Saturday, September 26, 2020

A New Beginning! Plus Job-Hunting Tips for New MLS Grads

I am very happy to say that beginning October 19th I will be employed once again, and as a full-time professional librarian! So hopefully I will have more meaningful content for the blog, and more time and energy to put into it, once I get settled.

It wasn't easy, and required a lot of compromise, sacrifice, and unconventional life choices, but it is a HUGE relief. The library system I will be working for has a very good reputation, is well-funded and strongly supported by the community, invests in their staff, and seems to genuinely prioritize community outreach, rather than just paying lip service to it as so many libraries do. It may not be exactly what I was hoping for, but it seems to have the most important factors. It will also give me a chance to explore a completely different part of the country, where there are lots of mountains, cool geography, and best of all, dinosaur trackways and fossils!

This has been such a difficult, disappointing, and tumultuous year thanks to the pandemic. I finished my MLIS, only to have the graduation ceremony I was so looking forward to cancelled. The library I worked at shut-down in March, and then in July I and 100 other staff members were blindsided when we were suddenly fired by the library in a knee-jerk reaction to the realization this pandemic wasn't going to be over any time soon, coupled with a desire to purge and downsize in order to funnel money into a building and renovation fund.

It was a devastating loss for a number of reasons. I had worked in that system for seven years, starting at the bottom and working my way up, trying to build a career. I loved my job, my coworkers, and my patrons, and I had planned on staying in it for another year in order to wait out the pandemic, have a bit of a break after library school, and focus on getting some badly needed home improvement projects done. If after a year no full-time professional opportunities had opened up in this area, only then was I going start looking out of state, focusing on specific areas we wanted to move to. But loosing my job changed all that, and turned my life upside down.

Being unemployed is horrible, depressing, and demoralizing. Even when you *know* it was through no fault of your own and that many other people were also affected, it still makes you doubt yourself and feel worthless that your employer could just throw you away without a second thought. Then being thrown into an absolutely abysmal job market just compounds that feeling with every rejection you get. Job-hunting is absolutely exhausting, especially when you are unemployed and the job market sucks; you can't afford to be selective and have to apply to as many places as possible. It's a buckshot approach; fire out as many applications over a wide area as possible and hope something hits.

I know in reality I had an easier time than many, and was very lucky to find a job in just two months, but it required some difficult choices. I will be moving by myself, leaving my husband, son, and pets behind since my son is in his senior year of high school, my husband has a year or two before he can take early retirement, and our house needs a lot of work before it's ready to put on the market. It's a drastic choice, but we felt it was necessary for me to get my professional career started as soon as possible in order to provide financial stability in the long term. You know the old saying, "it's easier to get a job if you have a job", and I was afraid if I didn't get a job soon I might never get one, plus I enjoy working, and I felt I was already getting too stale and too out of touch.

My advice to other new grads job-hunting in this incredibly difficult time is:

  1. If you don't already have library experience, do whatever it takes to get some! You will not be able to compete for professional level jobs without it in this market. If you already have a paraprofessional library job and can afford to wait things out another year, the market will probably improve somewhat.

  2. Make sure you have a well-written cover letter and resume that is well-organized and quick to digest. Tweak them both for each job you apply to. If you are submitting a lot of applications for jobs you are genuinely well-qualified for but not getting interviews, your resume and cover letter probably are not doing a good enough job of highlighting all you have to offer, and you may benefit from getting some input and advice from others in the field. Do not fall for the "one page resume" myth; you cannot fit enough information on one page to stand out from the crowd!

  3. Cast a wider net. The more flexible you can be in regards to relocating and the types of positions you would consider, the more jobs you can apply for and thus, the better your odds.

  4. You can't afford to be too picky. People are often quick to tell you to hold out for the "right" job, but in the current job market, the right job is the job you can get, and you have to compromise and be willing to settle for good enough. Remember, nothing has to be permanent. Now, that doesn't mean I would advise ignoring red flags, but be willing to settle for something that might not quite fit your vision of the ideal position, library, or location, but still seems like a decent library and place to work.

