What More Can I Do?

On Monday, August 8, I sat down for an in person job interview with St. Louis County Library for an Assistant Branch Manager position at their Daniel Boone library. I met with the Branch Manager and a woman from Human Resources. We spoke for approximately 30 minutes. It was all very pleasant. I stressed why I wanted to make the change from academic to public libraries. I stressed that I’d worked for the system before. I stressed how my experience represented transferable skills. I stressed my desire for stability and to stay local. I stressed my organizational skills and my penchant for documentation and procedures because that is a focus of this particular manager — something I’d received inside information on from another branch manager.

On Wednesday, August 10, I received a boiler plate email from the library system that, yet again, I was not qualified to fill the position. What they actually said is,

Thank you for interviewing for the Assistant Branch Manager position at the Daniel Boone Branch of the St. Louis County Library. We felt fortunate to have had several other highly qualified applicants from which to choose. The selection decision was not an easy one; however, it was felt that another applicant more closely met the qualifications we were seeking.

Again, we appreciate your interest and wish you every success in achieving your career objectives.

Excepting the salutations that is the entire email.

Let’s recap.

  • 11 years’ library experience.
  • All of which in public/access services
  • 1 Master’s degree in Library and Information Science
  • 18 months with this very system
  • 1 semester practicum in a busy public library to prepare for this kind of position
  • Regular dealings with patrons in which I must solve problems or salve frustrations
  • Creation, enforcement, evaluation, and refinement of policies and procedures
  • Supervision of employees
  • Manage a circulation desk
  • Perform reference interviews
  • Manage emergency procedures
  • Open and close the facility

These are the duties which I have performed for more than a decade, and more I did not list. Am I to believe that someone else that they talked to betters that experience? Pardon me, but I find that hard to believe.

What exactly is the problem?

My interview skills are on point. I’m not glib. I’m not negative. I’m not snarky. I’m friendly, open, and well spoken. I could be more concise in my answers, but I wouldn’t want to be too polished. My service orientation is strong, and my management orientation is team-building. I am passionate for and dedicated to the mission of all libraries. I have the degree. I have the experience. What more can I do?

I appear to have committed a great sin in the eyes of public librarians. I accepted a job in an academic library, and therefore I am forever banned from rejoining the public sphere. The trouble with this sin, though, is that there is apparently no way for me to repent for it. I have tried many, many times to get a non-professional position in St. Louis County’s system, as well as St. Louis Public Library‘s system, but to no avail. Each and every application I send to St. Louis Public — STL‘s city library — goes down a black hole, and I never hear from them. One public librarian I am friendly with and to whose branch I applied told me that she doubted I would be there long if she’d hired me. What I’d never had the chance to explain is that even that paraprofessional position was a $6k raise for me and I’d easily give that position a full calendar year before attempting to move up.

What more can I do?

Am I supposed to take a part-time job as a clerk in one of these systems, work my way through every level, and eventually, in ten year’s time get promoted to the positions I’m already technically qualified for? That’s a waste of everyone’s time, especially mine.

Am I to give up? Am I to throw in the towel and scream “Uncle” because the public systems have shunned me? If I do that, then I’ve shut myself out of approximately 50% of all library jobs in the country. Why would I handicap myself like that?

There seems to be something rotten in the notion that I can get flown hither and yon around this country interviewing at large universities in multi-day events, but can’t be spoken to for more than 30 minutes for even the most basic of library jobs, locally. True, in the last eight years, no one has offered me a job, but the very fact that I can appear appealing enough to be brought to the University of Colorado – Colorado Springs, University of Cincinnati, Georgia Southern University, MOBIUS Consortium, Missouri University of Science and Technology, and the University of Texas – San Antonio, usually at great expense to the institutions, tells me that my qualifications aren’t really the issue. What that issue is, I’m at a loss to say.

2 thoughts on “What More Can I Do?

  1. Hi Jeff! First, I’m sorry to hear that you didn’t get the position, but happy to hear that you went as far as an interview! You definitely seem to have plenty of transferable experience and you express yourself in a coherent, concise and precise manner, already a great combination for prospective employees so don’t get discouraged.

    While I’m VERY new to the librarianship world I totally understand your frustration. I used to volunteer for one of the public library branches here in Austin and the Library Director there was very honest with me and informed me that for library assistant positions alone they receive anywhere from 200-300 applicants. Can you believe that?!

    Even though I’m pursuing academic librarianship I applied to so many public library positions to get my foot in the door and I finally realized you have to do everything you can to stand out. She recommended to continue to apply to anything that interested me and to just get my foot in the door with some sort of position.

    Some things I highly encourage that may not seem like the proper decorum include the following:
    -Volunteer: If you aren’t already be sure to volunteer a few hours a week at one of your local public libraries. Even though this might not tip the scale in your application, BUT it shows your dedication to the city and what you’re working towards.
    -Show your passion: If you’re able to attach an additional writing piece to your application expressing your passion for librarianship. For some it was a cover letter, for me I also included my graduate application letter of intent.
    -Follow Up: If the website doesn’t specify not to, be sure to follow up with a phone call making sure they received your application. Hearing your voice already sets you apart from plenty of other applicants and don’t forget to prepare a voicemail with your elevator speech just in case!
    -Sell Yourself: You already seem great at this, but don’t forget to include all of your extracurriculars including this blog! You are a great writer and it shows your consistency along with your writing skills.
    -Follow Up again: Even though receiving a rejection email is super discouraging be sure to email them back in a timely manner thanking them for their time, that you understand it was a difficult position for them, and to keep you in mind of course!
    -Take what you can get!: You mentioned part time jobs and from what I learned from the Library Director at the St John branch is that the city is more likely to promote people from within than take people who have NEVER worked for the city. While it is borderline nepotism I’ve found that in the world of librarianship who you know is key since they truly rely on recommendations from other librarians. While I understand this isn’t ideal for most people, it could be a start while you continue to look for full time positions within the city.

    I wish you the best of luck in your job search. I’m sure you’ll get a bite soon!


  2. Those are some very kind and encouraging words, thank you. I’ve seriously considered volunteering or taking a part-time job, but with an existing full-time job and a spouse at home it’s hard to cull that much more time out of my week.

    Right now, I’m soldiering on. I’ve applied to Assistant Branch Manager jobs at both large local systems just today, and I’m going back to school in the spring to get an Online Educator certificate. In the mean time it’s status quo.

    Thanks for reading!

    Liked by 1 person

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