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Recruitment and retention in librarianship

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Probably the major HR issue for librarians is recruitment. Over many parts of the world the workforce is approaching retirement, and there is a need to ensure there are enough capable people in entry level positions who are also talented enough to assume leadership roles to succeed the current generation of managers.


In the US, Canada, Australia and the UK, the fact that so many librarians of the baby boomer generation are coming up for retirement has caused a crisis in recruitment (Woo, 2007). According to one estimate, 45 per cent of the workforce will retire between 2010 and 2020 in the US, while Chapman (2009) quotes surveys that show at least 60 per cent of librarians in North America are over 45.

Recruiters are faced with other difficulties:

  • There are now fewer library schools in the US to provide a conventional point of entry (Stambaugh, 2004).
  • Library salaries are not competitive; other new careers have sprung up to attract highly IT-literate graduates who might have otherwise found scope for their skills in the increasingly technical field of librarianship.
  • In Australia in recent years there has been record unemployment, although the impact the recession has had on this or other markets has not yet permeated the literature.

Marketing the profession

Demographics mean that librarianship must go through a period of active and systematic recruitment. In the US, the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) formed a task force in 2002-2003 to develop strategies for recruitment, and provide a number of resources, including a .

Many librarians are aware both of the value of what they are promoting and the need to make it attractive to a new generation:

" ... positions in academic libraries offer access to cutting edge technology, collegiality, continuous learning, challenges, constant stimulus of academe, the ability to make a difference, and the ability to influence the profession" (Stambaugh, 2004).

There is some synergy between the challenging and rapidly changing profession and the values of the generation being recruited. Whereas previous generations were concerned with job stability (there was little movement out of the profession before 2000), those born after 1980, Generation Y, are looking for challenge and the ability to take their career into their own hands, by finding frequent opportunities for development. Stimulus, flexibility and the opportunity to acquire new skills is as important as a pay cheque. Which is good as the former is likely to prove more promising than the latter.

In the US, the diminishing number of library schools, hence fewer people coming through conventional routes, means new avenues of recruitment. One is to look for new academic librarians from PhD students (Stambaugh, 2004), some arguing that it is more important to have people with the right qualities than the right qualifications such as a master's in librarianship (Woo, 2007).

Another popular method is the residency, or work placements in a library. Woo (2007) cites the Carolina Academic Library Associates (CALA) which is offered jointly by the University Library and the School of Information and Library Science of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (see ), and the professional cadetship model at the University of Wollongong in Australia (see ).

Both these programmes offer financial assistance and experience of working in a library. The first is for those studying librarianship, the second for those in any programme. The value of such programmes is that they both offer ways of offsetting the considerable professional cost of training as a librarian.

Many people become attracted to librarianship through working as volunteers The following quotes are taken from the :

"I was lucky in that, when I was in college, I was able to work at the library there with a bunch of librarians that really wanted to help me and give me a lot of opportunities. I talked quite a bit with my direct supervisor and the library director about where to go to school, what paths they had taken, etc. Then I looked at the ALA website and found more information and schools, jobs, etc. I also read American Libraries and other publications from the field while I was a paraprofessional. I got my information from many sources" (Herrick, 2007).

"I am a lifelong library user. I love libraries and have used them in every city and town I've lived in. I never thought about being a librarian until I was working in the administration office of the Lexington Public Library and one of the directors told me about a fellowship at University of Kentucky. So I quit and went to school full time and now I work for the Lexington Public Library as a librarian and I love it" (Montaño-Smith, 2007).

Collaboration between libraries and their schools is important not only for placements, but also because the library should influence the curriculum (Woo, 2007). Students from other parts of the educational process should also be wooed: high school students can be offered work experience in libraries, and undergraduates encouraged to take modules in LIS related subjects.

The selection process

The first concern when recruiting is to know what you are looking for. The post advertised needs to be carefully defined in terms of the main duties, accountabilities, activities and skills needed. The main tool for this is the job description.

The post can be advertised in the usual channels (trade press, job websites), but professional networks can also be a good source.

When it comes to the interview, the following points are worth bearing in mind (Smith, 2008; Stambaugh, 2004):

  • Involve peers and if possible clients (users) in the interviewing team.
  • Also bring in someone from HR, with recruitment expertise.
  • Get the candidate to do a presentation.
  • Allow the candidate time to ask questions: interviewing is a two-way process, and the candidate should leave with enough information about the organization to know whether they would want to work there.
  • "Competence-based interviewing", where candidates are asked about their behaviour in past situations, can be used as a good indication of whether or not the person has the skills the organization is seeking. Questions designed to reveal likely skills should be put together ahead of the interview.

The process should be as holistic as possible looking at the candidate's whole potential and not just their particular skills for the post (Stambaugh, 2004). Smith (2008) recommends using multiple perspectives in selection: the written application, the interview, a presentation, reaction (verbal or written) to scenarios, psychological testing, and referees' reports.


It is very important to recruit people from diverse backgrounds in order to provide an intellectually stimulating environment, and ensure fairness and equal opportunity. American research libraries have taken the lead here, and the ARL and ARCL have gone to considerable lengths to promote diversity in recruitment. (See and ). The ARL has some programmes which help develop leaders from minority librarians.

At an international level, the International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions and OCLC provide early career development opportunities for librarians and information professionals from countries with less developed economies. Beneficiaries spend short periods in the USA and Holland, meeting with practitioners, visiting libraries, and investigating subjects of their choice (see ).

For example, when the University of Tennessee's School of Information Sciences was awarded a grant to train science librarians, it deliberately targeted students in historically black colleges, for example, in Louisiana (Dewey and Keally, 2008).

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