Securing an Academic Librarian Position

By Alice Wasielewski

Would you like to be an academic librarian? Whether you are fresh out of an MLS program
or you are switching from a career in another type of library, you should be aware of some
particulars about academic library job postings and interviews to help maximize your chances
of being offered a position.

Read the job posting carefully. Most academic positions have a list of "required" and
"desired" qualifications. Although the desired qualifications should be optional, the required
qualifications are not. Do not bother applying if you do not meet them as your application
will be disqualified. If no applicant meets the required qualifications, the posting will
usually be re-written and re-posted; that's how serious this is.

Tailor your application to the posting. This is true for any kind of job application, but for
academic libraries it is best if you address every point in the posting in your cover letter,
in the order that they are mentioned. The search committee may receive a very large number of
applications and they are going to be weeding them using a checklist. You want to do everything
you can to make their task easier. Also, be sure to give them exactly what they've asked for in
the posting, no more, no less. If they've asked for four references, don't give them three or
five. If they have not asked for references, don't send them yet. If they've asked for a resume,
do not send a curriculum vitae (CV).

CV vs. resume. Although many academic library job postings will ask for a resume to be submitted,
it is a good idea to also prepare a CV. You can mention that you have a CV available in your cover
letter and bring along hard copies of it to the interview. If you are not familiar with what a CV
is, you can get a book on preparing one or check the ALA New Members Round Table (NMRT) website
for helpful links. Although a resume should generally be kept to one or two pages, a CV can go
on for many pages, allowing more opportunity to expand on your skills and background. As you gain
more experience, be sure to keep your CV updated to make sure you don't forget details of what you
have done, even if you're not currently job hunting.

With either a resume or CV, it is a good idea to have someone with experience in hiring for
academic positions look it over to make sure that it is as good as it can be. As a member of NMRT,
you can have a seasoned academic librarian review your resume via email year-round at no cost to you.
See NMRT Resume Review Service for more information.

References. Be sure to notify your references about the positions for which you are applying. Send
them your most current resume and CV, as well as the job postings. You don't want your references
taken by surprise by a phone call about you, in reference to a job they have not heard about.
Unless the job posting asks for personal references, use references who are people you have worked
with, preferably former supervisors.

Hiring process. The hiring process may take longer than you think. It may even take longer than
the people doing the hiring think. It is not uncommon for the process to drag out over several
months. Usually the closing of the application period is followed by first-round telephone interviews
with several of the top candidates, followed by second-round in-person interviews of the top three.
Despite the overall slowness of the entire process, the one part that may go more quickly than you
might expect is the scheduling of the in-person interview, which is often scheduled soon after
the telephone interview.

In-person interviews at academic libraries often take at least a full day. It is a good idea to
wear a suit, no matter how casual the everyday dress of the library is. You should receive an
interview schedule ahead of time, so you will know how long the interview will last and what it
will involve. If you aren't offered an itinerary, ask for one. Be prepared for an exhausting
schedule, as the hiring committee will be trying to maximize its time with you. However, never
complain that you are tired or uncomfortable.

The schedule will include a couple of meals, so be prepared to make small talk with people you
have just met. It will probably also include a presentation on a given topic, which will often
be broad. Prepare and practice your delivery ahead of time to make sure you fit within time
limits and can present smoothly; your presentation style may be even more important than the
content. If the position is in instruction, you may be asked to "role-play" teaching an
instruction session, or even present an instruction session to actual students. For all positions,
faculty and students may be invited to attend your presentation.

You will be asked many questions at your presentation and when meeting with members of the hiring
committee. It is important to demonstrate that you are aware of what is currently happening in your
area of librarianship. If you are switching careers from another type of library, be prepared to
answer both why you want to work in an academic library and why your qualifications make you a
suitable candidate for working in an academic library. Also, be sure to leave some of your own
questions for the end of the interview when they ask you if you have any more questions for them.
You will have learned the names of the hiring committee members from the agenda or the telephone
interview, so it is a good idea to prepare for the interview by reading their publications and
composing some relevant questions about them.

Thank You Notes. There is at least one general job advice book out there that recommends not
sending thank you notes at all, but everyone in academic libraries I've spoken to appreciates
a nice, brief thank you note. Handwritten is best, and you should send these immediately after
the interview. Use very plain and formal thank you note paper; this is not the time to use your
cute stationary.

When offered the position. Don't forget to ask about tenure. Academic librarians may be tenured
faculty, nontenured faculty, or staff. The tenure process can be quite harrowing, so make sure
you know both what you need to do to achieve tenure and what the timeline is for doing so. If you
do not feel you can achieve tenure given the requirements, you should probably not accept the position
as librarians who do not achieve tenure will be asked to leave the institution. Whether tenure track
or not, you will probably be expected to engage in professional development, which can be expensive.
You will want to confirm that the amount of professional activity that the school expects is matched
with appropriate funding. New hires will often be expected to begin work just before the beginning
of the fall or spring semester, so you will also want to make sure that this fits into your schedule
for leaving your current position.

Being an academic librarian is a rewarding career. Good luck in securing your academic library position!