Ask a Storytime Ninja: Interview Questions

In this installment Ninjas shared the kinds of questions one might ask if you were on the interview team for your new supervisor. I don’t know about all of you, but that is a WAY COOL opportunity to have! If you have more questions to add to the list, don’t hesitate to comment.

Question from Karen:

“Not exactly related to storytime, but sort of. My supervisor resigned in July to move on to other pursuits, and the Youth Services staff has been asked to sit in on the interviews for the top three candidates. We’ll also be allowed to ask questions. I’ve never done this anything like this before, as I’m a new-ish librarian, and wondered if anyone has any suggestions for good questions to ask. Thanks!”

Answers:

Lisa (@lmulvenna) says:

The nice thing about this type of interview is that there will be other staff (the decision makers) who will carry the interview.  This means that you can ask what is important to you if you want to jump in.  What is going to make this interviewee a good boss for you?  Do you have a focus for your job that you like to work on, such as early literacy or story times?  Then I would ask what the interviewees see as important parts of the youth services department at your library.  Are you interested in getting out to conferences and workshops?  Then I would ask what the last good one that they attended was.  While the decision makers will be looking more for fit for the library, this is your chance to see how they would fit into your department.  Also, if you don’t have any questions, you can just sit back and listen.  Your opinion will still be valuable to the decision makers.  I will say that this isn’t something to stress too much about as you won’t be making the final decision.

Kirby (@kirby_mcc) says:
1. What role do you see Youth Librarians playing in the branch?
2. What ways will you support services to Youth and Family in the library?
3. Scheduling conflicts often arise with outreach requests and desk time, how do you prioritize when creating schedules and staffing?
4. According to YALSA teens are a library population that is under served. Do you agree or disagree? What solutions do you have for this issue?

K Leigh (@storytimefun) says:
Here are a couple of questions I was recently asked during my interview for a Children’s Dept. Head position:
What would be your top three goals for your first year as head of our department?
In your opinion, how important is it for our programming and our book collection to reflect the individual needs of our community? How would you go about assessing those needs?
If a program doesn’t appear to be successful. Would you be willing to reassess it and make changes? What would your criteria be for a successful program?

Hope this helps! I will try remember some of the other questions I was asked. It was a good interview full of great questions!

Amy (@amyeileenk) says: I would love to ask potential candidates about their program-planning philosophy. I think this is relevant whether the interviewee would be planning and offering programs or just supervising librarians who do. I’d be very interested to hear candidates talk about how they program and why: Do they read lots of books on the theme/for the age group? Do they use social media for ideas, like blogs and/or Pinterest? Do they rely on past programs or continually add to their repertoire? Do they spend lots of time planning? Do they reflect upon past programs when creating new ones? These sorts of snippets about program-planning style and philosophy would help me see how well a candidate would fit into the institution and existing department, and it would also give a glimpse of potential changes in programming–both positive and negative–should the person be hired.

Abby (@abbylibrarian) says: We have recently hired several people for my department. One of my favorite questions to ask is “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake or something went wrong and how you dealt with it.” We use this in place of something like “What’s your greatest weakness” because I feel like it’s a little less threatening. Everyone makes mistakes and we know that; the important thing is how you make it right. Anyone who tells a story and then assures us “it wasn’t my fault!” gets a red flag in my book. We all make mistakes.

Another question that we’ve used is “What resources do you or would you use for professional development?” Especially if you’re hiring a supervisor, it’s essential that that person is tuned into professional development resources, not only for herself but for your department’s continued learning, too! You may also want to ask about programming resources. When I ask these questions, I don’t necessarily have a “right” answer in mind, but it’s great to know if the candidate is able to come up with several resources that he has or would use.

Kiera (@libraryvoice) says: It’s so great that your admins are bringing you into the decision-making process. More places should!I think you first need to ask yourself a few questions: In what direction is your library & your department headed? Are you a cohesive team with a clear vision & shared goals? Or are you in need of change and a strong leader to inspire that change? Knowing where you all want to go will help you figure out the kind of person you want to lead you there.Once that is clear, you might want to ask the candidates:

– Where do you see the children’s library/youth services in 5 years, in 10 years? What do you think needs to happen to make that vision successful?

– Tell us about a time when you were professionally frustrated. What happened and what did you do?

– What are you reading this week?

In my experience the ideal person will be both a kick@ss librarian and a good leader. You want someone with knowledge & experience in youth services (who actually loves working with children!) and who understands what it means to be on the front line staff. You also want someone who can plan strategically, be a strong advocate for youth services, listen openly, and make tough decisions when called upon. Look for that X factor- that sparkle in the eye- that sense that they are not just good at what they do but that they LOVE it. Choose someone who brings energy and joy. Choose someone that you are excited to work alongside.

Allison (@allofthelibrary) says:
“What is your favorite book? Why?”
“What do you like to do in your free time?”
“How will you be getting to work?  What is your backup plan if it snows/trains don’t run/whatever?”
“What was your biggest challenge working in a public library?  Proudest accomplishment?”
“Is there anything not on your resume that we should know?”
The all time most horrible question that I got was “How do you feel about Black people?”  I was so shocked, I could barely speak.  Don’t ask that question.
I hope that this helps and good luck with the interviews.

Mary (@daisycakes) says: Is it possible to ask that they demonstrate a storytime, or at least show you and explain a storytime plan? I’d want to know what elements they’d include (including early literacy stuff). I’d definitely want them to at least read you a book so you can get an idea of their storytime style. Perhaps ask that performance vs. book discussion question? Or, similarly, do they see storytime as being entertainment or education? Or both? I think that could be quite revealing.

Angela (@annavalley) says: I would want to ask the new supervisor what their view on continuing education and conference attendance is. How much do they value their staff being fresh and up on the latest in Youth Services? How much do they value the importance of the time and effort it takes to be the best at your job? And how will they support their staff in their efforts to be the best?

Leona (@layleevj) says: I think it is important to ask what each what their managing style is, and have them demonstrate a sample storytime (assuming this is for a YS supervisor position).  What candidates answer for managing style will give you a good idea of how it will be working under/with them. Sample storytimes give interviewers the opportunity to see how candidates would interact w/ kids, whether they are aware of developmentally appropriate activities, and just a general sense of their attitudes/personality.

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