    For example, I really wanted to work at a library that was independent and not part of a system, but had a large building and large, diverse collection; was well-funded and well-supported by a diverse community, where I would get to do some of the collection development myself, have some say in decision-making, and be able post to social media myself; and was located in a nice town near a large city, and within an hour of the Gulf coast. But my new job actually meets few of those criteria, and that's okay because it meets the most important ones of being well-funded and having strong community support, valuing and investing in its staff and having a reputation of being a good place to work. I didn't get the beach, but I got mountains instead.

  5. Look for positions that may be less desirable for one reason or another. Remember, a lot of experienced librarians just got dumped back into the job market thanks to pandemic-related layoffs, and they are going to get the more desirable positions. The job I accepted is in a town that many people would find undesirable due to a higher crime rate, economic depression, and terrible schools. But for once, my age was an advantage as my kids are grown, so the quality of schools is not a factor in my case. Also, the library has a great reputation among staff and community alike, and I decided I'd rather work for a good library in a less than desirable town, than work for a toxic one in a great location.

  6. Stick with positions that you are genuinely qualified for and genuinely interested in. I know this is contrary to the conventional wisdom that says you don't get any of the jobs you don't apply for, or to apply for things even if you don't meet the qualifications. In this job market, it's a waste of your time to apply for jobs you aren't well-qualified for. Not that you have to meet 100% of everything in the description, but you should meet most of them, and meet all the required ones. It takes such a huge time investment for every application you put in, so don't waste time on ones you really aren't qualified for, because there are plenty of other candidates out there that are. These are not normal times and normal job-hunting advice does not apply.

  7. The first question in every interview I had was "why do you want this position". You have to be prepared to convince them that you really want THIS position, you really want to work at that library, and you really want to live in that location, and that if you get the job you are going to stay a while. Talk about what parts of the job description spoke to you, what you like about the library and the area. Show you have done your research, and convince them you have some ties to the area. This is a difficult hurdle as most hiring managers are biased in favor of hiring someone internal or local, and they are often very resistant to hiring someone from out of state because they think they need someone immediately and don't want to wait, and they assume local people are more likely to stay. This is another reason you may have a better chance in locations perceived as being less desirable.

  8. Work on your interview skills! Practice, apply for a couple of jobs you aren't interested in at first just to try to get some interview practice. I get very anxious during interviews and I know because of that I don't interview as well as I'd like. It usually takes about 3 before I finally start to get more comfortable with them. But don't forget you are interviewing them, too. Though you may have to be more flexible and compromise on some things, you don't want to take a job where you know you will be unhappy.

  9. Network! I did find a lot of openings just thru setting alerts on Google and Indeed, but for the position I ended up getting I had connected with someone who had just gotten a similar position in the same system who was able to tell me more about what the job really was (the job title of "branch librarian" caused some confusion), what the system was like, and advice on what they were looking for. Then I was convinced to accept the offer after being able to talk to other people who worked, or had worked, in that system. Getting some inside info can really help you to get a feel for what they are really looking for, and what working there would really be like.

  10. Be sure to ask any potential employer about their response to the pandemic. Did they react in a timely manner with appropriate measures to protect the safety of staff and community? Did they have furloughs or layoffs? Some furloughs and lay-offs may be understandable, but if a library had mass layoffs with no recalls, I'd think twice about going to work there as they have shown they value money over people. If they are open or reopening soon, have appropriate measures been taken to protect staff? Are they rushing to start in-person programming too soon? Working with the public in a pandemic is a risk many of us may have to take in order to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table, but you want to minimize it as much as possible.

  11. Keep in mind that many job postings have a pre-determined outcome, and if you are an out-of-state candidate you are at a disadvantage. It's so hard, but try not to take it personally when you keep getting passed over for someone local. I got interviews with about half the places I applied to, but kept getting passed over for someone that was more experienced and/or already lived in the area. Also, though many places only check references for their first choice, that is not always true, so try not to get your hopes up just because you hear that someone is checking your references. I learned that the hard way.

