Attracting a New Breed…

One cannot throw a proverbial marshmallow at library literature without hitting a post/article/dissertation/conference preso/etc about how libraries are changing.

That’s not my question nor issue at hand today.

I’m curious about how we actually recruit people to the profession who are the types of people that we are looking for in this changed future.

The trend that has seemed predominate the last few years is the move towards recruiting people who are (or can learn to be/are interested in becoming) teachers, particularly for the academic community. An emphasis on teaching has always been a component of school media programs, though that seems to generally have been shunted off to the education department and still doesn’t seem to be something we’re taking full advantage of even now. And if you’re going to be teaching or in a public library, you’d better have some pretty strong presentation and public speaking chops. It takes a fair amount of presence to grab and hold the attention of digital toddlers with something so analog as a book–much as it does to get undergrads out of their Facebook updates.

But, and again I’m looking at this more from an academic standpoint, goals and language are starting to shift.  While teaching isn’t going by the wayside, I’m seeing a trend towards words like mentor, embedded, and facilitators.  This is another shift for librarians, drawing us even further from the idea of sage-on-stage/sage-at-the-desk. It puts Jason Puckett in an office in the Communication Department of GSU a few hours a week, it has one of my coworkers doing a lot of mediated searching for one of patron sets we support, and it’s a more individual approach.  It’s a lot more like being a solo business, legal, hospital or other special librarian.  We’re still teaching, if anything our teaching load is increasing. But we’re also working to find ways to give patrons (students, faculty, whatever your) a personal resource to come back to when they get stuck, promoting the expertise of the staff and opportunities to use us for assistance even as we are encouraging them in learning how to fish for themselves.

Part of this is a shift in how education is done, part of it is financial, part of it marketing, part of it is self-preservation and part of it is probably something else I haven’t thought to list.  I can recognize that there are some reservations about making some of the changes. Johns Hopkins is going to embed all of their health science librarians. Losing the library as a physical space is daunting and I think we’ll all be watching that closely.

If trends like this continue, and I see great potential for them to do so, and as we shift towards  an academic’s physical library as commons/research study hub/3rd space while library collections are primarily digital, then we need a) to do and continue to do some retraining of ourselves, b) make sure we find and support online spaces for librarian interaction so we don’t lose our sense of community, and c) we need to start appealing to incoming students who are ready to be (or can learn to be/are interested in becoming) this kind of librarian.

So I’m curious as to if and how LIS programs are adapting their marketing method? What are they doing to find people who are already mentors, already facilitators, and bringing them into the fold either as students or as faculty? Are the people talking to these incoming applicants looking for these skill sets when someone comes before them? Does anyone care?

And perhaps more importantly than what the schools are doing: How are we as librarians working to market the profession to potential new librarians who could fill these roles?

I’m an only-if-your-eyes-are-wide-open type of LIS recruiter. In a public library particularly, one runs into people who think it would be so lovely to go to graduate school in library science.  I was always happy to talk about it with them. In detail. Including my experiences at a program that was heavily in transition and was so school media focused that I had trouble filling my electives. I am blunt about challenges of job hunting-even for excellent candidates; realistic about what’s coming in the next few years for libraries; honest about the fact that you will have to move to find work. It’s a ripping-the-bandaid-off approach and one that was very different from a number of my LPL coworkers who had gotten their Masters while employed by the library and rather disillusioning to a couple of our undergraduate aides. But I refused to let the rhetoric of graying-profession, all gonna retire, lots of jobs, life is easy, get to work with books all day fly. I have the conversation I wish someone would have had with me–not so much to deter me from the profession as to prepare me.

That approach though doesn’t tend to draw people to the profession and I know that. I’ve had some starry eyed ones tell me that they will be different and of course there’s always going to be good tenure-track humanities reference no instruction jobs in Manhattan requiring no experience for the worthy. I’m not sure how to get beyond that real world conversation though.  How do I move past the smashing of little librarian dreams and get out to actually recruit people who are interested in information, in teaching, in sharing and organizing, and who think embedded librarianship sounds like fun?

What are your thoughts?


  1. Comment by Rachel:

    Thanks for your insightful and thought-provoking post. I appreciate your approach to recruiting, and think that the people we most want as future colleagues are probably the ones who will be responsive to it.

    I’m not sure what LIS schools are doing toward recruitment, but I do know that I wish that a class or class component in presenting/instruction had been required, and that a class on distance education or distance technologies had been offered. Based on the trends that you’ve noted and my own work experiences these past few months, I think they would have been helpful for any position.

    In terms of recruitment, I think mentoring is key. I had a library internship that gave me duties beyond those of student worker and two librarians to turn to for advice and wisdom. I’m thrilled that I’ll have my own undergrad intern in a few weeks, but know that in both of cases, these relationships were set up because of students approaching librarians. Maybe if there were a more formal or organized way of establishing practical, honest experiences before library school or in the early months of it, we’d have more success?
    I also think Lauren Pressley’s book does an excellent job of honestly, but still optimistically, recruiting.

  2. Comment by Jen:

    I think you’re right about the challenges of recruiting.

