Michigan State University Libraries
In the five years or so preceding the pandemic, the Michigan State University Libraries had been engaged in an ambitious hiring program to increase the overall number of librarians by a substantial percentage. This was the result of advocacy on the part of our library director and reflected a recognition of the MSU library system’s good work up until that point. It was also a firm commitment from the provost to continue to support the MSU libraries as we expanded our reach across campus and created new positions that had never existed previously, including Assessment Librarian, Data Librarian, Entrepreneurship Librarian and UX Librarian. Most of this hiring was completed prior to March 2020, when hiring came to a virtual halt during the pandemic. Over the past few years, we have once again been engaged in a great deal of recruitment to fill vacant positions created when people left for different careers, different organizations or retired. In my previous capacity as the Director of the Gast Business Library and my current role as Interim Assistant Director of Faculty Engagement, I have been involved directly or indirectly in several searches for liaison librarians across disciplines, including business, and have chaired several of them.
Recruitment and Hiring Process
The Librarian hiring and recruitment process at the MSU Libraries is fairly consistent across departments and roles, with specific steps outlined in our Librarian Personnel Handbook. Human resources, the Librarian Faculty Steering Committee, relevant associate deans, and direct supervisors all provide feedback on the initial job description and in selecting the search committee, however, the forms used, and the steps involved in the search process, are all the same regardless of the nature of the position. The search committee also includes an Affirmative Action Advocate, who evaluates the search on an on-going basis to ensure non-discrimination and to promote inclusive excellence practices. The Affirmative Action Advocate may alert the search committee when expectations are not being met and could recommend corrective action. MSU also recently launched a new academic search committee training program that ALL search committee members for ALL searches must complete to enhance consistency in hiring practices across campus. Additional efforts to make the MSU Libraries’ search process more equitable include our recent practice of redacting identifiable information, including schools attended, from the candidates’ application materials, providing questions to candidates in advance of interviews, and pivoting to online interviews in some cases.
Once the job is posted by human resources and the search committee seated, applications are reviewed, and candidates selected for phone and campus interviews. There is a performance-based matrix for each candidate at every stage of the process. The campus interview is a day-long event and involves meeting with a range of stakeholders and providing a presentation on a specific topic.
Once hired, MSU has both a formal onboarding process and checklist as well as a mentoring program for new librarians. We also offer a healthy professional development budget and encourage librarians to grow their networks through involvement with professional associations.
Until recently, recruitment and retention have been handled variously at the UCLA Library. As a large organization with many managers across many library departments, each hiring lead has had a differing perspective and commitment to ensuring a positive, inclusive process related to recruitments. Variations in approaches and components are dwindling, however, as we have striven as an organization to share best practices and develop guidelines for a better experience for all involved, especially the applicant. In the past year, Library Human Resources partnered with the Library’s Anti-Racism Initiative sub-team for Recruitment and Retention to gather information (internally and externally) and develop guidelines. Their work now informs all aspects of the search process, from the development of job postings until months after the new hire’s first day in their job.
It should be noted that almost all librarian hiring ceased during the COVID period. Positions affected by retirements were kept open, however, and the library overall has been hiring continuously in recent months. Though I arrived at UCLA as the Head of the Rosenfeld Library, my position expanded to the multi-unit role of Director of the Rosenfeld Library and Research Library Humanities and Social Sciences Division. In my current position, I have led various searches across the humanities and social sciences and been involved in director-level searches as well. I also draw on years of hiring experience in my previous roles at Cornell University Library.
Anderson School of Management, Rosenfeld Library
At the Rosenfeld Management Library, we’ve recently hired a new Business Research Librarian. Due to timing, a search team was formed that included direct and indirect colleagues for the position: this search team also handled three adjacent searches (for humanities and social sciences subject librarian positions within the same reporting unit). While the workload was greater due to four positions being managed rather than just one, there is an efficiency in multi-position hiring when a single team is involved. In this situation, the team shared roles effectively.
The job posting was a mix of standard components that appear in all librarian job postings as well as those tied to the position; for example, all librarian applicants are now required to provide a diversity statement. A scoring matrix is developed by the search team, based on the library’s standard template. The library’s Equity Advisor meets with the team to ensure consistent attention to issues of equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The entire interview was conducted via Zoom, with a pre-screening round followed by a day-long series of sessions with our finalists. The finalists met with a range of library and business school staff in a variety of large and small group sessions and were required to present on a business topic they selected from several options; all were similar to actual MBA research-based projects and we wanted to see how they might handle these “real” student inquiries. The candidate was provided in advance those questions the search committee would pose during its meetings with the finalist. This helped neurodiverse candidates who appreciated time to review the list and prepare response questions in advance for the search team.
Onboarding – Generally
In advance of their first day, new librarians are asked for their computer preferences/technology needs so that the equipment can be ready in their office before they arrive. A document outlining key activities is sent a few days before they start – it has a rough outline of their first week (including tours, lunches or other social events with direct team members, required meetings, etc.) as well as more detailed information about library processes. Library swag is provided, and a few extra items may be purchased by the manager to present a hospitable environment (such as a cheery, personalized “welcome” banner that greets them on their first day). A flexible work agreement will be discussed and completed if the librarian desires a hybrid work schedule of on-site/remote days. The position responsibilities, based on the job posting, are reviewed and documented.
Each manager is champion and advocate for their new hire, a role that includes reviewing professional development opportunities, setting goals together, and helping position the individual for a successful career.
