The Library Director: Reflection & Interview Tool

Co-authors: Eli Guinnee & Hope Decker

“I think the way she does it, it’s got that human touch. Because it’s out of love. It’s not for the paycheck. It’s out of love for the community. No, you can’t teach those qualities.”

–Elizabeth, talking about branch manager Pam Brown (MS)

The Rural Libraries & Social Wellbeing project asked community members about the qualities of their local librarian that make them effective. What emerged were the following characteristics: Caring, Outreach Oriented, Creative and Resourceful, Education and Literacy Oriented, Good with Kids, Welcoming and Personable, Actively Seeks Contribution from Community Members, Being Seen as of or from the Local Area, Provides Patient and Willing Support, and Provides Personalized Service.

These qualities are notable for a couple of things: they are not traditional library skills, for one thing; and they are mostly personal attributes that are hard to teach, for another.

This is a different way of looking at hiring–generally hiring a librarian involves asking about their experience in libraries or managing an organization, and placing high value on traditional skills, and professional certifications and memberships. When we hire rural librarians, we can intentionally seek out people who have the qualities from the list above that our community needs (say, making families feel welcome), rather than ask them library-specific questions about things they can easily learn (say, cataloging).

Our goal here is to recenter hiring around new priorities–priorities that come from the perspective of the community members being served–and from a social wellbeing perspective–a perspective that gives the library’s role in social connection and mutual support its full value.

What’s in this tool?

The Library Director is available as a print only, no online interaction resource. This tool has two parts: first a set of reflection questions to help you identify what qualities of a librarian your community needs most; and second, a set of interview questions that a library board can adapt to their hiring needs.

Research findings on which this tool is based

Key takeaways from our research include:

  • Education level not the prime determinant of success
  • Outreach orientation is key
  • Being patient is more important than being an expert
  • Community members appreciate when their librarians indulge their interests and talents
  • Seeking contribution from community members helps them build a sense of belonging and mutual support
  • Tailored service has a deeper meaning to people, who want to feel seen, known, and valued
  • A librarian can be seen as “of” the community even if they are not from–or even live in–the town where you work

To read our full research article on this, check out: “Rural Library Directors and Social Wellbeing: An Evidence-Based Approach to Practice”. This is the paper which addresses our research which focused specifically on rural public library directors. It includes an overview of skills and dispositions we heard about and witnessed, as well as a discussion about barriers they face in local practice, and in gaining due respect in the profession.