|Initial book cover via Elizabeth (Eli) Perez. Source: http://eliperez.com/#portfolio-2|
Criticism 1: The ethics of oversharing
I accept that it may be the case that these applicants recognize themselves in the post. No doubt Applicant 5 will, as that person has accepted our job offer. I scrubbed all identifying information from these candidates. You will find nothing about gender, age, or appearance. The "f--king bunheads" did not have that hairstyle, as that terms refers to a mindset, and there's more on it below. In addition, I altered the chronology of the applicants. Applicant 1 was not the first person we interviewed, nor was Applicant 5 the last. I did this for the same reason I omitted other identifying details. If the candidates read that post and recognize themselves I think that is fine. I hope they take away some valuable insights from the interview process, which was one of the goals of the post. If the friends, families, and colleagues of the interviewees can recognize the candidates, then I agree that I have a problem.
On commenter wrote, "I do think you could have written this in a more generalized way, without having to tiptoe around or cross over professional and ethical lines." To me, and I think to most readers, these details are important because of the advice contained therein. Did anyone really need to be told to not act nervous during an interview, or to at least try to minimize the manifestations of those nerves? I'd rather not use this space for cliches and platitudes. The details are what matters; there are concrete ways in which candidates can improve their interview process. That post was about, in part, such improvements.
"The controversial aspects of the essay would vanish if you had disclosed your intention, to publicly share details of the search process, with your five candidates," wrote another commenter. This is food for thought for future interviews, though I doubt the controversy would vanish thanks to at least one tweet I wrote, and more on that below. But I am not seeking to to publish posts like this in journals that would require institutional board review (IRB) approval. I gave these applicants anonymity in the post, which of course they are owed.
Another commenter accused me of violating the American Library Code of Ethics (pdf), articles V and VIII. Here are said articles.
V. We treat co-workers and other colleagues with respect, fairness, and good faith, and advocate conditions of employment that safeguard the rights and welfare of all employees of our institutions.
VIII. We strive for excellence in the profession by maintaining and enhancing our own knowledge and skills, by encouraging the professional development of coworkers, and by fostering the aspirations of potential members of the profession.I think that the charge relating to article V is wholly without merit, but it is addressed below all the same, as is article VIII (see: "Worst. Boss. Ever.). The last clause of article VIII is, I think, an awful thing to aspire to. I want competent librarians. I want good librarians. I want excellent librarians. The only way to ensure that our profession is to be good is to do good. If there is someone who wants to be a librarian, but you don't think will make a good one, then talk them out of it. Don't foster their aspirations. If you're not good at your job, I may call you out on it. It's been done before.
On that note, I talked none of these applicants out of librarianship. They all looked good on paper. In practice they need work interviewing. I hope they read this and recognize themselves and come back stronger next time. For all of them there will be a next time.
It is telling that an arm of the very organization in charge of this code of ethics promoted this blog post via the ALA Job List, though of course that was not without controversy or push-back. The weekly newsletter of American Libraries, American Libraries Direct, did the same.
|Here is the Facebook part of said controversy.|
Corollary: They follow me on twitter.
No, these people do not follow me. Nor do I follow them. Though pseudonyms are all the rage, and I cannot rule out creating a false identity, I'm pretty good at figuring out who is following me on twitter, thanks to my librarian sleuthing skills. In doing a social media background check on the applicants I found one on twitter. I do not and will not follow this applicant on twitter, unless the applicant asks me to. There are other staff at the library who tweet. I also do not follow them. The same goes for friending them on Facebook. My reasoning is that I don't want them to think they're being watched on social media. And they're not being watched, at least not by me. An exception is on May 8th, when I noticed a candidate taking photos of our campus and putting them on Instagram. This candidate also linked a resume to their twitter handle, so I checked that after the interview to see what was said, if anything, about the process. And as it turns out, this person did say something. And it was nice. Because I like nice things, I tweeted it, which is below.
