Library job hunt quirks: networking

I found, during my search, that there was some really good advice out there, but there were places where the common (really good) advice just doesn’t match the reality of a library job search very well.

Here’s my thoughts on the places it’s different. (And I welcome comments on my blog in general, but I’d really love them here, from other people in the field.) Index of posts is over here.

Networking

Many job hunting advice sources advise you to network in a particular way – ask people you know about openings at their company, or network with the assumption that if they don’t hire you for *this* job, there’ll be another similar one along in a few months. (For example, many businesses might have several people with the same basic job duties, so people do come and go somewhat regularly.)

Libraries don’t generally work that way. Neither do schools.

Continue reading Library job hunt quirks: networking

Library job hunt: cover letters to interview

This is part two of an essay talking about my job hunting process. Part 1 deals with everything up to writing the cover letter. (And you can see the full index of posts in this series over here.)

Continue reading Library job hunt: cover letters to interview

Library job hunt : my process

This part of my series thinking about my job hunt is going to focus on how I actually handled the process and mechanics. I’m breaking this into two sections: the part before writing the cover letter, and everything after that.

You can see the full index of posts over here.

Continue reading Library job hunt : my process

Library job hunt quirks: the interview

This section talks about interview prep for academic library jobs in particular. The short version? Expect a really long day.

Continue reading Library job hunt quirks: the interview

A busy week!

I am delighted to say that I not only survived my first week at my Awesome New Job but have managed to both get useful things done and have been really enjoying it. So, here’s an update.

Places:

I’m adoring Maine so far. I’m living half a mile from work, I’ve figured my grocery store and other practical options, my bank account is finally fully accessible, and I handled a bunch of the other necessary details (like registering the car and getting a new license) before I started work. And of course, I acquired a public library card.

The weather has also been lovely – after a miserable July in Minnesota (including record-breaking heat and humidity) that made packing incredibly miserable, it’s been a joy to be somewhere where it’s topping out around 85F (sometimes very humid) and where it gets substantially cooler (lower 60s, upper 50s) overnight. My kind of weather.

I’m settling into the new apartment, as well, though I am still very light on furniture. (I have a futon, some very basic clothing storage, and a very comfy arm chair.) I’m enjoying the ‘figure out what will work in this space’ part, though there are moments when I’d like, y’know, bookshelves.

People:

I’ve been enjoying getting to know all of the library staff (except for the couple currently on vacation, but I’m looking forward to getting to know them too.) Everyone’s been great about making me feel welcome, answering my questions, and explaining things.

I haven’t gone very far into looking at making social connections outside of work yet, but I have some ideas of where I’d like to start with that. (I wanted to give myself a few weeks to settle into my new work schedule – plus, several things of interest kick off once school is back for the fall.) Technology’s making it easy to stay in touch with friends in Minnesota. It’s nice when that works.

Work:

As of this afternoon, I have almost everything we need me to have (we’ve got one more set of software installations to work on…) to do my job. (Though parts of that took longer than we’d have liked.)

I’ve set up my work laptop the way I want it, read a bunch of internal documentation files about the library, learned the first part of creating images for the public computers and their classroom lab space (the rest of it, I’ll be learning on Monday.) And I’ve started exploring Flash. (Since a chunk of my job is “Be helpful when people have technology questions”, a part of my job description is “Learn how to do stuff on the software we have on computers in the library.”)

And I’ve helped with some technical support issues, and proposed a new project, and been in some productive and effectively run meetings.

I’ve been coming home tired, but very content, which is really excellent for week 1 of a new job.

Transition:

Besides the obvious transition – moving 1500 miles across the country is obviously a big one – there have been lots of other things too. This is my first time combining a new job with a new place of work that wasn’t familiar to me since 2000 (so, 11 years).

(I’ve started other new jobs or roles since then, but not where I was figuring out all the “Where is this thing?” and “How do I get to there?” at the same time I was figuring out all the new job stuff – two different volunteer roles, and a short-term job for a librarian on leave at the school I did my graduate work at.

And the library building has *seven* staircases, most of which don’t go to all floors, so I keep having to figure out which staircase works for what I want. This was complicated this week by them getting waxed one at a time, so I kept going “Well, I could take that staircase, but I can’t today, so, um…”)

It’s also my first time bringing lunch to work in 11 years (since my previous job fed us lunch and had us supervise the cafeteria at the same time…) so that’s been an interesting thing to figure out what works for me. (I suspect I’ll eventually want a bit more variety, but for right now, I’ve figured out things that work while not taking a lot of prep time.)

