BCLA ALPS – Getting Hired in Higher Education

Today was the Getting Hired in Higher Education event at SLAIS, organized by Tara Stephens and Danielle Winn, executives of ALPS (Academic Librarians in Public Service) section and myself, the ALPS representative (from the SLAIS BCLA/CLA student chapter), and sponsored by BCLA (British Columbia Library Association).

Getting Hired in Higher Education is an annual event organized for SLAIS students to hear, get advice, and ask questions about looking for, finding, and securing a job as an academic librarian. This year’s event was well attended (we had a full room!) and it seemed very appreciated.

This year, we had a larger panel with five academic librarians:

  • Aleha McCauley (University of British Columbia)
  • Annie Jensen (Langara College)
  • Emma Lawson (Langara College)
  • Danielle Winn (University of British Columbia)
  • Baharak Yousefi (Capilano College)

Panelists introduced themselves talking about their educational background, a little about the positions they currently hold, and primarily about their path towards their current job. I will not summarize everything, but will instead, concentrate on the advice they gave and the Q&A session.

While in School

Classes

More specifically, while at SLAIS, students were advised learn more about:

  • project management,
  • communications, and
  • assessment & program evaluation, especially the impact of a program/service.

and take classes that are skill or project based. Some specific classes that were mentioned:

  • Subject-Based Information Services (LIBR 530)
  • Collections Management (LIBR 580)
  • Instructional Role of the Librarian (LIBR 535) – particularly needed in academic
  • Library Automation and Systems (LIBR 551)
  • Open Access (LIBR 559K – 1-credit)
  • Management of Libraries and Archives: Community-Led Libraries (LIBR 579B – 1-credit)

Experience and Involvement

Panelists emphasized getting as much experience as possible paid or unpaid:

  • Co-op position
  • GAA (Graduate Academic Assistant)/Student Librarian job
  • Professional experience
  • Practicum – particularly to see what you like or don’t like
  • Volunteer

As to general areas, instructional and reference experience are key for academic libraries.

Getting involved while at school and afterwards is also very important, especially to network with others.

  • Participate in one or more professional association
  • Attend events – just like this one!
  • Attend workshops – e.g. CTLT’s Graduate Student Instructional Skills Workshop
  • Attend and/or volunteer at conferences
  • Get published e.g. student journals, blogs, reviews
  • Get involved in publishing e.g. as editor, reviewer
  • Building a professional online presence – employers will search for you

The Job Process

Searching & Applying for Jobs

Other than experience and involvement, employers look for:

  • good communication skills,
  • problem solving – i.e. how you work through problems, how you express yourself around change, and
  • interest in technology, especially web technology and social media.

To search for jobs, it is recommended to get RSS feeds to save time on searching.

Resumes & Cover Letters

Students have probably heard all the usual advice on format, keeping to the job description and such, but some other interesting points came up during today’s discussion:

  • Personality: to include or not? – Mixed advice was given to the librarians on how much to include. One mentioned that she began to get more interviews and job offers after including more of her personality, while another was told to tone down the personality as that will be seen in their web presence
  • Get it proofread by other people
  • Read more job descriptions to get a feel for the vocabulary used and what is expected
  • See what others are doing with cover letters that work, see Open Cover Letters
  • Get a mentor  – someone who you can learn from, ask advice, and who will give you feedback on your resume and cover letter.

