very often aspirational in nature. The longer the laundry list, the less the library probably expects applicants to have it all. I would add, though, that sometimes those lists are code for something else that is either intangible or won’t make it past HR. A lot of acronyms sometimes means the library is praying for a miracle, but it could mean they want to screen out applicants that aren’t tech-savvy, or they want an applicant that’s young/recently educated. Non-professional jobs often are blocked from requiring a college degree due to the way the standard was written, but a lot of technical requirements is a way of fishing for applicants with more education (or fishing in the MLIS pool without admitting it). Also, while I can’t say this for sure, I’d guess that ads that mention specific software are probably implying that you can’t expect a lot of training, and may be expected to either implement that software or manage it alone. In this case, if you at least have experience with another brand that does something similar, you’re probably still ahead of the person that hasn’t worked with that functionality at all.


  3. watte003 says:

    I found this quite interesting and could relate, although I’m not in a library job or tech job. I have noticed (being on both sides as well) that some of those job adverts are off the wall crazy and you get in the interview and some will honestly tell you “well, we decided to just put it in there to see if anyone would apply” or you get the job and don’t end up using the skills that the ad asked for, which to me is extremely annoying. As for “fits with our culture,” I’ve had the okie doke pulled on me with this one and I’ve tried to silently warn people while interviewing them that they should run as fast their legs will carry them because they’ll end up crazy. The job search and interview process is a ongoing adventure (unless you find a job and stay there until you die…or retire), as least in my eyes.


  4. This blog post is so interesting! One thing that especially struck me, was the requirement to demonstrate a skill. As someone who sometimes has a hard time putting my experience into words and sometimes lacks confidence in my particular skills, I like being able to demonstrate what I know, rather than be expected to tell you in words (although, that obviously has a place in job searching as well). I think it keeps both sides honest. I wonder what a metadata demonstration would look like?


  5. Excellent! #3 is especially important and not always clear in position descriptions. My two standard suggestions in these matters:
    1) emphasize having the metadata strengths of the librarian, which is that of descriptive metadata (the main thrust of our course).
    2) emphasize that you’re a learner … no one really expects you to come out of an MLIS program knowing it all, so you should demonstrate this and then have a plan for lifelong learning throughout your career (thus, our PLN!)


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