Updates of other kinds:

I have tons and tons of links sitting in a bookmark folder for a links post, and hope to make that happen on Sunday. I also have plans for ongoing posting in various ways, but I’m still trying to figure out exactly what that might look like.

(If there are things you would particularly like me to talk about, I am open to suggestions, too, though chances are good that libraries and technology (and the mixture thereof) are going to be high on the list anyway.)

Job hunting retrospective

Welcome to the first of a series of posts about my recent job hunting experience: this one covers some general background and then the things I think particularly helped my search.

(I don’t think I have all the answers, but I do hope some of this is useful. Comments and constructive ideas are welcome.)

You can see the full index of posts over here. And you might want to read the disclaimer note there.

Continue reading Job hunting retrospective

Links of interest: July 1st, 2011

Welcome to a very long links roundup, as it’s been a few weeks. (I expect they’ll be fairly regularly through most of July, and then sporadic, as I get myself moved and settled in Maine.) Since I’ve got a ton of links, let’s do these in some simple categories.

Continue reading Links of interest: July 1st, 2011

Wicked awesome news

I am delighted to tell all of you that I have accepted a job as the Information Technology Librarian at the University of Maine, Farmington. I start in early August.

(If you, like most people I have told this to, are now going “Where’s Farmington?” it’s about 90 minutes mostly north of Portland, Maine, in the central bit of the state before you get into the mountains and foothills of the west.)

The campus is about 2000 students, in a town of 7500, and focuses on liberal arts and education programs, which is right up my alley. The job is a combination of some shared library duties (reference, collection development, instruction), keeping the library computers up and running as the first line of support (though the IT folks are handy if needed), and then being responsible for finding, exploring, sharing, and advocating for interesting new technology for the library to use.

Pretty much everyone I’ve told that to has gone “Did they write the job description for you?” Which, no, but they might as well have, as it’s pretty much everything I was hoping for. I just got back from the interview trip last night (I was the last candidate they were seeing), and loved the library, the town, and the people I’ll be working with, and I’m really excited to see what happens next and how I get to be part of it.

While I’ll miss Minnesota (a state I’ve loved for the 12 years I’ve lived here), I’m delighted to be returning to New England. I’d been particularly looking for something outside the cities in northern New England, and I’m looking forward to living somewhere with a chance to garden, live in a small town (which I’ve been wanting for various reasons) and all the other awesome things on offer. And it’s hard to beat living somewhere that has three tourist-friendly seasons (summer is gorgeous, leaf-time is stunning, and snow means skiing and a bunch of other fun things.)

I have been horribly behind on plans for this blog due to several interview trips, but plan to have a links post up in the near future (I am aiming for Friday). I also anticipate some posts about organizing packing for a cross-country move. (Complicated in my case by a cat and a folk harp).

And then, once I start, lots of posts about nifty technology things. (I did my interview presentation on blogs and blogging, after all…) I definitely also plan to talk about some of my library job hunting strategies and what I think worked and didn’t work, in case they’re useful to anyone else.

And for those of you wondering about the title of this post: “Wicked” is a classic Maine term that was also popular in the Massachusetts of my teenage years, and is basically the positive intensifier of choice.

Truth and consequences

As part of preparing a presentation about blogs and blogging, I want to talk in more detail than that presentation allows about the complexities of figuring out what’s true, accurate, or meaningful online. (Obviously, it’s a big topic, but a start at it is good.)

Joyce Valenza has a good article that discusses basics at evaluation skills in the Web 2.0 landscape . 

In my years online, I’ve had a whole lot of conversations. And in a small number of cases, people have misrepresented themselves in major (and community-destroying) ways. A number have misrepresented other things that aren’t as damaging, but still worrisome (information that spreads in ways that make learning harder). And some people are well-meaning, but not actually very good at what they’re sharing.

So, one question I was asked recently is “How do you tell what’s accurate online, especially if someone hoping for something from you?” That something might be money (in the case of someone requesting donations after a crisis), it might be belief (someone trying to persuade you of something), it might be a relationship or connection (friendship or romance), or it might be something else entirely.

