Trends in Internet-Based Library Recruitment:
An Introductory Survey

Sarah L. Nesbeitt

The text of this article is published by the Haworth Press, Inc. (10 Alice Street, Binghamton, New York 13905-1580) in IRSQ: Internet Reference Services Quarterly (A Journal of Innovative Information Practice, Technologies, and Resources), Vol.4, Issue 2 (1999), Marilyn K. Moody, Editor.

1/5/04: Would anyone like a free print copy of this article?  I got 25 free copies upon publication, and still have around 20 of them.  If so, send me your name and where to send it to.   Some of the graphics in the online version never did come out.  --sln

ABSTRACT:  For the past several years, librarians have been turning to the Internet to recruit candidates for open positions. Job announcements make frequent appearances in library-related mailing lists, and the trade publications of the field are increasingly making their classified ads available online. The Internet also seems the perfect venue for employers to research applicants and communicate with their references. Responses to a survey of 70 employers taken during the fall of 1997 illustrate exactly how librarians are using the Internet for recruiting purposes. How successful are Internet-based position announcements in comparison to those placed in print sources? How frequently are electronic resumes accepted? Does posting a position online indicate certain expectations which employers have of candidates? In addition to providing answers to these questions, the results of this survey suggest methods that applicants can use to improve their chances at successfully finding a job online. Finally, this article anticipates the future of online recruitment in the library field and the impact that this will have for employers and jobseekers alike.


Librarians are increasingly turning to the Internet in order to search for the perfect job. The sources for online job announcements are many: any librarian belonging to an e-mail discussion list has likely received position notices posted by his or her colleagues. In addition, many trade publications in the library field regularly post classified ads on the Internet at no cost to jobseekers,1 and numerous statewide and regional library associations have Web sites with employment listings. In fact, because so many print sources for job announcements have online counterparts, if your library has advertised an open position in the past year, chances are good that the announcement has appeared somewhere on the Internet--whether you intended it or not.

Despite the many advertising sources to choose from, most librarians posting positions online turn to the sources most convenient for them, namely e-mail discussion groups and library-specific employment sites. Not only are these methods usually free, but they seemingly provide an easy, quick way to reach a ready-made target audience. In addition, the Internet gives applicants the opportunity to scan through job ads, research job locations, and communicate with possible future employers. At first glance, anyway, the Internet seems a near-perfect recruitment source!

As someone who has compiled a Web-based library employment site for the past several years,2 I began to wonder how the Internet has influenced the recruiting process for librarians. Are online advertising methods successful? How have librarians used the Internet to communicate with and gain background information on applicants? To this end, during the summer and early fall of 1997, I took a survey of librarians who had used the Internet to advertise positions, in order to determine their overall experience and satisfaction with going online to recruit candidates. While this survey was geared toward employers, jobseekers will likely find the survey results equally helpful as they begin their own job search.

When I began this analysis, I was unable to find any formal studies in the literature on this topic. However, in the past few years there have been several articles, geared toward jobseekers, which suggest useful ways to conduct a job search on the Internet.3


Survey Methodology

I designed a 15-question survey designed to analyze librarians’ overall experience with the online recruitment process, from the initial advertisement to the application procedure and candidate research (see Appendix). Each question was designed to contribute to understanding on one of the following topics:

While most questions required only that respondents check a particular box, comments were encouraged at several points in the survey. Respondents were also given the option to list their name and position title so that they might be contacted if any questions arose.


A copy of the survey was posted to five different e-mail discussion lists (COLLIB-L, LIBREF-L, PUBLIB, WEB4LIB, and LIBPER-L)4, each with a distinct audience, in order to reach librarians in a wide variety of positions. In addition, an HTML version of this survey was made available via my Web page for library employment sources. Only librarians who had posted a position on the Internet (at any time in the past) were asked to respond. Though the survey was posted during June and July 1997, responses continued to arrive through the fall. By the end of October 1997, 70 sets of survey responses had been received.

The Survey Respondents and Jobs Advertised

The majority of survey respondents were academic librarians (66%), though a reasonable number (24%) came from public libraries. The remaining (10%) responses came from special librarians or from individuals who worked in other information-related settings, including archives and computer centers.