Interviews

  • Get as much experience as possible with real interviews
  • Expect 1-2 days for the last stage of interviews
  • You will be expected to a presentation or a mock workshop
  • The panel will generally consist of 5-6 people
  • “Don’t try to guess what they want to hear, tell them what you think.” i.e. be honest
  • Evaluate the panel to see whether you want to work there and with that supervisor

Expectations

The librarians also provided words of advice on being realistic about the job market:

  • Be flexible about geographic location
  • If you can’t be, know that it’s a very competitive market – you will have to start in auxiliary, part-time, and contract positions
  • Start early during your last term of school – many noted that they were spending as much time on job searching and applications as they were on school work
  • Consider non-academic areas e.g. public libraries, vendors – i.e. it’s not true you can’t go from public to academic (or vice versa)

Once Offered a Job

It’s not often talked about since students generally concentrate on getting a job, but once offered a full-time, permanent position job, some things to consider:

  • Salary is negotiable – call the faculty association to ask if salary is representative if necessary
  • Get moving costs covered, if applicable
  • You might get an accommodation trip – trip to look for living space, if applicable
  • Look into start-up grants
  • Ask about professional development funds, though this is pretty standard
  • Know the major points of the collective agreement

In relation, the handbook for new faculty, Negotiating Starting Salaries published by the Canadian Association of University Teachers, was recommended.

Question & Answers

Here’s what came up during the Q&A session:

  • Q: How would you answer “Why are you interested in this division/organization?” A: draw on the posting, research the institution, but be yourself and answer honestly. Aside: You might consider using university colours in the presentation.
  • Q: What was the most difficulty question you have ever been asked? A: Specific research questions, but mostly, they want to know how you would deal with it.
  • Q: What are the best continuing education options, especially when lack time or money? A: Instructional opportunities, webinars (a library webinars blog was mentioned), grants (to go to conferences, etc.). Most positions come with professional development funds. Something you might ask about at the interview or when negotiating salary.
  • Q: Can you do a co-op and GAA at the same time? A: Yes. You can schedule it so that you do both at the same time, or consider leaving your GAA position.
  • Q: Is it possible to leave a contract for a permanent position? A: Yes. Talk to your supervisor, and they will generally be very understanding that you must leave mid-contract if you are accepting a full-time, permanent position.

Summary – The Top 5

In case you found that a lot to digest or just too much to read at once, here are the top 5 pieces of (general) advice:

  1. Get as much work experience as possible.
  2. Get experience or take a course in teaching and instruction.
  3. Get involved as much as possible, and network.
  4. Take project or skill based courses while in school.
  5. Be flexible.

EDIT: Summary version was posted in the Nov 2011 v.3 no.4 issue of the BCLA Browser in the ALPS Yodeler section.

My #libchat experience

A lot of people know about #libchat, but I don’t actually know anyone who has participated. I decided to participate while I’m in the Eastern time zone since it makes it easier (and since it’s summer, I have some free time). I think libchat is a great initiative making great use of social media and non-geographically tied group communication. I was excited to participate and even downloaded tweetdeck to help me follow the conversation and post.

A disclaimer that I’ve only participated in two sessions, but I think I can make a few general observations of my experience with them.

  • Good way to learn about what other librarians/libraries are doing.
  • One way to find other librarians (to follow perhaps) that may be interested in certain topics.
  • Great way to ask questions and get some answers from a diverse group of people.
  • Can network and promote yourself to a geographically diverse group (good for those who are open to moving across Canada/US).
  • One way to learn about issues/trends that librarians care/want to know more about.

As I said,  I think #libchat is great. I applaud nataliebinder who moderates the discussion every single week. Nevertheless, as a student, I feel like I have little to contribute since I don’t know that much about whichever library I work in. I also felt like it was mostly a Q&A session with little discussion. Not that that was wholly unexpected, but I was hoping for a bit more back and forth between/with others. As well, personally, for networking purposes, I want to get to know people locally (or in Canada at least), but the group is dominated by those from the US. Still, I’ll probably participate again or at least follow discussions to see what people are talking about.

Still, it’s a great experience, especially for someone new to twitter, and I would definitely recommend for people to participate, especially if they have questions they want to pose to a group of librarians outside of their immediate group/network.

Ingrid Parent – Fast Forward: 21st Century Libraries in a Global Context

The university librarian at UBC presented today at the SLAIS colloquia. There were a number of interesting and salient points that she made, so I thought I’d summarize them here.