My own approach is pretty simple:

  • Be aware of why I’m looking at a source, and what it can reasonably offer me.
  • Explore without believing everything I read. (And doing so often gives me new insights or ideas into a topic, even when the foundation isn’t solid or accurate.)
  • Check facts (and other places where accuracy matters) in multiple unconnected sources.
  • Varied, wide-ranging interactions give me a better idea of someone (and their reliability as a source) than very limited ones, and I give them preference.
  • Networks of trust are important if the request is unusual (request for donations to an individual after a crisis, or any claim that seems unlikely.)
  • Be extra sceptical of unusual claims or backgrounds.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail (with some examples.)

Principle 1: Be aware of why I’m looking:
I read a wide range of blogs – and I read them for different reasons. What I expect from a blog talking about professional issues in my field is different than what I expect from a recipe blog. With the recipes, I want useful information (how to make it), and a honest evaluation of what the recipe is like (taste, difficulty). I also care about where it came from (because I might want to go find other recipes from that source.) But there are a lot of other things I don’t care about:  what the blogger does with their spare time, what their professional credentials are, what their family is like.

However, if I’m reading a blog about my profession, I care about different information. In particular, I want to know how their experience relates to what they talk about. Someone talking about books who admits they don’t read much is a lot different from listening to Nancy Pearl‘s recommendations. (On the other hand, I might be very interested in what makes someone who doesn’t read much passionate about a specific title or author.)

Likewise, if I’m looking for health, financial, or other information where facts and research are important, I want to know why I can rely on that information. Depending on the blogger (and the topic), that might be references to other sources, explanations of existing widely available material (like an analysis of a news story using their experience), or something else. Whatever the question, I know I probably need to do some additional checking before making a decision.

Principle 2: Explore without believing.

I suspect I was a little warped by Lewis Carroll as a child: the act of believing six impossible things before breakfast has long come naturally to me. It’s a really great skill when reading blogs, though – because I can read something without assuming it’s true.

I ask myself what the world must look like for someone who thinks that thing is true. What shaped them to connect these pieces of information in that way? Who benefits when they do? Why is this important enough to them to write about, given all the other topics out there?

The answers to these questions are some of the most informative evaluation questions I can ask. Sometimes it becomes clear that someone has a financial or political stake in a particular solution or mindset (I may agree or disagree with that, but either way, it can lead to better perspective of what matters to them.) Sometimes it’s obvious that they have a pet project or peeve, and that they’re not entirely reasonable on the subject.

And sometimes, I find myself making connections and links that I would never have done if I’d only looked at an issue from my preferred perspective, in a way that helps me become better at what I do and love.  In fact, that happens often enough that reading outside my personal comfort zone is now a regular part of my process. I just don’t believe everything I read.

Principle 3: Check facts

Obviously, facts (and other verifiable data) can and should be cross-checked when it’s useful. My usual rule of thumb is that I double check anything that might affect: 

  • my health (obvious things like medical advice, but also things like food safety, exercise and food choice recommendations, etc.) 
  • my finances (financial advice, online banking security related things, etc.)
  • my reputation (if I’m going to take a stand on something, professionally speaking or within other communities I care about,  I want to make sure all my facts are in order.)
  • long-term consequences. (Being wrong about something in a fiction book is embarassing, but it doesn’t often have lasting major consequences. Being wrong about a legal issue might well long-term implications.)

And I double check any information I intend to pass onto other people who might consider me a reliable source (such as reporting it in my own blog). If I’m not sure of the facts, I indicate that somehow in how I write my own comments. (So, there’s a difference between “I found parts of this blog post interesting, but I’m not sure about the details.” and “I recommend what this blog post says.”)

Checking in unrelated sources can happen in a variety of ways: often I will already be familiar with a topic (having read and learned about it in the past), so the parts I check are limited to new and particularly contradictory information to what I already know.

Principle 4: Varied interactions get preference.

I interact with a lot of people online on a regular basis – through blogs, through forums, through other conversations. As that happens, I get a very good sense of some people, and not such a good sense of other people. Sometimes this is about what they share (it’s obviously easier to get a good grasp of someone who shares about a wide range of topics), but more often, it’s about how they share it, and how those pieces build a larger picture.

When I’m not sure about a piece of information, I look at that past history, and give some preference and priority to people who I’ve had varied and wide-ranging interactions with. Sometimes that means we’ve met in person. Sometimes it means that we’ve interacted in several settings, over a couple of years. Sometimes it’s that we’ve shared some specific interests, but gotten to be closer as we’ve shared more personal information. It’s been a good way for me to handle less easily verifiable information.

