Q: How much responsibility is too much?

Q: How much responsibility is too much?

Q: I am currently employed as a librarian trainee in an Institution of Accountancy with Bachelor Degree level of Library science. My problem is we were given some certificate and diploma courses to teach and those courses are not from the Library science field. They are mainly in Information Science. It has been hard for me to accept this kind of responsibility. Please help me.

My second question: is it possible for my position to teach and at the same time attending other responsibilities in the library i.e cataloging, shelving, etc.?

CNW: Your situation sounds quite unusual. While it is always good to stretch your capabilities, it must be overwhelming to be asked to take on more responsibility than is appropriate. It is not clear whether you hold a BA or MA in Library Science or whether you are taking courses at the same institution where you are working. Regardless of the specifics, if you feel pressured to teach courses that are out of your area of expertise you need to address the issue proactively.

Calmly discuss your discomfort with the arrangement with your managers. If it is an issue of needing support, be specific in what you ask for. You could try asking for reduced responsibilities in cataloging or shelving, for example, to accommodate the extra workload. If the problem is that you are not qualified to teach Information Science diploma and certificate coursework, state this. While there is considerable crossover between the disciplines of Library & Information Science, both you and the school have an obligation to provide a quality education to the students. Engage your colleagues in a frank discussion of the problem.

Regarding your second question: it depends. Many librarians balance part-time and full-time work, including teaching roles. However, librarian trainees are typically early-career. It would not generally be appropriate for a librarian trainee to be teaching college-level classes. Diploma and certificate programs might be okay, but you need to feel that you have mastered the content before you’re expected to teach it to others. It doesn’t appear that you feel comfortable with the arrangement, so you need to find a way to modify it. If you still feel pressured to teach courses beyond your expertise, start looking for another job.



Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q: What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future? Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

Q:  In December of 2008, I completed an MLIS degree from a fairly well-respected state university. The whole time I was in library school (2.5 years) I worked as a circulation clerk in a medium-sized public library which is part of a three county system. When it came close to graduation, I started applying for professional jobs in that system. I got interviews, but no offers. At least once, I was never extended the courtesy of a phone call to tell me I had not been chosen. I ended up getting a good job with a five county library system in a small town an hour south of where I had been living. Reluctantly, I moved there. I am used to living in a vibrant college town which is full of culture and stimulating activity. I was bored and lonely in the small town. The library’s director was a tyrant who treated her employees in a condescending manner. I quit in three months after an unexpected personal tragedy, and moved back to the town where I went to college.  Since, I have been doing some teaching, receptionist work, bartending, and working in a greenhouse. I want to be a public librarian. I wouldn’t mind working in children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference. I am confused as to why the system I worked for during school won’t hire me, and no one else will either. I don’t think it’s my resume, which has been looked over at state conference by a library branch manager and met with approval. Maybe it is my interview skills. Maybe it is the fact that I quit the job in the small town so suddenly and it has affected my reputation negatively. My question is two-fold. What can I do to better my chances at landing a job in a library? Is there a way I can get more library related experience to put on my resume that would possibly help me in the future?  Sincerely, Bummed Bookworm

TA:  Dear Bummed Bookworm, I am sorry you are feeling dissatisfaction with your current situation.  I hope that I will be able to assist you in moving forward with a few thoughts and action items. 

First, you need to lose the negative attitude.  I can certainly understand your frustration at not having a library position, and having to make ends meet by teaching and bartending.  You did have a librarian position, but quit after three months in the position.  You described the library director as “condescending” and “a tyrant” and you added that there was also a personal tragedy that influenced your decision.  I acknowledge it may not have been perfect, but it’s time to get angry and get over it, because your negative feelings about the past seem to be influencing the present.  You need to find a way to describe your previous experience in a concise, honest, positive and professional way.  If you disparage one employer to another, their fear is that you’ll do the same to them when you’ve moved on.  And it’s just not professional. 

You’ve got a lot of things working for you, and that’s what you need to focus on.  First, you have a couple of years of solid public library experience.  Second, you’ve had your resume reviewed by others and feel pretty good about it.  Your interests are also wide (“children’s, teen services, circulation, or reference”), which broadens your opportunities. 