Fast Forward: 21st Century Libraries in a Global Context by Ingrid Parent

Information is worldwide and information seeking behaviour is rapidly changing along with technology. So do libraries change user behaviours or do user behaviours change libraries? Really, it’s both. “In the face of seismic shifts in technology and social organizations, librarians and library staff face changing roles” (2010, Gutsche), but this need not be a seismic change, but rather, a wave of adaptation. The sharing of knowledge and networking allow for collaboration and can ease this adaptation. Not a lot has changed in what the library is so much as changes are happening in how information is delivered.

“information overload triggered a crisis in the way people saw their lives. It sped up the way we locate, cross-reference, and focus the questions that define our essence, our roles – our stories…” (Douglas Coupland, Player One) Libraries and librarians are still needed to help our users even if they have direct access to resources.  Librarians’ skills in organizing information are needed more than ever whether in libraries or in other organizations.  More creative positions are being created in response, and employers are looking for skills including in areas of communications and marketing.

“If there is a future for libraries this is where that future will be made – in the digital realm.” (Allan Bell, Director of Digital Initiatives, UBC Library) A large part of the strategic plan is focused on digital projects and initiatives.

Assessment has also become critical, but the shift in focus is on the library’s impact by trying to measure the influence and success the library has with its users.

Convergence & Collaboration
An example of a radical convergence is the Library and Archives Canada. Convergence needs to happen in more areas, mostly in the form of collaboration. It begins with contact and may end in convergence.  The way to do this is through digital technology in order to converge the knowledge and information. Users don’t care who the information “belongs” to, but simply that they can use and find it. Collaboration not only serves our users, but allow us to do more. Even technologies are converging, such as cloud computing.  Digital libraries and collections are quickly growing.

Examples of Collaboration Projects

Still the perception is that libraries are only associated with books. Libraries have the challenge to change that perception to include management of information, accessible from home, and really, a “living lab.” This is important as “information consumers are shifting into ‘prosumers.’ These hybrid users are producing, classifying, and distributing content as well as consuming content from others.” (Tom Evens, University of Ghent)

We are up to the challenge of meting these challenges. Digitization is a key factor, collaboration and converging, and come to an understanding on how to best deal with all the information. We need to move forward together in a global world where information is available to so many and in so many ways.

Q & A

What academic librarians need to do in moving forward? More consistent messaging and communications because things are done inconsistently as well. Need to talk to students more. Need more community engagement, which Irving K. Barber is a good example. Train staff to go out to the community.

What are you looking for in new hires? What kind of skills and knowledge set? Understanding and willingness to understand the information community out there. Going out to find the skills. Teamwork. Not hired for one job for whole life. Looking for possibilities working in different ways, innovation, and creativity. Can we do something better even if done the same for many years before. Need to be open-minded on sharing ideas and knowledge.

How is the library helping with research? One of the major objectives is to accelerate research. Need to work with faculty more, but life sciences more open than some others. Librarians sometimes to help with grant proposal. [Okay, I didn’t quite get the complete question/answer here.]

Transition between high school to university is a hot topic. How is the university helping with that? Learning commons to support writing skills and other skill sets, which is well used. Online tools on how to write essay, manage projects, etc. Anyone who is interested can come. No dedicated approach in the high school community. Will bring the topic to advisory committee in order to discuss how best to help support students to have skills before they leave high school.

What are your ideas for initiatives and if you see any changes when your presidency of IFLA? Have yet to choose theme that cuts across libraries. Libraries drive you to knowledge, but what do you do with that knowledge? Trying to look from user’s perspective, so looking at how libraries impact people including looking at inclusiveness, multiculturalism, collaboration. One initiative/event that want to do: Indigenous knowledge and how do we approach expressions of traditional knowledge.

Going out to the community requires support of institution. What do you find works for advocating within an institution? It’s not really common in part because of funding. Part of it is setting up advisory group in order to be in touch with people. Becoming involved in associations, but it all comes down to resources and priorities, but see it growing.