Of course, it does mean I need to be attentive for places where what is shared doesn’t match up. Sometimes this is perfectly normal: people share their lives in different ways in different spaces (or at different points in a decision or experience). But sometimes it’s a sign that someone is pretending something that isn’t true for them. Being aware of it, while being open to good explanations, works well for me.

Principle 5: Unusual requests need extra support.

One thing I love about the spaces I spend some of my online time in (the social journalling sites Dreamwidth and LiveJournal) is that people will chip in to help friends in trouble. On one hand, that’s awesome, and it’s helped a number of people I know with a specific crisis or difficulty when they just didn’t have the resources to get themselves out.

On the other hand, like most people who’ve been around this kind of thing for a while, I know of more than a handful of cases where someone’s abused the kindness of friends and strangers to get some kind of benefit. Sometimes that’s about money – but sometimes it’s about connections, influence, or prestige.

My basic guideline these days is that any unusual request needs extra support: clarity from the requester about what’s involved, who benefits and how, and anything that might support the request. For a small scale request, this isn’t a big deal – but for a larger request, relevant documentation can help. (What this is obviously varies by type: a link to a news story for a house fire or tragedy. Specific details rather than “My cat is dreadfully ill.”)

And this is also a place where interpersonal connections can be very important. I’m a lot more likely to offer my time, energy, and financial support if someone I know and trust says “I know and trust this person.” (Often, in my social circles, it’s people who have met at a conference or convention for a shared interest, but there’s all sorts of other options.) That helps me feel secure that the request and needs are real, and going to the right place. (And of course, I don’t contribute anything I couldn’t manage to lose.)

Using these methods, I’ve only been burned once, relatively early in my online experience. In that case, the thing I should have paid attention were the lack of details in people who were saying they supported a particular individual, and the fact that other details couldn’t be independently confirmed.

Principle 6: Be sceptical of unusual claims

Related to the above point, be sceptical of unusual claims and information. And particularly if you start seeing material that’s either contradictory or would put the person in question at high risk for some reason. It’s not that these things might not be true – but it does mean that additional questions and research are a good idea before you consider the source reliable.

What do I mean by unusual?

Extremely rare or high profile claims – this can be everything from an extremely high profile job to a rare medical condition. Obviously, people may have either, and be quite accurate, but if someone is using either type of thing to avoid questions, duck responsibility, or use as a method to get other people to agree with them, it’s good to be sceptical.

Persistent excuses to avoid things that might lead to verification. Obviously, people have a reasonable desire for privacy, and not everyone is up for meeting random people from online. But if you have someone who persistently avoids every opportunity (or every opportunity but for one or two people), being a bit sceptical until you get additional data is not a bad move.

Unique information or perspective: It’s a big world out there, so anyone who claims to have a totally unique piece of information or idea may not be accurate. (And reasonable people recognise this.) If you see a lot of pressure to recognise something as unique and unusual, be cautious until you have more information to fully evaluate it.

Any time someone claims they can fix all my problems. Chances are they can’t – they simply don’t know enough about me and my situation, after all! (Nor what I consider wonderful in my life versus something I’d like to change.) Anyone who thinks they know more about me than me gets my scepticism on full blast.

These are certainly not the only options:

I do encourage you to explore your own. In general, the balance between being open to new ideas, but curious about where they come from (and what supports them) is the place I prefer to live in my online interactions. It means they bring me a lot of joy, and that I check out more details when it’s relevant (or I plan to act on the information.)

Passion, truth, and complications

I was up way too late last night reading. That’s okay: I planned for it. You see, Amazon brought me Mira Grant’s latest, Deadline, and I’d set aside time to read it.

I’ve been asked a number of times in interviews about what my favorite book is, or what I like to read. I have a hard time listing a favorite. I have lots of favorites, the books I’m nostalgic about, the books I come back to reread year after year, and the books that grab me, and make me keep thinking, long after I put them down.

But one of the things I often talk about is why I read science fiction and fantasy: in brief, it’s because I love exploring the possibility of “what if”. By their very nature, books set in a different place, a different time, let us ask different questions, or see the answers from a different perspective. And books that do that especially well, give us a way to bring back those ideas, those understandings, those steps towards answers, back into our own lives.

Back to this series.

Mira Grant is the name used by Seanan McGuire for this series, and some other related work – basically, things that fall more in the horror genre than in fantasy or science fiction. And Seanan McGuire is very good at what she does: she’s the winner of 2010 John M. Campbell Award for Best New Author, and Feed was selected as one of Publishers Weekly’s best books of 2010.

