How can I get this interview?
December 21, 2006 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Specific questions about work at a library...

as an accountant.

I have applied to this job. I understand it is a position overseen by the county, and I see that my direct report would be 'an administrative supervisor.' I see there is an email address; and the website link doesn't really help.

My question is: what is the fiscal/budgetary/financial structure of a library system like? How can I best contact the people who would be in charge of hiring for this positon and help myself get an interview? Should I send something to that email address listed? What kind of letters can I write, or whose hands should I shake?

I've filled out all the requisite forms and government applications. But I want to get myself out of the pack and be seen. I am quite well qualified, bordering on overqualified, for this job; so I am certain if I can get in for the interview (and nobody's brother-in-law is applying) the job will be mine. I know a few of you folks work in libraries and I am hoping that you can shed some light on the hierarchy. Thanks a million!
posted by iurodivii to Work & Money (7 answers total)
Best answer: I worked in a library that was smaller than this and was pretty close with the accountant there. She had a pretty big-responsibility job (that she took very seriously). I don't know much about how she got her job since she really seemed to have come with the place, but I do know some of the stuff that she did that wasn't what I think of as standard accounting

- grants and donations - a lot of the money the library gets from various sources comes earmarked for stuff. This can be grants, donations or whathave you. Knowing which of this stuff can be used for what and who gets tax deductions (because of the library's 501c3 status) seemed to take a lot of work.

- HR - my library was small enough (20 employees) that our accountant did a lot of the HR and health insurance stuff. My guess is that in a job like this one, this will not be a problem.

- payroll - either there is a company that is charged with doing this or it wil be a large part of your job, so stuff like handling deducations and health insurance amounts etc.

- BUDGET - a library lives or dies with their budget and depending on the funding sources, there is likely a lot of work to be done each year at budget time. My library's budget had to go before the selectmen. In smaller libraries it had to go before town meeting. Preparing and projecting the budget was something the accountant and the director did together seemingly for months beforehand.

- accountability and privacy - this probably goes without saying but when you're spending the public's money they like to know where it's going. So, being able to prepare reports that outline this stuff PLUS at the same time being able to keep donor and money information confidential is a big deal. Libraries often have some sugar daddy types who fund a lot of stuff and discretion, if they want it, is important to staying in their good favor.

In my library the accountat worked directly with the director which was sort of outside of the usual library hierarchy. I hope this is helpful.
posted by jessamyn at 9:15 AM on December 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Public library laws vary by state. Here in Michigan, we have about 5 different legal ways for a library to organize itself. So, you may have to walk in, go to the reference desk, and ask. It is a valid reference question, and asking is, after all, the library way.
posted by QIbHom at 11:50 AM on December 21, 2006

Best answer: I'd also like to add to jessamyn's excellent answer the possibility that you'd be working quite a bit with vendors. The bit about orders and invoices sounds like it's edging into purchasing, and some industry-specific sellers can be shockingly relaxed in their recordkeeping. (Book jobbers, I'm looking at you!)

I've really got only the most general idea of what "regular" accounting involves, but in my head it least it doesn't involve a ton of picking up the phone and troubleshooting invoices with vendors. So that might be different.

Regarding organization, as mentioned it can differ vastly from library to library. It looks like Alachua's annual report has an organization chart on page 13, though. Many, but not all, libraries have odd parallel power structures, where the librarians have a large amount of budgetary freedom throughout the year (they get pots of money and distribute it towards purchases as seen fit) but then keep meticulous records and justifications to report back to budget admin (in this case, you) at the end of the cycle.

(I'm not sure if I explained that well.)

Public libraries are, of course, part of the byzantine city/county budget structure and different streams of money can have different reporting elements. Think typical government bureaucracy and you've got it -- experience with that type of thing might help if you had it. Hope this helps.
posted by lillygog at 7:18 PM on December 21, 2006

Many public libraries are *not* part of their city or county structure. Some are independent governmental entities, some are part of a school district some are shared between cities, townships and/or counties.

This is why I say you have to ask. I can tell you all about the 5 different ways my libraries are structured here in Michigan, and what I've seen accountants do here, but it probably doesn't apply to Florida.

And, we haven't even touched on public library co-operatives (where I work), multi-type co-operatives, statewide lending organizations and such, all of which have different accounting issues.
posted by QIbHom at 5:45 AM on December 22, 2006

Whoops, QIbHom is correct. I mis-spoke slightly. However, even if not strictly part of the city/county structure, most public libraries I've been involved with are subsumed under some form of government reporting. I totally stand by my use of the word byzantine. (Of course, this is not to discourage anyone! The Alachua library is lovely.)

Florida also has really strong public-access-to-records laws, so a lot of places slap policy/governance stuff up on the web. The Alachua County Library is apparently an independent district. Reporting to the county?

Anyway! My point being, to refer back to your question on structure, comfort or experience with budget transparency and government-type reporting requirements might help. Not that accountants in general don't have to worry about reporting, but I feel like your potential position might have much more administration/assessment overhead than a corporate, if you come from a corporate background. That's been my experience in dealing with money in public vs. private libraries. I am not an accountant.
posted by lillygog at 7:04 AM on December 22, 2006

Response by poster: Such a great dialogue. Many thanks!

jessamyn, you've given me the primer I needed to research this position.

lillygog, the links you've supplied took my research on the structure, budgets and governance to a new level.

QIbHom, I went to the reference desk today and found out Budget Management is something of a sub-department within Admin. Services. This has given me a lead on the names of folks that I am considering phoning for a quick chat, emailing or mailing...or doing nothing so I don't overdo it.
posted by iurodivii at 10:40 AM on December 22, 2006

Good luck getting the interview, iurodivii. Let us know how it goes, eh?

You do have a library card in your community, right? I've known library directors who'd ask to see one, and refuse to hire folks who couldn't present one. Probably won't happen to you, but it is an easy thing to cover.
posted by QIbHom at 2:26 PM on December 22, 2006

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