    This also made me think back to two separate classes at the end of my grad work (both in 2007) where Myers-Briggs typing came up: the class was overwhelmingly (by which I mean 12 out of 16 in one case, and something close to that percentage out of 30 in the other) INFJs. (Myers-Briggs is of course, imperfect, and there’s stuff it misses, but it was still a really striking percentage.)

    I sort of looked around the room, and wondered what that meant for a library profession that is more and more about engaging with a lot of different people, in widely varying ways over the course of a day.

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot since then, since while I’m an introvert by preference (and an INFJ, reliably, since college, in fact), I do regain energy interacting with people when I know what my role in the interaction is. I adore (and am re-energised) by teaching, performance, one-on-one ‘how do I do/find this’ conversations.)

    Put me in a party where I don’t know many people, or a random social event, and I end up drained and leaving early, though. (And, given my way, while I like stuff with friends and community volunteer work, and all that, I also need to be home with nothing more than the computer, books, and the cat at least 4 nights a week to be happy.)

    Anyway: one of the things I wish more library programs did earlier was to talk about these kinds of things, and about how the different daily (and weekly) relationships feel, develop, and affect how your work goes. Especially if that conversation started early in the program (as part of a required intro course), people would have time to learn and develop skills – or figure out that it wasn’t the job they wanted.

    My program touched on it – but a lot of it was relationships with other librarians. It wasn’t so much about what that means with library users beyond stand-alone events (reference, reader’s advisory.)

    Nothing about how to figure out how to handle the person who comes by every day, as much because they’re lonely as because they want help. Or building a relationship with someone you see every couple of weeks, but will be working with possibly for years. Or – probably the hardest one – making sure that when people specialize and embed, other people can take over for them in a pinch (since people do get sick, take vacation, retire, etc.) so that the user’s trust is still in the position, not solely in the specific person they’ve been working with.

  3. Comment by Abigail:


    Maybe we should be putting those required internships in the first semester rather than the last? I got to see what a recent UIC LHS intern got to do over the course of the fall and it was far more well rounded and in depth and about teaching her rather than just providing the library with free help–which is more of what I did when I was interning. Such is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the work–but in retrospect, I think I should have pushed for different/more/other but I wasn’t sure how or that I could ask. Wisdom in retrospect.

    So perhaps we’re making some progress. 🙂 Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  4. Comment by Micah Vandegrift:

    As a student in an MLIS program, I agree that the portrait of the profession will need to become a more realistic one. I went into school primarily to study the culture of information that has abounded all the more in the few years I’ve been in the program, and so the prospects and outlook I’ve had on the profession has always kind of been off of a traditional view of a librarian. It is my opinion that the heavy emphasis on theory and concepts in LIS education is not actively preparing new librarians for the types of jobs that will exist, and that every school should offer a required class on “What the profession looks like in real life, RIGHT NOW.” It would be interesting to know how recruitment efforts are going to LIS education, and what their pitch is like.

  5. Ping from Tweets that mention Attracting a New Breed…: Hedgehog Librarian --

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jo Alcock, Celine Carty. Celine Carty said: Thinking about the skills needed in new (academic) librarians, some good points: (via @joeyanne […]

  6. Comment by Dave:

    I suggest putting internships in the second semester rather than the first or last. Then they’ll have a little LIS coursework under their belts, which should help them to see differences between classroom theories and vs. realities of the work.

    Depends on the way a library school program structures its courses, I suppose, and what topics are covered when. But most programs put some sort of intro. to LIS course, and perhaps an intro. to reference, in the first semester.

    I’d love to read what traits people are looking for in new librarians.

  7. Comment by Abigail:

    Dave–there are many lists that people pass around. On mine is willingness to learn, ability to teach, and market. We need managers and people who aren’t afraid to reach out to the communities and trumpet the needs of the library and the importance of it. We need people who recognize that education doesn’t stop with the diploma. That’s where I’d start…

  8. Comment by Abigail:

    Hi Mitch!

    That would be an interesting class and I imagine I could get some good people to teach it–probably as guest lecture courses. I did hear a story that a new LIS student had to sign some kind of agreement that starting a LIS program wouldn’t guarantee a job but on the flip side, she’s not actually being at all prepared to job hunt. So maybe that RIGHT NOW class should include some aspects of how to survive in the job market. 🙂

  9. Comment by Abigail:


    So along with those marketing courses and teaching courses, perhaps a self-defense course in social work and networking with local resources?

  10. Ping from Links of interest: January 21, 2011 « A Modern Hypatia:

    […] Goben had a great post early in January about what changes in what libraries are doing might mean in who we need to attract to the profession. There’s some great bits in the comments, too. (The Jen there is […]

  11. Comment by Chris Lemery:

    Excellent post. I think that embedded librarianship is definitely picking up steam and I think it’s a mostly positive trend, though it does need to be handled carefully. While the library as physical space won’t be disappearing any time soon, I think going to where the students “live” (or in case of some outreach positions, where they really live in dorms!) will create deeper and more productive relationships. I do think that library schools need to do a better job of preparing students for the tough job market and giving them more real-world skills. I had an instruction class in my MLIS program and it was far and away the best class I had!