Writing a Great Library Job Ad (Hiring Series #1)

Your secret weapon to bring in the best library employees!

Ads bring people to your library!

Everyone has seen job ads. You probably have your current job because you followed one back to your employer.

What do you think of when you think job ad?

  • tedious list of requirements (you don’t even meet some of them)
  • no salary given
  • clipped sentences, acronyms that sound like a bad dating app
  • sounds just like every other ad you read

Too often, this is just what library ads are: a dull, colorless list of requirements assembled without a lot of thought about (or knowledge of) a job. People apply, sure. But are they interested in your library? Are they inspired by your job? Or do they just want a job, any job, and yours is no worse than others??

Job ads can be a way to really show off the best in your organization. Instead of that dull list of stuff that people may or may not ever actually do, this is an opportunity to sell your library as a good place to work. (If it’s not a good place to work, that is a different issue; and one you may want to address before hiring anyone else!)

Before you write your ad, think about what this person could really do in the library. They may be replacing someone, but they do not need to do that same identical work if you have other things that need to happen for great service.

Many people working in a library are not necessarily trained for it, or may not have a big professional passion for the work; so you really want to connect with people who will be good in your job. Let them know why working in a library is special, why the tasks they will do – while not usually glamorous – are important. Talk about being part of a team of people who work to serve the community. Tell them about staff potlucks, being able to walk on trails during a lunch break, access to discounts at the college bookstore, being able to visit Tiffany’s for breakfast, or whatever else you think makes your organization a good place to work. Why should someone work for your library, instead of as a Walmart greeter? Both jobs might be fun to people, and you want to sort out the people who will be best for your library.

Skills you might mention in an ad:

  • positive attitude with all kinds of patrons
  • staying calm in the inevitable conflicts that happen in public service
  • work quickly, without direct supervision
  • solve problems
  • shelve books in order (it’s hard!)
  • participate in programming, or designing programs
  • creativity in planning
  • able to answer questions, and to refer questions when necessary
  • resilient when things go awry
  • fluent with some technology – printer un-jamming, eBook downloading, restarting a computer, and other things that crop up your library
  • fluency in languages spoken in your community (every community has languages spoken in addition to English; your library needs to speak them also, and the easiest way to get started is to have some people who are able to speak and/or read and write in these languages)

And when you are are hiring a librarian? It’s a big commitment to make. It is expensive to go through the hiring process, in time and in money. And if you need someone to relocate to your library, that adds some difficulty into the search; you need to sell not only your library, but also your community. So talk about the value in being part of a small town community, or in exploring the diversity of your big city. Talk about the flexibility of the hours, the ability to work at home some days, the chance to create programs and to reach out in new ways, the big book budget they will manage. Highlight the things that will make this job special, including non-work attributes.

Show some personality! You want people to pick you! To like your job more than any other job! To actively want to come be part of your mission! So talk to them like a person would, not like a generic computer-generated ad. Have a voice that sounds like you, or your library. Is this a serene, happy place to work? Is your library constantly hopping with activity, everyone thriving on action and adventure? These two libraries would be very different places to work, and would require very different candidates to be successful – so they should sound different!

There is not a “right” way to create a job ad. But you want to strive to sell the value of your library, and to communicate the specific value in this job. And you want to have an idea of the skills of the person who will succeed in this job – then just write it to fit those interests!

A quick note on salary: PUT IT IN THE AD. At least include a salary range for starting pay. Some places try to hide it. This is always a mistake. Are they embarrassed because the pay is so low? The candidates will find out eventually – and you don’t want a potentially great employee to leave when you finally confess to it, after spending all that time searching for them! Are they hoping to get someone at a cheaper rate than average? Think about what that says about how an employer values their staff – and assume the staff who are treated so disrespectfully will likewise value the job, as they openly search for other jobs with better work environments. Just be upfront about it, and this will be one less problem to deal with later.

You may not be in an organization where you write your own ads, or are able to have a voice in the hiring process. That is always a tough position to be in, and there may not be an easy way to contribute. In that case, do what you can outside the hiring cycle to share information about library needs. Maybe provide some draft copy that might be incorporated into an ad, if possible. If you have access to your website, consider putting up some additional information about the job for job seekers who will come looking for it there! Reach out to your network of people, on listserves or otherwise, and talk about the library and the job – and pass on the official link to the maybe-not-so-great ad with your information around it, to give a clearer picture of the job.

Hiring is tough!! We will be talking about this from a few different angles this month to give you an archive of ideas so you are ready when you are hiring people. And of course, CMLE is always available to work with you before and during your hiring process, to help you find the perfect new employee!

4 thoughts on “Writing a Great Library Job Ad (Hiring Series #1)”

  1. I have a lot of tech savvy and am not such a total loser (being on the INTJ scale … translation, I am detail oriented and creative at solutions even if I am not a skilled at pedantically talking people’s ears off for hour after hour in useless meetings because I love to hear myself). It is for this reason that I have come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no place for people like me in librarianship. NONE. ZIP. NADA. Therefore, I am giving up.

    The people posting these jobs want cheerleaders even if they have a laundry list of requirements that span every major type of librarian. I have had exposure to almost every area although acquisitions is my favorite (however the ad I responded to for an acquisition librarian wanted you to be an SQL Programmer, circulation coordinator, ILL coordinator, an Archivist, a reference librarian, outreach coordinator, grant writer, teacher, presenter)


    1. Yes, no question: landing jobs is tough!! When I talk with people about the process, I usually say you should be you – but maybe a dressed up version of you. So, thinking about the contributions you can make, how to be part of the organization, etc. And yes, it’s still frustrating!! Your library skills can be used in a lot of other places; so it’s good to expand your search, as you are doing here.

  2. Excellent column.

    Also: Tell us a bit about the library culture, maybe something about leadership style – quiet and reserved, quirky, morphing into greatness? Are there staff profiles with photos/employee interests and specialties on the website? What initiatives are you most proud of? What’s the technology like – dated, decent, cutting edge? The very best ads make us want to come work with you!

    1. Agreed!! I love to see ads that are quirky and interesting – and that really tell me what working in a place will be like, instead of just telling me dull facts that could apply to any library!

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