I'd like this job.
June 13, 2009 12:43 PM   Subscribe

What qualities do you look for in your circulation clerk?

I've got a job interview this week at my University for a circulation clerk position. I've never worked in a library before but I have 6+ years of office and computer experience including database management and filing. I'm also enrolled in the Library and Information Science master's program at the school.

What other skills or qualities should I emphasize?

Thanks in advance!
posted by ginagina to Work & Money (9 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
There was a recent question that's not quite the same that you might also like.

I've never hired a circ staffer, but I have worked with many of them and I can tell you, as a reference librarian, what I think is awesome in a circ staffer.

- knowing what's a reference question and what's not. I'm sure your library will have policies about this, but we were a two desk library, meaning the circ staff were out front and the reference staff were in back and sometimes the circ staff would call and/or send people back for a question that was really sort of their domain. Alternately, they would try to answer reference questions, get partway done, realize they were in over their head and then send a patron back to me. This is mostly a policy issue but also a "know how to handle these things" issue. I felt that sometimes people got shuttled back to me because they were unpleasant or the circ staff were busy not because they needed a reference librarian. The flip side is people who would come back saying "Arlene said you could help me look up this book... and have a piece of paper or a printout that was helpful. Everyone's expectations set decently.
- knowing when's a good time for bitching and when's not. We had circ staff who would sort of air dirty laundry at the desk occasionally or say "yeah that policy sucks, I dont' like it either" Being at the circ desk sometimes means being the face of bad policies. Finding a good way to finesse this -- showing the patron how to speak to someone about it, perhaps, but also being firm about whatever -- is important. We got some patrons who were used to their favorite circ staff who would bend the rules for them which made it harder for people who were more rule following
- PRIVACY - this is a huge deal in libraries and circ staff have to deal with it a lot. Make sure you understand not just the library's policies but feel that you can, in your heart, support them. This can be difficult -- when an angry staff person demands to know hwo has a book out or when a student need to know what books their girlfriend has checked out -- and circ staff are often on the front lines of this sort of thing.

Above all, being able to be personable yet firm, friendly yet knowledgeable and non-gullible, and decent with technology enough to not get tripped up by whatever the weird system is the University has will be a good asset. If you're already on the way to getting your MLS it may be a weird position depending on the shcool because some places treat circ staff like real professional library staff and some places treat them more like unskilled clerks (unfairly, I think) and have a real class divide between circ and "real" librarians or library workers. Best of luck on your interview.
posted by jessamyn at 12:52 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

I worked at circulation at my university for two years. These were the kinds of tasks I performed at our particular library:

*Checking books and other items out to patrons.
*Collecting items from book drops to check in.
*Sorting and shelving books in LOC and Dewey Decimal order
*Answering phones, and usually redirecting calls.
*Serving as a general university information source.

It was basically a customer service job. I was interacting with patrons face-to-face on a regular basis, so I had to be friendly and helpful. Like any other job where you interact with people, I met my fair share of angry and upset patrons (usually dealing with library fines) so I had to remain calm and still help them get what they wanted.

Your LIS program may or may not be helpful to you in this position, depending on what sort of tasks are required to you. There was a noticeable divide between the skill sets those of us that worked at Circ and those at Reference, the latter being the actual librarians. We were NOT librarians, we simply worked AT the library. If you know LOC or Dewey Decimal, those are good starter skills to emphasize, and if not, they'll teach them to you, depending on which system your library uses (we used both). I think emphasizing your people skills is going to be your best bet.

Overall, I really enjoyed my job. Since you see all the items going in and out of the library, it's a great way to take a pulse on what people are reading about. And you usually see books coming in that you check out to yourself right away because they look so interesting.

I hope you get the job!
posted by moonroof at 1:06 PM on June 13, 2009 [1 favorite]

What Jessamyn said. I worked in my University* library all four years of my undergrad, even though I was not on a MLS track. The first two years I was a circ clerk. My interview was very straightforward -- basically some initial chat to make sure I could deal with the patrons politely and discretely and without coming off as a sociopath, and them some tests to make sure I knew the alphabet and numerical order.

Jess has it right about knowing what to send to reference (I did reference the last two years) and what not to. You'll get a feel for this fairly quickly. A lot of circ duty is similar to being a successful barista, I think. You definitely need to be personable, but you definitely need to follow policy. Fortunately, I didn't have too much to deal with regarding Jess's second point because my library was extremely well-managed, but yeah, if you can't help someone directly and honestly -- be it policy or whatever -- make sure you know where to send them to find the help they need. DON'T bend the rules for anyone. Period.

As I said, I started in circ and ended up in reference. Get to know your reference staff -- it can be a big help if they respect you and your discretion. If you do something that bugs them, ask them why. Then use their answers to find another solution when that situation arises again.

Good luck and have fun! As I said, IANAL these days, but some of my fondest undergrad memories are of my work in the library.

(*Actually a college at that time, before it got itself all fancied-up.)
posted by trip and a half at 1:23 PM on June 13, 2009

(er, make that 'discreetly'' and 'then some tests'. Obviously I'm illiterate these days -- It's kind of a Flowers for Algernon thing I'm having to adjust to.)
posted by trip and a half at 2:22 PM on June 13, 2009

I was in circ. Customer service and reliability is what I'd want.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:19 PM on June 13, 2009

I'm the circ supervisor at a University library, and I also do lots of circ functions day to day. There is one major trait that I lack, which if I had would be of great help to be here: the ability to enforce behavioral standards of the patrons. The ability to be diplomatic but firm with rowdy study groups and other miscreants is very helpful. I'm far too sheepish and impatient, which explains why I'm trying to become a cataloger rather than a reference librarian.

Other good traits (already mentioned but bear emphasis): reliability, eagerness to be helpful, friendly, and approachable. Be very aware of your surroundings, too. Has someone left a 2-hour course reserve item in the book drop? It should be checked in at once so the patron doesn't get undue fines. Someone huffing and puffing at the copier? Offer assistance before they break something. Did someone exit via the entry gate, bypassing the anti-theft alarm? If you are quick to notice these things you will greatly endear yourself to co-workers and patrons alike.

If your MLS program offers a practicum, see what you might be able to arrange to get credits for work. It probably has to be a project in an area outside of your everyday responisbilities. This enables you to gain expertise in an area you're interested in, but don't regularly get to work with.

That's about it. You'll learn as you go along. I'm sure you've got the chops for it, and I hope you get the job!
posted by wowbobwow at 12:54 PM on June 15, 2009

Update: Thanks for all your help, I felt better prepared for the interview and most importantly I GOT THE JOB! Hooray! Three cheers for another askmefi success story!
posted by ginagina at 4:53 PM on June 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by jessamyn at 6:23 PM on June 22, 2009

posted by trip and a half at 7:32 PM on June 22, 2009

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