When you speak with retired members of our profession, those with long careers and even longer memories of past hiring practices, they recall fondly the long-ago period when library budgets were flush and staff numbers were easily increased. In recent years, hiring managers, such as the authors, have experienced a variety of challenges during the recruitment process. These include:
Salaries and benefits. The vast majority of starting business librarian positions require an MLS and at least prefer a background of some sort in business. The corresponding pay and benefits packages are not at a level that people with these qualifications may expect and lower than starting salaries in other industries. The lack of transparency about salary ranges in job postings is also a barrier to hiring top candidates.
Hiring process itself. Many institutions take months to complete a search and each search involves multiple steps culminating in an exhausting day-long on-campus interview that usually includes a public presentation. Is this rigor warranted given the typical duties of a business librarian? Does the current process serve as a barrier to hiring qualified people? Does it adversely affect BIPOC, neurodiverse and other candidates from diverse backgrounds?
Ongoing effects of the pandemic. Candidates are hesitant to uproot their families, particularly when work-from-home options are not clear in job postings. Some libraries still require librarians/staff to work primarily or fully on-site and this is a deal-breaker for many. On the other hand, onboarding a new librarian with a hybrid workforce is also a challenge. It can be hard to develop professional relationships when people don’t come into the office as often and informal learning may happen less frequently.
Lack of interest in and exposure to subject librarianship. Most iSchools are no longer offering subject specific reference courses such as business research. iSchool students not exposed to potential business instructor mentors/classes are being denied a glimpse into a very exciting, challenging career option as a business librarian.
Small candidate pools. This is likely tied to the ongoing effects of the global pandemic. Candidates are remaining with current employers, leaving the profession entirely, and/or hesitant to accept a position requiring moving to a new location. International candidates need to manage work permits/visas. Depending on their family situations, this can be prohibitive and lead to turning down an employment offer.
Short tenure of successful hires. Some librarians are making strategic decisions to take a position for just a few years to gain specific experience or skills and then move to a different institution or location.
Lack of interest in academia. Higher education is sometimes described as a bureaucrat’s dream. For directed, action-oriented, goals-driven librarians, higher education’s constraints are unappealing and stifling. Too much red tape, too many rules, too much waiting for decisions to be made by levels of administration very high up a ladder that seems wobbly at best.
Location. MSU is located in East Lansing, Michigan - a large Midwestern city in reasonably close proximity to other even larger metro areas, however, the Midwest does not appeal to everyone (especially in the winter). UCLA is located in an expensive city in an expensive, progressive state. Not everyone is drawn to these qualities either.
Decline of corporate libraries and professional associations. We can no longer rely on a pipeline of corporate librarians desiring a switch to academic life (as their corporate libraries were closed years ago). Professional associations are also facing challenges that have lessened their roles as feeder organizations to higher education.
Possible Ways Forward
Hiring managers can have tremendous positive impact on recruitment and retention at their institutions. We need to assert our influence to improve our processes and ensure hiring in one department is handled with similar consistency in others. This is particularly important as some applicants apply for positions in different library units. Areas for change and/or further exploration include:
Salaries and benefits. We must advocate for higher starting salaries and better benefits packages (especially if starting salaries are slow to change) where possible and be transparent about salary ranges in postings. If the interview is in-person, do not burden the finalist with any of the costs of the interview (hotel and airfare should never be charged to the candidate). For moving costs, do not expect the hired librarian to shoulder those costs, particularly if the reimbursement timeline is many months.
Review current recruitment & hiring practices through an equity lens. Do we need day-long interviews? Are we providing sufficient breaks between sessions? Are we providing standard questions in advance (and sufficiently in advance, not just the morning of the interview)?
New approaches to management of business libraries. There are many forces afoot in the workplace, including libraries, that suggest a change in culture and managerial approaches are needed. The old paradigm of “command and control,” and top-down, hierarchical structures are no longer effective or productive. There is also a need to center employee health and well-being in our organizations. The emerging concept of a holistic approach to HR processes and an emphasis on the employee experience (EX) need to be examined as new paradigms for the management of academic business libraries. In other words, academic business libraries need to be more purposeful about their organizational culture and foster inclusive, welcoming work environments to become employers of choice.
Targeted outreach. Business librarians and business library leaders need to get the word out about business liaison librarianship as a career path. We should seek out and embrace opportunities to mentor iSchool students and new business librarians and volunteer to serve on iSchool alumni boards. We need to advocate for business librarianship as an exciting, challenging career and share why we are drawn to the profession.
Create meaningful experiences in business libraries for students. With the apparent decline of graduate level coursework in business research and a corresponding decline in graduate assistantships and paid internships in academic and special libraries, this may now be the time for our community to craft our own opportunities for students. We have the expertise and funding partners to create foundational courses on business research and business acumen, and to offer paid internships, grants, and scholarships to those interested in business librarianship. Not only would this rebuild a new pipeline for talent, but it would also open a world of opportunities to people who are currently missing out.
It is our sense that there is room for improvement in the recruitment and retention of business librarians. Our discussion is based on our personal experience along with a short survey of a small pool of our ABLD colleagues. Our hope is to more fully explore the issues involved with hiring and retaining business librarians with a formal research study and a survey of a wider swath of our business librarian colleagues. Not only do we hope to gain deeper insights into hiring and retention trends and challenges, but also the possible next steps in creating a robust, diverse, and thriving community of business librarians.