Friday, October 28, 2005


I've got an interview for a teen librarian position next month. My current awareness radar is going to be keenly focused on teens and libraries for the next couple of weeks. Why not share what I find? So, I've set up a spinoff blog, the teen library. We'll see how it goes.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


I met with my mentor earlier this week, and I must say, she's pretty cool. I recently applied for a part time student librarian job at the public library, and when I showed up at the interview, it turned out my mentor was on my interview panel. So, I got the full de-brief afterwards on what I did right and what I did wrong.

First thing I did wrong: I didn't call my mentor right away. I guess I'm still getting a feel for our relationship. The turnaround time for applying was pretty tight, and it's just a part-time student job so the stakes seemed low. Okay, okay, even so, I should have called her. If she already knew she was going to be on the hiring panel, she wouldn't have been able to coach me on the interview, but if I'd caught her early enough, she could have given me the inside scoop.

It never occurred to me to list her as a reference because I haven't worked with her professionally. Of course, she pointed out that since she actually works at the library where I was applying, the folks who would be looking at my application would recognize her name, and that could be enough to get my foot in the door. After that, it's up to me. Even though she can't speak to my on the job performance, she can act as a character reference. And her reference might even carry more weight since she's a known quantity to the people in HR. Even if all she could say is, "Yeah, she's a good egg," at least they have it from a reliable source that I'm not crazy.

The moral of the story is, if you have a mentor, be in touch! And if you don't have a mentor, get one. Check your local library association for a mentorship program, and if one doesn't exist, get one started. All it really takes is a few emails and maybe an Excel spreadsheet. Think of it this'll have first pick at assigning your own mentor (though I'm a big fan of serendipity).

As for my performance at the interview...

Ms. Mentor commented on my appearance and said I looked nice, appropriate. By comparison, some people were a wee bit casual. All the men wore ties. No suit coats, but ties. I didn't wear a suit because I thought it would be overkill, but I did wear slacks and a button down. I was aiming to project "stylish and youthful, yet crisp and professional."

There was one question where I got a little "library school" and started to talk about an article that I'd read recently. She commented that it's good to mention that you're reading professional literature, it speaks to involvement and current awareness, but keep it brief. It's too easy to get wrapped up in describing the article and get sidetracked from answering the question. If you refer to something you've read, just say, "Oh, I recently read an article in Library Journal that summarized that issue well." Period. Leave it at that.

On that note, if you feel yourself getting off track, it's perfectly alright to ask your interviewer to read the question again. Ms. Mentor told me a little secret she's figured out now that she's on the other side of the interview table. The people interviewing you want you to do well. After all, they want strong candidates to choose from, right? Chances are, they're mentally willing you the "right" answer, or at least the answer they're looking for. If you give them the chance to prompt you, they just might point you in the right direction (unless they're bound by specific union guidelines on how to conduct the interview). Follow up your responses by asking, "Does that answer your question?" or "Is there another aspect of that question that you would like me to address?" Put those reference interview skills to work!

I gave a weak answer to the last question. Honestly, I thought it was a little weird: How would your references describe your working style? My interpretation of what they were asking was thoroughly poisoned by all of the readings I've been doing on HR for school. I started to overanalyze the question and ended up completely misinterpreting it. Here's my thought process: What does my answer tell them about me? Well, it illustrates how I believe others see me, how perceptive I am at reading others. So, I tried to think of what qualities would stand out for each of the people I'd listed as references.

What were they really asking? They just wanted me to talk about my strengths. Lessons learned: be on the look out for simple questions reworded in complicated ways, and if you start to wonder what a question means, just ask!

I think the question that got me the job was the one about reader's advisory. I got excited, I talked about how my skills had developed over time, and it was all done with a great deal of sincerity. Evidently, I was rather charming. This was where I established a rapport with my interviewers, and this was where I convinced them that I was someone they wanted to work with.

So, I think I'm going to approach my next interview from a slightly different angle. Realistically, everyone who gets to the interview stage has the skills and qualifications to do the job. What they're looking for in the interview is someone who will do the job with verve. I've got a couple of interviews next month, and the jobs are dreamy, so the stakes are high. I asked a friend of mine for interview advice, and he told me, "Be as Heidi as you can be." Ultimately, I think that's the best advice anyone could give. I'm going to pack as much "me" into my answers as possible.

