Monday, September 20, 2010

Thoughts on interviewing for (public) librarianship positions

NOTE: The following thoughts are strictly my personal opinions. They do not necessarily reflect the views of my employers. Of course, my opinions do form part of my assessment when I'm interviewing candidates in the course of my job. But I think you'll find what follows as mainly common sense.

During the #singlibtour, @librarianhoi asked if I sat in interview panels for job applicants. I said yes. She asked if I had any tips for interviewees.

It so happened I had read something from a free publication, from In it was an interview with the HR director of Agilent Technologies, Mr Charles Chee:
Question: "What is one blunder you see when candidates apply for a job in your company?"

Answer: "Not knowing what is expected of the job and not knowing what the company does."

Question: "What can candidates do to separate themselves from the rest of the pack?"

Answer: "Be passionately knowledgeable about the job that you are applying for and understand the expectations of the company".

The responses were 100% applicable to any library job interview, I replied to Hoi.

Our conversation got me thinking: what would I say to those interested in public service librarian positions? More specifically, those who have been selected for interviews.

So here goes:

If you're thinking, "The library should hire me 'cos I love to read", think again.

The primary reason is about Service. To serve. To help others.

You must have the conviction and patience to act in a customer-service role, with the broad aim of creating meaningful learning experiences.

Many candidates first start off by saying they love reading (btw, I probably said that myself when I went for my interview 15 years ago!) It's pretty much a given that librarians should be readers. But that alone isn't enough.

You can be a voracious reader but if you aren't sincere about helping total strangers meet their library-related needs, then do reconsider applying.

I can't say this enough: Above all, public librarianship is about the genuine interest for helping others, in non-judgmental ways.

We're are paid to help others. It is a job. The job requires us to make things convenient for customers, not for customers to make things easy for you.

About your educational qualifications. They are merely that -- qualifications. As in, they qualify you to be selected for the interview. Whether you get the job or not depends on other factors.

As to what those "other factors" are, read on.

I've come across a few candidates who seem interested in how the employer can help them progress, career-wise. Such candidates make little impression, or they are not convincing, in how they can genuinely contribute to the organisation.

Often times, I'd like to tell them that they are applying for a job, and not a scholarship.

There are candidates who are able to convincingly show, within that 10 to 20 minutes of conversation, just how much research they have done about the job, BEFORE the interview.

By "research", I don't necessarily mean they have full knowledge of 'what a librarian does' (you can't unless you've been one). The better candidates are often able to show reasonable attempts in learning more about the work that they would be getting into.

Even in today's context -- with the Internet, blogs, mailing lists -- I'm constantly surprised at how some job applicants have no clue as to basic information about the organisation. Such candidates really have no excuse for not making the attempt.

And it's not just reading up on the Internet or memorising key points from mailing lists.

The simplest way is to use the library. Attend library programmes. Make use of the library facilities, materials and services.

Ah, I bet you're asking, "What if a job candidate reads this post and bluffs his/ her way through the interview?"

Well, such people can fake all they want. They can conduct themselves like they were the perfect candidates for the job. But ultimately, they end up fooling themselves. They would have wasted their time during the months or years on the job. Time is opportunity cost.

In my experience, interviewers (there's a reason why they are a panel) can spot rote answers most of the time, no matter how well rehearsed.

Come to think of it, let's say the interviewers are fooled by you at the interview. And you get the job. But would your other soon-to-be colleagues at work be fooled all the time? Which is the worse outcome?

Be who you are, and not what you think the organisation/ interviewer expects you to be. It's less painful for both parties in the long run.

If you sincerely believe the job is for you, that's well and good. Even if things don't work out, I always believe that's OK too. As long as you accepted the job in good faith.

I also think it's absolutely OK to admit to what you don't know during the interview. Better to honestly admit what you don't know, than to fake it.

Even if you're more interested in "what can the organisation do for me" (some people just do, for their own reasons) that's fine as well. Again, as long as you admit that upfront. I can respect that.

Leave your romantic notions of librarianship at the door.

Not that you can't find happiness in librarianship (many people do!) but temper that with a good healthy dose of reality.

Someone once told me that work is called work because it's not fun. At least, not all the time.

As you probably realise, I'm not giving away any secrets here. You wouldn't have any "unfair advantage" over other job candidates (well, maybe you have a slight advantage over those who didn't do their "homework" but that's just proving my earlier point, isn't it?)

Final tip: Honesty, humility and integrity are often the most important values. In my own opinion of course.

Good luck!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

It's a Fine Arts future in Singapore

More than 20 years ago, at the crossroad of my teenage life, I asked a teacher if I should enter into an art vocational school.

"Don't. There is no future in art in Singapore."

When I heard the reply, I wasn't surprised. It's 20 years later and I do not think my teacher was wrong then. She answered to the best of her knowledge. She was echoing the prevailing sentiment those days, and perhaps even today.

Tonight I was at a blogger's preview for the coming Open House for the National Arts Gallery of Singapore (TNAGS).

The TNAGS folks fielded questions candidly. Questions on operating costs. Or whether TNAGS may affect the sales of private art galleries. I wanted to ask what TNAGS collections would be (later I learned their collections would focused on Asian/ Singapore and mainly on Fine Arts -- paintings, sculptures -- but would also include contemporary art works).

Former Supreme Court Building

The guided tour revealed interesting nooks within the Former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings (the two would be eventually linked by a sky bridge to become the National Art Gallery).

