This is Circulating Ideas, I’m Leah White, sitting in for Steve Thomas. My guest today is Naomi House, founder of I Need A Library Job. You can find her at INALJ.com.
Hi Naomi, welcome to the show.
Thank you, Leah, I’m happy to be here and excited to participate in Circ Ideas.
All right, great. So let’s jump right in and talk about the really important stuff. Pronunciation. One, how do you say INALJ three times fast? No, but I know you actually have a way that you say it, right?
Well it’s “inah-el-jay”, Ina in case somebody knows her and LJ because it’s just, you know, there’s no sound you can make with L and J that’s pleasing to the ears, so [laughs]. Yeah, I actually came up with the acronym after I came up with the name and I’m honestly would have thought of something else if I could have, that would have been a little easier.
Oh no, it’s great. So Ina-LJ right?
Ina-LJ, yes [laughs].
Ina-LJ, all right, then I don’t have to say the acronym over and over and over again [laughs].
Right [laughs] I do get people who, hi, I like INALJ, or they’ll forget the A, or they’ll transpose, so I know who you’re talking about if you’ve said hi.
Yeah, [laughs] “in-ulge” I do get [laughs].
So let’s talk a little bit about what inspired you to start IN, INA-LJ and also if you could tell the listeners at home what it stands for.
Yes. The acronym stands for I Need A Library Job and I started in October 2010. It was a Saturday I do believe and October 16 2010 I had just been working, yeah, I had been working at my job as a reference librarian at the Census Bureau Library for a month and I was halfway through my Masters degree and part of the key, I did go to my interview, but I know that part of the reason I got the job is it was not well advertised. It made it on, yeah, it made it onto two listservs because my company are not library specialists, so they do have some great librarians, but the librarians had only suggested that they advertise in the Catholic University in DCSLA list serves. Not ALA job lists, nowhere else which, you know, now they’re aware of and I’ve told them about SLA and ALA and they put the ads out there too, so.
Oh that’s interesting, you never even think about how there’s some people who just don’t know that, you know, they’ll hunt for normal jobs, right?
Right and a lot of government contractor, a lot of them don’t because they’re not just managing libraries and information, they’re managing call centers and they’re managing tech people, so there’s a lot of variety to what they do. So they have to be a jack of all trades just to make it in the government contracting business. But because I got that job, and I was only halfway through my Master’s at Rockhurst, I wanted a way to share, I was still getting listserv jobs, I was still on a lot of listservs and websites and I’m addicted to job hunting [laughs], so I just, you know, I wanted just to share with my fellow Rockhurst classmates, oh, hey, there’s this little list, I’ll send everybody an email, let’s all pool our resources. It wasn’t supposed to turn into, I didn’t have grand plans from the beginning.
Oh really? So it started out as an email list?
Yeah, it started out as a PDF.
Oh no, it didn’t [laughs].
It had to, yeah it was a PDF, you know, I just organized it by state, it looks very similar, it’s still old-school, but it was a PDF of, started out a couple of pages and after a year, a year and a half I was up to like 120 page PDF, 10 point font of jobs.
Oh my god.
And I couldn’t go on [laughs], so. And the mass, those are massive files to be sending people by email.
Oh I can imagine and that’s the kind of birth of the website.
Yeah, the website needed to happen. Somebody actually suggested, it’s great, I had the website up and I was putting up success stories and a couple of little articles, but, you know you could host this there [laughs].
[laughs] This actually leads me to my time management question. I read somewhere that you just had so much going in at grad school, I can’t imagine working full-time being in grad school and also managing this massive project, so I’m interested if you could just talk a little bit about how you managed time then. And, especially now that’s it’s this really, kind of massive entity, I imagine it’s like having another full-time job.
