Saturday, September 02, 2006

Successful Saturdays: Hiring First Rate People or Excellence is a Moving Target

Today's Successful Saturday will focus on hiring good librarians and how what is defined as good changes.

The ultimate question of any librarian fresh out of school is what do libraries look for when they are hiring. There is no right answer to this question and unfortunately many good librarians don't get hired because they are just not the right fit for the organization. As an administrator, sometimes you wish you could hire two or three people from the list, but alas there are only so many jobs. One time I was very lucky and I could hire two people at once and they both turned out to be a great boon for the library. I have also had openings where I could not believe we could not find one good candidate. Since I began as manager at my library, the pool of candidates have gone from anemic to a horn of plenty. I can open almost any job and I know that I will get many good applications. The close proximity of a great library school also helps, but even the paraprofessional staff pool is very diverse and talented. It can be very difficult to choose when you have several people that can do what you need them to. That is where the situation of the library plays a factor in the final decision.

The situation of the library can be the greatest determinant as to whether you will be hired. If the library is under transition, they may be looking for more experience, if the library has had the same administration for some time, they will just be looking for someone who can do the job in the description the best. I have been in both situations where at one point I needed someone who knew what they were doing since I didn't, and at other times I could hire the smile and train the skills. The latter is what I would usually prefer since it is easy to train skills, but it is very difficult to train good customer service. Even the delivery of a reference question can determine whether the patron had a good interaction or a bad one. I have witnessed the exact same question answered by two difference people and the delivery from the person with good customer service skills, particularly when bad news is delivered, it the critical difference. If you cannot find the answer or need to refer a patron, good customer service tells the patron that you did all you could and they appreciate that. Treating a patron less so tells the patron I don't have time for you, don't bother me. You can send this staff member to customer service training again and again makes no difference, they just can't change their personality. So if you are a manager and you can handle it, you should try to hire staff with better customer service skills than training.

Before I became manager, I was on the hiring committee for our new youth librarian. Our manager was leaving the position while we were in the midst of our ILS conversion. We also had an extremely high turnover rate with librarians and some general staff. Considering that situation, we would most likely hire someone with experience. We did not really get many great applications, and of those almost no experience. We ended up hiring someone without their Masters in Library Science because she had experience as a youth librarian, the only one of the bunch. Considering the library was about to be put into a tailspin with no manager and what would eventually become a year of having really no one at the helm, choosing someone with experience that could sustain existing programs was the best choice. After the mess that was at the library with the ILS transformation, having no one in the leadership position for a year, she left for a different library in the same county. She left for less money too.

Back to square one, only this time I was the Manager. I had to hire two positions within a six month period. I had to hire someone for my former position and then the youth librarian resigned a few months later as I mentioned. I ended up hiring two fresh recruits almost straight out of library school. Both had no experience as librarians at a public library. After some time at the library, I felt that I could hire two librarians that were fresh out of school with fresh ideas. Our first year with no manager left the library in limbo with no direction, the second year resulted in having to hire two new librarians where we already had a hire turnover rate. A lot was riding on these two librarians since we had to completely change the course of the library and move it from the 1980s into 2005 and neither had any experience.

What they brought was ingenuity, passion, and drive to their jobs and the library. They were dedicated to making their library the best it could be. Our adult librarian came on board in the midst of our strategic plan right in the middle of our winter visitor season, our busiest. The youth librarian came on board about one week before Summer Reading was to begin. This is the worst time a youth librarian can come on board because they have to hit the ground running. Both librarians changed the way we did programming and ordered materials for the library. They were both good customer service people and they immediately made great relationships with our patrons. The most often compliment that was mentioned to me was the great selection and the great programs both put on. Both of their collections were flying off the shelves. Their great programming and collection development led to a doubling in participation in programming and a 20% increase in circulation.

We are getting a large influx of patrons from bigger cities with bigger library districts. Normally, these patrons would expect lesser service since we are a smaller system. Surprisingly, it is not the case. Patrons are noticing that they can get the same level of service from bigger cities because we have great employees who know what they are doing. One great compliment came from a patron, she had come from one of the best systems in the state and mentioned how it is great that she can find such a great selection for her children and that she can always find a great read at the library. She specifically mentioned both librarians as doing a great job at selecting materials and helping her with her questions.

It didn't come from years of experience, but creativity, drive and passion for the job. That more than makes up for experience.

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