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Who fits?

Well, I have just finished interviews for my future replacement at the Center for Limnology Library. It’s been a very enjoyable experience, actually. And since I am me (big surprise there), I had to thoroughly research interview and recruitment techniques. I read several good articles, but the best I found is from our own field. The article The Most Important Management Decision: Hiring Staff for the New Millennium by Roy Tennant pretty much summarized what I’d been circling around. The fact is, in my position most tasks can be learned quickly by most people. The best, though, are those that are ambitious, excited, curious, and able to bring change. Now as Tennant points out, these are not skills, but traits. So hiring staff with these traits takes a little more digging.

Reviewing Staff

It’s sad to say, but all that advice about resumes I’ve ignored is true. Action words count for a lot. You don’t need to tell me that at the circulation desk you checked in books. I know what happens at a circulation desk. I’d much prefer someone discussing the blog the made for the library, or the Wii night they organized. These are things that I couldn’t guess from the title.

Enough about me, tell me about you

There is significant literature that shows that the best interview questions are behavioral. Instead of saying “are you detail oriented” (and of course, if an interviewer is asking, they will say yes) ask them to “describe a situation in which careful attention to detail was important.” This moves into actual situational specific instances. Here are a few questions I asked that I found particularly useful in evaluation.

  • If you need to build a library from scratch, what services would develop first. Why?
    • This one was great. It really demonstrated to me where they envisioned libraries, how they saw their role in the research process.
  • Give a time when there was resistance to an idea you’ve had. How did you work with people to convince them of your view.
    • This was another question that really had a lot under the surface. Some people had a hard time answering this one. To me it demonstrated two things: 1) Creativity. Anything new will have a few detractors. It’s part of the process. 2) Willingness to take risks. If you don’t try something controversial, there will never be big gains.
  • Describe a situation when you’ve needed to balance ongoing responsibilities and new project development. What did you learn? What would you do differently?
    • This one really demonstrated how people valued innovation and creativity on the job. There will always be mundane and routine tasks. If there is not an explicit attempt to create new things, it likely will never happen. I always tell staff that they should budget time to tinker and mess around with new ideas. Personally I’m a fan of Googl’e 20% rule but I understand that can be hard to implement in most places.

Maybe I’ll put up the rest later. Although the one question I wish I asked was: What is one thing you wanted me to ask about. I always find there something I’d like to bring up (a skill, an experience, a project) that I just couldn’t work in. Irregardless, at least I didn’t have to hear anyone’s 3 worst traits.

Final Thoughts

Because I’m an organized guy, I threw together a table with the skills I wanted and the evidence I found for each. Here’s a rough view:

Rating Evidence Thoughts
Risk Taking
Public Service Oriented

After each interview, I’d fill in the table. It really helped focus my thoughts onto those traits I determined where important and forced me to find specific instances and not just gut instincts.

Overall, not a bad experience. I learned a lot and met some great people.

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As part of my usual plea to completely audit library services and create web-based versions, I’ve been thinking lately of examples that could bridge the final and most difficult gap . . . the stacks.

This isn’t Barnes and Noble?

Really, I don’t think it’s a bad idea or one that is particularly difficult. There are many times that patrons will ask me for “the World War II section” or something like that. Well, it’s hard to say where that is, but the really they just want to browse and need to know where to start.

Integrating Visual Cues

OPACs are great. No doubting that. But in the end, they just spit out a list of items that meet a query. When patrons have a fuzzy idea of what they want, queries like this are a problem. So what can we do? When they are in the building, it’s easy to walk to the stacks (relatively) to look through books. But with delivery systems and distance patrons, this isn’t always on option.

Well, the easiest solution would be to make a more browsable catalog. Here’s an example of something that could work. Ebling library in Wisconsin added this widget to their webpage to give a quick visual guide showing new titles. Granted, it’s not a complete catalog and they aren’t necessarily in order, but they could be.

Ebling

This is something that can be easily developed and with Google Books integration into library catalogs. It’s only a short step to a visual tour of the stacks.

Library management here at UW-Madison sent around an article which they are using as a guidepost for future library programs. The article is entitled A Strategy for Academic Libraries in the First Quarter of the 21st Century by David Lewis.

This is probably the best article I have seen on where libraries need to go (probably because I already believe several of the points). Lewis defines a five-part strategy to keep libraries an important, vibrant part of the campus community. Here’s a brief look at each.

Complete Migration from Print to Electronic

This is one that seems the most ‘academic specific’. It is true that most (if not all) users want information primarily in electronic format, but this is mostly a reflection of the research process. Nonetheless, this has been on the move for awhile and I agree that it is time to make the final push to convert everything we legally can.

Retire Legacy Print Collections

This ties in with the next point. It is important for libraries to use space effectively and perhaps miles of stacks are not the best way. He recommends moving to outside storage so that they can still be accessed, but not as quickly.

I agree this is a good idea, but I think a corollary should be that we develop a new style of “browsing”. Patrons do enjoy scanning the shelves. Many specifically request the “area” for a subject. It is possible to create an online “shelf” that has a visual spacial impact. It is important not to disregard this need and benefit of libraries.

Still, the point is well made. Since most material takes up space, why not keep it more efficiently and compactly off-site.

Redevelop the Library as the Primary Informal Learning Space

This one seems uncontroversial, but *phew* be careful of patrons who enjoy a traditional library. An underlying assumption that he doesn’t quite mention is that the expectations are new. We do not need to create the space as more informal (coffee, cell phones) because it will be good for the library. We need to create informal space because that is now what people expect. This isn’t a strategy as much as a declaration of reality.

Now the counter argument is that some people value the quietness. And this is certainly true, but libraries need to engage the whole campus community, not just the subset that do not want to sit in the union. So keeping different areas with different levels of noise is important, but not as much as engaging everyone.

Embed Library Tools into Teaching, Learning, and Research Enterprises

This idea is both vague and exciting. Lewis admits himself “It is unclear what the best approach to instruction will be, but I suspect a new mix of tutorials, learning tools, and in-person classroom involvement will need to be developed.”

Really, this is where libraries can become very creative. Personally, I’m a big fan of seeing library virtual space as real estate. David Lee King phrased it well when he asked what can you do at the library’s website .

The best move would be to completely audit all services and determine an electronic counterpart. Then, ask ‘what can we do that we’ve never done before.’ There’s a lot possible, but we need to look beyond retrofitting different tech on the library and instead seek to find what we can do that is unique.

Migrate Focus from Purchasing Materials to Curating Content

Probably the most controversial (and therefore quite interesting). This is a chance for real specialization and focus. I thought he would mostly talk about holding data and collected raw information (which he mentions) instead, he focuses on how special and local collections are the gaining importance. This is a good point, one that I had not considered. Since there is are many libraries with many duplicate copies of certain works, special collections are a way to help strengthen a library. Ironically, this point pushes out the middle road of librarianship (collecting and organizing traditional scholarly communications) and emphasizes both the more archival roles as well as the technology roles.

I think the idea of collecting and organizing data sets is a huge opportunity. This is something with great value that, in all likelihood, is lost right after it was acquired. The difficulty, of course, is the huge, huge, amount of data that is generated and the potential for corruption. However, with the plummeting cost of storage who knows if this worry will seem quaint someday.

It’s about legitimacy

The beauty behind Lewis’s article is that he emphasizes over and over that these strategies are not fun parlor games or the eccentric ideas of librarian-futurists, but are essential to remaining relevant to the library community. Many in the sciences have mentioned that they do not even know where the library is. Well, if that’s the case, we have important work to do to ensure that they will remain strong supporters of the library system.