Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Let's put our heads together

I am really fascinated by the work done by Ithaka S+R. Even when I don't entirely agree with what's written in their publications, I find myself using their writing as a entry point for engaging with academia and the academic library. The most recent Ithaka S+R issue brief, Talent Management for Academic Libraries, was published on September 1st and I thought it had a lot of interesting things to say about recruitment and retention of academic librarians.

Talent management is a field of human resources management made famous by the 2001 book The War for Talent. In it, the authors discuss the ways in which companies could (and should) be deliberate in how they recruit, retain, and develop employees. Talent management (and The War for Talent) has become the go-to strategy for recruitment and retention in technology start-up culture and Deanna Marcum, the author of the issue brief, takes the tenants of talent management and applies them to the field of academic librarianship.

When considering the recruitment of new talent to an organization, talent management suggests that an organization should do as much work recruiting talent to the library as it does posting a job vacancy and passively accepting applications. In the brief, Marcum writes:
In an organization possessed of a talent mindset, managers and colleagues are creative in building candidate pools. They network through the community to identify the best possible candidates, reaching out to them and selling them on the awaiting opportunity. When they see that a vacancy may arise, they may bring potential candidates to campus for a visit or a talk. They participate in the selection process muscularly, rather than passively. They actively engage throughout the hiring process, recognizing that it is among the most important tasks the organization takes on.
I think this is an interesting idea for academic librarianship, and I suspect a lot of this kind of recruitment already happens off-the-record. If you are an administrator, you probably know someone that you would love to have working in your library. And if a job comes open that fits with that person's skill set, you're probably going to send them an email or call them or seek them out at a conference. I think this kind of recruitment is especially important if your library is in a perceived undesirable location or if you worry that the salary and benefits package may not be enough of a draw to someone in the field.

The potentially problematic side effect of this kind of talent recruitment is a fixation on fit. While it isn't necessarily problematic for administrators to identify potential employees who are forward thinking and are well regarded professionally, it veers into problematic territory when those recruited are chosen because they look and act like the existing members of the organization. Smarter people than me have written about fit and I encourage you to read them. Angela Galvan wrote a piece for In the Library with the Lead Pipe about the how whiteness and middle class-ness are inextricably linked to librarianship. Jacob Berg blogged about how fit is an unconscious bias that causes us to favor applicants who are like us. And in most cases, "Like Us" means white, middle-class, heterosexual, cisgendered people.

So here's my take: we shouldn't dismiss recruiting talent out of hand just because it has the potential to be problematic. Instead, let's revisit Marcum's piece. In it, she asserts than in an organization that recruits and retains using a talent management mindset, all of the staff have a role to play in identifying potential new colleagues. She writes:
All staff are on the constant lookout for excellent additions to their teams, even when there are no specific vacancies to be filled.
So, if it's up to us to identify our potential colleagues, let's use our positions of privilege to identify the people from underrepresented groups who would make great colleagues. Let's worry less about fit and more about giving a platform to the smartest voices in our field that have, to this point, been marginalized. And let's not do it because we expect a plate of cookies for being good allies. Let'd do it because it will be beneficial for librarianship, for our libraries and for those we serve.

Stay positive,

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