Book Review: How to Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool
Teresa Y. Neely (ed.). Chicago: American Library Association, 2011.
There is a plethora of information out there on how to get a job, but advice on how a new library school graduate should conduct his or her first professional job search that is targeted and research-based rather than anecdotal is sorely needed. How to Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool, edited by Teresa Neely, seeks to address this gap and in many ways is a must-read for prospective librarians while they are still in graduate school.
Neely is to be commended for acknowledging the current job market facing new library school graduates. Many reputable sources blithely ignore the reality of today's job market and continue to focus on the graying of the profession. Neely backs up her assertions with hard data, which indicates that while graduation rates from library schools are holding steady, the number of advertised academic jobs has declined since the most recent recession began.
The book is divided into sections that discuss each phase of the job search: parsing a job ad, compiling an application, phone interviewing, on-campus interviewing, presenting, and negotiating. Even job seekers who have spent large amounts of time reading general job hunting advice will find useful tidbits of information and guidance on where to focus their efforts. In the book's second chapter, Neely and coauthor Kathleen Garcia examine the job ads published in 2007 and 2008 to determine the prevalence of qualifications and personal traits listed by employers as required or preferable. For example, 21% of entry-level academic librarian jobs advertised in 2007 required knowledge of at least one Web scripting language. This is extraordinarily helpful information to have while one is still in school and able to fix a possible knowledge deficit with the deft addition of appropriate coursework to one's class schedule. Cover letter tips include addressing every required or preferred qualification listed using wording from the job ad, making clear that you've done some research on the institution, and how to address required/preferred qualifications you don't quite meet. While advice on remaining professional in all online forums shouldn't be necessary in a book for information professionals, a quick search of the NEWLIB-L archives proves otherwise. The book also provides an extremely helpful list of questions likely to be asked on a telephone interview.
How to Stay Afloat in the Academic Library Job Pool is not without its flaws. All of the chapter authors are current or recent employees of the University of New Mexico; this may skew their judgment, in some areas more than others. For example, the chapter on face-to-face interviews assumes that the interviewee has had the opportunity to learn about the personalities of the hiring committee from a telephone interview, that the institution's salary book will be available in the library, and that the institution will pay for the candidate's transportation and lodging. None of these are likely to be true for interviews at smaller or private schools. The how-to-read-a-job-ad chapter may strike a discordant note with readers who meet position qualifications, yet remain unemployed. It advises applicants to make their first job both satisfying and useful for achieving their long-term career goals; a luxury better suited to a robust job market. Similarly, the last chapter, which is written by a 2010 library school grad, assures readers that the job search will only take 5 to 8 1/2 months. She further writes that her "peers and other librarians reported sending out between ten and thirty applications before accepting a job offer" (p. 130). Speaking as one of several 2011 Emerging Leaders who graduated in 2010 and has spent almost a year on the job market, these assurances are sadly misleading and do a disservice to a book that opened so pragmatically.
Overall, the book will be useful to many. However, readers need to use discretion in heeding such advice as wearing six-inch heels to an interview to "make you look sharp during the presentation, and bring a spare set of shoes for walking" (p. 88).
Reviewed by: Megan Hodge. Megan is currently the Circulation Supervisor for Randolph-Macon College. She is an ALA Emerging Leader for 2011.