April 22, 2009

Asking for References

Posted in Interviewing at 11:43 am by melissaautumn

Students often ask me to serve as a reference when they begin job hunting. In fact, I received an email today asking me that very thing. The email was so nicely written, it inspired this post — a list of tips on asking instructors to serve as a reference.

  • This should be obvious, but…you need to ask. Never assume someone is willing to serve as a reference. Not only is it rude, it is unprofessional. Neither is the type of person your potential employeer is trying to hire.
  • Tell the instructor why you are asking him or her to serve as a reference, particularly if you hope that individual will speak to a specific aspect of your qualifications (e.g., if you took an instruction class with me and are now applying for instruction positions, that is helpful to know). You shouldn’t be making random choices in selecting those few important references, so write a sentence or two that explains your choice.
  • Provide a copy of your resume or CV to each of your references. The best reference letters are full of detail and having a copy of your resume or CV reminds instructors of details they may have forgotten, such as what your undergraduate degree was in or the years you spent in the Peace Corps.  
  • Remind the professor what class you took and when you took it. Although I do remember all my students’ names, the semesters and courses start to blur. It is often helpful to review your assignments and forum posts, so that your work is fresh in my mind as I write a letter. Knowing what semester I had you in class saves me time trolling through gradebooks and course websites to find you.
  • If you’ve changed your name or if you used one name in school and one name professionally, clarify that (especially if your email reflects a different name than the one you are currently using). A statement as simple as, “You knew me as Sally Smith when I was in your class, but I use Sally Doe now” is fine.
  • Email your references when you find a job (and whether or not they were asked to serve as a reference, be gracious and thank them for their support). After all, if I knew you well enough to be willing to serve as a reference, I darn sure want to hear about your success on the job market!

April 16, 2009

Meals and Interviews

Posted in Interviewing tagged at 9:41 am by melissaautumn

Ah, spring, a time for new flowers, warmer air and, for many of you, interviews! Former students know that I’m always happy to talk about interviewing and I anticipate interviewing advice will be a regular topic on this blog. Today I’ve been thinking about one particular aspect of interviewing – meals.

In academic libraries, where interviews commonly take a day or more, you will almost certainly be sharing a meal with members of the search committee and/or your potential future colleagues. These meals can be difficult waters to navigate – are they “interviews”? are they an official part of the search process, even if not a formal interview?

The short answer is yes – even a seemingly casual meal is part of the search process and should be approached as such. However, look carefully at your schedule for clues about formality. If your only meeting with the library director is over lunch or dinner, expect at least part of the meal to resemble a traditional interview, with the director asking you questions about your experience and qualifications.  If, on the other hand, you are scheduled to have lunch or dinner with librarians and other employees who are not on the search committee, the meal will probably be a more casual affair aimed at telling you more about the workplace and the community.  


  • Mind your manners. Sit up straight, put your napkin in your lap, take small bites and chew with your mouth closed. (I feel compelled to point out the last because, well, I had a candidate who chewed with his mouth open all through dinner. It was disgusting and he did not get the job. Lest you think I’m a snob and to be judging people on non-work-based criteria, let me point out that in academic libraries, librarians frequently lunch with colleagues as part of conducting business. This candidate would not be able to represent the library well and hence, did not get the job.)
  • Order food that is unlikely to cause a mess – this is not the time for soup, BBQ or a huge sandwich that will fall apart the first time you touch it. Even if you are normally a competent eater, it is better not to take a chance on anything that could drip or drop on your  clothes and leave an unsightly stain.
  • Aside from bread, eating with my fingers feels informal – consider ordering food that is meant to be eaten with a fork (pasta instead of fries) to avoid any awkwardness or sticky fingers.
  • Avoid alcohol. Enough said, yes?
  • If you are nervous about spending too much, follow the traditional dating advice to order from the middle of the menu.
  • Eat neither too fast nor too slow – the goal is for the entire table to finish at about the same time (keep in mind the time allocated to the meal on the schedule – your hosts won’t want to rush you through dessert, but they also want to deliver you on time if your first meeting post-lunch is with the provost).  
  • Treat the waitstaff kindly and with respect. Say please and thank you and look them in the eye. We all want to work with nice people – how you treat the waitstaff is an indication of how you will treat colleagues and assorted workers across campus, not to mention students.
  • Do your part in sustaining the conversation. Meals are often intended to be less formal affairs where the candidate can learn about the work environment and surrounding community. Your hosts will not come prepared with a long list of questions, but will expect to engage in a more traditional social conversation where everyone does their part to ask and respond to questions and comments. This is a great chance to utilize your reference skill of asking open-ended questions. Exhibit curiousity – ask about people’s jobs, what they like about the library, where in town they live, etc. Not only can you learn a lot about your potential colleagues, work environment and community, if you get your hosts talking, you can take a break and just listen.

I hope those tips are helpful to those of you embarking on interviews. The comments are open – further tips from experienced interviewers and interviewees are welcome, as are funny stories about meals during interviews!

April 14, 2009

Request for Agenda Items

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:41 am by melissaautumn

It seems only sensible to use the first post on my new blog to explain the purpose of the blog (I feel compelled to be orderly and logical in all things, which is probably why I became a librarian).

I am an adjunct faculty member in two library schools (UIUC and SJSU for the curious). My work combines two things I love – teaching and librarianship. It also gives me the opportunity to work with graduate students in LIS, which is absolutely the best job I can imagine having. My students inspire me everyday – their love of libraries; their enthusiasm for delivering high quality services that connect people and information; their passion for information literacy, new technologies, books, intellectual freedom and a multitude of other things – they are the future of my profession and it is in good hands.

In addition to covering the course content I am expected to teach, I enjoy talking to students about the practical aspects of being a librarian – what journals to read, what to expect on an interview, how to find a mentor, and so on. I have these conversations with current students, sometimes as a planned course topic, other times as a result of a student’s forum post or a course discussion that veers into unexpected territory. I also receive email from former students seeking advice on the same topics (for the record, I love hearing from former students, so drop a note and tell me what you’ve been doing). Often times, my replies to these conversations, forum posts and emails duplicate ones from another course or a previous semester.

Eight years into teaching LIS, I had the “a-ha” moment that this could be blog-worthy, especially since a blog would get me outside the confines of any one school’s system or a single course space and into the public sphere where I can talk to all my students at once. I hope my current and former students will visit this blog on an ongoing basis and join me in conversations about success in library school and the profession. At the very least, this will be a place to archive thoughts and resources on these topics for easier access by future students. 

I have some thoughts about future posts, but I’m also interested in hearing from you, my current, past and future students. Class is over, whether for the day or the semester, and now you can set the agenda for our discussions – what would you like to talk about?