Diversity & Outreach Columns ALA's Office for Diversity, Literacy and Outreach Services


Interviewing and Hiring for Outreach Services

by Kathryn Totten, Manager of Outreach and Thornton Branch, Rangeview Library District, Thornton, CO

Writing a job description that will get results
Your Outreach Service department is running like a well oiled machine and then one of your valued employees decides to move or retire. When hiring for Outreach services you must write a job description that will attract someone with the “outreach spirit”. Include words such as flexible, enthusiastic, and co-operative in the job description. You need someone who can maintain accurate records, work with mobile services technology, and comfortably serve all ages and all cultures. If a particular foreign language would be helpful in your area, include this in the job description. Outreach is challenging, but fun. Be sure to let the job candidates know that this is a job they will love.

Determining the qualities you seek for outreach workers
What are the qualities you need? Outreach is physically demanding. Most outreach departments require the ability to serve toddlers, kids, adults and seniors with equal enthusiasm. The perfect candidate for outreach will be adaptable! He will enjoy the challenge of working in a bookmobile with minimal air conditioning and will think nothing of pushing 500 pound book carts into the lobby of a senior living facility. Your perfect candidate will enjoy the variety of going to several neighborhoods every day, and they will even remember most of the patron’s names.

Education and experience qualifications
While library experience is helpful, some of the best outreach workers I have worked with have come from other professions. Experience driving a large vehicle may be preferred, but willingness to learn to drive the bookmobile is most important. Skills such as organization, interpersonal skills and familiarity with literature may be developed in business, non profit work or teaching. Are you looking for an MLS librarian to manage the collection and develop programs? Are you looking for the fresh perspective and technological fearlessness that a college student will bring to your department? These questions will determine the education and experience qualifications for your open position.

Driving record, DOT physical
It is important for the candidate you select to have a clean driving record if they will be driving a library vehicle. Let them know that you will check! Some libraries also require drivers to pass a DOT physical. For most employees this physical qualifies them for 2 years, but for some with physical conditions such as high blood pressure, an annual physical is required. If your vehicle requires drivers with a Commercial Drivers License, you must determine if you are willing to pay for the training and test or if you will limit your search to candidates who already possess this license.

Choosing between 2 great candidates
Great interview questions can bring out the best qualities in the candidate or alert you to potential trouble spots. You may have two candidates with just the experience and skill you are looking for. How will you select the right one for your department? Ask a question that lets them think big. “Describe a perfect day in outreach services.” “Tell us about an outreach service you have dreamed about starting.” “Tell us why you believe you can give outstanding customer services to children, families and seniors.” This kind of open ended question lets you see the real personality of the candidate. Usually someone emerges as a bit above the rest. Someone will show that they really have “outreach spirit”.

-Kathryn Totten is the Manager of Outreach and Thornton Branch for Rangeview Library District in Thornton, CO. Before joining Rangeview, she served as the bookmobile librarian for Arapahoe Library District. Kathy has been an advocate for library support for preschool literacy and adult literacy. She is the author of Family Literacy Storytimes (August 2009) from Neal Schuman Publishers, and the very popular Storytime Crafts series from Highsmith Press.

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