Q: I have an interview with a public library as a clerk. I want this job very much but I have no prior experience working in libraries. Please advise me on how I can convince them to hire me! I really would love to work in a library. What intelligent thing can I say during my interview, to convince them to hire me? Please help.
SM: First of all, congratulations on getting an interview! This is the first step to a career in libraries. A clerk position (sometimes called library assistant) is usually considered entry-level, which means no library experience required. Your interviewers will, however, expect you to be computer literate, detailed-oriented, and organized, and to be able to communicate effectively and pleasantly. So, play up the skills and experience that you do have, especially ones that relate to these traits.
Since you made it to the interview stage, assuming that you either filled out an application or submitted a resume, your interviewers already know your work history and your skills. Take comfort in knowing that you meet most, if not all, of their requirements. The interview is their chance to get to know you, and your chance to impress them. During the interview, keep in mind that you are also interviewing them. You should have some questions prepared to ask your interviewers (typically at the end of the interview). For general interviewing tips, look at the interviewing section of Lisjobs.com, which has a list of helpful web sites. In response to your more specific plea for help, I have the following advice:
Read the description of library assistant in the Occupational Outlook Handbook or of library clerk in the Essential Skills site from Human Resources and Skills Development of Canada. This will help you get a better understanding of the position and what it entails.
Brush up on your library searching skills by familiarizing yourself with several online catalogs, such as the New York Public Library’s catalog, the Boston Public Library’s catalog, the Los Angeles Public Library’s catalog, the Houston Public Library’s catalog, and (most importantly), the catalog of the library where you are interviewing.
During your interview, you may be given a shelf-reading quiz to determine if you know how to organize library materials, either by Library of Congress Classification (LC) or Dewey Decimal Classification (DDC), which is used more in public libraries. If you do not know much about these classification systems, I suggest that you look at the following shelf-reading tutorials:
An online tour of DDC (from OCLC)
Let’s Do Dewey (from Middle Tennessee State University)
SatchLCall – Library of Congress Call Number System Tutorial (from the University of Pittsburgh)
Call Number Tutorial (from Hunter College, CUNY)
Public libraries are very community oriented. Depending on what city you are in, you will most likely be working with a diverse user population. Let your interviewers know that you are interested in working with different age groups and different cultures, and, by all means, let them know how interested you are to begin a career in libraries. Explain that it won’t be “just a job” for you, but a passion. For more information about public libraries and working in public libraries, look at the Public Library Association’s web site.
As for something “intelligent” to mention during your interview, try reading, or scanning, some articles in current library-related journals to give you some ideas. A few examples of journals are: Library Journal, D-Lib Magazine, LIBRES, and First Monday. To get a longer list of open-access library-related journals, go to the Directory of Open Access Journals.
Never be afraid to show your enthusiasm for working in libraries. Best of luck!