Approved by the ACRL Board of Directors at the ALA Annual Conference, June 2017
"Guidelines for Recruiting Academic Librarians" is a revision of the 2009 "A Guideline for the Screening and Appointment of Academic Librarians."
The Guidelines for Recruiting Academic Librarians have been developed to serve as an outline of the prototypical recruitment process. Within academic and research libraries, recruitment for a librarian position may follow different processes depending on the employment category used for librarians or other factors at that particular institution. Librarians may be hired as faculty (tenure-track or non-tenure-track) appointees, academic appointees, or as administrative or professional staff.
The primary objective of these guidelines is to outline the overall recruitment process and serve as a framework for managing librarian recruitments in a strategic, proactive, and consistent manner. This framework is written to accommodate various appointment types and, accordingly, likely fits none perfectly. Some aspects of these guidelines are more prescriptive while other parts are descriptive. The more prescriptive aspects relate to potentially applicable laws while the more descriptive aspects can be modified to fit institutional and library policy, procedures, and practice.
The primary audiences for these guidelines include library administrators, human resources professionals and staff, and search or screening committees. Libraries of all sizes and types are encouraged to use these guidelines to develop their own local procedures that best fit institutional and library-specific policies, procedures, and practices; staffing models and organizational structures; and applicable laws, regulations, and rules. Candidates may also use these guidelines to inform their understanding of academic library recruitment processes and practices.
It is the responsibility of the senior administration of the library and human resources staff to establish an environment where fair, effective, and transparent searches are possible.
Identifying the Stakeholders and Roles
Recruitment for a librarian actively involves a number of individuals and groups within an academic or research library setting. These may include the following position types or some combination of these as not every organization will have each type of professional. Regardless, all of these roles and responsibilities serve important functions:
- Director/Dean/University Librarian/Vice-Provost (hereafter Director) – As the senior administrator in an academic or research library, this individual is responsible for authorizing the recruitment and/or final hire, and broadly ensuring that recruitment procedures are fair and appropriate.
- Associate or Assistant Director/Dean/University Librarian (hereafter Associate Director or AD) – As the senior division-level administrator, the AD may be responsible for outlining the goals and criteria for recruitment. In some cases, this individual may serve as the hiring authority and be responsible for making the final hiring decision.
- Direct Supervisor – The individual who serves as the direct supervisor for the position is typically involved in the recruitment. The level of involvement is determined by the institutional and library policies, procedures, practices, and culture. In some cases, the supervisor is directly involved and responsible for developing the position posting independently or with the screening committee. In some institutions, the direct supervisor chairs the search or screening committee, while in other settings the supervisor is not directly involved in the search or screening committee’s work; this might be by choice or dictated by policy.
- Human Resources Professional (hereafter HRP) – The Human Resources Professional (either within the library or a centralized human resources unit or department) is responsible for managing and overseeing search processes, providing advice on the application of applicable employment laws and institutional policy, and serving as a resource to all parties involved in the recruitment, including candidates. This role also includes providing training on established procedures and best practices. The HRP or library human resources staff often facilitates the work of the search or screening committee, coordinates communication with candidates, arranges for travel, and manages interview logistics. In some institutions, the HRP may serve as either a regular or ex-officio, voting or non-voting member of the search or screening committee. In other cases, the HRP or a human resources staff member may not serve on the search committee, but is available on an as-needed, consultative basis.
- Search or Screening Committee Chair – The individual or individuals appointed to chair the search or screening committee are responsible for managing the work of the search committee, consulting with the AD, Direct Supervisor, and HRP as needed. Local policy and practice determines if the chair is the direct supervisor or not, and whether the position is appointed or elected.