ChartObject Figure 1.  Survey respondents by library type

The positions which were advertised varied greatly: examples include Bilingual Librarian, Electronic Services Librarian, Webmaster, Library Director, Grants and Development Officer, Archivist, and many more. More specifically, among the positions posted by my respondents, most (38) were in public services, the rest being split between technical services (18), a mixture of public and technical services responsibilities (14), library administration (19) and other responsibilities (3). (Numbers total more than 70 because some respondents had advertised more than one position.) Slightly more than half of these positions (56%) required previous experience, meaning the rest (44%) were open to entry-level librarians. Respondents had been advertising positions on the Internet from anywhere between two months to six years.

ChartObject Figure 2.  Types of positions posted


The Online Advantage

Why advertise online? The most obvious answer--the low cost--was a frequently-given reason, though not the only one. For example, while posting an ad on a national, subject-based mailing list can effectively broaden your audience, increasing your chances of getting qualified applicants, posting one on a regionally-based list can indicate an interest in candidates in a particular geographic area. In addition, online ads are an ideal place to locate candidates with technology skills. Most librarians (91%) who placed an ad online had expectations that applicants would have some Internet experience, though for some of this group, this expectation was not mentioned anywhere in the job description.

ChartObject Figure 3.  Did employers expect applicants to have Internet experience?

Respondents discovered that Internet-based postings are also easily forwarded to other locations, broadening their "listening audience" even further. One librarian, posting his request on a regional e-mail discussion list, was surprised to see it forwarded to other joblines outside of his geographic area. However, surprisingly, only one respondent saw this type of occurrence as a drawback--in fact, several commented positively on it as a way of increasing the applicant pool, especially in terms of hard-to-fill positions.

Other reasons librarians chose to advertise online included the immediate appearance of the ad (as compared to print sources), the speed of candidates’ responses, and the desire to reach people in a particular area who might not specifically be job-hunting, but who may be interested enough in the ad to apply anyway.

Advertising for the Best Candidates

Library job seekers quickly become familiar with the many employment sources, both online and in print, competing for their attention. All have slightly different audiences and tend to attract particular types of candidates. Which of these advertising sources did librarians have the most success with? Based on the responses of librarians choosing to advertise on the Internet, I attempted to answer the following three questions:

1. Where, among all of the various employment sources, are these jobs advertised?

2. Which of the sources in Question 1 bring in the most applicants?

3. Which of the sources in Question 1 bring in the most qualified applicants?

Respondents were asked to choose from a list of advertising sources.

ChartObject Figure 4.  Advertising sources used by respondents (N=70): Total, most productive, and most successful

While Internet-based e-mail discussion lists were by far the most popular places to recruit candidates, traditional print sources did not rank far behind (see Figure 4). Fewer librarians responded to the questions ranking the most productive and most successful advertising sources than they did to Question 1 above, either because some librarians did not keep such statistics or because statistics for a particular library were kept by the Human Resources office and not by the person answering the survey.

There was no significant difference between the responses of public, academic, and special librarians except for the fact that public librarians, not surprisingly, did not post ads in the Chronicle of Higher Education or in College and Research Libraries News. Further studies limiting the survey respondents to librarians of a particular type may demonstrate different results.

Given that respondents used the Internet as a means of advertising, it’s not surprising that Internet-based e-mail lists were ranked as the most common place that jobs were advertised. What is remarkable, however, is the overall success these librarians had with this method in relation to other sources. Not only did Internet-specific mailing lists bring in a large number of applicants, but the applicants that they did draw were highly qualified, especially in relation to those recruited by local newspapers and regional library joblines. Both newspapers and joblines ranked highly in overall ad placement but not in producing a large candidate pool or in recruiting qualified applicants. The only print source which came close to achieving the success of mailing lists was the Chronicle of Higher Education. Even among the 44 academic librarians in my group alone, the Chronicle still ranked behind national e-mail discussion lists in terms of productivity (16 vs. 30 responses, respectively) and in finding qualified applicants (16 vs. 28 responses). These figures suggest that posting positions on Internet-based e-mail lists, particularly those with national scope, is a highly effective way both of increasing the applicant pool and of recruiting qualified candidates. In the future, it would be interesting to see how the chart in Figure 4 changes over time, given that trade publications such as American Libraries are now actively publicizing the online version of their classified ads.