I'll be back with more interview questions soon. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


Hooray! And yet, I have to wonder...did they accept everyone who submitted an application? Even so, I'm excited. Time to work on my "Statement of Professional Concerns." Which sounds like something to be uttered with pursed lips and a furrowed brow: "I am very concerned about..." Can't I write a "Statement of Professional Enthusiasm" instead? What's the best way to persuade someone in under 150 words? Hmm, maybe I should just start asking people what issues they'd like to see council address.

There's still time to submit your name as a candidate, by the can still run as a petition candidate.


Congratulations! The American Library Association's Nominating Committee has selected you as a candidate for Councilor-at-Large in the 2006 election. You were selected from a pool of many well-qualified potential candidates. Your nomination indicates the high regard in which your peers hold you.

If your plans have changed and you are unable to stand for election in 2006 or if it becomes necessary for you to withdraw as a candidate prior to the election, I would ask that you notify me immediately at iabdullahi[at]

The information that you submitted on the Potential Candidate Biographical Information Form will be used to generate the ballot copy for the election. If you would like to update the form to reflect your current accomplishments or employment, you may do so at any time through January 30, 2006. In order to allow sufficient time for ballot preparation, the database will be locked at the close of business on January 30.

To edit your information, go to You will be prompted to enter your email address and password. To get a password, select the "Send me my password" option the first time you use the form. If you have trouble logging in, please contact Jack Briody, ALA Information Technology and Telecommunication Services, at 1-800-545-2433, ext. 4394 or jbriody[at]

Candidates are asked to submit a Statement of Professional Concerns to be included on the ballot. The Statement of Professional Concerns MAY NOT exceed 150 words and must be submitted by January 30, 2006. Please submit the Statement electronically in the space provided on the Candidate Biographical Information Form, using the instructions above to log in.

At the 1992 ALA Annual Conference in San Francisco, Council charged the Nominating Committee with the task of monitoring the length of Statements of Professional Concerns. Please stay within the 150-word limit for this statement to avoid the necessity of editing.

Preliminary information on the ALA candidates will appear in the December 2005 issue of American Libraries. Election polls will open and the paper ballot mailing to members will begin on March 15, 2006. Polls will close on April 21, 2006. Certification of election results by the ALA Election Committee will take place on May 1, 2006. All candidates, elected or not, will be notified on May 1, 2006.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions about the information needed for the ballot or the election process.

Thank you for your willingness to assume a leadership role in ALA. Best wishes in the election!

Ismail Abdullahi, Chair
Associate Professor
North Carolina Central University
School of Library & Information Sciences
1801 Fayetteville St.
P O Box 19589
Durham, NC 27707-3129
Tel: (919) 530-5213
Fax: (919) 530-6002
Email: iabdullahi[at]

Monday, October 17, 2005

Board games

I've been making the rounds at local library board meetings. So far, I've been to meetings at five different library systems. There are seven systems in the metro area, so I still have a couple left to go. The libraries range from a one branch suburban system to a large urban system with around 20 locations.

Board governance is definitely on the list of things that I didn't think about much before library school. It never would have occurred to me to observe a meeting. Although most, if not all, library board meetings are open to the public, I don't know if I even realized it was an option. At four out of six meetings (I went to one library twice), I was the only member of the public present. Looks like I'm not the only one who isn't paying attention. As for my fellow spectators at the other meetings: in one case, there were two of us. I got the impression that the other guy was a regular, a self appointed citizen watchdog. At the other, two friends from library school joined me. There were several staff observers at two libraries, but in general the meetings felt cloistered.

There was a noticeable difference in how I was treated at the various meetings. At some, I was introduced (I had called each library in advance to let them know I planned to attend), at others, I was asked to introduce myself, and at another I was an anonymous observer. Four out of five libraries provided food, but I was only invited to partake at one. And finally, only one library opened up the floor for questions from the public. Once, I got to sit at the same table as the board. Otherwise, I sat in a chair off to the side. Not a big deal at the larger meetings with staff least there were a bunch of us sitting quietly in the corner. But when it's just the nine board members and the library director around a table in the center, and me in a folding chair against the wall? I felt like something of a pariah. Sure, the meeting may be open to the public in name, but I don't think they're expecting (or encouraging) anyone to show up.

The longest meeting was around 3 hours (and that doesn't include the top secret in camera part that I wasn't allowed to watch), and the shortest came in at just under an hour. And no, the longest meeting wasn't at the biggest library.

Being in library school, I'm surrounded by librarians and library-types talking about libraries. The great thing about board meetings is that you get to hear bankers and grandmothers and lawyers and city council members talk about libraries. And they don't say things like MARC or ILS or OPAC very much. Instead, they use words like community and impact. Occasionally, they say things like internet filter. And that's when it gets interesting.