- Search or Screening Committee Members – Recruitment activities are managed by a search or screening committee. A search committee has broader responsibilities and authority than a screening committee which focuses on the review of applications while other aspects of the recruitment are managed by other parties. The type of committee will be determined by local practice. For the purposes of these guidelines, the more fulsome role and responsibilities of a search committee charged with recruitment for a faculty or faculty-equivalent position are outlined here, and the term search committee or committee is used hereafter. The individuals appointed to the committee are often representatives from throughout the library and may include librarians and/or staff. Search committees may include members from outside of the library, either by choice, or by policy or practice. The search committee members are responsible for ensuring the recruitment attracts the broadest, most qualified applicant pool possible and then reviewing applications, conducting preliminary interviews, coordinating on-site interviews, seeking feedback on candidates, and preparing a recommendation for the hiring authority.
Forming the Search Committee
Forming the search committee is one of the first steps in the recruitment process. While the composition is commonly determined by institutional procedures or policies, the rationale for engaging a search committee, whether appointed or elected, is to maximize and diversify the involvement and input of library and university stakeholders in the recruitment process.
Typically, the Director of the library will be the person authorized to initiate a recruitment and will often initiate the appointment of a search committee.
Role of the Search Committee, Search Committee Chair, and Members
The primary role of the search committee is to strategically manage librarian recruitment by actively planning the stages and timeline of the search, seeking nominees and applicants in order to produce the broadest and most qualified applicant pool possible, screening applicants to identify the most suitable candidates, managing logistics of interviews, conducting interviews, and making a formal recommendation for hire.
These important processes and the inherent decisions involved are delegated by the hiring authority to the search committee in varying degrees depending on the institution and/or the position. With recruitment considered as the first phase in the onboarding of the selected candidate, the search committee plays a critical role in ensuring a successful hire for the organization.
The Search Committee Chair has overall responsibility for managing a proactive, timely, fair, and legal search process. These responsibilities include:
- leading the committee in all phases of its work;
- promoting a collegial working atmosphere within the committee;
- keeping library administrators and staff informed of progress on the search;
- working with all committee members to follow processes and ground rules;
- developing a recruitment strategy and advertising plan to encourage a diverse applicant pool;
- maintaining evaluative equity, consistency, and fairness throughout the process;
- ensuring compliance with applicable laws, institutional and library policies and procedures, and appropriate human resources standards, guidelines, and frameworks promulgated by library associations, in particular the ACRL’s Diversity Standards; 
- ensuring the committee treats all candidates in a welcoming and professional manner;
- maintaining confidentiality of the candidates, while balancing the library’s expectations or standards for transparency;
- maintaining communication with candidates, and keeping them informed of the process and timelines;
- ensuring all candidates are provided with appropriate, consistent and timely information about the institution, library, and position at the appropriate stages of the search;
- providing non-selected applicants with timely notice when a firm decision is made; and
- ensuring completion and submission of the formal recommendation for hire and all required documentation on the search.
While each institution determines the responsibilities of search committees, most will expect the search committee to perform all or some of the following responsibilities:
- providing input on recruitment strategy, the position posting, and advertising venues to attract the broadest, most qualified applicant pool possible;
- marketing the position, as well as the library and institution, to nominees, applicants, and stakeholders;
- reaching out to library and institutional stakeholders and subject matter experts to identify potential candidates, specifically asking contacts to provide names of potential candidates, including persons from underrepresented groups;
- thoroughly reviewing and assessing all initial applicant materials using the criteria formulated by the committee;
- communicating with candidates in a timely, respectful, professional, and courteous manner to ensure candidates feel welcome and valued by the institution; and
- understanding the potential for implicit bias or artificial barriers, and acting to avoid these and to ensure equity in their decision making.
A search committee might include either a voting or non-voting member or members responsible for oversight of Affirmative Action and/or diversity and outreach efforts. Such responsibilities would include:
- researching a wide variety of advertising options in order to generate the broadest applicant pool;
- reviewing the recruitment plan to ensure broad recruitment;
- reviewing the hiring criteria and job advertisement to avoid artificial barriers that are not bona fide requirements of the position and/or ensuring qualifications for the position are not described in a way that unnecessarily excludes qualified candidates;
- practicing active recruitment methods and strategies;
- comparing the applicant pool with availability data and deciding if additional recruiting is warranted;
- using proactive techniques to combat implicit bias; and
- ensuring the process is welcoming and inclusive for all candidates.