Throw Away Your Resume?

"The electronic resume is the wave of the future." Even more so, the presence of a resume in an online resume bank ensures that it will be read and considered by employers eager to hire technology-savvy candidates--or so the media leads us to believe. Given this hype about electronic resumes in the media, I began to wonder how common they were in the library world. How many librarians have accepted electronic resumes from candidates? Also, how has the Internet influenced employers’ communication with candidates, and vice versa?

ChartObject Figure 5.  Have employers accepted electronic resumes?

A more realistic view of the electronic resume is presented in Figures 5 and 6. While more academic than public librarians in my survey had accepted resumes sent via e-mail, in neither case was there a majority. The reasons for this do not depend solely on technical ability or the lack of necessary equipment. Three librarians commented that their human resources department insisted on a paper resume; one who did receive an electronic resume told the candidate to send a paper version so that the search committee would be able to make a better comparison. Two others mentioned that they would have been happy to accept an e-mailed resume had any applicant wished to send one. Librarians who did accept resumes via e-mail were pleased, for the most part, with accepting them in this form, though many had preferences in file format. While some insisted on an ASCII version, others criticized ASCII’s plain appearance, pointing out that a MIME-encoded file in word processor format made the resume look more professional. The conclusion which can be drawn from these examples is that candidates wishing to e-mail their resumes to employers should ask ahead of time--first on whether it would be accepted, and second on the desired format.

ChartObject Figure 6.  Have employers searched online resume banks?

As is usually the case, employers expect applicants to initiate contact with them, either by sending a resume, phoning for an initial inquiry, or, more recently, sending queries via e-mail. Not surprisingly, online resume banks are not popular hangouts for employers; only seven percent of my group had ever searched databases of candidates. Comments were positive, overall, regarding applicants’ initiating an e-mail query, provided the employer had provided an e-mail address. On the other hand, response was mixed if no e-mail address was included in the ad; some librarians were impressed that applicants had the ability to discover their e-mail address, while others, whose ads specified to contact Human Resources with all queries, were not so pleased.

ChartObject Figure 7.  Did employers view applicants' websites if listed on resume?

Librarians also took the initiative to view applicants’ Web sites (Figure 7) if they were listed on a resume (67%), and several of those who hadn’t (2%) volunteered that they would have done so if they ever received a resume with a Web page on it. (No significant difference was noted among academic, public, or special librarians.) Several librarians volunteered the fact that they had used e-mail extensively for communicating with candidates’ references.

Words from the Wise: Advice for Applicants

I encouraged respondents to submit words of advice to share with applicants regarding the online recruitment process. Aside from more typical recommendations on presentation, clarity, grammar, relevance, and so on, a summary of these responses follows:

  1. Online shouldn’t imply informal. While many typical e-mail messages are fairly informal, communicate with employers over e-mail no differently than you would on paper.
  2. Be aware of netiquette. Don’t type in all caps. Remember that not everyone has the same hardware or software as you do, so when in doubt about whether or not to send an electronic resume, ask, and ask about preferred formats.
  3. Emphasize your technical abilities. If you heard about a position on a mailing list, say so. On your resume, include the address of your Web page, if you have one. Be prepared to answer questions about the Internet or the Web.
  4. If you have a Web page, keep it professional. Don’t overemphasize graphics or fancy backgrounds, unless you feel the job requires it. Keep your personal interests on a separate page. Don’t give the impression anywhere on your Web page that may imply you’re not the right person for the job.
  5. Develop an online presence. Join and contribute to relevant mailing lists, but be tactful, because your future employer may be listening in. Publicize Web-based projects you have worked on. But be careful of the trail you leave behind; many mailing lists are archived, and one flame war on a mailing list can cause an immediate negative impression.
  6. Don’t overdo it! While one e-mail query to an employer may be acceptable or even better, multiple queries can be intrusive.

