Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Goal for the fall semester

Brush up on my Spanish. I feel like this is a given for anyone who wants to work at a public library in the US. I lived in Spain for a year, so the language is firmly implanted in my psyche, but it has retreated into the more remote crags of my brain. In the last few years I've spent more time working on my German. Strangely, I feel like the Spanish has been percolating all this time and may have even gotten better (once I brush the dust off of the right synapses). And here's a surprise...I used my German twice this summer while working at the public library, and Spanish only once. Ideally, I'd like to spend a little bit of time each day reviewing grammar and working on my vocab and pronunciation. This means that I'm going to have to be careful with other aspects of my schedule and reserve some time para revisar.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

20 questions

Earlier this summer, I interviewed for a rural library director job. I didn't get it, but the interview was a great experience. They asked really good questions. The best part is knowing that next time I interview for that type of job, it won't be the first time. And it's reassuring to know that I can handle the tough questions. It was actually a lot of fun, for a job interview.
  1. Tell us what attracted you to the position of Library Director at this library and what specific qualifications you feel you could bring to this library?

  2. Are you familiar with how a rural county library is operated?

  3. Because our library staff is part-time, scheduling flexibility is a must. Tell us about your experience setting work schedules, your views on staff support as well as how to acknowledge work well done.

  4. Describe your supervisory or management style.

  5. Because so many tasks are required of a single professional in a small library, the Director must delegate tasks to get the job done. Explain to us how you might accomplish the goals you have for the library by using the paraprofessional workers.

  6. Grant writing is an essential element in accessing additional dollars for special programs. Explain your experience in grant writing or grant implementation.

  7. We are fortunate to have a very active Friends of the Library organization. They are present in a small corner of our building every day from 1 until 4 o'clock selling donated books that have been screened by our library director first and also books that have been weeded from the collection. Tell us about your experience working with volunteers.

  8. Currently we are developing a policy on audio books, CDs, DVDs, and videos. Where would you start considering our space situation? In addition, how would you go about collection development as well as evaluating our current collection?

  9. Our library circulation system is Winebago (a better system for schools); we are looking at Dynix -- tell us your experience with systems. How about web page maintenance?

  10. We are fortunate to have a very supportive library district. In 2003, the district voted to tax themselves the maximum allowed by the state for library districts. Tell us about your previous experience with budgets.

  11. How do you visualize your role in the community? What organizations do you feel are beneficial to library growth?

  12. The Board of Trustees and the FOL are beginning to dream about a new facility. How do you see yourself as director helping to make this dream a reality?

  13. We are very proud of our library. We feel we offer a pleasant working environment, a committed staff, a lively Friends group, and the Board of Trustees is devoted to the expansion and enhancement of the library. Are you interested in committing to a year contract, offered after a six month probationary period with salary negotiations each year?

  14. If offered this position, when would you be available to start?

The board was really nice. It felt more like a conversation than an interview. And I really appreciated how they gave me an opportunity to learn more about them. I spent a lot of time talking to an anthropologist friend of mine, (half jokingly) profiling the board to decide what I should wear to the interview. I didn't want to walk in looking like an applicant. I wanted to look like their library director.

I also kept all of my comments about their library positive. I'd looked at their stats from the state library and read the board's minutes for the last year (gotta love the Internet), and there were a few red flags. Twice the state average per capita spending, but half the average circulation, for example. But I decided I wouldn't be critical (which is HUGE for me). These people love their library. How much goodwill am I going to generate if I walk in and start insulting everything? Maybe I would have done better if I could have been critical in a constructive way. I didn't get the job, after all.

Some of the questions were like six or seven questions at once. Luckily, they were all written down so I could refer to the question and make sure I'd addressed everything.

My advice? Don't try to anticipate the questions and prepare answers for different scenarios. Just prepare really good answers and pick and choose from them as appropriate.

I made the mistake of preparing for particular questions once. Really, it's not too hard. I find that most libraries ask the same types of questions. But this time, they threw something at me that I hadn't expected. I was completely flustered and flubbed the question. I just couldn't figure out what the question meant. It was a telephone interview, so there wasn't any opportunity to read body language, and any back and forth clarification just became awkward. But I think what really killed me on this one is that I'd spent so much time preparing for every possible question that when they came up with one I hadn't planned on, I couldn't think quickly enough to respond on the fly. Fortunately, libraries tend to be a little forgiving, and I still got the job. But I learned my lesson.

In the director interview, I think I flubbed the first question. But you have to tell yourself that's okay, and just move on. I hadn't really warmed up yet, and I managed to cover everything that I should have said in later questions.

When you prepare answers, think of what you want the hiring committee to hear regardless of what questions they ask. What are your greatest accomplishments? What are you most proud of? How do you feel about the profession? What's your take on some of the big picture stuff? This isn't a multiple choice test where you can get all the right answers. It's about building a rapport with your future co-workers and finding out whether you're a good fit. Just telling the committee about how you prepared a budget report in response to their question about budgeting isn't going to do that. Being enthusiastic and expressing your professional values might do it, though.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Seattle revisited

Well, this week's issue of Library Journal takes another look at Seattle Public Library's central branch, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, a year and a bit after it opened its doors. I've always had a few opinions about the building, too, so why not continue the conversation? Although the title of the article, After Seattle, might suggest an investigation of the building's impact on libraryland, the focus is definitely on what's happening inside the building, rather than what's going on outside in the rest of the world. If I get around to it, I might pull together some thoughts on this latter idea as well.