Types of Search Committees – Ad Hoc vs. Permanent or Standing Search Committee
Institutions may appoint and charge an ad hoc search committee for a specific search or may use a permanent or standing committee of appointed and/or elected personnel who are charged with conducting all searches for librarians.
Search Committee Composition
The primary goal in the formation of a search committee, elected or appointed, is to create a body representative of the constituencies affected by the position and may include staff from the library and the larger institution. The search committee should include staff committed to diversity and excellence. Every effort should be made to form committees that are representative of the diversity of the library, institution, and the profession.
Persons accepting appointment to the committee disqualify themselves as candidates for the position. Search committee members should disclose any potential conflict of interest relative to the position or a specific candidate to determine if they should recuse themselves. Institutional or library policy may provide guidance on what constitutes a conflict of interest.
Charge to the Search Committee
The charge to the search committee may be drawn from institutional policy or procedures, or produced by the hiring authority. A clear and precise charge to a search committee might include:
- position announcement/posting, unless the committee is charged to develop this document;
- specific information or concerns relevant to the position and the rank or level of the position;
- anticipated salary range;
- suggested timeline and key dates for the overall recruitment, including potential preliminary and on-site interview dates or timeframes, proposed offer date, and optimum date of hire, as applicable;
- the optimum and/or maximum number of finalists to be recommended for on-site interviews and date for submission of finalists for consideration;
- responsibility for developing a proposed interview schedule, process, and questions;
- how the qualifications of finalists are to be presented;
- responsibility for conducting and/or reviewing results of reference checks, which might be in the form of letters of reference or telephone reference checks;
- Affirmative Action/equal opportunity requirements and who is charged with promoting diversity;
- the method and frequency of search committee communication with the hiring authority;
- arrangements for expense payments and reimbursements to search committee members and candidates;
- any clerical assistance available related to the recruitment process;
- standards for documenting committee actions and preserving committee records;
- expectations for the formal recommendation and specifics on how it is to be articulated (acceptable/not acceptable, in rank order, sole recommendation, etc.); and
- importance of confidentiality and discretion during, and after recruitment.
Search Committee Procedures
One of the most important responsibilities of the search committee is to maintain a fair, equitable, and legal search process. Key to that responsibility is establishing fair, and objective evaluation criteria, based on the qualifications as articulated in the position posting, and consistently applying of the criteria to all candidates. Adding “special” or additional criteria for one candidate and not for another during the process is not equitable, nor is evaluating candidates in a manner where the criteria are not applied equitably. To develop evaluation criteria, the committee should refer to the job description and position announcement/posting prior to beginning the review of applications.
It is also important to provide all candidates a similar experience and opportunities during interviews.
The following standards support consistency during recruitment:
- Requiring all candidates to submit the same information (e.g., cover letter, curriculum vitae, publications, reference letters and/or names of references, a portfolio of work samples, etc.)
- Developing a candidate evaluation tool or rubric with agreed upon criteria prior to reviewing applications
- Using standard campus visit agendas and pre-visit checklists
- Providing all candidates with the same background information package
Search committee discussions and decisions should be evidence based. It is important to develop interview questions (for the candidates and references) that are measurable and that allow equitable, consistent evaluations of the candidates. Equitable consideration of candidates also makes it highly desirable that the same series of questions be used for all candidates.
Search Committee Communications
Libraries are encouraged to develop standardized communication templates for the various types of communication managed by search committees. These might include email text templates for communication with candidates and with library staff, report templates, etc.
Generally, all communications from the search committee are managed by the search committee chair. A search committee chair may elect to delegate responsibilities to specific committee members. Additionally, there must be a determination as to how the search committee will communicate with each other and with stakeholders.
Communication standards will also be informed by relevant legal, regulatory, and/or policy requirements at the institution. For example, email and written materials may be subject to public records laws and requests in some states, and meetings, whether in person, via email or via telephone, involving members of the search committee may be subject to open meetings requirements, including prior announcement.
Regardless of the standards, all search committee members must adhere to them.