It is. You don’t, I would have friends say let’s get together and, but you don’t understand when I have time to myself all I want is time to myself and not having those, reading a book or something, I didn’t, I lost a lot of my social life which was, which in, it was fine, I, this mattered more to me [laughs]. You do lose things like TV, I didn’t follow any series, I was out of the loop on a lot of things because of it, but as far as time management went, when you don’t go into something with a good plan, when something like just this sort of mushrooms and turns into so much more, the problem with time management is you have no time to make those plans because you have this commitment.
The idea that you, like with time management we all have these kind of lofty ideas that we’re going to manage our time, when in reality it’s kind of flying by the seat of your pants, so [laughs]. I think that’s a, I think that’s a super valid answer. What we could maybe move onto is how you manage it now. So, I know that you have a lot of volunteers, correct?
Yes, oh yes, definitely [laughs]. I made, I did make a mistake as far as time management goes with assuming that the more help you have, the less you have to do.
That’s, no, no, at least before when I and they’re fantastic, by the way, but this is just a reality check for anyone who wants to form a unity, or a small organization. You know, I know when I go to my website I need to edit this, this and this. I don’t have to ask my brain anything [laughs]. Everything that I want, everything, every rule, every structural issue that I have, it, this brain already has exactly what I want in there and I don’t have to ask. What happens when you have a large staff [laughs] is no matter what you write down, you’re going to forget something, or there’s going to be a perspective you didn’t consider, or there’s something that you’re going to have assumed that no-one else will assume and you don’t realize it yet. So, you end up spending more time, but it’s more time on managing it, but it’s totally worth it because the quality of what’s out there and the quantity of what is out there and the community that has been built is fantastic. But, that, that time commitment grows.
I, that’s fascinating, exactly how many volunteers do you manage?
It’s around a hundred and eighty, I, I’m really, I’ve been really good about managing, or at least tracking the assistants and the head editors, but I have a group of other people that, they are on the website on the left side under job hunters that don’t have their own page, but they’re scouring the web for jobs, they’re sending them to editors and that’s the group I’m going to try to grow this year. That, and international, we’re going to try to grow.
Oh, let’s talk about that a little more. So just to clarify, you said 180 volunteers right?
Oh lordy, that’s. Well done, Naomi [laughs], that’s amazing. I mean that, that certainly, growing that kind of community and also that investment of time from other people, like giving them that faith to believe in what they’re working in, it’s, that’s wonderful, that’s really impressive. So you said you were trying to grow the community in these other two areas. Let’s talk a little bit about that.
Sure. I just traveled to Cape Town, South Africa and, to look at the OCLC, they have an EMEA, it’s Europe Middle East and Africa division. They were doing a conference there, yeah, and that was really neat, I got to speak to a lot of them and see if people would be interested therein, in a similar type of community. Kind of talking about outside-the-box jobs because I think people, nobody struggles finding the library jobs, there are fantastic websites, you can go to universities, you can go to local community pages, it’s really finding these other jobs and putting them in there too that’s the real value add.
Yeah, yeah. Oh I just got goosebumps, so you’re going worldwide.
Oh yeah. That’s always, for me, once I realized what I was doing and I organized it by state, I’ve always been interested because whenever I travel, I’m, last February I spoke in Dubai at the American University In The Emirates, to their very first library class. I mean they have a library school, an MLIS program. The guy who runs it, he’s fantastic. He also graduated from Rockhurst many years ago and so here he is in the UAE, forming this program and there’s all of these international companies and the UAE government’s very supportive of placing these students into jobs, so that’s an exciting. Cause I’ve always kind of realized just really great emerging library fields, areas, regional areas as well as well-established ones like in the US, Canada and around the world.
So did you just say that their government is helping to place workers?
Oh yes, yes. So, the Emirati, the students, you know, it’s, the country has a lot of money and it wants to support its people, its citizens, so the big challenge for them is finding what does it mean to be a modern, emerging library and they’ve got oh really great SLA people out there, the SLA Middle Eastern Arabian Gulf chapter, super active and it’s very international. So, they’re really taking the bull by the horns and kind of attacking it and yeah, there are guaranteed jobs in the many respects, so it’s just making those jobs interesting and challenging and part of the larger library community in the world. That’s what the students want to do, I got the feeling.