She’s also a prolific writer and creator: there are four books currently out in her October Daye series (also awesome), another one coming out in September, she’s released three CDs, and has a couple of other projects I’m avidly awaiting. In between that (and a day job!), she writes a fair amount of short fiction, much of which she shares for free on her journal and website.

For example, as a run-up to the release of Deadline, she did a series of almost 30 short fiction snippets about the world. (They take place about 20 years before the first novel opens, so they won’t spoil any of the actual plot if you read them before you read Feed, and they’re a great way to get a sense of the world and her writing style.) I think this is an awesome way to share a sense of the books, without spoiling the actual content.

I’d been aware of her Tobe Daye series for a bit, but what got me hooked on trying Feed was a post in John Scalzi’s (another SF authors) blog series called The Big Idea, where authors talk about the ideas that got them writing a particular book. This has turned into one of my favorite sources of books, and even more interestingly, the books I find out about here have tended to be widely successful when I’ve suggested them to library patrons. (In part, I think, because the posts give me as a librarian a great way to talk about the book and why someone might find it interesting that goes beyond the cover blurb.)

Anyway, I recommend the Big Idea posts for both Feed and Deadline to get a sense of the series. I’m not usually a huge horror reader (there are times my imagination doesn’t need a lot of help, y’know?) but the Big Idea about Feed immediately made it clear to me that there was a lot more going on there that I’d find fascinating.

And so it is. The book has zombies, yes, and there’s a certain amount of death and blood and misery. But it’s really more about living in a world we don’t understand, and that we don’t always have as much control over as we think we do. It’s about speaking truth, and making connections, and trying to leave the world a little better than we found it – but it’s also about the question of “who decides what’s better?”. It’s about friendship, and love, and collaboration, and it’s about how we decide who to believe. And it’s about how fear changes the world we live in, and whether we ought to let our fears win over our truths and hopes.

And those are all things I find totally awesome in books.

It’s also about something near and dear my heart: the power of writing and technology to bring people together, share information, and create community (because, after all, in a world full of zombies, many people don’t go out much.)

One of the things I love about both books is how the narrative is interspersed with excerpts from blog posts (the main characters are professional bloggers in a world where that’s one of the major news sources.) I love how the reason there are zombies has a reasonable scientific background. (These are science zombies, not magic zombies, in other words.) As something of an epidemiological geek myself (though not to the extent Seanan is), that’s awesome.

Okay. Back to why you should read this book. (Actually, why you should read Feed and then read this book, because you’ll care a lot more about this book if you do.)

I agree with the comments on the Big Idea article that the author makes – Feed is a political thriller, while Deadline is much more psychological. Put another way, Feed is more heavily plot driven (with some awesome characters), while Deadline is much more about the characters (and the inside of their heads), with a good helping of action and plot. (Zombie fights! Daring escapes! Intrigue and espionage! Plenty of action.)

Deadline is also an amazingly strong second book – often the weakness of trilogies. There are some places that’s obvious (especially the end), but the beginning does a great job of easing you back into the world and reminding you how things work before the story accelerates (which it does quite rapidly.) And then there’s a solid plot that both serves this book, but is clearly laying down foundation for a powerful conclusion. Waiting a year for the last book in the series is going to be hard.

What I loved was seeing a wider range of interactions. It was particularly awesome to see more about how After The End Times (the blog/news service that the major characters run or are involved with) staff interact. Learning more about Maggie, and about Mahir was lots of fun, too. They don’t always agree, either,  in a way that’s messy and complicated the way people can be, even when they’re mostly wanting the same basic goal.

But I also loved the way that we got more depth into things going on. What the Rising did in other parts of the world. What that changes. How things we mostly take for granted (grocery shopping, flying, driving) are a whole lot different. And I loved how, in this book, the damage from the first book – the hurts, the pains, the misery – isn’t wiped away. These are human beings, who don’t bounce back from that sort of thing all the time, not idealised symbols.

This is not a book to read if you want to be cheered up. It is not an easy book in places: hard things happen, miserable things, things that will probably make you want to scream at the book. People make choices that may have you doing the equivalent of yelling at the TV screen.This is not the best book to read somewhere if people are going to look at you funny if you start laughing, crying, or talking back to the pages.

But amazing things happen, too. And it’s a book that will almost certainly make you think differently about your world, and what matters, and what to trust, than you did before.

Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

More about my job and a day in the life

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