Describing the Position
Creating an advertisement for the position is often the first responsibility of the search committee and must be completed to initiate recruitment.
Position announcements or postings are drawn from the position/job description and are developed to advertise the position. When writing the position or job descriptions, employers usually:
- write a summary description of the position which focuses on answering the question: Why does this position exist? The summary is typically 2-3 sentences in length;
- describe the duties assigned to the position, grouping together those which are similar;
- translate duties into the abilities and skills needed to do the job. Specify necessary skills in precise job-related terms;
- identify any specific knowledge or learning aptitude requirements;
- where relevant, indicate specific qualifications and level of education required for the job.
- identify experience required to carry out the job; and
- identify any other requirements of the position, such as certifications or licenses.
Typically, the parent institution will have procedures in place for managing the process of creating a new and/or revising an existing position announcement. Some general guidelines to remember include:
- assess the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) which a candidate must possess to perform the work, and which form the basis for the recruitment and selection processes;
- research the job duties and necessary KSAs through library and professional resources, and search the Web for similar positions to determine reasonable attributes for the assigned work;
- network with similar libraries to determine how they have approached positions of this type;
- reference local, regional, and national associations, such as ARL or ALA, for similar positions; and
- consult with colleagues through subject-related lists to determine new and innovative approaches to describing the work under consideration.
Position announcements or postings (also known as position vacancy announcements or recruitment advertisements) should reflect the language used in the position description, especially the summary statement and should include the following elements:
- Functional title of position
- Rank or level of the position
- List of duties and reporting relationships
- Required or minimum qualifications
- Desired or preferred qualifications
- Salary (minimum, range or maximum)
- Benefits information, including relocation assistance or support to be provided
- List of materials that need to be submitted by candidates
- Application deadline (firm deadline; first consideration date; or date when application review will begin, if the review of applicants is ongoing and will continue until position is filled)
- Date position is available, if applicable
- Name of person to whom to submit application materials and their contact information, if applicable
- A point of contact for questions or issues in submitting materials, particularly in the case of online application systems
- Institutional statement related to diversity and inclusivity, and/or EEO/AA policy and practice
Postings typically provide information about the community, institution, library, and or division and department as well as information or links to strategic plans and initiatives.
Emerging trends, and institutional initiatives may need to be reflected in certain positions, particularly managerial and leadership positions where the individual will be expected to plan, implement, manage, and monitor new initiatives and/or significant change processes within the library.
Determining Required/Minimum and Preferred/Desired Qualifications
After outlining the position duties, determining the qualifications – required or minimum and preferred or desired – is the most important element of the position posting as qualifications will guide the work of the search committee in its review of applicants. It is essential that efforts are made to ensure qualifications allow for diverse work experience, education, and skills and avoid inappropriate and/or discriminatory requirements.
To be considered as a viable candidate, most organizations require an initial screening to ensure that required qualifications are met. Initial review of application materials should focus on who meets required qualifications, not preferred qualifications. The goal is to ensure that candidates are reviewed in a fair manner and are not eliminated too early in the process or in an inappropriate way. In some institutions, determining who meets required qualifications is the first step in ensuring Affirmative Action/equal opportunity goals are met and/or that the pool is viable.
Required qualifications must be supported by the actual requirements of the job. All required qualifications should be reviewed to determine if they are necessary, clear, non-discriminatory, and measurable. For example, entry-level jobs would not normally require experience. In communicating the requirements for knowledge or experience levels, wording is critical. For example, in the case of a specific type of knowledge, does the position requires “demonstrated knowledge of” or “demonstrated experience with” or will “knowledge of” suffice. Additionally, the value placed on years of experience and their weight compared to educational credential must be considered, and reflect the requirements of a specific position. Also, the type of qualifying degree or certificate should be determined. For example, will an alternative advanced degree to an MLS satisfy the educational requirement? Will international educational credentials serve as qualifiers? All of these determinations should result in clear language regarding qualifications in the posting information and be consistently applied in screening applicants.
In developing required qualifications, these standards should be applied:
- Be specific. Ask for the minimum or a range. For example, a posting should state “at least one year of experience” not “some experience”.