Your “To Do List” from me also has a few items to consider.  First, look at your cover letter and make sure its tone is positive and professional, and that it ties your experience to the needs of the position.  Your cover letter should project enthusiasm and confidence, and should be tailored to each position you apply for.  Second, you should consider going back to your supervisors at your first library system and asking them what you can do to make yourself a more competitive applicant for their positions.  Do you, for example, need to brush up on technology or repair any relationships from your previous employment?  If you ask someone to serve as a reference for you, be sure you ask them if they can be a GOOD reference for you for a SPECIFIC position.  Ask them to discuss with you their assessment of your strengths and weaknesses for the position, and ask if there’s anything they need from you to better prepare for the reference.  Make it easy for them to talk well about you.  Third, work your professional network to see if there are any volunteer positions available.  You will need to work carefully to build this into your already-busy schedule, but a volunteer position will allow you to keep your skills current, build a wider professional network, and rebuild a professional reputation.  Prove yourself to be trustworthy, reliable, professional and invaluable as a worker and a colleague.

Q: A few months ago, I went to my supervisor to tell her I was unhappy with my job. She is the branch manager and I am the assistant manager. About a week after that she and her supervisor put me on a performance improvement plan.

Q: A few months ago, I went to my supervisor to tell her I was unhappy with my job. She is the branch manager and I am the assistant manager. About a week after that she and her supervisor put me on a performance improvement plan.

Q:  A few months ago, I went to my supervisor to tell her I was unhappy with my job. She is the branch manager and I am the assistant manager. About a week after that she and her supervisor put me on a performance improvement plan.  I have been doing what I need to do and I own that I needed to improve in several key areas.  I hope I have shown that I’ve improved.  I am still unhappy. I feel I am not suited for management and would like to move into the part of the library world that will allow me to better help people access information–which is why I got into the field in the first place. I do not feel like a successful supervisor, leader or manager.  I am starting to research jobs and my biggest fear is that when I apply, the prospective employer will call my current supervisor and find out all about the PIP.   Have you got any suggestions about how to handle any questions?

A: There are a few things you need to do here.  First, you need to have a candid conversation with your supervisor.  Talk with her again about your job, but not in the context of “I’m so unhappy”—YOU are in charge of your own happiness, not your boss.  You should frame the conversation in terms of your career aspirations, or, as I tell others, what you want to be when you grow up.  If you really do not enjoy management positions, tell her that.  Tell her that while you were honored to be named Assistant Manager, you want to refocus your career on dealing more directly with the patron, and reposition yourself to be more on the front lines.  Now, you must know, that if you have an MLS, it is likely you will be in charge of people at some point in your career…it’s a natural progression of responsibility, especially with the extra credentialing.

And that brings me to point number two:  You may want to consider training opportunities that will develop and strengthen your management, supervision and leadership skills.  Even if it’s informal management of a project team, supervising volunteers or leading a library-wide committee, you will need these skills throughout your career.  Don’t shy away from it just because it’s uncomfortable.  Work hard and it will serve you well.

Point number three: If you have a very open relationship with your supervisor, and she is a supportive and understanding person, as part of your career aspirations conversation with your supervisor, let her know that you will continue to work hard in your current position, but that you also realize in order to make some changes, you may need to look for other positions.  And while you are applying for other positions, you will need someone who can give you an excellent employment reference.  Ask her what you can do now to earn her trust and confidence, and an excellent employment reference when the right position comes along.

If your supervisor is not a very understanding person, then you may not want to tell her that you are looking for work elsewhere. This can be a very tricky situation and if you do not find a job in a timely manner, the knowledge that you are looking elsewhere (and intending to jump ship) can cause tension and resentment. And this, in turn, can create a stressful and unhappy work environment.

If a job application requires that you provide references up front (some will and some will not), then do not use her name.  Once you get to the interview stage and you have a good feeling about the position (i.e., you would take it if they offer it to you), then you can approach your supervisor to see if she would give you a good reference.  Potential employers will understand if you do not use the name of your current supervisor on your reference list, and you can explain why in your interview with them. They will still, however, most likely want to speak with your most recent supervisor at some point, so so be prepared to have the conversation with her (see above).

