ASSOCIATES (vol. 7 no. 3, March 2001) -

Library Life:
A Column of Eclectic Rantings


Katie Kintner
Currently unemployed anywhere but home

Refer back to my column in Associates, March, 1999 ( Read it, then come on back here.

Ok, now just to get you up to speed, Keith and I are still happily married, we still have the birds and the cats. Add one large dog and another very very old cat to this stew, then pop us all back into the minivan and head for east central Illinois. Yep, we moved back. Anyone want to buy a nice house in Sylmar, California?

Why move from southern California and all that sunshine (which has been scarce lately) to east central Illinois, where it's comparatively cold and bleak?

Well, for one thing, Keith got a job at the University of Illinois that was absolutely tailor-made for his background and experience. Additionally, it's much closer to my family and the cost of living is much lower, though we hate being so far from Keith's kids and grandchild.

Also the "cold and bleak" statement is more the view of my California friends, some of whom believe that everyone in the midwest lives in igloos. Being of midwestern stock myself, I couldn't wait to get back! We packed up everything we owned, put the birds, cats and dog in the minivan and drove almost straight through! My first sight of a cardinal in the shrubs outside our new home in Urbana, Illinois made the trip worthwhile. Goodbye rattlesnakes in my garage and hello beautiful midwestern songbirds, fat gray squirrels and fuzzy bunny rabbits.

On the downside, moving also means I have to find a new job and here lies the sticky part because I love being at home! But I'm back in the job market and it's tough going for a 50 year old library assistant with 20+ years of library experience, a strange sense of humor and lack of utter dedication to her vocation.

For one thing, most of the jobs are entry level, which means they involve shelving. I haven't shelved more than a few minutes at a time since 1989, when my knees and eyesight were considerably stronger. The only jobs that might not involve shelving are at the University of Illinois libraries and require a civil service exam that is only given sporadically, so I'm waiting to take that but in the meantime, I'm sending applications to smaller libraries. The only interviews I've had so far have degenerated into chat sessions which you may note, is not a good interview.

I think I also intimidated the librarians who interviewed me, since I probably know more than they are comfortable with. Yes, I argue with librarians over policies and procedures…a lot. Ask my last boss.

This tendency is being carried over somewhat into my job interviews because the questions they ask generally have nothing to do with the job itself and I get a little impatient with them. Yes, I realize they don't know me from Adam, but when they look at my application and see 20+ years of experience covering many areas of the library, how can they possibly ask some of the questions that they do? Isn't there another set of questions for applicants who didn't just drop off the apple tree?

For instance, at one interview, I was asked why I want to work in a library. An honest answer would be "because that's all I've done for 20 years, you idiot!" but I took the high road and politely answered something like "because I LOVE LIBRARIES and YOUR library is just the most WONDERFUL LIBRARY I have ever seen in my LIFE!"

With that hurdle cleared, the next question comes along: "where do you see yourself in my career 10 years from now?" What kind of goofy question is that to ask a 50 year old? I never know what they really want to hear in answer to that. Do they want to hear me say that I want to be happily bored to death in that same old job, so they won't have to hire and train someone else any time soon. On the other hand, do they want me to say I'm going to get my MLS and then apply for the library director's job as soon as possible? Is there a middle ground somewhere? My honest answer would be "RETIRED and going to Vegas every couple of months", but so far I've bitten my tongue and simply responded "working happily in a library somewhere."

In both interviews, I was also asked what my perfect job would be. When I answered that my perfect job would take advantage of my experience and also would provide opportunities for enhancement of my library skills and knowledge, their faces went blank. Did they think my perfect job would be standing at the circulation desk all day doing nothing but answering phones, checking out books and developing varicose veins? In the second interview, the three people interviewing me looked at each other as if they were being amused by a trained monkey. I can almost hear them thinking "Awwww…ain't she CUTE! Wonder who taught her to say that?" Just put the coin in the cup or I'll spit on your shoes. Next question please.

"If the phone was ringing, an angry patron was screaming, an assistant was asking for help with another patron and the book return was spilling out onto the floor, what would you do?" There is NO correct answer. If you say you'll put the caller on hold, calm down the angry patron, answer a quick question, assign another clerk to empty the book return then answer the phone, they look alarmed. That is not apparently the answer they wanted. What are the alternatives? I can't think of any that don't involve bloodshed and screaming, so we just go on.

"Can you tell us a little about yourself?" Frankly, I never know what to say to this. What should I say? Should I tell the truth or lie? If I tell the truth, how much truth do they really want? If they want a lie, how big of a lie is a big enough lie? Do they want to hear that I'm a fine upstanding citizen with a great sense of civic duty or that I hate housework and watch "Jerry Springer" religiously? Regis, I would like to poll the audience, take the fifty fifty and phone-a-friend.

So I imagine that you've got the picture by now. I'm probably not going to be hired by anyone anytime soon, so if you hear of an opening, just send it my way. I'll be glad to alienate yet another set of interviewers and return once more to my happy, unpacked home!

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