- Limit the qualifications to those that can be clearly assessed, quantifiably or qualitatively, and are necessary for the performance of the work.
- Clearly communicate any bona fide physical requirements. Be very cautious when considering physical requirements as these must be directly related to specific job duties.
Preferred qualifications are those qualifications that are not essential to the position, but would help the candidate be successful in less time or are otherwise desirable. In developing preferred qualifications, these standards should be applied:
- Include those qualifications that would make the transition for the new employee easier.
- Look at the skills of all employees working in the unit and think in terms of complementing those skill sets.
- Keep in mind long-term strategic goals.
Advertising the Position
In some cases, advertising venues will be stipulated by institutional policy or practice.
Libraries first advertise the position within the institutional community and in appropriate regional and national publications.
Libraries also advertise via websites and in print publications, as well as individual solicitations via email and invitations through message boards and electronic discussion lists focused on the library profession and/or higher education. Parent institutions may also advertise on national or regional higher education related sites.
ACRL’s Diversity Standards recommend that libraries go beyond the traditional avenues to advertise positions, by contacting library associations and LIS programs that support diversity and ensure continued diversity in the profession.
A sound practice is to notify all library staff of posted vacancies and ask individuals to share the posting with colleagues and/or to nominate potential internal and external applicants.
Screening and Evaluating Applicants
The purpose of the screening process is to narrow the pool of applicants to those individuals who most closely fit the required and preferred qualifications for the position. Depending on the size of the initial pool, screening may require multiple reviews and stages of candidate elimination before the search committee has identified a manageable number of finalists for interviews.
Since screening is such a critical phase of the process, it is useful for the committee to discuss the qualifications and expected evidence for meeting the qualifications, and develop the evaluation method or rubric before screening of applications begins. This helps to ensure that consistent standards are applied and that the review is an evidence-based approach that is done objectively and fairly.
- Each committee should screen and evaluate applicants according to library and institution-wide policies. All applications will undergo an initial screening for compliance with the qualifications and requirements as stated in the job posting and position description.
- Candidates who do not meet the stated minimum qualifications or who do not submit required application documents need not receive further consideration. It is desirable to communicate with this group of applicants as soon as possible to inform them that they are no longer in the candidate pool.
- Fair, objective, and consistent procedures that are clearly related to the advertised qualifications should be used to narrow the field of candidates to a short list, whom the committee will invite for interviews.
- Before the shortlist has been finalized, it is useful to review all of the qualified applications a second time to ensure qualifications have not been overlooked or overvalued in the first reading.
- The committee should follow institutional policies related to internal applicants, nepotism and spousal/partner hires. Applicants from any of these categories should not receive special consideration or be held to a higher standard than other applicants.
- An important responsibility of the HRP and search committee chair is to develop a screening process that is free of structural biases and to monitor for personal biases as the process unfolds. Search committee members should be counseled before screening begins about avoiding bias toward protected classes of individuals under federal law as well as other forms of unconscious bias that might prevent an applicant from receiving full, equitable consideration. Examples of unconscious bias might be assumptions about candidates with non-traditional career paths or from other regions of the country.
- In addition, the HRP and search committee chair should establish guidelines for managing personal or professional information about candidates learned through social media or other avenues outside the traditional information channels.
- If there are delays in the screening process for any reason, it is appropriate to update applicants about their status.
- Screening may also take the form of assessing the fit between the institution’s anticipated salary or salary range and the salary expectations of viable candidates. This may take the form of requiring applicants to report their salary expectation or salary history in the application materials or having a telephone conversation regarding these expectations prior to finalizing the list of applicants for onsite visits. Before disqualifying a candidate on this basis, the employer should verify their understanding of the candidate’s expectations.
Preparing for Candidate Interviews
Following the review of application materials, the next step is to conduct interviews. Institutions may have multiple levels of interviews.
Types of Interviews
Search committees may use a mixture of interview types.