Let it be known that I do not tweet during job interviews, but I may do so beforehand and afterwards. Thanks to the miracle of the twitter archive, here are the sum total of my tweets about interviewing candidates:
Question I really wanted to ask that last applicant, but held back on: "Have you ever killed someone by accident, but secretly enjoyed it?" - 5/16/13I assume that the first tweet above is the one driving much of the criticism of this piece. I find it humorous because I have a dark, morbid sense of humor. It was also clear to me that the candidate I wanted to ask this question to was out of their element, and asking odd questions, though not this odd, can often "reset" an interview. We employed that tactic in one interview. I didn't work. So it goes. Another applicant had spent some time in Naples, so I asked a question about the best local options for Neapolitan-style pizza. Some may find the first tweet cruel and callous, and I understand why. To the extent that there are intersubjective, agreed upon ethical norms here, I don't think they were violated, and I'm heartened that the majority of people who've given me feedback agree. In fact, the number of compliments on that post from library and information professionals who are looking for work outweighs all criticism by at least thirty to one. Moreover, much, if not all, of the criticism on that job post appears to be from employed librarians, whereas the response of job seekers has been positive. I like to think that I know where the ethical line is, and judging from the responses, I have that right.
"Connecting with people through information." - Something a job applicant here said. There's still hope for the future. -5/15/13
Interviewing someone for a PT position today. The candidate has an un-googleable name because it's the same as a semi-famous author. - 5/15/13
Our interviewee on twitter: "Job interview went well - cosy [sic] library which screamed 70s retro, small dedicated team, amazing smell." - 5/8/13
Doing a social media check on a job applicant while said applicant is instagramming photos of our campus. Ahh, the 21st century. - 5/8/13
Just interviewed a candidate who also works at Trader Joe's, so my first question was "what's your favorite item?" Answer: Garlic naan. - 1/15/13
Just interviewed a candidate who's writing a thesis on ska. #librariansareawesome - 1/10/13
Arriving 25 minutes early for an interview & then asking to have it immediately is poor form, prospective applicants. #protip - 8/6/12
First person we interviewed for the part-time position name-checked The Wire. The bar has been set. High. - 8/3/12
Attn, #library job seekers: if I ask you for a color, and you say "banana," you don't get the job. Answer the question! - 5/23/11
"[I]f you were confident that the candidates were following you on social media, would you still write this?" asked a commenter. I think that's an excellent question, one I don't have an answer for. In January we hired someone for a similar position who I had a pre-existing professional relationship with via twitter. I have noticed a tendency among librarians on social media to overestimate the role of said media. In the grand scheme of things, very few of us (something like 120,000 librarians, of whom 51,000 are American Library Association members) are on twitter, for example. And while you, dear reader, may conduct some research on a position beforehand, it was clear to those of us present in these interviews that this was not the case. Not everyone is as savvy as you, though I wish they were. As for posting potentially controversial statements, thoughts, opinions, and quotes on social media, the internet comic xkcd has it right, but that is my mileage; yours may vary.
Criticism 2: Heartless bastard
Again, back to that first tweet. Yeah, I thought it. I also tweeted it. I didn't ask it. That would be an awful, irresponsible thing to do. We don't bring people to campus for interviews so we can mock, torture, and humiliate them. We don't have that kind of spare time and I'm not that sadistic. We bring them to campus because based on their resumes and cover letters, they appear to be strong candidates for a position here. In this round of interviews, much more so than other rounds, there was a disconnect between what was on paper, or the screen, and meeting in person.
"Perhaps some of your candidates didn't do well during the interview process because they could tell you were dismissive of them," wrote one commenter. No. Despite what you think of the alleged professionalism or lack thereof of that blog post, we don't do that at my place of work. Again, that would be an awful, irresponsible thing to do. Also again, based on what we saw in terms of resumes and cover letters, we were eager to meet these applicants. There were multiple people present for these interviews, always including someone who is not a librarian. We were all in agreement on these candidates, who were given numerous opportunities to present themselves, free of any biases.
There is an alternative explanation: the applicants met us and within the first five minutes decided to tank the job. I find this highly unlikely given how they interviewed, but it's not out of the realm of possibility. I once had a phone interview for an academic position and it was clear within about that time frame that it was not going to be a good fit. I was a bit frustrated and it was not my finest moment. I regret doing so. After all, I could end up meeting these fellow librarians in the future. It was a stupid, immature move on my part, one I've learned from. But again, I don't think that happened here.
As a librarian aware of the surfeit of unemployed librarians on the job market and as someone who has been unemployed in the past, I know the pain of the job searching process. I still remember the shame and humiliation, the loss of self-worth, that comes with the job search process while not earning any money, being unable to provide. It's an awful feeling. It's one reason why I write posts like these from time to time.
