Library Leadership

45. Hiring 101 with Kelly Skovbjerg

Kelly Skovbjerg

Have you ever felt a twinge of nervousness when it came to hiring personnel? While hiring may sound easy on paper, in practice, it can be daunting to find the right employee for the right position. With proper implementation, an effective hiring process can save us time and money, as well as set our employees and our organizations up for success.

On today’s show, I talk with Kelly Skovbjerg, Director of the Patrick Heath Public Library in Texas, to gain insights about the best practices for bringing on employees. Whether you’re new to hiring, a seasoned professional, or someone who simply wants to learn more about what it takes to employ people as one of our most important assets – this information will help take the anxiety out of hiring. 


This podcast is brought to you by the School of Library and Information Management from Emporia State University, where library leaders are created, with program sites in Las Vegas, Nevada; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Denver, Colorado; Salt Lake City, Utah; Portland, Oregon; Boise, Idaho; and Emporia and Overland Park, Kansas.


This is Adriane Herrick Juarez. You’re listening to Library Leadership Podcast, where we talk about libraries, and leadership, and speak with guests who share their ideas, innovations, and strategic insights into the profession.

Have you ever felt a twinge of nervousness when it came to hiring personnel? While hiring may sound easy on paper, in practice it can be daunting to find the right employee for the right position. With proper implementation, an effective hiring process can save us time and money, as well as set our employees and our organizations up for success. 

On today’s show I talk with Kelly Skovbjerg, Director of the Patrick Heath Public Library in Texas, to gain insights about the best practices for bringing on employees. Whether you’re new to hiring, a seasoned professional, or someone who simply wants to learn more about what it takes to employ people as one of our most important assets, this information will help take the anxiety out of hiring.           Enjoy the show!

Welcome to the show, Kelly.

Kelly Skovbjerg:

Well, thank you, Adriane. It’s so nice to be here. It’s a wonderful opportunity, and thanks for asking me.


Question #1: Oh, it’s my pleasure. Hiring is something that as leaders we generally have to do at some point. Our workforce is arguably our most important asset in serving our communities. Sometimes we are plunged into the hiring process, and many of us have a lot of questions when this happens. So, I’m really happy you’re here today to talk to us about this. Will you start by sharing the importance of hiring in general? 01:55 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

As you mentioned, Adriane, people are our most valuable asset. We put a lot of time and money into them. We also put trust in our people to add value to our libraries in our communities. 

The people we hire can make or break the library’s reputation in an instant. They can also create low morale or a bad work environment. So, taking time to structure the hiring process is key to choosing the right people for our libraries and communities, and also retaining them.

There’s also two practical reasons to get the hiring process right, that’s turnover, and time. Turnover costs can be significant. This is a statistic that’s pretty staggering. For a median  US worker’s salary of $45,000, the estimated turnover cost is 33% of that salary. That’s $15,000. 

It also takes time to hire. If you hire the wrong employee you’re going to spend way more time actually attempting to weed them out. So, you may as well do the hard work upfront, then deal with a problem later.


Question #2: Wow, those are really interesting statistics. And, they speak to just how important this is so I’m glad that we are really diving into this today. The first thing you talk about in hiring is needing job descriptions. So, let’s start there. What are the best practices for this? 03:15 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

I think it’s important that everybody look at job descriptions as the foundation for the hiring process. Make sure that it’s really something you focus on, and that you have job descriptions for every single position in the library. And, that those job descriptions really reflect what you want that person to do, and know who’s in that position.

If that means revamping what your city, or your county, or your nonprofit board requires you to do, then I would definitely start making those kinds of changes, so you can make your job description exactly what you need.

I would also revise job descriptions at least annually. I do our job descriptions every single year when I give a performance review. I do it with the employee. And the hope is, that when I’m doing it with the employee, I’m getting buy-in from the employee for whatever revisions or changes are going to happen. 

You should also look at every job description in relation to the rest of the job descriptions in the library. What this should do, probably, is have you also looking at your organizational chart. So that your job descriptions really reflect people in the hierarchy, who’s supervising who, and how actual job duties are getting accomplished.