Telephone or Video-Conference Screening Interviews
Once consensus has been reached on the qualified applicants, the search committee may conduct telephone, video-conference, or other comparable interviews with the top candidates. These interviews are preliminary or screening interviews and normally last 45 to 90 minutes. Conducting these interviews with applicants can help committee members learn more about the applicants than can be gleaned from written materials. The purpose of this type of preliminary interview is to:
- verify the candidate’s continued interest in the position;
- acquire any substantive information that may be helpful in completing elements of the candidate evaluation rubric that were not supplied in the application materials;
- assess the candidate’s interpersonal and communication skills; and
- acquire any substantive information that may be helpful in further narrowing the applicant pool.
To conduct these screening interviews with applicants, the committee should:
- develop a list of common questions to ask during the interview;
- limit the number of job and competency related questions to 5 to 7 open-ended questions, so applicants have an opportunity to engage with the interviewers;
- use the questions to address any concerns about the candidate’s background or qualifications which have been discussed within the committee;
- have at least two committee members participate in the interview, but include as many as possible;
- take and retain careful notes during the interview; and
- share the results of the interviews with the rest of the committee, disregarding any information which is not job related.
Email interviewing is an alternative to the telephone or video-conference screening interviews, when time, financial constraints, or geographical boundaries are barriers. The method can present a number of challenges, including the difficulty of changing direction if a more promising tangent emerges from the conversation, the disadvantage of not being able to get the interviewee back on track if the conversation strays, and the inability to offer immediate clarification if the questions are misinterpreted. To mitigate these challenges, a mixed mode interviewing strategy may be considered.
Airport or Abbreviated Campus Interviews
Another type of preliminary interview is the airport interview or abbreviated onsite interview. These are often conducted for senior administrative positions but might also be used for cluster hires (the hiring of several positions at once). Members of the search committee and potential candidates travel to a central airport or offsite location near the institution where the interview is conducted. Meeting at an airport enables a search committee to interview a large number of candidates in a short period of time with a degree of confidentiality. These interviews may last from 1 to 3 hours, allowing the search committee to see multiple candidates in a day or two.
On-site Campus Interviews
At the conclusion of the preliminary interviews, a limited number of finalists are invited to campus for on-site interviews.
The on-site campus interview is typically the culminating interview and may last from 1 to 3 days, depending on the type and level of the position. For most librarian positions, a full-day interview is the norm. The interview includes meetings with the search committee and with administrators and colleagues. Candidates may be expected to deliver a presentation. Interviews may also include meals and open sessions that allow candidates to meet other employees.
Interview schedules are preferably designed to include the same elements for all candidates, although the specific elements may be done at different times of day based on availability of interview participants and/or room availability. All parties should adhere to this schedule in the interest of time and fairness.
When electronic platforms (video conference, for example) are used for interviews, preliminary or in lieu of on-site interviews, effort should be made to make the experience comparable and to avoid a disadvantage or advantage to some candidates. For example, if video conference is used for one candidate, video conference would preferably be used for all preliminary interviewees.
Guidelines for interviews are developed to ensure fairness and that applicable laws, and institutional and library policies are followed. The following guidelines help to ensure consistency in dealing with applicants.
- Interview expenses of travel, meals, and lodging for the candidates should be borne by the inviting institution whether the interviews are held on or off campus. When this is not the practice, the candidate should be notified when an invitation is issued. Whatever the institutional and library practices are, complete detailed information about policy and practice should be provided to candidates in writing so they are informed about preferred providers, discounts, expense limitations, and what expenses will be covered.
- If a presentation is required of the candidates, the topic and instructions should be clearly communicated in writing to each candidate. Depending on the topic, the applicants should receive adequate lead time to develop their presentation and the lead time should be comparable among candidates. Instructions should include information on the room setup and available equipment, time allowed for the presentation topic, time for questions and answers, and the composition of the audience.
- Once the interview schedule is finalized, candidates should receive a copy and information about the library and its parent institution in advance of the interview.