Wow, that’s great, that’s wonderful. Catch up, America, come on [laughs]. Let’s start placing these librarians, I know [laughs]. I’m a little curious about how you became a librarians. So, I’m a big fan of librarian creation myths so, so what was your path to librarianship?
Yeah, I mean, at some point I think oh, I, of course I’ve always wanted to work in the library, but that’s the, that’s from the patron perspective. You know how patrons have this, this idea, the romanticized idea of what it means to work in a library. But the reality, the reality of my path was that I was working at World Market, I don’t know if anyone’s familiar [laughs] the import store.
Yes I am, absolutely, they have excellent wine!
Yes, and so I was, I was working there because I was between colleges and trying to figure out what to do with my life and a track legal and libraries, or libraries and legal track would come through every day because a boyfriend worked with me too, he worked nights, we was working a day job and saving up some money and so when my customer service track started placing me in, just you know, regular old office one-day subbing positions and they said hey, we’ve got this opening at this science library, it was a non-profit, non-government kind of a library, association basically, would you be interested and so I went there and after that one ended they placed me at community banking association library and my boss at the time said, a former EA was the, at that time the DC SLA president. And she was super encouraging, like hey you need to be doing this all the time. Let’s, here, stay with me and learn all this stuff so it was, it was really great and then finished up my Bachelors and then finished up my Masters. So it was kind of the genesis [laughs].
Excellent. To keep with that, with that metaphor there [laughs], excellent, Well so you were, I love hearing about how people become librarians, I think it’s always, it’s always interesting, I love it when they’ve been recruited by another librarian. It’s, I, it’s a good community cause we tend to take care of each other as exemplified by INALJ. So, do you have a favorite INALJ success story?
Oh, that’s a good question. I remember my first one was I think January 2011 or 2012, it must have been in 2012. The first person who ever wrote me that they got a job that got me really excited and that started my success story, my success story series on my website. And with that, yeah that was super exciting. Oh I know, you know actually one of my favorites was, so I was, so I was in an online program at Rockhurst and I was, I’m a little bit of a, not a contrarian, I’m not, I’m not looking to be like argumentative in class, but I’m certainly not going to sit back and be like that was a good idea if I didn’t think so, so I had my friends and I had my frenemies in my online classes and one of them, we had gotten onto this huge fight on the message boards in class on, about the book, I played with the book feather and [laughs].
Excellent! Oh I miss library school sometimes.
It was July, oh yeah, you were like, oh that person’s such a jerk and you just had that feeling, wow. I’m not the kind of person who wanted to keep INALJ and all these jobs secret from everybody. I mean I don’t care if I like you or not, you get a job, thumbs up. And so what happened was even though we didn’t like each other, she still followed my blog and she still followed the jobs and she got a job off of the list and she sent me an email thanking me. I was, that mattered more to me, that somebody, it had nothing to do with me personally, it was the service that mattered and I was so happy for her too because the world doesn’t need to be filled with me in their libraries, you don’t have to have people with the same opinions, but that meant a lot to me, that it went beyond the personal and that, that’s why I didn’t brand it as the Naomi House Library Job site, I wanted it to be something every single person out there could kind of self-identify with.
So, I asked some people around the internet to see if they had any questions for you. And someone asked me a two-part question for you. They asked if you could speak a little about the challenges of keeping your spirits up during a long job search and the catch-22 of how do I get experience as a librarian when all the librarian positions require experience.
So the question was about keeping your spirits up during job hunting and about the catch-22 that lib, you can’t an entry-level job, but all the job ads require 1-3 years or more experience. Now the 1-3 years, with the actual search committees and it’s something I fight very, very hard against when I search on, served on search committees because 1-3 years experience, I’m not sure what they’re trying to, thinking that they’re going to get because any job you start, you’re going to have about a year learning curve anyway. So that one year of experience is only a year of experience in that place. The other thing I fight on search committees about is taking internships seriously. I think we, it, the hard thing for job hunters is a lot of the work to help them needs to be done by people who are currently employed and serving on search committees. I also think that search committees hire wrong, I’ve seen it over and over. You know, they, they’re hiring for who they think they want, not who would be the best person to fit in there and you know, transferable skills are important as well.
