Academic Library QandA 4 – Sharon Bryan

by | Oct 20, 2023 | ALIA, ALIA SNGG Committee News, ALIA Students and New Graduates News, Professional Development, Tips & resources

Disclaimer:
The ALIA SNGG Academic Library QandA Interview is for professional development learning for students and graduates. Answers in this Academic Library QandA interview are the view of one person and may be different for other Academic Librarians at other Academic Libraries in Australia.

Thank you to Sharon Bryan, Digital Literacies and Learning Librarian, Library Services, Education Division from James Cook University.

1. What does the Academic Library selection process look like?

After they get the applications in, the people responsible for hiring the new recruit will sort them based on how well they fit the selection criteria. They will create a short list of people they wish to interview. If you are on that list, they will contact you to arrange a time to talk. 

Depending on the job level, you will have an interview with a panel of two people: the person who is likely to be your manager and a senior librarian in the area you will be working. Sometimes the panel will include people from different parts of the library or department in the university who are there to assess how competent you appear.

An interview is primarily a way to gauge if you are a good fit for the culture of the workplace. and if you come across as competent and confident. For many of us, it can be really hard to sell yourself like a produce (especially if you have been working for this library in a different role already, and you feel they should know the quality of your work; but you really do need to impress on these people that you will be an asset in this position. Remember this when answering questions: “I will be an asset in this position, and this is why.”

After the interviews, if they have a preferred candidate, they will probably let that person know relatively quickly. But won’t notify the other candidates who haven’t got the job staight away. They will wait to see if their preferred candidate accepts the position (sometimes things happen). If they do not hear from the prefered candidate, they will contact their next most preferred candidate. If they have two people they are having difficulty choosing between, then they may call you in for another interview. They should contact you within two weeks at the most, either way. 

2. What steps should I follow to format an Academic Library resume/cover letter/selection criteria response?

Promote yourself as a future asset to the library. Make sure you are showing them what you can do at every turn. Don’t just say, “I’m familiar with X”, but rather “I have used X to do Y and Z”. Where possible, tell a short story of a time when you did something highlighting skills/qualities they are seeking, pointing out how you used those skills/qualities to achieve a good outcome.

It can be hard promoting yourself, so it can help to think of yourself as a product with features, and outline those features to someone interested in using that product. Always answer the question, “why am I an asset?” And always assume you are an asset.

3. What advice would you give to students/graduates/ALIA Members to highlight volunteering skills in a resume to get the attention of an academic library/selection panel?

Focus on qualities they are looking for. You should be able to give examples of good communication, problem solving and working with stakeholders.

4. How can I highlight and tailor transferable skills from studies to an academic library resume?

Think about the qualities your future employer wants in an employee rather than getting stuck on the literal nature of tasks that you have done tasks you think you’ll need to do if you get the job. Try to identify things you have done during the course of your studies (and in any other jobs you’ve had) that demonstrate that quality.

Also, make sure you’ve read up on all of the training material and “how to guides” created by both your own academic library and the library you are applying to (if you are applying for a job in your alma mater, look at a few other libraries in different universities), so you can talk about how you understand the needs of students and the staff are similar across the industry.

5. How can I highlight transferable skills from a Public/School library to an Academic Library resume?

See above. 

But, also, make sure you talk about how you understand dealing with adults and school leavers provides different challenges from working with children. I’d specifically name drop things like “low socio-economic background” and mention that students have competing priorities with work and running a family, so they need more point-of-need support.

If you have had experience in any other library, I would also talk about the systems you have used and what you’ve done with them, if you were, in any way, involved with any change-over between one system and another (or ways of doing things). Talk about what you have learned using a) different systems b) change management. Academic libraries love to know you can be an asset during a massive change.

6. What type of Academic Library tools, collection, research and program skills should SNGG learn?

To start with, the same skills those libraries try to teach to their clients. Be across everything the library wants the students and staff at their university to know. It doesn’t mean you know the ins and outs of every database, but you should know what databases are for and an idea of how to use them.

It’s also worth familiarising yourself with the tools your target library is using. Are they using LibGuides? If you haven’t used LibGuides – find out more about it. Same with the catalogue and other systems. What can you learn about Primo or Spydus – if that’s what they’re using.

7. What advice do you have to highlight management and metadata skills in selection criteria for Academic Library positions?

Insofar as you can, show, don’t tell. Rather than say, “I have used this system”, say, “I have used this system to do X. This involved doing Y and Z, analysing A and making allowances for B”. You want to show that you have a good grasp of the principles so that people can imagine you are able to transfer to using different tools easily.

8. Do Academic Libraries provide professional development opportunities?

Yes, but not necessarily in house. Go to any in house training, but really keep an eye on PD opportunities from places like ALIA and CAUL. See if you can do those through your library. Look out for Higher Education related training offered through the university or AARE (Australian Association for Research in Education) and ASCILITE (Australasion Society for Computers in Learning in Teritary Education).

9. Do you need work experience in an Academic Library to apply for an Academic Library role?

No. The most important thing for a role in an Academic Library is experience in academic studies – do you know what it’s like to be a student or a staff member in a university? If you’ve done a degree, that is good grounding in how to be in an academic library.

However, I would strongly suggest you regard yourself as an apprentice. Make sure you get along to watch as many classes delivered by your colleagues as you can. See how different people teach/train, but also learn as much about how things work by tagging along to everything possible.

10. What should I include/never include in an Academic Library resume?

Don’t include decorations or a photograph. Keep it clean and simple – easy to read as much as possible. Also be professional, but don’t try to sound “smart” – try to sound like someone who works in an office rather than someone trying to write an essay for an assignment.

These days, I would also recommend including your preferred name and pronouns on the resume, even if your name is “Jane Grey” and your preferred name is “Jane” and your pronouns are “she/her” – it instantly marks an inclusive attitude, which is something a lot of universities are looking for.

11. Can graduate/ALIA Members apply for an academic library placement if they are not students enrolled in an LIS course?

Go ahead and apply – they can only say no. And libraries in regional areas might be willing to take you on without being enrolled as long as you agree to enrol in a Grad Dip. It’s actually more useful for you to work in the library at the same time you do your course, as your work helps you understand the subject matter of the course. And your course will help you do your work better.

12. What advice would you give to students looking for a GLAMR organization placement?

Think laterally. Don’t only consider applying for the job of your dreams. Get your foot in the door by getting a job that’s available. Then, do that job as if it was your job interview for the next job. Someone who is reliable, hardworking, good at problem solving and a team player will get opportunities to progress, so never treat a job being “beneath you” even if you think you’re qualified for something better. Give your employer absolute confidence that you will be an asset to them in any position.

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