- Once candidates have confirmed dates, the search committee or HRP is responsible for communicating information about interview dates and schedules, and sharing candidate applications with interview participants within the library and on campus. Generally, this is done via email and the complete interview schedule, presentation topic (if applicable), candidate cover letter, and resume or curriculum vita are shared with either invited participants or the entire library staff. Personal information (home address, personal email, and telephone) should be redacted.
- The search committee develops questions for candidate interviews. Questions should be job-related and speak to the functions of the position and its qualifications. Questions that seek out personal information or that may solicit responses that contain non-compliant or unusable information that may introduce bias into the search should be avoided.
- Employers must make appropriate and reasonable accommodations to enable a candidate with a disability or the need for some other accommodations  to participate in an interview and explain what is involved ahead of time. The library should seek information from candidates on what is needed and guidance from institutional policies and campus experts on how to accommodate requests from candidates. Throughout the recruitment process, the focus must remain on the individual, not the disability or accommodation.
- The search committee should model standards for interactions with candidates, which should be professional, courteous, respectful, and objective.
- Many candidates are interested in learning more about the community and what it is like to live and work there. Be prepared to provide answers to questions related to housing availability and costs, school quality, child care options, economic and job outlook for spouses and partners, entertainment, and other work-life issues.
- Make institutional resources available to candidates as appropriate and/or if available. This might include access to realtors and relocation companies.
Evaluating Candidates, Making the Recommendation, and Preparing the Offer
Following interviews, the recruitment process moves into the final stages which focus on evaluating all candidates who have interviewed on-site, checking references, and moving to the offer stage. This stage may involve both the search committee and/or human resources officer and/or administrators.
The search committee is expected to seek feedback from interview participants on candidates who interviewed on-site.
In many cases, the search committee is expected to check references. In some instances, reference checks might be performed instead by the human resources officer or the supervisor for the position. Institutional policy on reference checks should be reviewed to ensure that appropriate processes and procedures are followed.
The following general guidelines are useful in conducting reference checks.
- Indicate the type and number of references required. Ideally this should be outlined in the position posting so candidates can provide what is expected as part of their application. Candidates should be directed to provide references who can provide substantive information about his or her professional qualifications and aptitude. Candidates may also be asked to provide specific types of references such as current or previous supervisors or administrators in a direct reporting line, peer library or institutional colleagues, and/or direct reports that the candidate has supervised.
- Establish when reference checks are conducted. Some institutions conduct reference checks prior to inviting candidates on-site for interviews. The advantage to this method is that the library might further narrow the number of on-site interviews and allow for the extension of an offer of employment more quickly after interviews are completed. A disadvantage is that it is time-consuming to check multiple references for multiple candidates and can delay interviews.
- Identify the candidates for whom references will be contacted. Some institutions only check references for the candidate selected while others check references for all candidates invited for on-site interviews.
- The committee should only solicit formal references from the list provided by the candidate. In the event the committee needs to check other references, input from and permission of the candidate should be sought in advance. This might be the case if the institutional or library policy requires or specifies specific types of references such as current or previous supervisor, direct report, or institutional colleague or peer, and the candidate has not provided that type of reference. In some cases, a search committee might need information related to a specific aspect of a person’s background and may need to discuss what is needed with the candidate so that the candidate can identify a reference who can provide the information.
- Develop questions for reference checks. Whether seeking letters of reference or conducting telephone reference checks, the committee should develop a list of common questions to be answered by all references. These questions should focus on key responsibilities of the job and the candidate’s credentials, qualifications, experience, and accomplishments, as well as characteristics and attributes. When requesting the letter of reference, the committee can ask the reference to respond to the specific questions in the form of a letter. When a telephone reference is conducted, the questions and the position posting can be sent to the individual in advance and then used to guide the conversation. Committees should always ask the reference to identify how they know the candidate. Unique questions relevant to particular candidates are also permissible if necessary to fully assess their qualifications.
- Reference checks may be considered privileged information. Information gathered in reference checks is included in the search committee report and is part of the information summarized and shared with the hiring authority. In addition, it is the responsibility of the committee to let references know what information will be or might be made available to candidates in accordance with institutional policy and practice, and/or state laws.
