Chair on the lake
No, I don’t have any juicy stories of bad behavior to tell (hey, we are professionals over here!) but I do have some behind-the-scene information and advice based on chairing many searches. Jump down to “Today’s topic” if you are in a hurry.
Exams ended at UNCG on Wednesday, with graduation ceremonies taking place yesterday. Today [when I began writing this] is quiet but the unexpected 70 degree December temps make it harder to stay in the office and be productive.
On Wednesday, we had around 20 librarians from around the state here in Jackson Library for BLINC’s (Business Librarianship in North Carolina) winter workshop. Mary Scanlon (Wake Forest University) and Anna Dulin Milholland (Salem College) talked about some innovations in teaching and assessment; Heather Greer Klein (NC LIVE) updated us on what is new with that organization under its new director; we networked, reviewed ABI-INFORM Complete’s three sub-databases, and reviewed our work at the NCLA conference last October. New BLINC officers Lydia Towery (Charlotte/Mecklenburg Public), John Raynor (High Point Public), and Lauren Poteat (Charles Aris Inc) provided strong leadership. Lots of warm fuzzies from this active group.
Mary, Diane Campbell (Rider University), and I learned this week that our program submission to the 2016 Small Business Institute conference in New Orleans in February has been accepted: “Teaching entrepreneurship research skills to students: best practices from three entrepreneurship librarians”. This is a business professors’ conference, so we are excited to make a pitch for the value of librarians to faculty from across the country. Diane has spoken at SBI many times already.
Last week my colleague Orolando Duffus and I submitted a proposal to create a RUSA interest group on entrepreneurship. The idea came out of the most recent BRASS online discussion. Ray Cruitt (Enoch Pratt Free Library/State Library Resource Center, New Jersey), Sal DiVincenzo (Miller Business Resource Center, Centereach, NY), and other BRASS folks helped us write that proposal. Orolando and I wrote about the increasing number of public libraries without official business librarians being asked to assist entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and local economic development. Hopefully this interest group would support such libraries.
I’m converting my entrepreneurship research class from Blackboard to Canvas for the spring semester.
And I’ve also been busy with another search committee.
On this blog, I usually avoid trendy topics or well-covered topics like job hunting tips for early-career librarians. (I did write about my department’s previous search, but that was in the context of making our first liaison hire after our liaison reorganization.) For example, Joe Hardenbrook has collected lots of helpful interview information at his blog. At NCLA 2015 two months ago, early career librarians Sarah Crissinger (Davidson College) and Madison Sullivan (NCSU) presented on “Getting Your First LIS Job: Tips, Tricks, and Reflections from Recent LIS Grads” — useful, concise slides and recommendations. Look at their slide notes, too.
But I’m chairing a search again and have some ideas to share based on previous searches. And maybe a few readers aren’t familiar with how search committees tend to function in (U.S.) academic libraries.
Nature of our search committees
The position description usually gets written before the search committee is formed.
Our search committees have five members, including one paraprofessional/staff member. Several library departments are always represented by the committee membership. Folks get asked by Library Administration to serve, starting with the chair, who gives feedback on the others to be asked to serve. Usually the department head does not serve on the committee; nor does the supervisor (if different) of the open position.
Committee members spend a lot of time reviewing applications. They will also spend about an hour conducting each phone interview. Plus usually four meetings:
- Overview of procedures and a discussion of what characteristics or accomplishments to look for when reviewing the applications;
- Selection of phone interview candidates, based on the review of applications;
- Selection of proposed on-campus interview candidates, based on the phone interviews;
- Summarizing the performance of on-campus interviewees
The searches I’ve chaired used phone interviews, not Skype interviews. There’s less chance of technical problems, and reduced risk of subconscious bias being a factor. The provost requires all faculty search committee members to go through an anti-bias tutorial.
But reviewing applications is the big work. We usually get 40-60 applications, but had 81 for our 2010-12 Diversity Resident Librarian search. Some libraries get a lot more. So the workload is front-loaded for the search team. The chair has additional work.
Role of the search committee chair
The main role of the chair is communication and planning. The chair sets deadlines for the various steps of the search, based on a master timeline established by the provost’s office, UNCG HR, and Library Administration. The chair leads the meetings and updates the department head, supervisor (if a different person), and administrators on the process of the search. The chair emails candidates about phone interviews and later the on-campus interviews. The chair also works with our administrative staff to make sure that travel planning and funding (including the hotel rooms, dinner reservations, and airport pickups) are taken care of. The chair develops the on-campus interview schedule (often a pain to coordinate), and also writes up the topic of candidates’ big presentation or mock teaching scenario to which everyone in the library and other campus stakeholders are invited.
