The New IT Librarian Application

May 15, 2008 at 10:02 am 16 comments

In the past couple weeks, I’ve listened to a few librarians talk about the woes of their supposed IT specialists.

The problem? They are really good with buzzwords and not so great with applications. Some have complained that their IT specialist were generally unfamiliar with basic computer competencies. And while it is generally deemed okay for a ‘normal’ librarian to be unfamiliar with computer applications and some 2.0 technologies, this should be essential for a person who specialized in IT for their library. If not, we are then left with libraries that stagnate in their IT competencies and fall behind the tech-trend.

So, let’s lose the buzzword interviews. Let’s plan an application process that would really test the abilities of your IT specialist.

When the job is posted for a general IT position, require that the application and cover letter be sent via email in an attachment. If they can’t do this, which is largely considered a basic competency, then they are not qualified for the job. Require a cell phone number (more on this later).

If they are applying for a webmaster position, require them to post their resume online. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, just a site with resume and a link to download the resume as well… to show they have basic web-design skills.

If the person’s resume and cover letter meet your standards, TEXT their cell phone to set up an interview. Unorthodox? Perhaps, but part of the IT personality is embracing modern technology. Texting is one of the most popular means of communication with our younger population and, if we want to stay current with our patrons, then we need make sure our IT people are familiar with it as well.

Next, set up a time to talk meet your potential employee ONLINE. Nothing complicated, have them meet you on G-chat, Meebo, AIM or whatever. Once they get there, just hold a brief conversation about what the upcoming interview will entail, quick clarification questions, or see if they have any questions. Better yet, perhaps ask them, for the interview; to prepare a brief demonstration on their favorite 2.0 technology that they think would be useful or popular with the community. The importance is not the conversation itself but more that, once again, they are familiar with using this technology. Again, IM is a popular method of communication and your IT specialist should be comfortable with it.

By this time the interview comes, you will have a basic understanding of the applicant’s technological ability. If they needed instruction or familiarization with any of these things, that should be a warning flag. When they give their demonstration, you will also be able to see how well they can communicate the use of these technologies to other people and just how ambitious their Library 2.0 goals are.

Yes, I do realize there is a possible flaw in this method; it requires that someone on the interview team be familiar with technology as well. It’s a conundrum, that’s for sure. But, let’s look beyond that.

Oh, and if you want to have a little fun with them at the interview, put them in front of a computer with the machine on but the monitor off (or unplugged) and ask them to figure out the problem. Tell them you’ve tried hitting the machine but ‘nothing happened.” If they look at you, remark, “I just don’t think this machine likes me very much.” Then watch for a reaction.

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16 Comments

  • 1. Kerry  |  May 15, 2008 at 11:02 am

    My head, it is spinning.

    What kind of applicants have you been getting? Because this stuff is so basic, I could do it and I am in no way qualified to be an IT librarian. No, seriously?

  • 2. Roger Hiles  |  May 15, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Years ago I was hiring a network admin for a public library. The HR contact urged me to include a practical test. I found out what she meant when more than half the (already screened) applicants could not add a user or a computer to the simple test network, share a drive, or do a backup.

    Best advice I ever got from HR.

  • 3. Librarian Lee  |  May 15, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    So I’m guessing that I should have applied for all those IT librarian’s jobs which I was sure I did not really qualify. Wow. I manage all those things with great ease…maybe I need to re-think things, apparently IT isn’t as beyond my reach as I assumed.

  • 4. Sarah  |  May 16, 2008 at 9:23 am

    When they re-posted the position of director for the Salt Lake Public library they wanted directions to the applicant’s digital presence–blogs, forums, social networks, and so on. Seems like IT applicants should have that as well!

    It is mind boggling what goes in interviewing and hiring. My supervisor just told me about how she was interviewing an applicant, and when she asked why they applied for the job they said they had forgotten that they had applied at all.

    Of course, on the other side, I was called by HR at about 1pm for a 9am interview the next day. I worked that day until 9pm, but when I waked into the interview the next morning their second question was what I’d done to prepare for the interview. While I felt like saying “I really only had time to shower and get dressed,” I had actually managed to print off a copy of my portfolio and convince a library clerk to let me in before the library opened at 9am.

  • 5. Lori Reed  |  May 16, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    Just keep in mind if you want to do something like this that for legal reasons you need to A. Be consistent and have the same requirements for each and every applicant and B. Have a plan b in case someone needs an ADA accommodation for any of these tasks.

    Otherwise it’s a great idea! At the beginning of interviews I like to ask applicants to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5 on different areas such as networking, Office, HTML, etc. Then throughout the interview I ask other questions that show what their true knowledge is. If someone gives herself a 5 for troubleshooting hardware and then later does not know how to answer what she would do if a computer gives a “nonsystem disk error” it tells me a lot about the applicant!