And I’ll conclude with your final question, How do I handle questions from prospective employers about my job performance?  If they hear from your supervisor that there were performance problems, a lot will depend on how she has conveyed the information (which is why it’s really important to have a good conversation with her.  See points 1 and 3).  What you need to do is be honest, direct, brief and positive.  Try to convey what you learned from the situation.  And never, never, never disparage your current institution or supervisor.  For example, if the situation involved supervision of other staff (perhaps you were too lenient), what you would say in response is something like: “I acknowledge there were some challenges with supervision in my current position.  I was new to supervision and wasn’t really comfortable telling employees with more experience what they could or could not do.  I am working with my supervisor now to improve these skills, and feel I’ve made a lot of progress in this area.  Additionally, I’ve taken a couple of management and supervision training classes through Human Resources and really feel like I’ve strengthened my knowledge of management styles and approaches, and gained some confidence with supervision.”

Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in Tough Times

Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in Tough Times

In case you haven’t heard (or experienced first hand) we’re in a tough economic period and that has people looking for jobs, or rethinking the one they have.  We’ve been getting a lot of emails recently asking for very specific help on finding jobs.  Unfortunately, we can’t answer each and every individual email, but we can offer some general advice and guidance.  We are also hoping that our readers will join the conversation and offer their advice.  Who knows?  Maybe you’ll meet someone, who knows someone, who knows someone with a job…

Top 5 Tips for Job Hunting in Tough Times

1.  The best way to get a job is to have (or have had) a job
Employers want someone with experience.  We are looking for someone who can take what they’ve learned somewhere else and apply it (maybe even build upon it) in our position.  So be sure to take opportunities to develop your professional experience.  While it may not be the best job in the world, or your ultimate dream job ever, any work experience you have will help you build skills, a resume and a professional network.  So be sure to carefully consider any and all offers of employment (including temp, contract, volunteer, intern, entry level, etc.)

2.  Seek and ye shall find (but it also helps to know the best places to look)
Even if you’re currently in a job, don’t forget to keep an eye on the market to see what’s out there.  And if you’re currently without a job, you’ll definitely want to be on the lookout.  Check all the standard places (employer websites, library-related websites such as LISJobs.com, LIBJobs.com, etc…) but also be sure to check with local government agencies, regional consortiums, large local employers and online nationwide job-hunting sites like Monster.com.

3.  Keep your tools sharp and ready to go
Always, always, always have a resume.  Even if (maybe especially if) you’ve been in your current job for a decade, have a current resume and make sure it’s perfect.  We’ve written several articles on resumes, so refer back to those for the how-to’s and must-have’s of resume writing.  Also be sure you’re comfortable writing a cover letter and asking for employment references.

4.  Practice, Practice, Practice
If it’s been a while since you’ve interviewed, you’ll need to practice to make perfect.  Practice with friends, family and colleagues and ask for direct feedback.  Practice telephone interviews, practice giving a presentation, even practice shaking hands and introducing yourself.  The more practiced you are, the more comfortable you’ll be.  The last place you want to “refine” your interviewing skills is actually on the interview!

5.  Use your (social) network
We all know it’s a good idea to use your professional network when exploring or seeking new opportunities.  But I would encourage you to think broadly about that network.  It extends beyond those for whom, with whom, or over whom you’ve worked.  If you’re in the market for a new opportunity, be sure to utilize all of your resources: professional colleagues, neighbors, the other dads in the daddy playgroup, or the moms at Little League.  And don’t forget social networking.  The Linked In site is built around the principals of networking and recommendations.  And, if used appropriately, Facebook is an option.  Look for professional-affiliated groups to join on Facebook or other profiles that post job information.  Just be sure to use caution when posting personal and private information together.  It’s a very careful balance, but it can be done successfully.


Readers, what do you think?  For those who’ve been there (or are currently there) do you have other tips to share?  We look forward to hearing from you…

Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide?