Overall Satisfaction


ChartObject Figure 8.  Would employers advertise online again?

Despite the occasional complaint, librarians were very satisfied with having advertised a position online. 69 respondents out of the original 70, or 99%, stated that they would post a position online in the future. Beyond this, 33% of librarians surveyed stated that their library had plans to scale down print-based advertising in favor of advertising on the Internet. While this number doesn’t represent a majority, it is significant that so many participants found the Internet such a successful advertising method, especially in comparison to the print sources.

ChartObject Figure 9.  Do employers have plans to scale down print advertising in favor of posting jobs on the Internet?


The speed, ease, and low cost of advertising online belie the trend that librarians are taking online recruitment very seriously. This fact has implications for employers and jobseekers, not to mention publishers and providers of traditional print and telephone-based employment sources.

Based on the results shown in this survey, librarians interested in posting job announcements online have little to lose and much to gain. This is especially true for libraries with smaller budgets who may not have had the funding to advertise in high-circulation trade publications. Posting a position online will likely increase the audience as well as bring in applicants their original advertising methods may not have attracted. While respondents in my survey had the best luck with nationally-oriented e-mail discussion lists, others found good results with regional lists and library-related Internet job sites. One of the best compilations of library-related lists is published by the Texas State Electronic Library ( libmail.dir/). Employers can also take the initiative of posting an open position on their library’s website, or take a more indirect route of placing a classified ad in a print or telephone-based publication with an electronic counterpart.5

In addition, because so many jobs appear on the Internet before they appear in print, new graduates as well as more experienced librarians back in the job market should use the Internet as a major part of their job search. Ways to go about the Internet-based job search have been well-detailed in the literature; in addition, applicants would do well to follow the suggestions made above by employers in order to present themselves well online.

Finally, providers of traditional employment listings should consider providing job listings on the Internet in order to keep up with competition in the classified ad market. The fact that so many print-based and telephone-based employment sources now have Internet counterparts supports this trend; the number of online library employment sources will only increase in the future.


Librarians on the whole are satisfied with the results of using the Internet for recruiting purposes. While many initially post positions online simply because it’s cheap and fast, they have been pleased with the results they retrieve. By far, those responding to my survey had the best success with posting job announcements on e-mail discussion lists, both in terms of quantity and quality of candidates found. Most people posting positions online do so with the expectation, stated or not, that the candidates responding would have strong technological skills.

Employers also use the Internet for other purposes in recruiting. Though most librarians have not previously received electronic resumes, those that did have strong preferences about the format, and advise candidates to double-check with them first before sending. Not only do the librarians in my survey use e-mail to communicate with candidates and their references, they also use the Web to discover information about candidates who have applied. Very few, though, use online resume banks to search for potential employees. Among advice offered to online job-seeking librarians, employers emphasize a professional attitude, technical abilities, and development of an online presence. Nearly all respondents would definitely use the Internet again for advertising, and a significant number even plan to scale down print-based classifieds in favor of advertising on the Internet.

This survey was designed to provide an overall picture of the current state of librarians’ online recruitment practices. Because librarians’ use of the Internet for advertising and recruiting is likely to increase in the future, it would be interesting to re-survey employers at a later time to determine how things have changed. In addition, further studies on this topic would be useful not only to determine how things have changed over time, but also to see whether differences in responses among employers at various types of institutions exist.


1. Trade publications of interest to librarians with classified ads available on the Web include American Libraries (, the Chronicle of Higher Education (, College and Research Libraries News (, Library Journal (, Publishers’ Weekly (, and School Library Journal (

2. Nesbeitt, Sarah L. (1998). Library Job Postings on the Internet [Online]. Available: [1998, April 24].

3. Two useful articles offering librarians advice on how to conduct an online job search are Elizabeth A. Lorenzen, "Librarian for Hire: Internet Searching for Job Search Success," Technicalities, 15, no. 1 (January 1995): 11-14; and Donna R. Dolan and John E. Schumacher, "Top U.S. Sources for an Online Job Search," Database, 17, no. 5 (October/November 1994), p. 34-43. Another article providing relevant tips on the online job search, though not specifically aimed at librarians, is Margaret Riley, "Riley’s Guided Tour: Job Searching on the Net," Library Journal, 121, no. 15 (September 15, 1996), 24-27.