Then, at least once a month—and I have to actually calendar this, I actually search job websites so that I can get more information about job descriptions in the library. This is really helpful because if I can’t use it right then, I’m going to save it in a particular place and go back and look at it.


Question #3: This is impressive. Like you say, if you do this work upfront you have a better result in the end when you’re bringing somebody onboard into your organization, so that’s great. So, where should we be looking to post the job description when it’s done to get the best candidates? 05:13 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

I think you’d start with any internal websites or social media outlets, Facebook for sure. Then you also want to go out to your community and post in places like the Chamber of Commerce. If you’re like us, we’re a pretty small community so we’re not going to get a whole lot of reach with that. Then you want to go to state library associations or municipal, or council of governments. 

For instance, we have one called the Alamo Area Council of Governments. We post our job descriptions there. That’s in San Antonio, which is obviously a much larger city. I would also go to any library related listservs. 

Then for lower library positions I think you should stay in your state. But if you have a higher level position you want to advertise, you should go a little bit further to even states that border you, or even go out nationally.


Question #4: That sounds good. So at this stage, we’re going to say we put out a dynamic job description in all the right places, and we’ve gotten applications from numerous candidates. Okay. So, then the interview comes next. And, I think this is a really important piece. What are things we need to be thinking about here? 06:18 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

I heard a person who was giving a presentation at the Association for Rural and Small Libraries in Vermont last month. She said, Hire the person trained for the skills. And, I think that really encapsulates the hiring process. You obviously want to ask the right questions in the interview to get an understanding that the person you’re interviewing has the basic skills for the job. But what you really want to do, and this is kind of trial and error, is to determine the person’s character. You do that with the questions you ask.

Like I said, you really have to hone that process. I don’t think it’s a one time thing where you write down questions and you say, Okay, we’re done. We’re going to do this every time. I think you constantly have to refine what you’re doing based on the information you get in the interview.

Also, it’s really important that you have two people present in interviews. You have one person to ask the question, then one person to just sit and observe, to take the measure of the person that you’re interviewing. Include questions that are very specific to the job traits and skills you want for the position. Do not be afraid to ask follow-up questions. That’s, I think, where you get even better, richer information from applicants. 


Question #5: And all of the work, once again, that you put in here is going to pay off in spades. I think you really get to know, like you said, the character of the person that you are bringing into your organization, and hopefully will have them there for a very long time. So, one of the things that I think is so unique in libraries is that we have a set of very distinct core values. I know at times, when my team’s interviewing, especially for part-time positions, some of our applicants are new to libraries. Is there anything we can do during the screening process to set people up for success in relation to library-specific values? 08:05 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

I thought this was a really great question. I have some ideas. I think you could probably even go further with this. But aside from the typical functional questions that you would ask in a screening interview, I think you should ask questions that make people talk more freely about themselves. 

So, a standard question would be, Tell me a little about yourself. Well, instead of saying something like that you would say, Tell me a little about yourself, but don’t mention anything on your resume. Then you get a feel for that person’s character, and if they could fit into your culture, at least that’s the hope. 

Then you should ask any questions that speak to your library’s culture, or general library values and that would be something like, Why is the public library important? Kind of an open-ended, sort of, Tell me what your vision of a library is. Then another thing you could ask, and they’re multiple questions you could ask for this type of thing, but you could ask something like, What do you consider the top three most important qualities, or skills to possess when working in a modern library?

Then that gives you the feel for if they understand where they’re actually going to be working. The answers to these questions can be very revealing and introduce even more follow-up questions.


Question #6: These are great. I can almost hear our listeners scribbling down these questions as you talk [laughter] because they’re really good. I think I want to use those. So, one of the things I really like about your work is that you say the hiring process doesn’t stop once we’ve given a job offer. So, onboarding is an important part of this whole thing. Let’s say we’ve created an amazing job description, completed the interview process, and hired a candidate that we’re really excited about. How do we set ourselves and them up for success as they begin work? 09:52 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

This is another part of the process that takes time, but once you put the structure together you’re in really good shape. Really, all you do after that point is you refine it. Onboarding is really important because it’s the bond that you’re creating between yourself and the new employee, and the organization. That starts really, honestly, the minute you have an interview with them. It definitely begins the minute they walk in the door. 