Oh that’s really interesting. Can you, I know this is a little bit of a tangent, but can you talk about that a little? About search committees and hiring who they think they want? What do you mean by that?
Okay. So, I was once hired at a job, I seemed very friendly, I smiled all of the time and I told and I’m very honest about what my style is, my assets and I think some people don’t realize that they don’t hold themselves, for example, the do as I say not as I do kind of thing. So, if I said I’m very good about following the rules and regulations and I insist upon it and professionalism, well a lot of people if I say those words are yeah, they’ll nod their head, me too. They’re completely not self-aware that actually what they mean, you know actually how they work is different than that. Although, that can be a challenge, you know, there’s no way to predict in, that you’re, that you’re going to be working with people who have no idea what their work style is.
Oh, that’s fascinating, so it’s almost the self-awareness issue.
Very much and I think some search committees need to be self-aware. If your environment, if you’re always chatting about politics in your work area, then you need to be very aware politically what, is this something that’s going to make the person coming in comfortable and they may, it’s not just about well you’re coming into work for us and you’re lucky to have a job and you gotta deal with this [laughs] but there are actually HR rules and there are things about harassment and I think right now the attitude with a lot of workplaces is well aren’t you lucky to have a job and they’re not aware of the fact that no, you’re hiring not to give somebody good lucky, you’re hiring to make the workplace better and see what they can add to it.
Oh I love that, it’s such a good point. And it’s, it’s about building a better culture at work.
Yeah. And then also, in the search committee process, what a job hunter can do is they can sell their transferable skills in the cover letter and they can really sell those internships for their value in the cover letter and all you, all you can do, I mean as far as that goes is, as the job hunter is do a really good job on that cover letter and hope that one or two of the people on the search committee is looking for that kind of value. If, if you’re resume makes it through the pile and they’re looking at cover letters, that’s, that’s helped me get interviews that I was completely unqualified from the job. My job required a library degree and I applied for it anyway and I got it and I beat out people with MLSs, so.
That’s, that’s a great, oh, that is such a good piece of advice. So, I actually, I’m a new manager, we just hired, I just hired for the first time and I can’t tell you how many people shrugged off the cover letter and as a word person, the cover letter to me was more important than the resume. I was paying more attention to how they represent themselves through words and whether what they were saying fit with the values of our library. I mean the cover letter was huge to me and some people didn’t give me more than a paragraph. I, it was, it was just shocking. I was totally shocked. And.
Yeah and I don’t know anybody who’s ever hired just based on the resume. I mean, all I do, honestly, a little tip, often they’ll give somebody low person in the group the pile of resumes and say these are the things that have to be on there, weed out everybody else. I did that when I was helping at a nursing school as their student assistant. I, they gave me, somebody who didn’t even have a whole year of college under their belt, a pile of all the director’s resumes for the director for that division and they were, weed out the ones that we don’t even need to look at.
Exactly, it’s, it was just one of those things and this will lead me to one of our, my questions about library education. But, it, it was concerning [laughs]. It was concerning. I was a little shocked to add the volume of applications we received, but the lack of effort in 80 to 90% of them.
And people aren’t being strategic in what they apply for either. There’s that spirit, that spirit question that, you know, how do I keep my spirits up? Well part of the desperation is the pure exhaustion you get from applying for a hundred jobs. But, let’s just say, NPR has had a couple of positions opening up and everybody under the sun is going to apply for it. They are gold standards [laughs], I mean there’s an, for me I got my foot in the door by going through a contractor, I worked in a federal library, it was awesome, but I went through a contractor because I needed to gain that experience. And there’s no way I could have gone to USAjobs.gov and had the same luck.
