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How to hire a library tech (Part One)

We are hiring signAs a followup to the Head Meets Desk posts, I asked techs and administrators from around the Web to send me their best advice on hiring IT staff for a library.  What follows, here in Part One, is the advice received from library administrators.  The advice from library IT staff themselves will be available in future posts.  Many thanks to everyone who replied to my requests for information! If you have anything to add here, from the administrative perspective, please post it in the comments!


What advice would you give to libraries looking to hire IT staff?

  • My primary criteria, so far very rarely met (and I mean that with utmost seriousness–rarely met) are basic competence and sanity. Of the techs I have worked with or hired or recommended, only a sad handful have been competent and sane.
  • I think the most important skill is knowledge of how computers work in libraries, and their particular issues.  That’s why I think library experience, or experience in a library related field is important.
  • I think is knowledge of tablets and mobile devices, and their operating systems and the ability to keep up on change.  So, you need a smart person who is a fast learner.
  •  I think experience teaching adults is really important.  Adults learn differently, esp. senior adults. Here, the tech people do technology training for patrons by appointment, and they are usually seniors.  I find that, even if I can’t solve their problems, as long as they feel like I have been patient with them and tried to find the right avenue to their learning style, they are grateful.  You really need to be a good communicator, even if you are just working with staff.
  • Patience, a strong sense of humor, and a thick skin, depending on the type of library
  • In public libraries, I think customer service skills are important. I look for good communicators, extroverted problem solvers (i.e. people who are comfortable thinking out loud).  A sensitivity to how people feel. It’s probably horribly sexist of me, but I think these qualities are often more readily found in women.
  •  I’ve come to look for more extroverted staff, as I think strong introverts tend to get isolated and begin building barriers between themselves and the service needs of the rest of the library staff.  At worst, we get situations where IT staff sit alone in their office playing games, not initiating projects and pushing them forward.  I call this “Maytag Repairman” syndrome, where they set up barely adequate systems that require no work from them. I have not, myself, had to fire anyone, but my expectations of their performance have caused those who could not meet my requirements to seek other jobs.
  •  An interest in systems, experience and competency are more important than certifications.  Certifications can help provide evidence of interest and competency, but they aren’t necessary on their own.  I look for an ability to do the job, or the capacity for learning quickly to do the job.
  • I do like some education as evidence that they’re open to more education.  The library is a learning environment, and the skills of my staff will have to constantly grow.
  •  Hire girls.  I’m only half joking.  I think hiring women in IT is a good “affirmative action” maneuver.  But what I also mean is, hire for people skills, for customer service ability, for curiosity and for aptitude.  In interviews, ask about service experience in addition to project management experience. Ask questions that will let you understand their work style, because that will give you a clue how this person will (or won’t) work out as part of your team..

Anything to add? Disagree?  Post your thoughts in the comments, please…

There are 4 comments

  1. “only a sad handful have been competent and sane”

    This is a direct result of the abysmal pay that is available in libraries. If a tech is both competent and sane, they can double their pay by working elsewhere. So I would add a new requirement:

    * DON’T expect technical staff to work on the same payscale as librarians.

  2. Great read! I agree that just because someone is good at the technical aspects of the job doesn’t guarantee that they will be effective if they lack the ability to patiently explain things to non-techy patrons.

    The only downside to hiring people out of the library industry is that you might miss the opportunity to hire someone directly out of the tech industry and get their fresh perspective.

  3. As far as hiring people in general, it is always best to hire people who are pleasant and personable with the technical capabilities of performing their job.

    That said, I do see the future of the librarian changing, similar to many public schools, along the lines of Media Specialist because the expertise needed to help patrons is no longer relegated to basic reference questions and reader’s advisory. Library staff are now more than ever teaching computer classes and how to use mobile devices and eReaders. These skills require more than a basic understanding of technology. I see either the MLIS being replaced by Information and Knowledge Management degree or certification for devices and software being requested.

    Libraries might also split their libraries into one part reference, one part media specialist. Twinsburg Public Library does this. I agree with a previous comment that IT people, in order to compete with other IT jobs, the rate of pay has to be competitive or you will have high turnover as they gain experience in the library then leave for a better paying job in the private sector.

    I would also add that while library experience is good to have, make sure that you are not putting library staff into IT positions that don’t have the technical capabilities to perform their job.

    Great article!!

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