The provost’s office will fund two on-campus interviews. The University Libraries will fund a third interview if one candidate lives close enough to Greensboro to not need a flight. We still offer a local candidate a nice dinner and a night at a local fancy hotel. However, campus interviews are so time-intensive (planning and conducting) that as chair I usually just push to bring in two candidates. Last time I chaired a search, though, we had three top candidates, each with different backgrounds, some of whom lived in the state already. So we brought all three to campus.
And based on feedback from the search committee, the chair writes up summaries of the candidates’ performance and evaluations for the dean to consider.
But who makes the big decisions?
Our dean makes the decision about who to bring in to campus and who (if anyone) gets the job offer. That’s normal in academic libraries.
We don’t like our time wasted.
Yes, Virginia, cover letters are the most important part of the application. If a cover letter isn’t customized to the position in question, we might not even look at the resume. That lack of customization tells us enough about the candidate.
Joe Hardenbrook (see above) links to lots of good advice about writing cover letters. My quick tips:
- Give us examples/details/stories of accomplishments and successes – content a resume usually can’t provide.
- Never include a bulleted list on your cover – that’s for resumes.
- Keep it serious – no jokes or creative writing.
- A good cover letter runs a very full page to two pages long. The best are two pages long.
Two pages aren’t hard to write. We have had several strong cover letters from current LIS students that are two pages long: those students had (unlike me) made the most of their library school opportunities (jobs, internships, and volunteering in libraries and other organizations) and had many interesting and relevant experiences to write about.
Here is a suggested outline for a cover letter:
1st paragraph: first sentence introduction with reference to the position and library, then why you are interested in this particular position as this particular library, followed by a short executive summary of your qualifications
2nd: discuss your experience regarding the primary role of the position description
3rd: the same concerning the second role of the position
4th: the same with any additional roles
5th: write about your enthusiasm and ability to handle a tenure-track position (provide evidence you could be successful with faculty service, writing, and presenting)
Final paragraph: wrap up
We think we are research-worthy.
The search committee certainly hopes you interested enough in our library and campus to research us. This applies to the cover letter, phone interview, and on-campus interview.
In addition to carefully studying the position description, examine the web site of that library department. Learn about the department head and other folks connected to the position. What are their backgrounds? Can you find any presentations, articles or blogs they have created? Do your current colleagues or LIS professors know any of those folks? And finally, can you find any strategic planning documents? For our science librarian search a few years ago, several candidates had learned about our very recent liaison reorganization and surprised us with excellent questions concerning it. That impressed us.
Then research the greater campus. If you are applying for a business librarian position, for example, what is special about the local business school? What are the biggest programs or initiatives? Any research, community engagement, or economic development projects in the news? What graduate programs exist? Working such details in a relevant manner into a cover letter or interview gets the search committee’s attention.
Try to figure out who the search committee chair is, and address your cover to the chair and the search committee. It doesn’t hurt to include the department head’s name too. Can’t figure out who the search committee chair is? Call the library and ask. If word of your phone call makes it to the chair and the committee, your stock has just gone up as a candidate.
We are vain.
We love when you ask us questions, and we enjoy talking about ourselves. So come prepared with questions based on your research, concerns, and curiosity. Show us you care and are interested. Yes, it’s supposed to be a two-way interview.
We like getting “thank you” notes.
After each interview stage, send a quick “thank you” via email. Then send a “thank you” card through snail mail. We keep those — they become a physical reminder of your good manners and enthusiasm.
We also get frustrated with the slow process.
That’s life in big organizations.
And we also get stressed.
The stakes are high for presenting the dean with good choices — especially at UNCG, where folks tend to stick around despite having to go through tenure. So the reputation of the committee (particularly the chair’s) is kind of on the line. Plus there are all those details and communications to manage. And dealing with differences of opinion in the evaluations. Yikes.
But we find it exciting.
We like meeting new people. We enjoy discussing the possibilities of our open position, and how you could contribute to the goals of the library and campus. We like offering a nice person the job. And what I learn from chairing a search improves my mentoring skills, keeps me grounded, and even inspires me to keep growing and learning as a mid-career professional librarian.
Happy holidays and New Year, everyone!