Oh that’s really interesting, that’s such a good point too, that the kind of realization that there is this ladder really and it’s kind of climbing up that ladder, or finding ways to get around it, finding ways to connect with people and, I mean that, the people who I recognize in that resume pile from Twitter, from the internet, from networking, I mean those are people who made it, I paid more attention to what they did because I just did, I recognized them from library land and there’s a lot to be said for that.
Absolutely. And then to address the part about keeping your spirit up, this is why. So I’m not, for some [laughs], if you met me, you know, I’m not going to be the most happy positive, my persona online is very, very direct and very, very intentional because job hunting is so stressful. So, I insist on INALJ being positive. That means I insist on how I get treated. I insist on how my volunteers get treated and I insist on, like in the LinkedIn group, in the Facebook group and on Twitter, people get blocked. Not that much any more. What happened was right at the beginning we had a lot of negativity, you’re not a database, you’re not good enough. Well I don’t want to be a database, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Oh my god, really? What.
Oh and once my volunteers started, they were stunned at some of the emails they got from the, you know, the know-it-all community that. I mean librarians can be jerks too, we can be a.
Hate the haters.
Yeah, totally, so you don’t engage or you do very briefly [laughs] and then you block. I mean that is not, this is, there are people who are desperate, who cannot pay their bills, who are crying and stressed and they’re on this giant shared platform that we have, the internet, and I, they do not need any more to make them feel worse. We want to build INALJ is an intentionally positive community. We’re realistic though, we’re not going to be like I’ve got a job for you and for you. I’m not handing out candy here. But I’m saying if you’re desperate, then stop telling me what you want and start thinking about what you need, that’s what I need, a library job, we don’t want a library job, we need one. We need it to pay bills, that you want it too is frosting on top, but that’s why I include so many outside-the-box jobs, because we need to be thinking beyond what we want and realizing that there’s a community of need out there.
That’s, yeah, that’s great. That actually kind of leads me to my question about library education a little bit. I’m wondering what you think library schools could be doing better to prepare future librarians. And do you, do you feel like they’re even focusing on those out-of-the-box jobs that seems to have a special interest for you? So, I’m wondering how’s library education doing in the world of INALJ?
Well I, the interesting thing is I started with outside-the-box so that’s in in special libraries. So that kind of has colored my perspective from the beginning. I also went to Rockhurst and I had Lillia and Pavlovski and some other professors that, you know, competitive intelligence, knowledge management, we were already talking about these things. But I had been talking about them from the beginning of my library career in Special Libraries Association. So, for me, it’s so hard, my library education was what I made of it and I kind of. It drives people nuts but I put it back on the students again and I say, you know, look at your programs, make sure that they’re offering things like they offered competitive intelligence the semester after I left, which is a classic I totally would have taken, but I already knew, I had already taken courses on it at Computers In Libraries and other things. My greatest challenge wasn’t with library schools, I think there’s somebody at practically every one of them that’s somebody you can go to and talk about these things. It was selling my co-students, my fellow students on these concepts because I kept hearing back, but I didn’t go to library school to be a project analyst. I went to library school to be a librarian and that’s, for me, the part of the joy in our diversity of types of fields and part of the challenge is I didn’t come through with public libraries. I did a little bit with that academic and I feel very strongly about public libraries and we need them and we need to be advocating for them. I just think those, a great way to advocate by working in other fields. If they don’t see us and they don’t interact with us other than in the public library sphere, they don’t really realize our value and I think that it’s important for us to be working in those. It’s just I’m not sure, a lot of people advocate that we got to have an internship. Dude [laughs] I worked full-time, I went to an online program, I was working full-time as circ manager in an academic library, but I was working 3.30 to midnight, I was running my website, not everybody, you can’t make a box that we’re all going to fix in that’s going to work.