I have personally walked into numerous library jobs in my career where no one, for instance, knew I was coming except the person who had hired me. That happened a couple of times. Then I also, at one job—in fact the job I’m currently in right now, I didn’t have a desk or a computer. I definitely didn’t have any training. For me it was a challenge. But for many people, they’re not going to stick around. They’re going to see that as a complete lack of interest in them being there, and who wouldn’t? 

I learned very early on that showing people the basic things is not enough to achieve any kind of competence or understanding, or to make employees feel welcome. People really want that kind of connection, I think, because they chose public service. They have some sort of desire to help people, and the public. Making them feel welcome as they do that is just a win-win for the library, and the new employee.

I think it’s especially true with millennials, who have very high expectations of where they work. And, they have a desire to have a better life and work balance. They also mostly seek new challenges at work. They work hard, but they want to feel a part of the organization. We’ve seen this play out many times, because we’ve hired a lot of millennials for our part-time entry level positions. 

The other thing about onboarding is that it provides an understanding of the values and the characteristics that are important to your individual culture. It takes less time for new employees to become productive. It leads to better assimilation with their colleagues and their co-workers. And most importantly, they feel a sense of purpose and belonging.


Question #7: I think that’s fantastic. I remember I went into a job position once and it was for one of the people I most liked working for in my career. Not only did he have the instructions laid out for me, the computer, the desk, everything ready, the staff was ready to welcome me. But, he also had brownies, so I mean, there you go. [laughter] 12:21

Kelly Skovbjerg:

That’s really an idea, right? Because I mean, just that little thing is so simple and very common sense. But probably everybody who’s listening to this, including myself is going, Oh, wow, that’s a fantastic idea. I’ve never thought of that. 

I think it’s important too, when you’re doing onboarding—and like I said it’s a lot of upfront work. But what you can do, if possible, if you’re not in a small library situation is to have somebody as a mentor to a new employee. It doesn’t even have to be someone who trains that person. It can just be someone who can answer questions, and get information for that person, make them feel like they have a resource they can go to pretty easily to ask questions. 

Then make a binder with just as much information as you can possibly dump into it that speaks to your organization. Just don’t throw it in the binder and hand it to them, but address all of those things in the binder so that they feel like they really have a thorough understanding of what you do and why you do it.


Question #8: Right. So helpful. Do you have any stories you can share with us about when you’ve seen hiring go well to illustrate how all of this can come together? 13:48 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

What I will say is that when it goes well there’s a great sense of satisfaction. I think there’s a great sense of satisfaction with the entire library team. I think that kind of bleeds over into your volunteer force. I know most public libraries have volunteers. We have lots of them. It makes them feel good as well. Maybe they don’t even know why they have this sense of satisfaction, or this great sense of feeling when they come into the library. It’s because you put the time in to make sure that everybody who walks in the door feels welcome. 

That includes patrons, obviously, but more importantly, employees. Because when you do that with employees, it’s going to extend to the way they work with everybody in the community. Over the last few years, well probably five years, we’ve had people come in who are hired. Like I say, we hire a lot of part-time entry level positions. They made a point to tell me, multiple times, how much they love the library, how happy they are that they were hired, and that they get to come to work at the library everyday. Even on the bad days, they still love the work. The morale, generally, stays up. People are happy to be here. 

We’ve also had numerous staff members start their master’s degrees in library science while working in our library. To me, that is such a compliment. Because that says, that this is something that they want to pursue, that they really love it enough to do something with it. Even if that means for me, knowing that those people will eventually leave the library because maybe I don’t have upward mobility for them. It’s still such a great thing to know that we were, I guess, the incubator of what those people wanted to do with their lives.


