Interview Question—Library Edition
March 21, 2019 2:46 PM   Subscribe

I have an interview next week for a public library Adult Services Associate position (requires a 4 year degree but not MLIS). I don’t have library experience (aside from being a lifelong patron!) but have a ton of retail book and educational publishing/marketing experience, plus experience in delivering programming about books to educators. MeFites with library experience—Any hints/tips for me on how to ace this interview? I’d love to get this job!
posted by bookmammal to Work & Money (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The #1 advice I can give you: play up your customer service skills. Experience with marketing and programming is great too, but good customer service is the cornerstone of everything in a public library. It’s a lot easier to teach someone how a library works than it is to teach them how to be friendly (or to get them to care about being friendly).

Another super important skill you should demonstrate if you have the opportunity to bring it up in the interview: the ability to think outside the box and come up with creative ways to find the answer to a question even if you don’t know off the top of your head.
posted by eirin at 3:27 PM on March 21, 2019 [8 favorites]

OH BOY YES, strongly seconding eirin, customer service is A+++++++ forever. People who like books are fine. People who like people are GREAT. Obviously this varies from place to place, but when I worked in public libraries I was continually shocked/heartbroken by the number of people who told me I was the only person who had been nice to them that day. A lot of your job as a front-line desk person is just being helpful and nice, no matter how weird or annoying the person/request is. The only hires I ever regretted were folks who didn't care about customer service.
posted by goodbyewaffles at 3:39 PM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

The adult services librarian in my town came from a bookstore background and has no library experience and is great at her job! It's often a good fit especially in smaller libraries and if they don't require an MLIS then you should be good. A few things I'd think on.

- if it's a state where you could get state certification, are you interested in getting an advanced degree?
- what do you see as the differences in the role of bookstores and libraries in terms of accessibility (public libraries have a mandate to service the entire public, a little more than bookstores) and their slightly different roles especially with regards to giving away most things for free, doing public service, etc
- obviously, think ahead to a challenge you had with a program you ran so that you can talk about understanding when things don't go right etc.
- TECHNOLOGY, might be worth trying to get a feel for what the library's general technology and comfort level is compared to yours. Like, depending how big and how techie they are, your job might also include social media so think and talk about that
- I'm always interested in the HOW DO WE SUPPORT AMERICA'S DIVERSE CULTURE discussions while still acknowledging that in some rural areas (mine is one) you may not have a diverse local population (or library staff)
- 100% agree with customer service, especially with "difficult" patrons of various kinds, a willingness to deal with some of that with good cheer is helpful
- 100% agree with being a good problem solver

Again, depending on the size of this library (feel free to DM me and I'll let you know if I know anyone there) you'll be part of a team, maybe a small team. Think about ways to be both a good leader and a good follower, work within budgetary, space and sometimes culture-fit restrictions. If you've interacted with any of the professional associations, that's good (check out the state's library association website to see what you think) or even if you've been involved in ones for your profession. Also, I tend to choke on this but there's a good chance they'll ask you about what youv'e been reading lately since reader's advisory is often part of the gig. It does not matter what you are reading but I think libraries tend to look favorably on people who read sort of all over the place but can also talk about what they have been reading.

Libraries value privacy much more than bookstores (usually) so look up your state's privacy laws and give yourself a bit of a poke around some intellectual free dome debates (just google "intellectual freedom" and library and get some ideas of what has been coming up lately). Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 3:41 PM on March 21, 2019 [3 favorites]

plus experience in delivering programming about books to educators.

Play. This. Up. If you are comfortable speaking to a group of people about a thing, that is a huge asset and something that may well be lacking among the current staff at the library (IME, a lot of librarians are super comfortable with instruction/programming, and a lot of librarians avoid it at all costs. It's the human condition, but with a more pronounced split).

Another thing is attention to detail. If you have an anecdote or some thing you could point to where your attention to detail saved the day, that will be a huge plus for you as a candidate. As a library professional, I find it very frustrating when a coworker/intern/volunteer overlooks a detail, or creates a typo, basically missing something in their cataloging that either a) creates more work for me (best case) or b) renders the thing un-findable in our content management system (terrible). What I look for in a candidate is someone who will make my life easier, i.e. handle requests capably and not create extra work for me to (re-)do.

Also, good luck!!
posted by witchen at 10:01 PM on March 21, 2019 [2 favorites]

Update—I GOT THE JOB!!!!
Thanks so much to all who replied—every answer was helpful!
posted by bookmammal at 12:15 PM on March 28, 2019 [3 favorites]

W00t w00t YAY!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by lazuli at 8:02 PM on March 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

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