The search committee should only contact references listed and do so in accordance with institutional and library policy. However, within a tightly networked profession, it is not uncommon for the committee to receive unofficial or informal information regarding candidates. This might take the form of interview participants and/or library staff seeking out information from peers and colleagues at the candidate’s current or previous workplace or from former colleagues. Institutional policies may provide guidance on the appropriateness and/or acceptable use of such information; in the absence of policy guidance, ethical considerations should determine how to handle such information. Care should be exercised that such information is not used in an adverse manner to disqualify candidates unless attempts are made to verify the information via credible and appropriate sources.
Recommendation for Hire
Institutional and library practices on making the recommendation for hire vary. In some cases, committees may be asked to only indicate if candidates are acceptable or not; while in other cases, the committee may be asked to recommend the top candidate or rank the candidates. The nature of the search committee recommendation should be determined and communicated in advance. In most cases, search committees are advisory and the final decision will be made by the hiring authority and/or senior administrators, but this may vary by institution.
Offer of Employment
The offer stage is usually handled by the human resources officer or other administrators. In some cases, institutional practices may require levels of approval outside the library either before or after an offer is made. Once the hire is approved, a contingent offer is made to the candidate selected in the form of a formal written offer that details the specific terms of employment.
Once an offer has been accepted, the next stage will likely involve additional checks – credentialing, background, criminal, and employment verifications. Such verifications should be handled in accordance with institutional policy and state laws and regulations. Upon satisfaction of these checks, the offer is no longer contingent and the candidate should be advised in writing.
Once a candidate has received and accepted the offer, all other candidates should be notified. The method of contact to notify candidates is best determined by how far they advanced in the process.
- Personalized letters or emails are appropriate for candidates eliminated in preliminary screening processes or after telephone interviews.
- A telephone call followed by a letter or email should be sent to all applicants who interviewed on-site to thank them for their interest while indicating that the search has concluded.
Many institutions use online application systems that will generate automatic emails advising candidates as their status is updated in the system. While this is efficient, the messages are often brief and impersonal. A brief telephone conversation or a more personalized email would leave candidates with a better impression of the library.
Concluding the Search
Concluding a search involves some wrap-up steps. The search committee should work with the HRP to document the search and compile all search-related documents in accordance with retention policies and practices. Debriefing with the search committee and library administration may be an additional step that ensures recruitment practices are reviewed and improved, particularly if the search committee and administration disagree on the top candidate.
Additional best practices that could improve subsequent searches include:
- maintaining data on previous applicants and maintaining contact with them in order to cultivate future applications for other vacancies;
- following up with those who declined positions for insights into why they turned the offer down; and
- soliciting information on how applicants learned of the vacancy for use in assessing advertising efficacy.
Announcing the new hire to the organization should include formal discharge of the search committee members with an acknowledgement of their work.
The final step is planning for the onboarding of the new employee.
In the Event the Search Ends without an Appointment
Searches end without a successful appointment for a variety of reasons and in some cases, no obvious reason at all. In the event this occurs, the stakeholders should assess their contributions to an effective and active search and the search processes. Critical elements for review include the salary, and the design and description of the position itself, including the qualifications, and any feedback received from candidates and/or other stakeholders during the search and selection process. The search processes, including the following, should also be assessed prior to reinitiating a search: advertising, screening, and evaluating.
Internal announcements concerning the unsuccessful conclusion of a search should be handled with sensitivity to any internal or external applicants from the search.
About these Guidelines
These guidelines were developed by the ACRL Screening and Appointment of Academic Librarians Task Force chaired by Brian Keith, University of Florida. Members included: Bridget Burke, North Dakota State University; Pat Hawthorne, University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Melissa Laning, University of Louisville; Eileen Theodore-Shusta, Ohio University; and Carole Urbain, McGill University.
 The term “Academic Librarians” is used in these guidelines to refer to librarians in all higher education and research environments.
 Association of College & Research Libraries (2012). Diversity Standards: Cultural Competency for Academic Libraries. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/standards/diversity .
 Other needed accommodations may include breaks for religious observations or lactation, or dietary restrictions.