Q: After working in city libraries for more than ten years (and before that, a work life spent mostly in book stores) I found myself in [moving back home] because of my mother’s advanced age and fragile health. I had three years of Interlibrary Loan experience from my most recent job and I was able to secure a position in the Interlibrary Loan department of the health sciences library at the university.

My work record at the time was excellent and I was very happy to find the job I’d wanted the most. It was a very busy department and I was responsible for lending. I approached my job with energy and enthusiasm and worked hard; I even kept current with “the literature” (Library Journal, etc.) but my boss never stopped casting everything I did in a negative light.

I managed to maintain decent performance reviews by scrupulously documenting everything I did; but in the end, I saw an EAP counselor who helped me to plan and set up meetings with the director, my boss, and other concerned parties to try to bring about a more equitable workplace (as this was affecting my health). After almost nine years at this university, my supervisor wrote an entirely false performance review which despite my response (written at the director’s urging) with documentation to refute her assertions, I resigned after being placed on a disciplinary program that no one in that library’s history had been put on before and the full details of which were not written down anywhere.

No investigation was done. I hired a lawyer and the university’s response to his letter was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”. No reference, severance, or unemployment insurance benefits. I looked for a job for 8 months; customized my resume and cover letter for each position I applied for. Not only was I not contacted, other positions included; when I attempted to contact the HR person, no one called me back.

Since my resignation, the university I worked for has been beset by scandals; ranging from mismanagement of large grants to the dismissal of a student without due process. How does one go about beginning to repair a work history, or “fill in a gap” nearly a decade-wide, that was spent doing excellent work (our borrowing institutions regularly sent notes of praise and, of course, the work was reflected in our statistics!) but is entangled in an institutionally- sanctioned lie?

TA: After reading your question a couple of times, there are a couple of things that come to my attention that I think would be helpful to point out in an attempt to move ahead. First, it’s clear you feel very hurt and betrayed by the situation with your supervisor. It wouldn’t be unusual for someone in the situation you’ve described to feel this way. However, and this is the second thing I noticed, you also seem to express yourself in a way that hints at feelings of resentment, maybe even hostility. Talking about how your lawyer thought the University’s response was “the worst thing he’d seen in thirty years”, but not talking about any successful litigation feels like a worthless jab. The same goes for your reference to “an institutionally-sanctioned lie.”

As an outsider looking in, and with only the information you’ve provided to me, here’s the situation as it seems to me: you worked for many years at an institution with a challenging supervisor and in challenging work conditions. By your own accounts, you had some successes in the position, but when it got to be too severe, you resigned from your position. Now you’re looking for a new position and you aren’t getting many responses. What do you do now?

First, you need to figure out a way to talk about your experience at the University that does not criticize or come across as negative. When you’re describing your work experience in your cover letter and resume, talk about your successes. Mention your increased, and sustained, usage statistics. Talk about successful partnerships and collaboration within the library and beyond. Do not talk about how you managed to survive despite the oppressive supervisor, or the challenging circumstances, or a University “beset by scandals.” That’s really just too much drama for anyone, especially a prospective employer. You may also want to ask a couple of colleagues for written letters of reference that you can attach to your application materials. If you take this approach, make sure they are current letters, and the colleagues speak to your professional experiences and talents. Do not turn these letters into you-versus-them detailed sagas of your University experience. The letters should describe how the colleague knows you, in what context and for how long, as well as his or her description of your work experience, knowledge and strengths.

Second, choose your references carefully. With such a long tenure at the University, it might seem conspicuous to not have a reference from that institution. However, given your relationship with your supervisor and director, you probably don’t want to list them as professional references. You should think carefully about other colleagues, maybe even folks with whom you worked at the University but they too have moved on, and consider if they could serve as a reference for you. And of course, colleagues, supervisors, department heads, directors, etc… from other institutions of employment would be good to include as well.

Third, when you get an interview, be prepared to talk about all of your work experience, including your time at the University. Again, leave out the drama and negativity and find a way to talk in a positive way about what you learned and what you gained from the experience. If you’re asked a reason for leaving, since you resigned, you can simply say that you had been at the University for a number of years, but were also dealing with an aging parent and needed to resign for personal reasons.