Former Supreme Court Building

We had a special tour to the top of the dome of the Victorian-style Former Supreme Court building...
Former Supreme Court Building

... which gave us an excellent view to the night cityscape.
View from the top of the Former Supreme Court Building View from the top of the Former Supreme Court Building

We were guided along through and into courtrooms, judges' chambers, prisoners' holding cells...
Former Supreme Court Building
Former Supreme Court Building
Former Supreme Court Building

Former Supreme Court Building Former Supreme Court Building

Former Supreme Court Building
The bar

... and venues that have been silent witnesses to history.
City Hall
City Hall

I thought it was a brilliant decision to use the Former Supreme Court and City Hall buildings for Singapore's National Art Gallery. The Corinthian-style architecture reminded me of art galleries in Vienna and London.

Tonight, although there were no art pieces on display, I had a pretty good sense how a visit to TNAGS might be like. And I'm really looking forward to the official opening (by then, maybe TNAGS might offer a tactile-experiential element...)

Seems to me that art and space are intertwined. It's not just the visual aspect of looking at an art piece but also the experience of 'being there', standing in a gallery.

The grandeur of the physical building brings a different experience to viewing the artwork. Size does matter.

But for much of the tour, what kept coming to mind were the words my teacher said to me 20 plus years ago.

Ever since my Kindergarten days, teachers have always noticed my flair for drawing and painting. My parents must have recognised it too, for they paid for my once-a-week art lessons for several years up, till I was 13.

It wasn't until the end of Secondary School that I seriously thought of continuing my education in Fine Arts. But 20 years ago, the conventional thinking was that one should take up a course of study that would put food on the table. Which meant that one should pursue a career in anything but the arts.

As an adult now, far from looking back with regrets, I'm quietly happy.

Not that I expect TNAGS to exhibit my hobby work (I have my own *ahem* online multimedia gallery for that, heh).

I'm happy because at this point I can better appreciate and value art, not as a job or work but as catharsis. And I'm happy because the National Art Gallery would be a place to further expand my enjoyment and capacity for the fine arts.

Also, I'm quietly hopeful.

That our National Art Gallery would be an inspiration for Singapore's young. Some of whom might one day stand at their own crossroad in life, and wonder if there's any future in art.

My answer to that is there is definitely one.

p.s. Hat-tip to Kevin and Walter for the invite. And to other TNAGS staff for organising this.

TNAG staff

The TNAGS Open House will be held on 9th and 10th Oct, 2010. The website for sign-ups will be up soon is here. BTW, Barcamp Singapore will also be held at TNAGS (how cool is that?!) I'm thinking of doing this as a barcamp presentation. If there are no takers for this topic, I might just sit there and... paint :)

Tag: tnags, TNAGS

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

NLB's Customer Appreciation Day + 15-Year Anniversary

A few hours ago, I was at the Central Public Library for the launch of NLB's Customer Appreciation Day.
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

The event is into its fifth year. Its the NLB way of thanking library customers for their support.

Hours before the speech and presentation ceremony, kids were invited to create figurines from polymer clay.
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

Here's a shot of three of the library's Junior Reading Ambassador rehearsing their show.
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

[Fast-forward to the presentation ceremony] After the speech by the Chief Executive of NLB, awards were given out to library customers. Some were for demonstration of good library etiquette while some were recognised for being avid readers/ users of the library.

Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

Seated right in front of me was an avid reader! I spotted this child reading a compilation of the READ! Singapore stories, which was part of the goodie bag for guests.
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

Guests queuing for food and refreshments after the simple award ceremony. Staff were on hand to mingle and interact with them as well.
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary

NLB 15-YEAR Anniversary
This September is also the 15-Year Anniversary of the formation of National Library Board.

Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary NLB 15-Year anniversary, Sept 2010

Here's a non-comprehensive list of highlights in the 15-Year NLB history
  • 1996 - Jurong West Public Library; first NLB library in a shopping mall.
  • 1997 - Library Supply Centre at Changi opens.
  • 1998 - Bukit Panjang Public Library; first to prototype Colour Coding of library books. This was also the year of the centralised library sale of weeded books (used to be held at individual libraries). Bukit Batok PL was the first library to have the RFID electronic library management system. Made possible the instant online clearing of loans as soon as items are dropped in.
  • 1999 - library@orchard opens; designed and positioned as a lifestyle library (targeted at adults; no Children's section) located at Ngee Ann City, in the hub of Singapore's shopping belt. This was also the year NLB launched the Student Virtual Community web service. It was a service concept ahead of its time, where the site offered online collaborative features like file/ document sharing and repository -- kinda like a more primitive version of Google Docs and YouTube.
  • 2000 - Marine Parade PL opens; the first NLB library co-located within a community club. This was also the year Asian Children's Festival opens.
  • 2001 - "Born to Read, Read to Born" reading initiative launched.
  • 2002 - library@esplanade opens, the first performing arts public library. That was also the year Sengkang PL opened; touted as a DIY library (has a concierge service rather than a full-fledged service counter).
  • 2004 - kidsREAD initiative launched. Jurong Regional Library was also re-opened, featuring a dedicated floor for teens. In that year, the National Library building at Stanford Road closes to public.
  • 2005 - READ! Singapore launches. The new National Library building opens at Victoria street.
  • Library 2010 plan published. Email reminder service launched too.
  • 2007 - launched.
  • 2008 - Molly the Mobile Library launched.
  • 2009 - Library In Your Pocket service launched. Quest, a reading initiative targeted at reluctant readers, was also launched.
  • 2010 - launched. Facebook app launched as well.
This page from the NLB corporate website has a more comprehensive list of the milestones (1995 - 2008).

Loads of things happening from now till 15 Sept ("15 Treasures", "15 Lucky Draw winners" etc.). Check out the website for more details.

Here's to 15 years more!
Customer Appreciation Day + NLB 15-Year Anniversary