Blogger Elisabeth Gattullo Marrocolla

Hiring for Culture at #PLA2018

On the last morning of #PLA2018, I attended two excellent panels, both loosely related to staff development. While the idea of creating a leadership training program within my organization was intriguing, the program that has stuck with me in the days since #PLA2018 was the last one I attended – Hire for Fit: Best Practices for Hiring to Your Culture.

Presented by panelists from Anythink Libraries, Jefferson County Public Libraries, and the City of Boulder Library & Arts, this program exemplified the power of PLA for me. It was hands-on, practical, fun, and best of all, incredibly useful. I’ve been proselytizing prioritizing culture when hiring to everyone who has had the pleasure of asking me how the conference was since I walked out of the room at the conclusion of the panel.

The librarian representing Anythink, Susan Dobbs, began the presentation by telling the attendees that the values of her library system are baked into everything that they do – from the design of their buildings to the programs they promote, up to and especially including the type of people they hire. She asked us if we knew what the values of our library were, and if so, how we sought them out when hiring.

Some tips the panel offered on hiring for culture:

  1. Before you start hiring, make a list of the values you are looking for in a candidate. Ideally, your job posting should include these values. Be completely upfront about what you are looking for.
  2. Ask values-based interview questions, rather than standard questions about “your greatest success.” Look for questions that will make candidates pause and think. Examples of values-based interview questions included “What’s your definition of service excellence?” “What are you curious about?” and “What makes you happy?”
  3. After the interview, ask the hiring committee to think about the future. Do they see any potential personality conflicts with this librarian? Do they see leadership potential, room for growth?
  4. Finally, after a candidate is hired, track how well the process went. Ways to collect data on successful hires included interviews at the 6-9 month mark, tracking retention after 18 months, tracking how many outside hires get promoted within your organization, and keeping track of how many qualified applicants you get when you post a job.

My takeaway from this panel was the invaluable advice that while you can train skills, you can’t train personality. The right fit for your library’s culture is important in any job, but I feel it is extremely relevant in a Children’s Library. The right kind of librarian can open up the entire world to a child patron. At my library, and I assume at many others, we want Children’s Librarians who are happy, who are natural helpers, who are friendly and caring to their patrons, and who will read widely, and treat children with respect. Those values can be reinforced, but the ideal candidate will have them already. By keeping the culture we want to create at the forefront of our minds during the hiring process, we are safeguarding our library’s future.

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