I'm rooting for these candidates. We all are. I want to cheerlead for them. We all do. But if they come into an interview having not prepared, being so nervous that they can't complete a sentence, well then my time, our time, is being wasted.
"I think candidates 1-4 dodged a bullet" said another commenter. And that brings us to the work environment here.
Corollary I: Worst. Boss. Ever.
Might this workplace be some sort of dystopian nightmare, based on that blog post? Might I run around humiliating staff, calling them names like a library version of Gordon Ramsay?
Far from it. There are six, soon to be seven, people who work in the library. I have been in several positions here, over a total of more than six years. Our reference librarian has been here for more than five years in two positions. Two of our part-time staff enjoy this work atmosphere so much that despite earning full-time librarian positions some time ago, they still work here between fifteen and twenty-five hours per week (they also have students loans to pay off; it's not all sunshine and rainbows). We are one of the most stable departments on campus, which is something I'm proud of. I like to think that our interview process, which has graced us with these staff members, plays a role in their longevity. We know how to pick 'em. Then we know how to keep 'em. I'm also proud of the culture of experimentation and ownership that I've helped to create at this library. It is okay to fail here. I have their backs, and they know that. In January of 2012 I wrote,
I called a meeting of all our full-time and part-time staff, and told them to treat the library like a laboratory. We’re going to try some things here. We will fail some of the time, but that’s life, and I’ll do my best to limit the damage.To the extent that I have the power to control what goes on in this library, and some days it's more than others, I think you, dear reader, would like it here. And because we, not just I, were unimpressed with many of the applicants we brought in, we're still hiring. Interested? Let me know.
None of these staff members is over 30. All have skill sets that I, and the others, don’t. Some are still in library school. I retain veto power, but this will be interesting. More later.
Corollary II: F--king Bunheads
I did not come up with this term. Another academic library director did, and immediately apologized for it. Note that I linked to said apology. Note the quote from the library loon about librarianship getting what it deserves at the top of the post. Self-awareness? I haz that. Irony? That, too. Also note, as one astute commenter did, that the theme of my blog is a shelf full of books. A shelf full of books is a wonderful thing, made more so with a dark lager.
But if you are interviewing for a position in an academic library, "I like books" is not an appropriate response to any question save for "Do you like books?" Know your audience, interviewees. This is not to say that books are not important, they are, and they will continue to be so. Yet in academic libraries there is no primacy of books, certainly not in the way one might see books in children's section of a public library or a school library. And full disclosure, I moonlight as a school media specialist. I, too, love books, but of the approximately 214,000 circulating items in this library, only 10,613 did so (data is from the 2011-12 fiscal year). It's unfair to expect an applicant to know that, but I think it's fair to expect them to be somewhat aware of the challenges facing academic libraries when interviewing for a position.
Criticism 3: Taxonomy
No, there is no such thing as a "librarian personality, 1, 2, 3,..." You get the idea. This is not a taxonomy. It's fine if you self-identify as "I'm type 1 with a dash of 5," but Myers-Briggs is probably better suited to an exercise like the one some readers and commenters are engaging in.
Criticism 4: Johnny Law
"yikes! doesn't this kind of thing violate privacy and hr laws? (sorry to be a party pooper)"
That's a tweet from someone who read the post. No, it doesn't violate any laws.
The Plight of Applicant 1
Applicant 1 wasn't so engaging in their enthusiasm because they were compensating for lack of experience. This candidate had worked in archives and also had significant experience teaching, researching, and supervising students workers. On paper, Applicant 1 was excellent. I tried to talk myself into hiring this person, but it was clear that it would not be a good fit in this library, even though this person would no doubt help advance the mission of the university. That we did not extend this person an offer says far more about me, and my management style in particular, than it does about them.
Do not be surprised to hear about this person as a Mover/Shaker/Emerging Leader, or some other holder of accolades in the near future. It just wouldn't work here, and that's sad. I wish I knew how to manage someone with that energy level and personality. But I don't, and I'm still thinking about it.
By now everyone knows the cliche "don't read the comments!" I'm very heartened and appreciative of the respectful and inquisitive tone of comments and feedback on the initial post, be they on the blog, or on social media networks like twitter, Facebook and Google +. Thank you all for reading, sharing, and commenting. I'm happy to continue doing so on or in media of your choice.