  12. Job-hunting can be incredibly demoralizing and bad for one's mental health, so don't be afraid to get help if you need it, or to take a break from it if you have to. It is very rough out there! Find some kind of support system, whether it's a therapist, counselor, friends, family, or support group. I'll just warn you that people who have jobs and have not been job hunting recently just do not understand how bad it is out there, and the emotional toll it takes. Though they try to be supportive and encouraging, they really aren't able to fully empathize and sometimes say things that may make you feel frustrated and isolated. I found support in a Facebook group for library staff who had lost their jobs due to pandemic layoffs, where I could talk with people who really understood how bad it is and what I was going through. 
I truly wish all those job-hunting the best of luck, and understand how difficult and scary it can be, especially if you're older like me and don't feel like you have time to just wait things out. These are very difficult and frightening times full of difficult choices, but I am here to serve as an example that even in this job market, it is possible to get a job as a new grad, though it is not easy. I know not everyone is able to relocate or make the same choices I did, but I hope something here may still be helpful to you.

Good luck, don't forget to practice self-care, and let's all try to support each other and provide networking opportunities!

Monday, August 24, 2020

Adventures In Storytime Has Gone Virtual!

After the Covid-19 pandemic hit I was suddenly and unexpectedly unemployed and faced with the dilemma of how to stay connected to the field, not get stale, come up with new content for the blog, and show potential employers I can adapt to virtual programming. While in library school I found I liked putting together presentations, so I recycled slides from previous in-person training sessions I'd done on literacy topics and recorded voice-over to them to turn them into webinars, but there hasn't been any interest (I think everyone's webinar-ed out by now) so I haven't pursued making any others yet, though I do plan to do some shorter tutorials..

Now that it is apparent to almost everyone that it will be quite some time before we are back to in-person programming, and virtual programming and other alternatives are here to stay, I needed to figure out a way to get experience and demonstrate that I could do virtual programs. But, there was one catch. While publishers have extended permissions to teachers and librarians, since I am not currently attached to a school or library, they don't really apply to me. One might argue "fair use", but I'd rather play it safe. So after thinking it over for a while I decided instead of doing storytimes, I would do short videos with a few songs, rhymes, and/or fingerplays around a given theme, and then give some book suggestions at the end.

I've set up a YouTube channel, and I will also be posting them on the Facebook page. I'm trying to make them serve a dual purpose, to be suitable for kids to watch and sing and play along with, as well as to be a resource for parents, educators, and other youth librarians. I'm also going to do occasional crafts, STEM, and booktalk/trailer videos as well. I'm trying to keep them around 10-15 minutes or less, but a couple have creeped up closer to 20. So far I've only uploaded a few videos, plus a video I made last year from my library butterfly project, but my goal is to add one every week for a while. I don't know if anybody will watch them, but at least it will be good practice for me.

If you have any feedback or suggestions, I'd greatly appreciate it! I'm still not 100% comfortable in front of the camera, but getting better. It's just so much harder without a live audience in front of you, plus the only place in my house with decent lighting is very cramped.

I've added a menu with links under the "Videos" tab above, but you can also subscribe to the YouTube channel and follow the Facebook page.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Shark Week! - Flannel Friday

Five Little Fishies Teasing Mr. Shark, shark fingerplays

So today's Flannel Friday post isn't exactly a flannel board set, but it is based on the one below I made previously, and did make use of felt.

I previously made this flannel board set to do a couple of different "Five Little Fishies" rhymes, including one where they were teasing Mr. Shark. But then last summer a co-worker showed me how she did it using our shark puppet and finger-puppet fish, and I thought that was a much more fun way of doing it! So this year I bought myself a shark puppet and make some little fish finger-puppets from felt.