I've always been a bit ambivalent in my opinions of the building. The art historian in me goes absolutely gaa-gaa. As architecture goes, it's spectacular. If buildings are your thing, it's definitely worth a pilgrimage. Whenever I find myself in Seattle, I go out of my way to ensure that I at least catch a glimpse of it. If I'm walking around downtown, I'll stop by to use the bathroom. And once I'm inside, I always visit my favorites:

  • The red floor. If this metal and glass building manages to be cozy anywhere, it's the 4th floor. Cozy in an all-enveloping, slightly goth, regressive womb-like way, absent of any square corners. This is also my favorite place to use the bathroom. The color is so overwhelming, it's almost like walking around with weights on your shoulders. But the bathrooms are the perfect counterfoil: bright and cheerful pastel. So cheerful, in fact, that you might start to wonder if there isn't something the teensiest bit sinister about the red outside. I just love the contrast.

  • The elevator buttons. These are a slice of genius. Literally. The button panel is a cross-section of the building, so to select your destination, you push a button that looks like the floor you want to visit.

    Not on my list of favorites is the book spiral. Maybe it just didn't live up to the hype. Maybe I pictured something different. C'mon, mention spiral and architecture in the same breath, and who doesn't think of this? But in this case, really, it's just slanted floors. Granted, the Dewey labels on the floor are cool, and it really makes sense from a shelving point of view. But shouldn't libraries be about making things easier for the user, not just what's easiest for the people who work there? (Oops. That sounds more like a librarian than an art historian.) Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should abandon everything that's beneficial for staff in favor of what our users might prefer. But it's not enough for one group to say "Neato" while the other remains nonplussed.

    LJ on the book spiral: "The spiral presents the collection in one continuous Dewey run on series of gently sloping ramps—a parking garage for books." Hmm. Parking garage? Lovely. That's exactly where I want to hang out for the afternoon.

    Enough of the art historian. Let the librarian have her say.

    Well, to be frank, what the librarian has to say is, "hmm." That, combined with a scrunched up face and furrowed brow. No drooling mouth agape, much to the chagrin of the art historian.

    Let's start off with something they did right. Lots of computers. It's just about guaranteed that you can walk in and sit right down at a computer. I've done this once or twice myself with a temporary visitor login. But...whenever I'm in the mixing chamber, with its 148 computers in row after row, the lyrics to Pink Floyd's The Wall always seem to come to mind. The stark orange and black of the decor only add to the sense that I'm a drone in a hive. (The art historian interrupts: you gotta love the Dutch for their garish sense of color.)

    Hmm. As long as we've segued into the criticism portion of the evening...

    The building just isn't intuitive. Now, I'm not a Seattle denizen, so perhaps it all starts to make sense after repeated use, but I can't escape the feeling that I don't know how to get to where I want to be. To avoid confusion, I just use the elevator. It may also be the reason that I always use the bathroom on the red's the only one I know how to find. It doesn't help things that the exit on one side of the building is a floor higher than the other side, but that's just Seattle. And I'm not the only one who doesn't get it. There are dozens of homemade signs (of the sort that used to raise the hackles of my former library director) with arrows telling you how to get out of the bloody rabbit hole you lost yourself in. Which might be understandable in a new building. It might take time for the traffic patterns to establish themselves, and I can see the logic (okay, maybe this is a stretch, but who doesn't enjoy rationalizing?) of waiting to make the permanent signs until you get a sense of the directional aids that people really need. But c'mon people, it's been over a year.

    My biggest critique of the building? It's a place where you go to be alone. Alone with other people, but alone nonetheless. And I really think they missed the boat on that one. It just doesn't feel like a community gathering place. Drive a couple of hours north to Vancouver, and you get the exact opposite without even trying. The central library there just had its 10th anniversary. And for all my complaints about Vancouver Public, I just love Library Square. People congregate. They bring their lunch. They sit. They sunbathe (yes, sun in Vancouver). They read. And even if you're alone, you somehow feel together. Compare that to Seattle, with its chairs that force you to face away from your neighbor. Aesthetically, they're pretty neat. A big squishy foam plus sign. And I always love it when architects design the furniture for their buildings. But whatever happened to form + function? Even the mixing chamber. Despite its name, there's very little mixing going on.

    The art historian wants to say something about the language of glass and steel versus the imagery of a Roman coliseum and their relationship to our perception of public space, but I'll leave that one alone for now.

  • Thursday, August 04, 2005

    Waiting for Harry

    On the way home from the library after picking up my copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince on its release date, I stopped off to do some shopping. I was trying on some shoes and set Harry down on the seat next to me. Suddenly, all of the hipsters who worked in the shop were fawning all over me and making casual Harry conversation. Then somebody realized my copy was from the library.

    "Whoa, I didn't realize the library had it already."

    I started to smile on the inside. Oh goodie, a little library PR moment.

    It went downhill quickly from there.

    "You mean you can put things on hold before the library gets them?"

    "Sure. I put this on hold in December." And unless you had about 6 months worth of foresight, you're probably number 1156 in line. But don't worry....with 150 copies in circulation, you'll get your turn in less than six months.

    "How do you find out about this stuff?"

    Um, I work there.

    Imagine the same scenario, à la Amazon. Sure, Harry's available for pre-order with delivery on release day, but we're not really going to tell anyone.

    Now imagine a world where you can get updates via email/RSS/saline drip/whatever not just for the new stuff, but for the stuff that's just been put on order and won't be published for a couple of months?