Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Growing a Young Adult Librarian: Recruitment, Selection and Retention of an Important Asset for Your Community

Academic journal article Australasian Public Libraries and Information Services

Growing a Young Adult Librarian: Recruitment, Selection and Retention of an Important Asset for Your Community

Article excerpt

Staffing is the largest cost in an organisation but the investment can go wrong at so many stages. From job description design to recruitment, from induction to professional training, there is a need to plan, to communicate, to support and protect to ensure that the young adult librarian is given the opportunity to develop into a mission critical asset for a library service and the community served. Edited version of a paper presented at '12 to 24s @ your public library in Australia and New Zealand conference' Beenleigh Qld 11-12 June 2010.


Staff are the most expensive asset in any organisation--this is true in the public library environment as much as it is true in any workplace. As Harry Chambers states 'you live or die professionally on the performance of your people'. (1) A good young adult librarian is a wonderful investment for the organisation and for the community. This paper is not about the formal processes and legal requirements in recruitment, selection and retention. Each organisation, each council, will have its internal processes which must be adhered to. It is about your personal preparation for recruitment, selection and retention, both as a manager doing the selection and the candidate aspiring to the job.

A new staff member is an expensive acquisition. The costs mainly derive from the time that recruitment and selection consumes.

* the time to review the position and to determine if it still fits within the organisation

* the time to review the job description to ensure it still reflects the current role and the future role

* the time to write the job advertisement and answer the questions from potential candidates

* the time waiting for the potential candidates to decide on their potential and to write their application

* the time to review and weed the applications according to the selection policy

* the time to prepare for the interview

* the time of the interview panel in preparing for the interview and the day of the interview

* the time the panel takes in selecting the best candidate and getting on the phone to check if they told you the truth in their interview

* the time waiting for approval for your choice

* the time to await the candidate's acceptance and notifying you of their starting date

* the time for induction and training them in understanding the organisational culture

* the time to get them to know the local networks of other like minded youth orientated organisations

* the time to move from unproductive team as the organisation copes without essential staff to become a productive team again.

With all this time taken, it is vital it is well used. Once the person is employed the costs continue, whether you made the right decision or not. When employing a person the time it takes to make them a contributing member of your team depends on the clear understanding of what support this new person will need. The manager must ensure that the person has several mentors--a professional mentor, organisational mentor, and a service mentor (sometimes this can be the same person).

If the selection is wrong then the costs continue--in low performance, the hindrance of not achieving your strategic plan, the cost of maintaining your own motivational drive and the cost of doing it again when the wrong decision actually leaves.


The recruitment process is about the identification of what would be the best candidate for the job. This process enables us to move away from what some people would call 'selecting on a gut feeling'. (2) The concept of choosing the right person for the job on instinct undermines the concept that recruitment and selection is a justifiable process, because anyone can challenge your recruitment decisions. The process must be clearly structured and logical. So, to identify the best candidate, the organisation must invest a lot of preparation time. It must undertake a review of its own needs in regards to this position--how and where does it fit? What are the needs of the community at large and the targeted youth community? What are the expected outcomes, both short term and long term? What resources does the position require? With this information, review the job description. Determine the skills and knowledge and more importantly determine the person specification, and what is the attitude to make this position work best with youth, with the community and within the organisation. This review will help you establish what you want so when you see it you will recognise it rather that reach for something not there.

So what are the skills you need to look for? Stephen Abrams identified four skills that all librarians should have--leadership, advocacy, interpretation, empathy and imaginative entrepreneurial skills. (3) Leadership skills are about our ability to influence society in a positive way. To be blunt, we might have the best library services on offer in the world, but if our community is unaware of them and are not fully utilising them, then what we have is a set of doors blocking the community and no sign of leadership. We need to be advocates in our community, ensuring that the real needs are recognised and the solutions encouraged. This will show that we have an understanding of the community and the issues they are facing (empathy). Abrams puts forward that our interpretation skills are in the context of technology and that we should be making the library the place where people can come to see how technology fits into their lives. The imaginative entrepreneurial skills are about the need for innovation, the recognition that the world is changing and doing things the way we always have is not a model for success. Abrams issues a challenge '... it is up to us to create the changes and future we want to see'. (4)

For young adult librarians, what are the attitudes, the skills and the knowledge that we are looking for? First, it is important to acknowledge that the skills and knowledge can be developed in the right candidate. It is the attitude that defines the person and the success of the organisation. The reputation of all libraries lives and dies on the attitude of the staff of the frontline of service.

The Young Adult Library Services Section (Yalsa) of the American Library Association publishes the Competencies for librarians serving youth The last update was in January 2010.

   Individuals who demonstrate the knowledge and
   skills laid out in this (listing) will be able to
   provide quality library service for and with
   teenagers. (5)

There are seven competency areas

Area 1   Leadership and professionalism
Area 2   Knowledge of client group
Area 3   Communication, marketing and outreach
Area 4   Administration
Area 5   Knowledge of materials
Area 6   Access to Information
Area 7   Services

Job descriptions for young adult librarians need to include these competencies. However it is difficult to define the attitudes you want for the job, but so necessary to be able to recruit the best candidate. The best candidate is not only the one with the skills and attitudes but the one with a value system that is supportive of youth and will be a natural youth advocate engendering support for the services they need in the library. The problem arises of how to assess if a person has the right attitude. The attitudes need to come through the application of the skills and knowledge. Recently we advertised for a young adult librarian. In the interview we asked about how you decide on what services we should offer to young adults. The common answer was we will decide. The successful candidate said that they would ask the young adults what they want and ask the local youth agencies and the library staff what needs they have identified. This candidate recognised the need to consult with the youth and to cooperate with organisations outside the library and with the staff in the library. These are skills, but the attitude was to think of asking a broad group of relevant people.

The following is a list of attitudes. Some are essential and some are highly desirable to make life easier as a manager, but with this listing I reviewed the job description to ensure that the skills and knowledge are utilised in the framework of these attitudes.

Needed are

* flexibility

* a sense of humour

* the ability to read people

* ability to follow instruction or to ask questions for clarification

* willingness to undertake continuous learning

* willingness to take the initiative

* creativity

* motivation to take the job further

* ability to adapt to change

* integrity

* a willingness to work and work hard for what they are committed to

* team worker and an information sharer.

This list is fairly general but there are two important areas to assess attitude--the candidates' commitment to youth and to customer service. It surprises me that people would even apply for a youth job without having a deep commitment to youth, but life is full of surprises. This attitude comes out in the examples they use to show they have the skills and knowledge. Do they actually refer to youth in their answers at all and when they do what does their body language tell you--are they smiling when even thinking about the youth? Public libraries' reputation is built by the service users experience, so for future workers in your organisation you need to assess what they think of customer service. Do they love it? Do they look to other experiences to review their service?

With the review of the job within the organisation, and of the job description, we are then ready to initiate the selection stage.


The selection process involves the interviewing and the interview panel's evaluation of the candidates. The organisation will have rules about the makeup of the interview panel, especially the presence of people from outside the library service and gender representation. However the most important aspect of the panel is that you have people on the panel who clearly demonstrate an understanding of the position you are interviewing for and will devote their precious time to reviewing the applications and the interviews to assist you in finding the perfect candidate. The panel needs to be involved in the development of the interview questions, the review of the candidates and the selection of those to be interviewed.

It is vital to remember that the resumes and application letters are a lovely mixture of reality and fantasy and can be regarded as a 'slick piece of advertising copy'. (6) The review of the applications needs to be based on the selection criteria which were carefully established in the review of the job description before the job was advertised, and not be influenced by the mere look of the resume. Other aspects to assist in the review of the candidates are

* if the skills the candidate has highlighted in the resume and letter are transferrable to your situation

* if the experience is legitimate and you are able to find the proof before you believe the candidate is too good to believe.

Because of the time the panel puts into the interview process you need to look after their physical comfort during the interview. You must ensure that the interview room is comfortable--this includes the temperature of the room and the comfort level of the seats, with enough water to drink for the panel and for each of the candidates.

You also need to look after the mental health of the panel members by giving them enough breaks so they can refresh themselves. This way the decisions will be made after an appropriate evaluation rather than due to fatigue. Each of the panellists must be supplied with pens and pencils and enough writing paper so they can write the information they need to assist them in making the decision. The panel also need to have time to discuss each candidate and their rating of the candidates' success or failure in the interview so that the decisions are based on their ability, rather than being best of a bad group. While each panellist can have their own grading system, each must understand how the other panellists are reviewing the candidates. This will assist in the selection report which the panel's chairperson will need to write, justifying the selection decision.

The questions in the interview are going to be the most important tool you have in selecting the best candidate. If you ask general questions you have no real idea as to the attitude, skills and knowledge of the candidate. The interview can almost be called a blind date. (7)

If you are not prepared you will think that the date was a success, whereas you are only getting what the date wants you to know. Before developing the questions you must know the attitudes, skills and knowledge you seek, and ensure that the questions reflect those needs and reveal the reality of the candidates to the panellists.

The questions need to be open ended, giving the candidates the opportunity to show that they have the attitudes, skills and knowledge you require. Suggestions are presenting the candidate with hypotheticals and with situationally targeted questions. The most common practice in interviews is to 'hit' the candidate with the questions as they walk into the interview room. This format shows the skill of being able to think quickly on their feet. If this is an ability or skill you want, then this structure of questions without notice will show you who can do that. However if you are looking for someone who can be analytical and can research the situation under review to develop appropriate client based solutions, then you need to assess how people respond in those situations. If you are looking for someone with technology knowledge you need to test the reality of that knowledge. You cannot take the word of a candidate who is willing to sell you what they think you want.

In a recent interview for a young adult librarian we developed an array of questions to test several things--the ability to think quickly, the commitment to prepare and their knowledge in technology and ability to actually do a presentation to a particular clientele group, in this case young adults. Naturally we did the 'tell us about yourself' questions, but we gave them two questions one week prior to the interview. Those questions covered demonstrating a website and telling a young adult audience about the library service. In culling the candidates it was these two questions that showed the superior candidate. This person had clearly prepared, researched our library resources and even developed a potential flyer for the young adult audience on what the library could do for them.

Other issues that can affect your decision making process in the interview are to

* be aware of how much you talk in the interview

* do not be influenced by a candidate's one strength--look at the whole picture of the candidate * do not be influenced to employ the best of a bad lot.

Interview panels need to ensure that it is the candidate that does most of the talking. You should impose the 20/80 rule: the interview panel talks 20% of the time and the candidate talks 80% of the time. (8) Sometimes a candidate can impress the panel on one particular question. The risk exists that the panel might be tempted to ignore the other deficits that showed up in the interview process.

The other problem is that a tired interview panel might decide to hire the best available rather than look at how the top candidate fits into the requirements of the job as identified by the job description. The best of the candidates might not be what the organisation needs and so any decision to compromise will result in a bad selection decision. (9)

The final aspect of the interview preparation is about how you are reflecting the best of your organisation. Yes, we are looking for the best candidate but rest assured the candidate is also looking at the organisation and how they have been treated to determine if they want to work for this organisation. They are not waiting for the last question 'Is there anything you want to ask?' to formulate their opinion of the organisation. They are forming their opinion of you long before you reach that question. Think about these opportunities for the candidate to form a favourable opinion of your organisation. How long has it been since they applied? How did you communicate with them about the interview? How were they welcomed as they arrived for the interview? Finally, how comfortable they were made to feel in the interview?


Retention is about the systems or structures in the workplace that will support the new employee to become a long term contributing or value adding employee. As stated in the recruitment section of this paper, establishing the necessary attitude, skills and knowledge of the perfect young adult librarian is vital to ensure the success of the total recruitment selection and retention process of getting a new employee.

It is vital in the selection process that the candidate is chosen with the correct attitude towards the clientele and the right attitude regarding work. The workplace must make a commitment to every employee to develop and extend their skills and knowledge to ensure that the work is done in the best and most efficient way. Selecting the right person is the first step of the process. 'Ensuring that they have the resources they need to do their job' is an ongoing responsibility. (10)

New employees must be inducted to the broader organisation, which again should be covered by your human resources section. However they also need to be inducted into the library service--shown procedures and given time to experience the wide range of services the library offers to assist them in determining where they fit and assist their search in finding similar and supportive people in the workplace.

The induction should not be limited to the knowledge of the library service but it should also include an induction into the profession. In our profession we are blessed with experts-information specialists--who are willing to share their information and their experience. There are meetings and elists that enable you to meet these people. This is so important when you are a solo specialist in a library and as such can feel very isolated. By networking with other young adult specialists the sense of isolation can be reduced. Linked with this is the need to go to training, to read professional journals to keep up to date with new ideas, and innovations that can be incorporated into the library service.

A young adult librarian needs to liaise, cooperate, and be an active partner with the other youth orientated services in the local area. They need to be introduced into the local area networks, such as the high schools, the community youth workers, government and nongovernment organisations that assist young adults and their families. This network will assist the young adult librarian in marketing their services to the youth and will enable them to keep in touch with local issues affecting youth and the services they need.

The manager of the young adult librarian has a great responsibility to offer ongoing support through guidance, mentoring and expert knowledge of the umbrella organisation, of the library service, of the profession and to be a sounding board for ideas. They also need to be there for the occasional whinge and as backup when the worst happens although they should be there supporting long before the worst happens. Ultimately, throughout this whole process the manager of the young adult librarian plays an important role in recruiting, selecting and retaining the new employee. Virginia Walters, the author of Twenty first century kids, twenty first century librarian wrote 'I found that nurturing the people who worked for me always paid off ... Remember, good employees make you look good as well'. (11)

The candidate's role

The candidate has an obviously important role in this equation of finding the right person for the job. In short, they need to be the right person! In order to establish this, the candidate must spend time reviewing the job--just like the organisation--to ensure that there is a match between their attitude and their skills and knowledge to the stated requirements of the job. It is important for the potential candidate not to be swayed by the beautiful words in the advertisement, as they truly are a marketing ploy to attract attention. The candidate must pursue the job description and reflect on the organisation's wants and determine whether they link to the desires of the candidate for their own mission and future. The job description is an important tool for the candidate when preparing for the interview. Review it and develop questions as preparation that reflect the skills and knowledge that are listed in it.

The candidate needs to research the organisation. This means going online and looking at the website and even physically walk through the library. This should happen before writing the application if possible, but definitely before the interview. It will assist not only in determining if this is the organisation you want to work for but also in preparing for the interview.

The interview can be a nerve racking experience, and it is important to remember that the people on the other side of the interview table have already invested time in you relate to them and show them you are worth the investment. This can be done by preparing for the interview and showing that preparation in the answers you give. Tell them that you looked at the website; tell them you looked at the young adult space. Show your enthusiasm and they will reflect your enthusiasm, making the experience better for all.


To find the best candidate, to find the best young adult librarian for your community there is a huge investment in recruitment, selection and retention. We need to have an understanding of where the position fits within the organisation, and a vision of the future for this position and for the organisation. The job description needs to be reviewed to reflect the skills and knowledge for the perfect young adult librarian. In this review of the skills and knowledge it is important to articulate the attitudes that are required. This identification of the skills, knowledge and attitudes in the recruitment stage assists in the development of the interview questions in the selection section of this process. The questions need to bring out the truth about the candidate, and the panel needs to be strong to choose the best appropriate candidate, rather than choose what is available.

Once the candidate has been chosen, then the retention process for the young adult librarian begins. The retention becomes the proof that the time invested so far in the process has been a worthwhile. The retention is a long term investment, to assist in the development of support networks to build success. The candidates have a role to play in this selection and retention aspect, in that they too make a commitment to determining whether they are perfect for the position as well. Ultimately the return for all this investment is the best public library service for young adults, building a future for the community's young adults by giving them a place and a space where they are welcomed, where they find inspiration, information and the ways and means to be the very best they can be


(1) Chambers, H Finding, hiring and keeping peak performers: every manager's guide Cambridge Mass, Perseus Publishing 2001 p4

(2) op cit

(3) Abrams, S The new librarian Information outlook September 2009 http://stephenslight 20 September 2009

(4) ibid

(5) Yalsa's Competencies for librarians serving youth: young adults deserve the best 2010 accessed 20 February 2010

(6) Chambers op cit p87

(7) Chambers op cit p8

(8) Chambers op cit pp20-28

(9) ibid

(10) Waiters, V Twenty first century kids', twenty first century librarian Chicago, ALA 2010 p82

(11) ibid p83

Other references

Hansen, R and Hansen, K What do employees really want? Top skills and values employers seek from job seekers" (rid) printable/job_skills_values.html accessed 26 February 2010.

Jones, P New directions for library service to young adults Chicago, Young Adult Library Services Association 2002

Staerkel, K, Fellows, M and McCleaf Nespecca, S Youth services librarians as managers: a how to guide from budgeting to personnel Chicago, ALA 1995

Walters, V Output measures and more: planning and evaluating public library services for young adults Chicago, ALA 1995

Margaret Redrup-May Outreach Program Team Leader Blacktown Library Service NSW

Margaret Redrup-May has worked in public libraries for over 20 years, Tafe libraries and at universities, and her passion is the delights and variety of public library service. She believes that the public library should be the social and intellectual hub of a vibrant city, providing opportunities for innovation and imagination. Address: Blacktown City Library PO Box 63 Blacktown NSW 2148 email

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