I couldn't find a Folkmanis puppet like the library has that I could get as soon as I wanted, and ended up buying a different one that I don't like it quite as much because I think the color and shape are more suggestive of a dolphin, but it does clearly have shark teeth and works well.

To make the little fishy finger-puppets I just found a piece of clip-art to use as a pattern and sized it to what I thought was the appropriate size. Then I cut out two pieces from each of five different colors, added a little detail with colored sharpies and googly-eyes, then glued them together, leaving a finger-sized opening at the bottom. Mine turned out to be just a little on the small side, so I would advise making them just a bit bigger so that the pocket for your finger is a little deeper. Mine work, but I have to be careful or they will fall off my fingers easily.

Here is the rhyme I use them with:

Five Little Fishies & Mr. Shark

Five little fishies, swimming in the sea.
Teasing Mr. Shark, "You can't catch me!"
Along comes Mr. Shark, as quiet as can be,
And SNAPPED that fishy right out of the sea!
(grab one fish with shark puppet)

Four little fishies..... (continue counting down to zero)

No little fishies, swimming in the sea.
Just Mr. Shark, as full as can be!

And if you'd like to see it in action, it's the second activity in my Shark Week-themed video below:

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Friday, July 31, 2020

In The Dog House - Flannel Friday

Little dog flannel game, In the dog house flannel game

Most of us know what a big hit the "Little Mouse" flannel game is, and if you're not familiar with it, you should be! I really like to ham it up and the kids absolutely love it and never get tired of it. But, we don't want to overuse it, and if you do themed storytimes it really only fits with themes like colors, hide-and-seek, or stories with mice. Over the last few years I have seen people come up with a lot of great variations on this game, and this is mine.

I wanted an activity to pair with Jan Thomas' book The Doghouse, and this immediately came to mind. This was a relatively quick and easy flannel, since I didn't do a lot of layered pieces, and just added a few quick details with colored sharpies. You can make houses in whatever colors you want, and use however many will fit on your flannel board. I chose to make all the primary and secondary colors, as well as pink and brown. I would not recommend white, as it is often see-thru.

Little dog little dog, in the doghouse

So I hide the dog behind one of the houses, and one by one we look, saying the following rhyme before we check each house:

Little dog, little dog; come out and play!
What color house are you in today?

Are you in the _(color)_ house?

There are a couple of different ways to play it. Sometimes I might just hide the dog randomly behind one of the houses, and let the kids take turns picking which color to check. Other times, I hide him in the very last house, but with another object in front of him. I also make a few other things to hide behind the remaining houses.

We check the houses in order, and I will really ham it up, taking a peak first, building suspense. So we find some of the dogs belongings, and a couple of friends, but not the dog. So when we get to the last house, the kids are sure he has to be there. But I carefully peel the house off, leaving the dog hidden behind the cat, with just his ears, paws, and/or tail peeking out. I will pretend like I don't see him, and have no idea where he could be. Eventually someone will spot him and tell me he's there, but I play dumb and continue to ham it up a bit before finally revealing our little pup.

Do you have a favorite variation on the "Little Mouse" game? I'd love to hear about it, and I'm sure others would as well, so tell us about in the comments and share a link!

For more felt & flannel ideas and tips, check out the Flannel Friday Facebook group and Pinterest Boards! To share your flannel, submit via the Flannel Friday Tumblr. For complete information and all the details, visit the main Flannel Friday website.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Some Insights for Interviewees & Interviewers

Tips for library interviews and hiring managers

So, I have officially started job-hunting after getting my MLIS and losing my paraprofessional job in a mass pandemic-related layoff, which includes experiencing virtual interviews for the first time. In thinking about all the interview experiences I've had past and present, and looking over various questions I've actually gotten or found online, I have a few tips for interviewees, but I have even more insights for interviewers to make the process both less painful for the candidate and more productive and informative for them.