Question #9: That’s a great compliment, and a sure sign that things are going well with this process, and I know we all want to emulate that kind of thing. So, this is great. Is there anything else you would like to add? 16:00  

Kelly Skovbjerg:

Well I will say, and I’ve mentioned this before, hiring does take time. But ultimately, it is totally worth it to make the process as smooth as possible. I would also say, and I mentioned this previously, always revise what you do every time you go through the process. We’ll go through a hiring process where we do the job descriptions. We put the information out for people. We advertise. Then we do the interview process. And then, we sit down almost immediately afterwards and take what we’ve done and say, What did we learn this time and how can we revise what we did? I think that’s really, really helpful when we come to the next time that we do the same process again.


You mentioned that you include the employee in that process during the review. So, each year you’re looking at their job description with the person, which surely helps hone it in on what’s really going on.

Kelly Skovbjerg:

Exactly, because when you’re a manager you’re sitting behind a door. You try to be as involved as possible in the everyday goings-on in the library, but you can’t possibly know everything. If there’s something that has fundamentally shifted in a job description, or in the way a person does a job, or in the way that they’re assisting people, or demands from people are different than what they were a year before, then that’s the time to talk about it and make sure that it’s really covered in a job description, that you truly understand how that person works and you’re helping them do the best job they possibly can. 


Question #10: So true, as as we already mentioned they are our most important asset. They deserve all of this attention and ability to help us with all this, so that is fabulous. Do you have a favorite book or resource you’d like to share about leadership, and why? 17:54  

Kelly Skovbjerg:

Sadly, and I know we all have this situation, if we’re working in public libraries, I don’t have a lot of time to read. But, one book that I constantly look at for information, and it’s kind of an odd one for leadership, but it’s called, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, and it’s by David Allen. It was written, I think 2001, but it was just recently updated in 2015. 

I first read about this book in a Public Library’s article in November, or December 2017. It was an article called, Efficient Librarianship by Douglas Crane. I think any person who is in what he calls, Knowledge Work, should read this book. Because it’s a way of reframing how you do things, and how you change the way you do things, so you can be more productive.

And, it’s really simple things that you can do. You obviously have to be consistent with it, but that’s kind of hard, but it really does give you a new way of looking at how to be productive. 

For hiring I like a resource called, That one will sometimes just bring up the weirdest situations. Surprisingly sometimes you will have those weird situations and you’ll need answers to those kinds of questions, and it’s there. They do a nice job of categorizing each of the things that get asked on that website.


Question #11: Good resources, thank you. I also, as we close, just like to always ask what does being a librarian mean to you, personally? 19:44 

Kelly Skovbjerg:

I think the great thing about librarianship—and I’ve thought this throughout my career, I mean, I’ve been in librarianship for, gosh, a long time now, since 1997. But, I think the great thing about librarianship is that it combines the best of many things. In my career I’ve gotten to do many different things. I’ve gotten to work with some really amazing people, almost on a daily basis. The work-defined solutions to librarian and community issues, which is really important to me personally, and I get to do that through librarianship. 

It’s just a wide open profession where if you have the curiosity, you have the inclination, you can explore anything that looks interesting to you, and try new things. The other thing about librarianship that I found very early on was that no day is ever the same. That if you’re a person who might get bored because the job is too repetitive, or you’re doing the same thing over, and over again, it’s a real good place to be because there’s always something that you can learn. There’s always something to discover.


That is a great part about the work. Kelly, it’s been so great talking to you today. This show is fantastic and I really appreciate you sharing about hiring with all of us. It’s going to be very helpful.

Kelly Skovbjerg:

Well, you’re very welcome. It was a pleasure.

You’ve been listening to Library Leadership Podcast. I’m your host, Adriane Herrick Juarez. Our producer is Nate Vineyard. More episodes can be found at, where you can now subscribe to have new shows delivered right into your email inbox. You can also find the show on Apple iTunes, or wherever you get your podcasts. Thank you for listening. We’ll see you next time.

You may also like
74. Partnering for Impact with Cheryl Heywood
39. The Public Library Director’s Toolkit with Kate Hall and Kathy Parker