From the CJCLS Listserv: Questions to Ask College President Candidates

ORIGINAL QUESTION:

My state technical college is in search of a new president. I am honored to be on the search committee. We need to come up with questions for the interview. What are some good questions that can be asked about the library field, information literacy, or other related areas?

One of the first respondents said he or she asks about the role of libraries within a college setting:

Library products and services are evolving at a rapid pace. With so many online resources available, some believe libraries are becoming irrelevant. What are your thoughts on the role of the library in teaching and learning, and also in the academic success and retention of our students? How have you advocated for libraries in your past positions?

Respondents agreed that questions such as these will be revealing, and “will quickly set off your cow dung detector.” Others suggested to ask candidates about their views on the value of libraries and the level at which they value them. These answers can gauge the amount of support a candidate is willing to provide to the library and its services. Sometimes, the answers may indicate their level of engagement or understanding:

I recently served on committees interviewing individuals who had been in the classroom. I asked candidates how they and their students made use of the library’s print and electronic resources and then I see how they respond. If the candidate starts talking about their book club or how they still love the smell of old books, you know you have some work to do.

Naturally, candidate responses can help with selecting one:

It would be better to have someone with a few preconceived notions about college libraries than one with many firm, outdated ones.

Some respondents gave scenarios where their college administrators were not informed about the library or its operations. Many administrators believe libraries are obsolete because of the internet. In one example, a chief financial officer asked a librarian why she had an acquisitions budget if she was not buying books. Administrators are often unaware of factors affecting access to information such as database licenses, copyright, and fair use. While these conversations were dismaying at times, other respondents said these discussions offer opportunities to inform administrators.  Sometimes, these discussions forged relationships:

I had a similar conversation about our site license for Wall Street Journal with our then-new head of the business office. He had never worked in government or higher education. Needless to say, after my initial incredulity and exasperation, I realized he needed some serious education about our world. Thus began many tedious, but eventually fruitful conversations about library purchasing, licensing, and other financial matters. He became a supporter and a friend, and I maintained contact with him after I moved on from that college.

One respondent said being a part of the presidential search offered an opportunity to educate administrators. Ultimately, librarians need to initiate these conversations, whether it is through search committees with candidates or with established college administrators:

Let your library become the positive model from which your administration learns. This is not easy, but we have no other choice.

It is part of our job to always explain, educate, and advocate.

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About Kristy Padron, MLIS

Kristy Padron coordinates library instruction and provides information services for the Florida Atlantic University (FAU) Libraries in Boca Raton, Florida. Prior to her work at FAU, Kristy served a broad range of communities. She held positions at Miami Dade College, The University of West Florida, and Wayne State University. When Kristy is not busy with being a librarian, she likes to travel, be outdoors, and hang out with her pet mini-dachshund.
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