For interviewees, prepare and practice! It is so hard to remember all the things you planned to say when the nerves kick in during the real thing, so practice going over your answers with a friend, in your head, in the mirror, and/or writing them out. You can find tons of great lists of questions online if you look. I spent as much time as I could, but it still wasn't enough. Though I gave decent answers, afterward I realized all the additional things I meant to say and didn't. Also, be sure to spend some time researching the community and the library, and make sure to demonstrate that in the interview.

For me, virtual interviews add whole other layer of anxiety to an already stressful event, with the added technology issues. My first virtual interview was a real struggle, as I could not hear one of the interviewers at all, and had some trouble hearing and clearly understanding the other two. I had to keep asking them to repeat, and had to concentrate so hard to make out the questions that it was mentally exhausting, and really affected my whole performance. I did the best I could, but it did mess with my head and threw me off a little. Here are a few tips:
  • Be familiar with Skype, MS Teams, Zoom, and other popular videoconferencing tools, because you never know what they're going to use or if they will switch platforms on you at the last minute. True Story. (If given a choice, I prefer Teams.)
  • Be prepared for technical difficulties, problems hearing and understanding the interviewers, and be ready to pretend like it isn't stressing you the heck out. Consider investing in a discreet wireless headset to aid with audio.
  • Put a poster or dry erase board up behind the camera where you can see it with key words and points you want to be sure to include in your answers.
  • Put books you can talk about where you can see them to prompt your memory.
  • Have some ephemera from your work: things from programs, flyers, bibliographies, and such handy in case you want to show them.
  • Have water handy to sip.
  • Take time to check lighting and background, and maybe do a little staging.
  • Wear something you feel comfortable and confident in.

I have quite a few tips for interviewers, based on both my experiences and hearing about others' experiences. This is not based on any single interview and is not meant as criticism, but just my insights on how to have a more productive interview from the interviewee's point of view:

