Newsletter of the Association of Library and Information Science Students (ALISS)




 title of the newsletter: The Silverfish


April/May 2004

Vol VIII Issue IV

Next article >>   

How to Interview for Your Dream Law Library Position

By William Logan, MLIS Law Library Program Alumni 2002
Bill Logan is a Reference/Instruction Librarian at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.

Greetings soon-to-be graduate! Here are some of my thoughts on interviewing for a reference position in an academic law library. This is based entirely on my experience, so YMMV. I haven't yet participated in a hiring interview as an interviewer, so these are my thoughts only from one side of the desk.


Stay in touch. Once you've been contacted about an interview (either a telephone/ screening interview or a full interview), you'll want to respond to whatever you're sent. Whoever first contacts you from their library will generally be your contact person for all interview-related matters. If that person calls you, e-mails you, or sends you something, e-mail them back to say, "Thank you, I got your message." Do this even if you think their e-mail to you so obviously doesn't need to be responded to. You don't want their next e-mail to you to read something like, "Hi Bill, did you get the e-mail I sent you yesterday?"

The Screening or Telephone Interview

After the library has received all the applications, they'll generally pick out several of the more promising ones and set up a short (15-30 minutes) screening interview. This can either be in person or over the telephone, and you'll often be talking with two or three people. Like the Boy Scouts, you should BE PREPARED. Review the position announcement beforehand. Review your resume and cover letter beforehand. Have a few questions to ask them about the position, but the point of this isn't to quiz them in detail about the position; it's to make them feel comfortable enough about you that they'll invite you out for the full-day interview. (Someone who has been an interviewer may have a different perspective about this.)

When this screening interview takes place over the telephone, it's harder because you can't see whom you're speaking to. Try to arrange a time that works best for you. Make sure your roommate is out of the apartment when you're on the phone. You might need to go to a quiet location elsewhere, maybe an office at work or a friend's house. Make sure that you give your interviewers the correct phone number for wherever you'll be; even if it's the same phone number as on your resume, confirm that with them.

If possible, try to take notes. Often times your interviewers will mention things that they consider to be of special importance either to them or to the position. These things tend to come up again during the full-day interview.

The Plane Trip

If they decide to fly you out for a full-day interview, there are two ways that your flight to wherever can be arranged. If they make the arrangements, you will generally be given a choice of a few flights to select from. If you make the arrangements, you'll be reimbursed later. In either case, pick a flight time that works best for you, ideally one that will have you arrive around the mid-afternoon their time. Why? Because you're flying from Seattle and pretty much anywhere you'll interview is east of the West Coast, i.e. you MUST factor in jet lag. When I had an interview on the East Coast, I arrived in the late evening. Getting to the hotel, unpacking, getting ready for the next day, and waking up early the next day all meant that I didn't get enough sleep that night and was jet-lagged the next day. I was later told, informally, that during the interview I seemed as if I didn't want to be there, which is not the impression you want to make.

If you are making the flight arrangements and will be reimbursed later, you don't want to splurge for the first-class ticket. On the other hand, make sure your flight arrangements will help you to be effective the next day. Keep your receipts or e-ticket printouts and bring them with you to the interview. You may well have to fill out the reimbursement paperwork there.

The Hotel

The school you interview with will make your hotel arrangements for you. Find out if you will be picked up at the airport or if you will make your own way to the hotel. If you make your own way, keep the shuttle receipts for reimbursement (call the hotel to ask if they have a courtesy shuttle). If you're being picked up, find out who will be picking you up and arrange a place for you to meet them at the airport. You don't want to be waiting for 15 minutes at the security gates while the person picking you up is waiting for you at the baggage-claim.

Bring your credit card in case the hotel asks you to pay for the room. Yes, some miscommunication has obviously occurred, but the library will reimburse you, so don't worry. Do make sure you get a receipt from the hotel. On the plus side, your interviewers will probably feel bad that you were put in this situation.


You are guaranteed to have at least one meal with people from the library. At a minimum, this will be lunch. It may well include breakfast and/or dinner. But remember, the meal isn't just about you feeding your hunger; it's still an interview and you're still being evaluated, even if you're not being asked any job-related questions. My advice for lunch would be to choose a salad; it shouldn't be messy, you don't slurp, and you shouldn't manage to drip or splatter anything on yourself.

