“Where Do You See Yourself in 10 Years?”: Thinking Critically About Interviewing for Librarian Positions

By Robin O’Hanlon

Book coverAlong with “Tell us your strengths and weaknesses,” “Where Do You See Yourself in 5 (or 10 or 15) years?” has to be one of the most clichéd interview questions of all time. Yet the question does demand self-reflection and contemplation on one’s professional goals and desires. Interviews exist within a transitional space, a place in between, and they force us to think about our futures. Transitional spaces can be very hard places to negotiate – they make us feel vulnerable and unsure of ourselves.  I wrote my book, Ace the Interview, Land a Librarian Job (Libraries Unlimited, 2016) to tell all librarians who are about to embark on the interview process – from recent MLIS grads to seasoned professionals – that interviewing doesn’t have to be scary. Interviewing well consists of a set of skills which can learned, refined, and perfected.

I also wanted to address what makes the librarian interview process unique. At its core, the librarian profession is beset by stereotypes, misconceptions and myths (e.g., libraries equal books and nothing else). Any decent professional librarian worth his/her weight in salt can swiftly and eloquently deflect and debunk these myths, but these preconceived notions remain pernicious and invasive. I can’t count the number of times a colleague has asked me when preparing for a librarian position interview if they look “librarian-y” enough. What on earth does that even mean, one has to wonder, and more importantly, what does that particular mindset represent? If we can’t even shake off the stereotypes of how we are “supposed” to dress, how can we confidently and persuasively combat stereotypes about our profession, the services we provide, and the value we add to our communities?

Another aspect that makes interviewing for librarian positions unique is the rapidly changing face of the profession. As I explain in my book:

The extent to which the librarian profession has changed over time makes it unique. The work of librarians today is often utterly unrecognizable when compared to the work of librarians 30, 20, or even 10 years ago. The librarian profession has shifted from information keeping to information facilitation and access. Librarians, while always early adapters of technologies, have had to become more technically savvy than ever to meet the ever-evolving needs of our users.

Changes in librarian work are reflected in the ever growing number of librarian positions.

Library Journals annual placements and salaries survey examines the trend of new and emerging librarian positions and every year it seems that more and more new types of librarian positions come into existence. While it’s wonderful that librarianship is expanding into so many different areas (e.g., data management, instructional design, web analytics, etc.) it also means that there’s no frame of reference for these candidates when preparing for interviews. Librarians interviewing in today’s job market must be nimble, seeking mentorship from and collaborating with relevant experts outside of the profession, in addition to their fellow librarians.

Finally, in order for modern librarians to be successful, they must be versatile. Today’s library work demands that we wear many hats. Stephanie Maatta has noted that recent MLIS graduates have “emphasized the dual nature of many of their jobs: reference and digital services; adult services and community outreach librarian, for example; they frequently use the term blended to describe this duality” (Maatta, 2012). Due to shrinking budgets, librarians are being asked to do more with less.

For special librarians, being asked to wear many hats is nothing new. Solo special librarians in particular know the pain of having to perform the work of an entire library staff, but without the support or combined knowledge of a group. If you’re about to interview for a solo librarian position, keep in mind that you’ll need to address how you intend to overcome the challenges inherent to solo librarianship. You may be asked questions related to task prioritization and organization, as well as project management. Candidates should be sure to discuss how they intend to stay connected to their professional communities, as well as issues concerning connecting with donors and developing funding sources. Most importantly, a good solo librarian candidate will be able to authentically and confidently express how their unique combination of skills and expertise makes them the ideal candidate for the job. You must be able to articulate what makes you “special” enough to work in the special library of your dreams.


Maatta, Stephanie. “Placements & Salaries 2012: Emerging jobs, New Titles.” Library Journal, last

modified October 15, 2012, http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2012/10/placements-and-salaries/2012-survey/emerging-jobs-new-titles/

O’Hanlon, Robin. Ace the Interview, Land a Librarian Job. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited, 2016,