  • Please don't use Skype for virtual interviews. MS Teams, Zoom, or Facetime are easier and seem more reliable.
  • If there are multiple people on the panel for a virtual interview, and you are all in the same room with one device, trying to social distance and wearing masks, the poor candidate is going to have a very hard time hearing and understanding you, and be mentally exhausted by the effort. You don't need to be physically together; be in your own spaces and each on your own device, where masks won't be needed and you won't be far from the mic.
  • Provide the candidate with the questions in writing before the interview starts to make sure they understand the question correctly, and minimize the time wasted in having to repeat things.
  • If you are doing virtual interviews for external candidates, you should do them even for internal candidates so that it is an even playing field. They are vastly different experiences.
  • Ask all candidates the same set of core questions to be fair and easier to compare, but also ask each a couple based on their resume and unique skills, experiences, or accomplishments so you are getting a complete picture.
  • For a children's position, please let us do the prepared mini-storytime at the beginning! That is our comfort zone, and will help us warm up and relax before the questions start. And please, help us out and try to play along and respond to prompts as a real audience would.
  • Most interviews consist of about 10 questions, which is really not very many to truly assess a candidate. So make sure every questions counts, and is really getting at what's most important. Ask follow up and clarifying questions.
  • Don't ask why we want the position or want to work there. Come on, we all know how desperate the job market is, and the truth is we need a job, and you have an opening! Don't waste a question fishing for compliments about your library. Yes, I know you want to know that we've done some research, and that we really have a passion for whatever type of work that position will be doing and not just applying for anything and everything, but you can get that from all the other questions, looking at transcripts and prior work experience.
  • Don't ask for our favorite book or author. That really has nothing to do with our ability to do the job. You might think it's a softball question, but for those of us who like and love many books and truly do not have a favorite, this question causes anxiety, and it's just a waste of time. Better to ask about genres, or just something we've read lately, but even then there are much better questions to ask.
  • Instead, what you REALLY need to know is whether we can be effective in providing reader's advisory. And that doesn't mean you give a scenario and expect us to pull the perfect recommendation out of the air. What is better and more relevant is to ask us HOW we would go about finding titles to recommend, not WHAT we would recommend. What tools would we use? Do we have a strategy, an effective process for when we don't just know off the tops of our heads. THAT's the important part!
  • Does the position involve programming? Then ask about the programming we've done, what has been successful, what we are proud of. Also, ask about the programs that didn't quite go as expected. How do we handle it when things don't quite work the way we expected. Also, ask about our programming philosophy - what is the purpose of programming? What are our goals for programs? Is it about the process or the product? Is it academic or experiential? How does programming tie into the collection and other library services? Does our philosophy mesh well with the goals of your library?
  • Definitely ask the usual conflict questions, see how we handle difficult situations. But, don't hold it against the candidate if they have been lucky enough no to have actually had really difficult customers or conflicts with coworkers. Some people are just lucky, or maybe have the skills to prevent it from ever getting to that point. Allow for a "what would you do if" scenario question, rather than insisting on a "tell me about a time" question with a real-life example.
  • Ask about creativity, but understand creativity can be constant and subtle, not always big and bold. Asking for examples of innovation or initiating change for an entry level position really isn't quite fair, as most likely the candidate has been working in lower level positions where they do not have the authority to be innovative or initiate any changes. Allow for hypotheticals.
  • If the position involves collection development, then definitely ask something related to that, such as how they would handle a patron complaining about the content of a children's book. Look for a response that mentions the importance of having and following a well-written collection development policy, in addition to listening and being tactful and showing patron how to file a request for reconsideration. Look for an indication of having had a collection development course (you'd be surprised at how many MLIS programs don't require it) and doing collection development projects. Be sure we understand weeding is a very necessary function to maintain a healthy collection.
  • If none of your questions even touch on diversity in any way, realize that suggests to the candidate that diversity is not a priority there, and that's a red flag. Mirrors, windows, own voices, and diverse POVs are so very important, as is reaching underserved populations, making sure everyone feels welcome, and increasing diversity in the field. There really should be at least one question that touches on one of those.
  • Also, look for candidates that have some formal education or training in child development, an understanding of child behavior, and a genuine desire to work with children and families. Ask a behavior management question to see if their expectations are developmentally appropriate, and that they would have an appropriate and tactful response. Child development knowledge is a necessary competency for children's librarians that not all candidates possess equally (And if you're interested, I know a great research paper coming out in April that shows this 😉.)
  • If you want someone with new ideas, ask how they stay current and keep up with new trends, what they do for professional development (and would like to do), where do they get ideas for programs. What are some programs they would like to do, but haven't had the chance to do. Do they have ideas for virtual or alternative programming to use while in-person programming is not possible.
  • And assuming you are reading this in 2020 or early 2021, as a former microbiologist I can tell you this pandemic isn't going away any time soon; we will be dealing with this for *at least* another year, possibly more. Definitely ask questions about what role we think libraries play during this time, how can we serve the public's information needs without putting staff and the community at further risk? What can we do besides virtual programming? What lasting impact do we think this pandemic will have on libraries and youth services?
  • Ask the candidate what qualities a children's librarian should have. The response should include genuinely liking and being able to relate to children and families, patience, flexibility, initiative, some level of creativity, a willingness to try new things, tolerance for chaos, and a sense of humor. Those things cannot be taught. Also important is a knowledge of child development, early literacy, and behavior. While it's good to have a knowledge of children's literature, that can be learned on the job.
  • I know the recent trend is to just use the resume to decide who gets interviewed, and base the final decision solely on the interview. Personally, I don't think you necessarily get the best candidate this way. You get the person who is best at interviewing. Use all the information you have to inform your decision. Some people who are great librarians just don't interview as well because of anxiety, and some people who perform really well in interviews turn out to be complete duds at actually doing the job.

If you ask these questions, you really should be able to get a good sense of the candidate's qualifications and genuine interest in the job, and if they've done their research on your library as they should, they will also have enough sense to demonstrate that in their answers.

And finally, good luck to everyone who is dealing with the job-hunting/hiring process in the middle of a pandemic, which has made an already difficult job market 10 times worse, and an already stressful process even more challenging!