One of the most challenging aspects of being an outside observer is trying to get a read on everything that isn't being said. Someone will fidget, or squint their eyes, or start frantically scribbling on a notepad. Looks or whispers are exchanged. Sometimes you can almost see the bureaucracy. Even when things get tense, it's still cloaked in the pseudo-politeness of Robert's Rules of Order. And then there's the stuff that gets said out loud that you still don't understand (maybe it would have helped if I had been given an agenda).

The real fun comes with sensing the overall vibe. It's like taking the blood pressure reading of a library. Some meetings felt vital and alive, while at others I had to struggle not to yawn. The meetings I enjoyed most were the ones where the board looked to the future and envisioned ways that the library could be better. Other meetings were much more focused on the present and where we are now. Interesting, to be sure, but lacking a sense of momentum.

Personally, I found the meetings fascinating, and if I didn't have night classes, I'd be a regular fixture at one or two of them. If you haven't been, I say give it a try. (And help yourself to some of the cookies.)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

E) None of the above

Hmm, what would interviews be like if they were multiple choice? Since that's not likely to happen, here's a selection from some of the questions I've been asked lately. These are from two different interviews for quite different positions, both in public libraries.

  • You're approached by an 8th grade boy, a reluctant reader, who needs to find a book to read for a school assignment. Describe what you would do to help him, and give an example of a specific book that you might recommend.

  • How do you stay informed about the newest ideas in children's services? Give an example of a new idea you've heard about recently, your opinion about it, and how you learned of it. Then, give an example of a new idea that you've implemented in a previous job.

  • What appeals to you about this position?

  • How would you deal with a group of rowdy adolescents causing a disturbance in the library?

  • How would your references describe your working style?

  • What tools do you rely on for selecting and evaluating materials?

  • Give an example of a time when you provided good customer service.

  • What online databases are you familiar with for children's reference services, which ones do you find useful, which ones do you prefer, and why?

  • Name a YA book that you've read recently and the criteria that you would use to evaluate it for inclusion in the library collection.

  • Describe your ideal children's section in a library.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Phone is ringing, oh my god

Now, I don't want to jinx anything, but I've got a telephone interview on Tuesday. Luckily, it's not my first telephone interview (okay, it's my second), so at least I can focus on the message and not the medium. Nevertheless, I asked around and I got some good advice on the phone aspect of phone interviews (from a prof who does phone interviews all the time for her research):

  • Keep your voice low. With the loss of visual cues, tone of voice has a huge impact on how you are perceived. High pitched and squealy isn't going to do you any favors. A low and even tone of voice (I don't mean monotone) over the phone is the equivalent of cleaning under your fingernails for the in-person meeting: it just makes a good impression.
  • Write down the names of everyone on the panel, and when you answer questions, respond to whomever asked the question by using their name. This can help you connect with your interviewers as individuals, something that is challenging to do telephonically with someone you've never met before.
  • Make them laugh. It can be really hard for folks on the other end to get a sense of your personality over the phone and whether you're somebody they'd like to work with. My prof actually suggested that I come up with a personal story that is slightly embarrasing to put everyone at ease and make me seem more like a real person and less like a disembodied voice.

I've done all my standard interview prep stuff: contacted the references to let them know they might expect a call, looked at every single page of the library's website, checked out the census statistics for the region, looked at statistics from the state library website, tried to imagine myself in the job, thought of some specific examples of my qualifications as related to the job description, gone over the key points that I want to be sure to mention regarless of what questions they ask, and spent some time pondering life, the universe, and libraries and why I got into this librarian gig in the first place.

Where I'm stuck is trying to figure out which questions to ask to determine whether this is someplace I want to work. If I'm going to move a few thousand miles, I want to make sure it's a good fit. Here's what I've got so far:

  1. What do you do to support professional development among staff?
  2. How does your library promote adaptability and flexibility among staff?
  3. What is the greatest challenge facing your library in the next five years?

I hope these questions get at some of the things that are really important for me. I'd like to work somewhere that is forward-thinking, somewhere that plans for the future in a strategic way (question 3). I'd like to work in a library that acknowledges the value of staff as a key resource and backs that up with some tangible action, a place that promotes professional values and growth among all staff (question 1). And I'd like to avoid a pervasive navel-gazing "we've always done it this way" attitude and work somewhere that actively prepares for ongoing change (question 2).

And even though I could, I don't think I'll wear my pyjamas to the interview.