Interview Questions

You'll be meeting with different people in different groups at different times of the day. Ask your contact person for a schedule of the day's events so you can know the schedule beforehand. You will meet with the library director; this is almost always the last event of the day (unless you're being taken to dinner afterwards). Prepare for the questions you will be asked during the interview. You can find lists of questions asked during librarian interviews through Google. Look at a book like "101 Great Answers to the Toughest Interview Questions." Even though not all of the questions will be applicable to you, these types of books show you the difference between a good answer and a bad answer.

I was never asked, "So, tell me about yourself," but I was asked, "So, what made you want to become a librarian?" As a new librarian, you will be asked this a lot. When you're interviewing, practically every person you meet will ask you this. Smile and answer the question like it's the first time you've ever been asked, even if it's the 20th time that day. It is inevitable that you will be asked a question you didn't expect. The question will likely be job-related somehow, so answer it as best as you can. Just hope that it's not too unexpected, such as "What kind of car do you drive?" or "Are you a swinger?" (Yes, I was asked both of those.)

You MUST have questions to ask your interviewers. Where do you get your questions? Look at the position announcement, the library's website, and the school's website. Look at whatever biographical information you can find on the librarians there. Some places put this up on their website; for other places, you'll have to go through old association directories to see how long people have been at that school and what were the previous schools they were at. If you've never been to that city before, ask what it's like to live there. Read a book like "101 Smart Questions to Ask on Your Interview." Not all of the questions it gives will be applicable, but at least they'll give you ideas about questions you can ask.

At some point during the interview, you may find out how many other people are interviewing and whether you're first, second, third, or last to interview. File this information away, but ignore it for now. Some places like to interview their strongest candidates first; others like to interview their strongest candidates last. You won't know which, so it's irrelevant for now.


Doing a presentation is pretty much a standard part of any interview for a public service or teaching position. It would be unusual if you didn't have to do one. You may or may not be told what to do your presentation on. The point of the presentation (as I see it) is to give your interviewers an idea about your presentation skills and teaching ability. If you aren't told what your topic is, then pick something that is personally interesting to you. It doesn't necessarily have to be something related to what you would be teaching. Whatever you choose, you must know your subject matter cold. This is especially important if your presentation does involve something you will be teaching. For instance, if the subject of your presentation is the Federal Practice Digest, you don't want to be embarrassed by not remembering about the pamphlets that update it.

Whatever you do for your presentation, think about some sort of backup. For instance, if you're using PowerPoint, take along a copy of your slides printed on transparencies. I would also create some sort of handout for your presentation, and put your name on it so they remember you. You'll be given some amount of preparation time beforehand, so make sure you test the equipment and can use it to do what you need to, especially if you're using a computer or connecting to the Internet.

The Staff

At some point during the day, you will be scheduled to meet with the library staff, both administrative and paraprofessional. This is important. One quality that you are being looked at for is, "Does he/she work and play well with others?" Most academic law libraries aren't very big. My current library has 7 librarians and 13 staff members. The library where I was at previously had 7 librarians and 7 staff members. Libraries couldn't function without their non-librarian staff, so their views on job candidates are solicited, since you'll be working with them too. When you meet with the staff, it will either be done formally or informally. If it's done informally, it will be disguised as some sort of "break." It's not really a break because you can't really relax, but the questioning will be done over coffee and cookies in some sort of "break room." A more formal approach will have you and everyone else seated around a table while you're questioned. I preferred the latter.


I only brought carry-on luggage, one rolling suitcase and a smaller bag to stick underneath the seat. Here are some of the things I always brought (besides the obvious, like my suit):

  1. Advil;
  2. Sudafed (not in case I get a cold, in case the air pressure in my ears doesn't equalize after landing);
  3. Travel steamer (the hotel you're at is almost certain to have an iron, but a steamer does a better job of getting out wrinkles in a suit without making it look shiny);
  4. Balance bars (or something similar, for when you're hungry);
  5. Water (lots of it – it's easy to get dehydrated on board airplanes);
  6. Cloth shoe covers (I shined my shoes before I left, so these protected the shine and protected my clothing from the shoes);
  7. Paperwork (my resumé, cover letter, notes from the screening interview, notes about the librarians working there, notes about the library and school, questions to ask, etc.);
  8. Bose Quiet Comfort Noise Reduction Headphones (airplanes are too noisy for me; these headphones are expensive but dramatically reduce the background noise on airplanes so that I can concentrate on reading or else listen to music comfortably).


"It is inevitable that you will be asked a question you didn't expect. The question will likely be job-related somehow, so answer it as best as you can. Just hope that it's not too unexpected, such as "What kind of car do you drive?" or "Are you a swinger?" (Yes, I was asked both of those.)"








Next article >>