  • 6. Greg Schwartz  |  May 19, 2008 at 8:35 pm

    Some pretty good suggestions there. We don’t have any such generalist positions at MPOW, but I could see making these types of exercises a requirement for ANY applicant. We’ll be talking about this post on this week’s Uncontrolled Vocabulary: http://uncontrolledvocabulary.com

  • 7. John Miedema  |  May 21, 2008 at 6:53 am

    Interesting post, but I don’t think any of those skills qualifies a person for the position of an IT Specialist. In corporate IT, none of those methods are used for hiring. Look to the person’s resume and references. Does he/she have IT experience on the job? What successes can they report? Do their references collaborate. That’s the ticket.

  • 8. Sarah Houghton-Jan  |  June 9, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    I think that these are skills that most librarians should have, period. IT Specialists should have specific IT skills–networking experience, web design skills, etc. Testing those is a lot harder, but can be done with essay questions and problem-solving “tests.” It’s important to assess someone’s actual skills and experience and not, as you point out Tyler, just hire them because they know the buzzwords.

  • 9. Dorothea  |  June 10, 2008 at 8:05 am

    Whoa. Interesting. I automatically ride the failboat because I don’t have a cell phone.

  • 10. Gary McGath  |  June 10, 2008 at 2:01 pm

    Yes, there’s a flaw in your method. It’s that it tests for trendiness, not familiarity with technology.

    I have never used text messaging, other than discarding spam. I occasionally remember to turn my cell phone on. I prefer not to put my resume on public display, especially if I don’t want my current employer to know I’m job hunting. I don’t use instant messaging.

    In spite of my lack of qualifications, I’m somehow a software developer for one of the largest libraries in the world.

  • 11. Keri  |  June 10, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    I’m sort of an IT Librarian. It is part of my job but so much of our IT is outsourced to our consortium that I basically just restart the wireless router when the connection drops, put new ink in the printers, update the website and teach internet classes to the patrons. Frankly most of my patrons are in the “I don’t know how to click the mouse” phase of technology rather than the “I want to contribute to the library’s wiki” phase so the buzzword technology stuff doesn’t really apply here in any practical way.

    I would be a bit wary of a library asking me to interview by text message (I won’t have an unlimited plan until I buy an IPhone in November – mostly for the internet – so text make me grumpy) and checking to see if I was competent in computer by having an IM interview. Seriously? Every person who uses my library between the ages of 10 and 30 and a good portion of those older than that can IM and use MySpace, text messages, etc. (In most other communities that second group would be larger but no so in mine unfortunately.)

    A basic practical test like you suggest should be given to all librarian candidates but I don’t know if those would be the questions I’d ask. In my opinion, all librarians should know how to fix a broken computer, printer, internet connection, and do basic IM, email, web searching, database search, downloadable audio etc. The IT person needs to be the person who can fix the problems when no one else can (networking, changing hardware, extreme software glitches, reformats, software installation and security, etc.) – which are a bit harder to replicate for a test.

  • 12. Sharon  |  June 10, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    I’m the tech support person for my library, and before that I was a software engineer for 20+ years. I agree with most of the proposed “tests.” My only gripe is the texting test. I have a cell phone, and it is even text-enabled. But it’s an expensive toy for a part-time graduate student living on a part-time librarian’s salary. I don’t consider cell phones essential equipment for anyone except people who already have a job that requires them to be on call 24/7.

  • 13. Anonymous  |  June 10, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    You find about their IT skills by talking to their references.

  • 14. Marc  |  June 10, 2008 at 7:14 pm

    Great candidates take it upon themselves to tell their story and demonstrate their skills–they don’t wait for an assigned test to do so.

    Last year, I had all applicants give a brief presentation on Web 2.0. This alone worked well enough for me to discern top candidates, mostly because those candidates also made it a point exhibit their skills in one way or another. One sent a link to their resume online as well as in an attachment; another created several websites for the presentation rather than just using Powerpoint. Both candidates demonstrated that they go beyond what’s required, and web design skills.

  • 15. Grant (Systems Librarian)  |  June 11, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Agreed. This is nonsense. Resume and references all the way for a post like this. Tests indeed.

    Grant

  • 16. Anonymous  |  October 22, 2008 at 12:07 pm

    Advice to all: 1.
    1.Work as a Team for the best service you can offer with all your skills
    2. Share your knowledge and have mercy on those who need to “catch up” or are technophobic but are trying :)
    3. Create a leadership environment where most folks are excited to be working and learning… maybe that’s a fantasy?


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