Just because the University is still struggling with some issues doesn’t mean you need to be swept up with it. Your focus needs to be on you and your future, not anchored to the past and a very difficult situation.

Q: Help! I’m burned out!

Q: Help! I’m burned out!

Q: Can you please help me? I am currently a certified media specialist in Georgia, and I am so burned out. Can you tell me where to look to use my MLIS? I love research, but whatever I apply for has to pay a decent wage. Can anyone out there help me?

TA: Dear Burned Out in GA – Wow! There are so many things to touch on here, so I’m going to be brief. Specifically, I want to talk about three things:

  1. Handling workplace stress and burnout
  2. Working while looking for another job
  3. Successfully finding and moving into a new position

At the end, I’m also including some job-hunting web sites to help you start your search.

Handling workplace stress and burnout

First and foremost, most of us face stress on the job. This may stem from our job duties (meeting deadlines, dealing with difficult patrons, spending the year’s acquisitions budget) or the struggle to balance our job with the other parts of our life (children, parents, pets, hobbies, academic pursuits). In some cases, stress isn’t all bad – it can push us, motivate us, and help us achieve successes along the way. The problem arises when stress reaches the famous “tipping point;” when it no longer motivates you, but rather becomes overwhelming, anxiety-provoking, or, in some cases, paralyzing. When you’re losing sleep, dreading going to work, or just plain unhappy in your job, it’s time to look elsewhere. This brings me to my next point: How do you continue to work in an unhappy job while also looking for your next opportunity?

Working while looking

Looking for work can be stressful in itself, so it would seem that looking for a job while trying to get out of a stressful situation would merely add fuel to the fire. But, in my experience, looking for the next job is actually the first step out of that fire, and the hunt is usually met with excitement, enthusiasm, and hope. This is literally your first step away from a bad situation, toward something you hope will be better.

What you need to do is prepare yourself to find a position that matches your skills, experience and interests. Take a look at our previous columns on transferable skills, preparing cover letters and resumes, and getting ready for interviews. In situations like this one, though, where you’re working really hard to leave a position, you’ll want to take extra care to frame your application materials and interview responses in a way that keeps the focus on the new position, not the baggage you’re hauling around from your current job.

Always, always, always keep a positive attitude. Try to find the positive things about your current position and talk about those in an interview. Never, never, never speak poorly of your current situation. For example, instead of saying “I never got any help from anyone; I was always left on my own,” say something like: “I was often able to work independently, and made a lot of decisions on my own.” Talk about challenges, opportunities, and how you responded to make the most of the situation.

Most employers will be able to read between the lines, but they will also remember that you had the grace and professionalism to handle the situation in a respectful and dignified manner. If you’re asked about why you are looking for another position, talk about seeking new challenges, looking for new opportunities, or wanting to grow in the profession, then quickly follow up by explaining how their specific position will enable you to do that. The bottom line is this: if you speak poorly about one organization, the hiring supervisor will fear that you’ll speak harshly about them one day as well.

Finding and moving into a new position

So, you’ve read about a job that sounds great. You’ve applied and been called for an interview. During the interview, you acted professionally, talked about seeking new challenges, and made a great impression. While you were there, you also did some investigating of your own. You looked at how people were treated. You evaluated how they treated you as a candidate. And, during your interview, when it was your turn to ask questions, you asked people what they liked most about working there – and received a lot of great responses. This sounds like a good fit, and when you receive the offer, you accept. But the story doesn’t stop there – there are still a couple of other things you need to do.

First, while it may be incredibly tempting to just walk out of the door and leave your current place of employment in the dust, remember that this is a small profession. Given a choice, you never want to leave on bad terms. Follow your organization’s protocol for resignation, which usually consists of at least a two week notice. If you have to write a resignation letter, be professional and gracious.

Secondly, when you start your new job, start fresh. Try to leave old baggage and comparisons behind you. Find the joys, challenges and opportunities in your new position, and most importantly, have fun in your work.

Online Resources

My Job is Killing Me!

Let Stress Work For You

Job Stress Management

LISjobs/Library Job Postings on the Internet Job Listings

ALA Employment Opportunities

Chronicle of Higher Education Jobs