Public library job interview advice needed
November 26, 2013 6:16 PM   Subscribe

So I have a job interview coming up for a librarian position at a public library. However, all of my job experience has been in academic libraries, so I'm not sure what to expect from this interview.

It seems like I'm only meeting with one person, who would be my boss. I'm used to all-day academic library interviews, but I'm guessing this is more informal? Can anyone suggest some questions they might ask, to help me prepare a little bit more? I'm definitely qualified for the position (it's for an adult librarian position), but I'd like to seem more confident about this! Any advice would be very much appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I completed the switch from academic to public libraries this fall. You are correct that the interview process was much more informal than what I was used to. I met with the Director, his number two, and my potential number two.

You will probably be asked about your experience dealing with older patrons. Think about times you dealt with faculty, researchers, anyone above your normal undergrad.

Emphasize your versatility. There's a lot fewer silos in public libraries than in academic, so make sure you show you are happy to step in whenever, even if it means working Circ or in the children's room. Any tech support skills you have will be welcome.

What sort of collection development experience do you have? Does it overlap with what you'd be expected to cover for the library? This is what threw me for the biggest loop - I went from building Reserve collections to buying all fiction. My tastes tend to lean towards wizards who are also detectives which I admit is pretty niche, so I've had to bone up on actually popular fiction trends (Patterson, and lots of it).

You'll want to look into the library itself, of course. If there are minutes from Trustee meetings online, read them! That's a great way to get a sense of the library's place in the community.

As for confidence, consider the sheer number of applicants for every open librarian position - you made the cut! Your resume/CV did its job and the rest is up to your personality being a good fit for your soon-to-be new work environment.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 6:44 PM on November 26, 2013 [3 favorites]

You'll be fine. It will seem quite short in comparison to what you're used to (30-60 minutes, probably). Don't assume you know everything about public libraries; if there's one potential risk to be mindful of its that academic library folks sometimes come off a little smug. If you're giving this that much thought, you're probably not in any danger of that.
Be prepared to explain why you're interested in changing tracks from academic to public.
You might ask a bit about the position: is it a new position or a replacement? If it's new, do they have a particular goal for it? If it's a replacement, how would they like to change from the previous librarian & what would they like to ensure remains a focus?
posted by willpie at 6:50 PM on November 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Make sure to be able to speak to your experience with customer service and community outreach for diverse populations--this is important pretty much across the public library board regardless of your position. Good luck!
posted by anonnymoose at 8:08 PM on November 26, 2013

I think the biggest favor you could do to prep would be to research the location / system you're applying for. I would check on things like demographics, mission statement, maybe scope out whatever branch you're interviewing for to see what programs they currently offer and try to think of needs that are unmet. One part of your interview may be to do exactly this: come up with a program on the fly that you think we should offer, or at least talk through the process of how you would analyse the need for programming.

You may also be given difficult situations. As an example from one interview I had: "My daughter got this book about human sexuality off the shelf, why isn't this banned from the library!?" You would probably want an answer that both addresses the ALA's commitment to intellectual freedom and access of information while also treating the customer's concerns with respect.

There may be a shelving test portion (there was an AskMe about this recently, and you can likely search for it, if I remember it had good advice). Probably nothing too hard, but they want to make sure you can put stuff in order if need be.

As other people have mentioned, it's going to be much less intense than the academic selection process.
posted by codacorolla at 8:33 PM on November 26, 2013

Definitely be prepared for situational questions, like "what would you do when..." Some scenarios might be a patron complains about a kid looking at objectionable material on a public computer, or a group of teens being rowdy in the library. In a recent public library interview, I was also asked how I like to be managed and what I do when I don't get along with a coworker. You will also probably need to be able to talk about programming, so if you have any event planning experience from your academic library, even library instruction, draw from that. It would help to have a couple ideas of programs you might like to do, especially for key populations in the library's service area. This is a good opportunity to show you've done research on the community! Outreach is big in my library system, and across the country, so make sure you can address that and know the difference between advertising/marketing and outreach. Good luck!
posted by wsquared at 10:23 PM on November 26, 2013

Library websites will help you learn about the programs and even the culture of the library.

Your experience with customer service and community engagement will be very important to the library. Don't worry that you haven't worked a public library before--describe the customers that you served in the Academic library. Were there groups that you noticed were under-served? How did you better serve them? Did you show initiative and create a new program, collection, finding aids? Did you take the pulse of your community and what did you do with that information?

One main difference for public libraries is that you will be working with a wider range of people all day long. There is no context to the interactions. One patron might be the mayor, the next might want info to prove a court case, and the next might have a box of kittens they want to give to you because they trust you will take care of them.

You will be asked situational questions--again, don't worry that you've never done a public library author program. Instead, be able to describe how you would go about it. {you might describe a program that you saw at another public library; you might start out by talking to library patrons to see what subjects are of interest; you might observe that this public library is next to a ___________, and that you are interested to see how you could partner with them.}

You will probably be asked how you would deal with a difficult patron, co-worker, or situation.
"you are at the reference desk and a library patron uses racial slurs--what do you do?"
"you are at the reference desk and you overhear your coworker give out incorrect information--how do you handle this?"
"how do you deal with a complaint about the free newspapers with sex ads that are displayed in the lobby next to the children's room?"
It is ok to not have the perfect answer--it is ok to say you would want to check with your supervisor. What is important is how you handle the customer or issue in front of you at that moment.

As you look at the library's website, keep an eye out on some of their programs and policies.
It isn't that you need to memorize them or anything, but again it will give you information on what they are currently doing in the community. It will also clue you in on how they describe their services and patrons. Are they highlighting "cozy mysteries" and "gentle reads" or the latest controversial book mentioned on the news? Maybe both!

In the end, those of us who do the hiring at public libraries are looking for smart, engaging and energetic staff that we can trust with our money, our books, our customers, our programs, and our community goodwill. At the interview we want to see that you will represent our library well; that you can manage staff and volunteers; that you can work well with children, adult, teens, politicians, donors, authors; and that you can identify the community issues and help the library to address them.

TLDR: A good attitude and willingness to learn the details will go a long way in an interview. After all, we will be working with you every day, so try to show us that you will fit in and add value to the library from minute we hire you.
posted by calgirl at 10:34 PM on November 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, and LISTEN to the question to be sure you answer it fully.
Don't be afraid to have them repeat the question to you half way through your answer or to take quick notes so that you can answer all parts of the question.
posted by calgirl at 10:36 PM on November 26, 2013

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