Monday, March 3, 2014

So you want to be a prison librarian-tips for getting hired

Greetings, loyal readers and potential prison librarians!  Happy 2014!  This post today is dedicated to all the job seekers who are interested in actually working in a prison library.  I am going to give you some helpful tips and pointers for your interview that you can use if you are being considered for a prison library position.

1. Pay close attention to the geographic requirements of the job.  Most prisons are in rural areas, which is good for cost of living, bad for your social life.  First, consider if you really want to work 2+ hours away from the nearest metropolitan area.  Second, if you are already in a rural area and lucky enough to get an interview for an urban prison librarian position, please do research on housing availability and prices BEFORE the interview.  If you decide that you don't want to/can't afford to live in a place AFTER you have rocked the interview and gotten everyone all excited, that will be disappointing for everyone involved.

2. If you get an interview-BRING A RESUME.  Better yet, bring three copies of your resume.  Never assume I know who you are.  My HR department does not give me ANY background info on the people I am interviewing.  The more materials you have to leave for me, the better and longer-lasting impression you will make.

3. I do not want your 6 page CV that details every little thing you have ever done in your entire life.  Keep it to two pages MAX and I want everything in it related to the position at hand.  If you have no prison experience, that is ok.  Detail how the experience you DO have will benefit my library.

4. When asked the million dollar question, "So.  Why are you interested in working in a prison library?" DO NOT say "Well, I am really not, it is just something I applied for."  When I have six candidates, and two say "I am really interested in correctional librarianship because......" and the other four are just there because they are trying to find a job, any job, I am going to pick the ones who want to be there.  Prison is hard, and if you are just looking for a job, any job, my suggestion is to also apply at a book store.

5. Do some research about the prison at which you are applying.  (You should really research any place to which you are applying.)  If you can't find anything about the prison in particular, read some books about correctional librarianship.  You know that part in the job advertisement where it says "For questions, contact________"?  It is ok to call them and talk about the position.  Ask intelligent questions like, "What is the culture of your institution?" and "What personality types would fit best in this position?"  That way you can a.) pre-screen the position to see if you would be a good fit and b.) ask even more intelligent questions in the interview because you already have some background about the place.  The National Institute of Corrections  is a phenomenal resource to learn about the trends in corrections that are mirrored in correctional librarianship.  Trauma-Informed Approaches?  Yep, we are trending towards that.  Gender-Informed Practice?  Yes, we are changing our culture to reflect that too.  If anyone knew about those buzz words during an interview with me, they would score at least 10 extra credit points, even if they have no library experience beyond the minimum qualifications.

6. The background check.  You will be subjected to a background check and drug test prior to your employment in a prison library.  I had one applicant who was PHENOMENAL.  This person had all the right qualities for the position.  Unfortunately, they did not pass the background check.  If there is anything in your past or present that might preclude you from working here, just be advised that they dig up EVERYTHING.  So be honest, and if there is anything questionable just know that even though you might be the perfect person for the job, if you can't jump through the hoops, you will not be eligible for hire.  

In conclusion, dear readers, a final word of wisdom: Even if you don't get that job, it doesn't mean you are a bad person or a bad librarian.  It just means that you weren't right for the position at that moment.  So if prison libraries are something you are passionate about, think about what I said, re-tool your resume and interview skills, dust yourself off and try again.  Until next time!


  1. This was very helpful; thank you so much for posting it!

    1. You're welcome! Best of luck in your prison librarian job search!