Oh I completely agree, I actually, I know someone who just started library school and she’s already a manager in libraries and her program requires an internship and she’s like look I’m already managing an entire department of librarians, so I don’t, can I test out of it? It’s interesting to me the assumption that everyone would be coming into library school without experience when really it needs to be more flexible and, and it’s, that’s interesting. I do have a question about internships, or even volunteering. For those people who don’t have experience and they just know that they want to be a librarian, do you think that volunteering is worth it? And also, how would a library student make the most out of that volunteering opportunity?
I would start with volunteering with my local association or a national association, okay, as a way to find a volunteer job. So what people, what people tend to do is to I’m just going to show up at X library and be like, here manage me. Oh my god I don’t want another person, I got enough to do and I’m barely floating and we’ve had cuts, like we were cut from, in my last job, 9 people to 3. That does not make less work for me and adding in a new person to train does not actually make less work for me [laughs]. So, what happens is, I was acting in DC SLA, DC SLA was awesome, I met librarians at all kinds of other libraries. If I wanted to volunteer in a library and I wanted potential hiring managers to consider me for future jobs, I would pick some place like that to go.
It’s local, it’s active and first start volunteering with them. Volunteer to serve on a committee, oh my gosh, they always love a committee volunteer and then those people, the people I was serving on committees with were some of the most connected people in the city. If they were hiring, I still get emails, people don’t realize I’ve moved to New Orleans from DC and I’ll get emails you should apply for this. That’s awesome, if I was living in DC I would. All, all because they’re familiar for me, with me, with that experience that I have so I would say don’t just start cold-calling people and also recognize, people need to recognize that all work is work and that’s not just work for you, it’s work for the managers and if you understand this, you’ll have a better way of communicating with them that expresses you understand their needs as well. That you’re a listener and those are keys.
Oh that’s such good advice. Getting active on the association level, it, it’s, it really is how you find jobs. I mean you get out and you start meeting people, so I just, I love that. That’s wonderful advice, Naomi.
Yay, thank you.
Well, so thank you so much for taking some time today to, to talk to us and where can people go to find out more about you and your work and more importantly, INALJ?
Yes. Okay, so I kept the acronym nice and easy, INALJ.com, which stands for I Need A Library Job and I’m pretty sure that if you type in Ineedalibraryjob.com that also redirects. Haven’t tried that in a while [laughs]. Google, on my websites, there’s a link to my Facebook, link to LinkedIn group, and links to Twitter feed are all on there. My resume’s on there, my jobs are on there, every article, feeds on the website because I will, it’s hard enough to try to remember even the acronym people will get it wrong, so feel free. INALJ, just remember I need a library job and say that to yourself, that’s, that’s what I, what I wanted, I wanted people to say “I need a library job” and to personalize your search, so that’s everything in one spot. INALJ.com.
Well great. Naomi you are doing such important work so on behalf of libraryland and I’m sure a bunch of successful job candidates, thank you.
Thank you very much and I’m, you know, I just want to add I really, I’m really hopeful I’ve seen a lot of success stories, I’ve seen a lot of positivity, but I see a lot more opportunity out there and a lot of industries that we need to be getting re-involved with. So, it, one tip, this is my little tip of the day, is don’t limit to yourself to just looking at library jobs. When I relocated to DC I had an Associate’s degree and I went to every single vendor, I looked at my library card and said who are the databases? Who are the vendors that serve libraries? And I looked at their HR websites and I typed in the word research and I looked at those jobs. So, that helped me find jobs when there were no library positions. So really think outside the box.
Excellent, thank you so much, Naomi.
[Steve] And thanks Leah for guest hosting for this episode. You can find Leah online at Leahlwhite.com, or follow her on Twitter @LeahLibrarian.
It’s been cold in New Orleans this year for New Orleans, but the last week has been 60 to 70 and sunny.
Oh, shut up! [laughs] That makes me want to cry, I mean, that’s wonderful. It’s my own fault, I chose to live in Chicago, so.
[laughs] You’re great in summer.
We are the bomb in the summer. Ta-da [laughs]