Find Community. Share Expertise. Enhance Library Careers.

Job hunting during COVID-19 (part 1 of 3)

Hope you are all having a good start to 2021! The Core New Members Interest Group would like to present a series of resources based on survey responses from hiring institutions on what has changed/evolved in the search process as a result of the current COVID-19 climate, and any tips they have for early career librarians. We have answers from a range of institutions (academic, public) in regards to a range of career paths (public services, children’s librarian, instructional). It is our hope that this will help to prepare job seekers and hiring institutions during this unprecedented time. 

Part 1 features an interview with Grier Carson, the Associate Director of Monroe County Public Library in Bloomington, Indiana – hiring manager for the current vacant position of Access and Content Services Assistant Manager.

1. Have your position needs changed since the pandemic? Have your institutional needs changed since the pandemic when it comes to hiring?

Certainly – the ability to successfully manage a virtual program either via Zoom or Youtube, the facilitate Discord interaction among teens, and to effectively engage children and families in what would otherwise be a very tactical and physical form of engagement are all qualities we now seek in strong Librarians.  And while these qualities are in immediate response to the pandemic, we don’t expect to discard them going forward. 

We’re also placing a renewed emphasis on professionalism, collegiality, and related qualities.  The pressures of the pandemic, particular with regard to work-from-home scenarios and social distancing norms while working on site, have shown us how critical it is to have Librarians who, above all, are guided by reason and professionalism in the face of such enormous challenges.

2. Have you found that your pool of applicants is different now from hiring similar positions pre-pandemic?

It’s hard to say.  The timing of our current two postings is problematic in that Winter tends to be lackluster in terms of applicants.  That said, we’re seeing a number of recent grads applying for positions that clearly require supervisory experience (the ACS Asst Mgr position) as well as recent grads applying for positions that prioritize overall library-related experience and maturity (the Adult Services Librarian)

3. Do you have any tips for job seekers in this new environment?

Look far and wide for opportunities, but don’t cast your net quite the same way.  Reach out to potential libraries of interest and talk to someone there about who they are and what their mission and vision is all about.  Do your research – then apply or don’t apply.  And above all, tailor your resume and cover letter to each individual library.

4. What’s been your biggest challenge as a hiring manager during the pandemic?

Conducting interviews via Zoom – hands down!  On balance, it puts everyone in the room at a disadvantage.  Hiring is an investment in people and time, and so the art of getting to know someone in a condensed and admittedly artificial manner is made infinitely more difficult by the limitations of virtual interviews.  There are plenty of advantages to Zoom interviews, but the end result is a feeling that, no matter how extensive and rewarding a Zoom interview may be, you’ve only just completed the initial screening of a given candidate.

5. What is your advice for job seekers on what it means to be a successful librarian?

This is a great question and one that I will struggle to answer succinctly.  Apart from the daily challenges Librarians face in balancing collection development work with the increasingly important need for programming and community engagement, there’s an overarching challenge somewhat unique to our times regarding a commitment to intellectual freedom and neutrality.  Coming from a public library environment as I do, the challenge can be all-consuming.  We pride ourselves on providing a balanced collection and a balanced array of programs and resources to support everyone in our community.  We’re now faced with the classic “tolerance of intolerance” paradox on many fronts, and Librarians feel that pressure intensely.  A successful public Librarian will hold the line on ensuring equitable access to all resources regardless of their personal opinions and will apply that same standard to helping those who may seek those resources.  A philosophical and institutional commitment to inclusivity and diversity across library users can often come into apparent conflict with the realities of upholding the standard of providing free and equitable access to all, and the manner in which Librarians handle that challenge is a strong indicator of their potential success. 

We would love to hear from you for future programming! Have you started a new position during the COVID-19 pandemic? How did this influence your interview and hiring process? Leave a comment below.

Narine Bournoutian and Laura Haynes, CNMIG Co-Chairs.