I started writing a post about my interview experience because I recently landed a position as a Research and Instruction Librarian. I am excited because my university, the library, my colleagues, and job are awesome. Once I began writing about interviewing, I started reflecting on my experiences looking for a job. In the post I started, I wrote, “I didn’t have any interview clothes, couldn’t find a blazer that fit, and went back to my car and cried” and “I got sick and skipped some of my obligations. I wasn’t taking care of myself very well.” I’ve been talking to others about their job searches because many of my friends, colleagues, and classmates are still searching. Some are having success, but many are struggling to find a position in libraries. The entire process is exhausting, and it should be better.
I want to start by acknowledging my privilege in finding a position. Yes, I worked hard, but there are so many barriers in place that keep others from finding work and an inherent privilege in the library job search process. One such barrier occurs right in the beginning. Many applications assume whiteness, and applicants that cannot meet those standards are kept out. Galvan’s article “Soliciting Performance, Hiding Bias: Whiteness and Librarianship” and Hathcock’s “White Librarianship in Blackface: Diversity Initiatives in LIS” both explain what whiteness in librarianship looks like, and why it’s a barrier to job applicants. We’re a profession that’s predominantly white, and we should be cognizant that application processes contain biases that must be dismantled.
Additionally, individuals with disabilities may experience barriers when searching for library jobs. Employers are not supposed to take applicant disabilities into account when hiring; however, research suggests that applicants that do disclose their disability face discrimination in the hiring process. This leads to questions over when, or if, a person should disclose a disability to an employer. Job ads may contain language that immediately disqualifies individuals with disabilities, such as driver’s license requirements or the ability to carry 25 pounds. Lack of accommodation during interviews, for both physical and cognitive disabilities, disproportionately affects individuals with disabilities. We need to recognize ingrained ableism in our institutions and take the steps to create an equitable hiring process.
Job Posts and Salaries
Applying to jobs requires sifting through countless job posts to determine the ones you are qualified for. As part of a class assignment, I recently collected 215 job postings from HigherEdJobs from the month of April. I have just started analyzing these posts to get a better idea of the environment for job seekers. I did an initial analysis and found that roughly 20% of the positions were part-time, and 80% of the posts contained no salary information or stated that salary was commensurate with experience.
The lack of transparency and salary ranges is troubling, and adds another layer of stress to job searching. It’s frustrating to apply for a job without a salary range, only to learn that the job’s salary is lower than you expected. You can research the salaries for individuals in public institutions, but that doesn’t help if you’re applying to a private organization. Additionally, job postings that do not disclose salary disproportionately affect women and people of color. Libraries that do not post salary ranges or pay grades perpetuate the wage gap and inequality in the hiring process. I hope to see more laws that require businesses to post salaries and prevent hiring managers from asking about salary histories. Actually, I hope that libraries start posting salaries, regardless of the law. If we really care about getting the best applicants from a multitude of backgrounds, we’d ensure that every post is transparent about salary.
After the applications, cover letters, resumes, CVs, gathering of references, written statements, and whatever else is required comes the interview. For academic positions, this means making it through an interview that may last 1-2 days. In my interview, we went to dinner the night before. The next day, I met the search committee at 9 AM, answered standard interview questions, gave a presentation, answered questions from faculty and staff who attended, took a tour, met two members of the department for lunch, met with a university member, met the Dean, talked about promotion track, and then met with the search committee one more time. My interview lasted six hours (not including dinner the night before), and was fairly tame compared to other interviews I’ve heard of. The members of the search committee were cognizant about including breaks, understood when I was feeling fatigued, and tried to make the interview process as smooth as possible. I also had a list of tips for academic library interviews that were really helpful during the day (note that this list is exclusive to academic libraries and may not encompass all positions). That said, it was overwhelming, and I went home and slept for 12 hours.
Interviews can be tough for a variety of reasons. I took a day off of work to attend my interview, which is not something that everyone can afford to do. If you’re going on several interviews, this will compound. Some interviews may require travel. There’s the stress of taking off work, getting a flight, arriving at a hotel (possibly in a new time zone), and then trying to remain upbeat all day during the interview. To make matters worse, some places require candidates to purchase airfare and hotels upfront, and then reimburse the candidate later. Other places may not have the funds to reimburse candidates in the first place, so candidates pay out-of-pocket and hope that the job pans out. Not everyone has the ability to eat the costs of interviewing or waiting for a payout. We must consider ways to reduce financial barriers in the hiring process. Hiring committees can take steps such as scheduling breaks, ensuring meals meet candidate dietary preferences, providing water, and whenever possible, funding candidates and paying the costs for travel upfront to relieve stress and prevent undue burden on job seekers.
Compounding the job search problem are the amount of library school graduates each year. There are 59 ALA accredited institutions. There were 215 jobs posted in the month of April to HigherEdJobs. Graduates are not the only ones looking for LIS-related jobs. When I started my program, I’d often heard that librarians were retiring, and there would be more jobs available as a result. They aren’t. The jobs aren’t there for the amount of students who graduate from library school. I’m not saying that we prevent people from pursuing librarianship. When we do have opportunities to mentor students, I believe we should be honest with them about job outlooks and salaries. Perhaps we do not need anymore ALA accredited programs either; however, considering the ALA charges institutions to remain accredited, and institutions make money off of student tuition, I imagine the amount of accredited programs will only increase.
As incoming professionals, we have the opportunity to change the job search process for future candidates. I think the easiest step is to ensure that salary and pay are listed on any job ads we create. There were also some great suggestions listed in a Twitter thread I posted the other day. In addition to posting salary ranges, giving candidates questions beforehand, considering what parts of the interview are essential and what are not, and deconstructing and thinking about bias in our searches are changes we can make when we’re on search committees and hiring teams. Together, we can make the job search and interview process better.
How else can we make job searches and interviews easier and more equitable for candidates?
Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter.