Principal Librarian’s Job Interview Questions

The position of Principal Librarian requires providing direction to and interaction with all levels of library management and staff. Describe a time when you were most successful communicating with varying levels of personnel. In your response, please include your employer, job title, and levels of personnel.

In 2009, I worked as an assistant library manager for Clayton County Library, Georgia. I found that there was a significant power distance between top-level managers and lower-level employees. Knowing how this problem could affect the library’s performance, I emphasized to the general manager the need to have a culture of communication between the two levels of employees. Initially, he was hesitant to consider my suggestion because he believed that it would create “disrespect” between managers and their subordinates. Nonetheless, he came around and asked me how we could make it work. I recommended scheduling informal communications between the top and bottom-level employees. Such interactions would happen in the workplace cafeteria, on the ride home, and in outdoor team events. This strategy worked because it put top-level managers in the same mindset as their subordinates. After seeing how successful the strategy was, one of the library directors made it mandatory for top-level managers to spend at least 20 minutes every day engaging in non-transactional conversations with their subordinates. They included conversations that did not require one party to do anything for the other. In other words, they were mostly informal. The new communication culture helped to break down psychological barriers that traditionally impeded effective communication between the two levels of employees.

Please describe the most innovative library program(s) you have developed while holding a leadership role in a library setting. In your response, describe your strategic thinking behind the planning of the program(s) and the success in implementing it within your library system. Also, describe your vision going forward for emerging trends in public library services and programs.

In 2010, while working as an assistant manager at the Denver library, I helped to develop a program called the “Do not-wait library system,” which helped to provide cheaper, faster, and efficient library services. The program involved the installation of book vending machines at designated points throughout all our branches in Denver. The system allowed library users to sign up for specific library cards, which they could use to swipe at the machines and get a book they wanted (the book would be dispensed through the machine). Each vending machine could hold up to 500 books and dispense up to three books to every user.

The process of returning the books was equally simple because the users had to return the books at the vending point. This system was beneficial to the library because it eliminated the need to have contact persons to manage the entire process. Furthermore, it reduced the time the users spent on getting books from the shelves. We borrowed the idea behind the program from how simple and efficient it was for companies that produce consumer goods to sell their products via vending machines. I believe such types of innovations address an ongoing trend in the public service sector where public libraries are “suffocating” under the growing pressure of reduced public funding from local and national governments. Indeed, libraries have to look for new ways to cut their costs and, at the same time, uphold the quality of services that their customers expect.

Describe your understanding and knowledge of emerging technology within the library field.

I believe the digital media revolution is one of the most destabilizing forces in the public library sector. As such, libraries have to adapt to this force to stay relevant in today’s fast-paced world. While working as an assistant library manager at Denver public library, I was involved in developing an initiative to set up several library hotspots in the state. The hotspots had many computers that had an internet connection, research materials, and printers that users could use to gain access to library resources and reprint them for their personal use.

How the Technology was Utilized

Staff members were available (on-site) to help community members gain access to library materials online. Those who were willing to enroll in classes got the opportunity to do so on the same platform.

How the Technology Worked to our Advantage

The technology was instrumental in broadening our client base because many people who would have ordinarily shied away from visiting mainstream libraries knew our services and were willing to patron our brick and mortar operations.

Outcomes of the Initiative

Through our interaction with community members at the library hotspots, we managed to change the community’s perception of the library sector as an “archaic” institution that was unwilling to change with the time. Through our program, many people understood that libraries were as progressive as other sectors of the economy that we’re willing to adapt to technology. Notably, we were able to attract many young people who were willing to work with us as volunteers.

Describe the biggest challenge you have faced while being a part of a supervisory/management team. In your response, describe the steps you took to resolve the issue and the results of your efforts.

The biggest challenge I faced when working as an assistant library manager at Denver public library was managing “difficult” employees who were instrumental in the institution’s operations, but unwilling to work with other employees. The lack of cohesion within some departments created many operational problems for our organization. The problems ranged from missed deadlines to a growing sense of frustration among members. We knew who was causing the problem, but we felt helpless because if we fired them, the institution’s operations would be negatively affected. Nonetheless, I got an idea to talk to the employees and help them understand that if they worked as a team, they would be more productive, as opposed to working by themselves. After some hesitation, they agreed that this strategy yielded better results for everybody. By changing his perception, I gained the respect of my colleagues.