4. The survey was posted on five lists: COLLIB-L (ACRL College Libraries Section), LIBREF-L (Discussion of Library Reference Issues), PUBLIB (Public Libraries), WEB4LIB (Discussion for Library-Based World Wide Web Managers), and LIBPER-L (Library Personnel Issues).

5. Examples of telephone-based joblines with electronic counterparts are the New England Library Jobline (, the Colorado State Library Jobline (, and the Pacific Northwest Library Association Jobline (



If your organization has ever advertised an open position on the Internet, I would appreciate your taking a few minutes to fill out the following survey.

For the past two years, via the compilation of my Web page on library jobs, I have spoken with both jobseekers and employers concerned with making the library recruitment process more visible in the online world. It's my hope that the results of this survey will help improve job search

effectiveness from both perspectives.

Most questions can be completed with a simple one-word answer. If you are interested in discovering the most successful ways of advertising your open positions, I encourage you to participate!

This survey is being sent to several library-related mailing lists as well as being posted on my website. The Web version is located at:

All responses will be treated anonymously unless you give me permission to contact you further. I apologize in advance if you see this message twice due to cross-posting. Please contact me at the following address with any questions or comments. Thank you.

*** Please e-mail responses directly to me at ***

Sarah Nesbeitt

Reference, Maxwell Library

Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater, MA 02325


1. What type of library / information specialist position were you advertising? Please choose all that apply.

A. Type of library

___ Academic ___ Public

___ School Library Media ___ Special

___ Library Education ___ Non-library organization

___ Other library type

(Specify: _________________________)

B. Area within library

___ Public Services

___ Technical Services

___ Mixture of public and tech service responsibilities

___ Library Administration / Department Head

___ Other responsibilities (Specify: ______________________)

C. Experience level

___ Experience required ___ Entry-level applicants OK

2. What was the exact job title of the position you advertised?

3. By advertising your library's open position on the Internet, did you have expectations that applicants should be familiar with the Internet and/or electronic resources in general?

3a. If yes to (3), were these expectations stated somewhere in the job description?

4. What reasons did you have for advertising your position on the Internet?

5. Where did you decide to advertise your position? Please check all that apply.

___ American Libraries ___ C&RL News

___ Library Journal ___ School Library Journal

___ Chronicle of Higher Ed. ___ Other library-specific print publication

___ Local newspaper(s) ___ Library placement firm

___ Library conference placement service ___ Local library school

___ Regional/state library jobline

___ Internet mailing list(s) with nat’l scope ___ Internet mailing list(s) with regional scope

___ Usenet newsgroup(s)

___ Other library-specific Internet site ___ Non-library-specific Internet site

___ Other (where? _____________________)


6a. Among all of the places the position was advertised above, which source(s) did you feel brought in the most applicants?

6b. Among all the places the position was advertised above, which source(s) did you feel brought in the most qualified applicants?

7. Was your e-mail address included in the job postings?

7a. If yes to (7), did you receive any inquiries regarding the position over e-mail? If so, how did this affect your impression of the candidate(s)?

8. Have you ever searched through online resume banks in search of appropriate candidates?

9. Have you ever accepted an electronic resume in lieu of a paper one?

10. If an applicant, on his/her resume, included Web addresses for a home page or for Web-based projects he/she had worked on, did you ever take a look at those Web sites?

11. What suggestions would you have for librarians seeking employment regarding how to best present themselves in the net environment?

12. If another position opened up at your library in the near future, would you choose to advertise on the Internet again?

(OPTIONAL: If yes, why? If not, why not?)

13. When did your library first begin advertising open positions on the Internet?

14. Has your library scaled down, or does your library plan to scale down, print-based advertising in relation to Internet-based advertising?

15. OPTIONAL: If you wouldn't mind my contacting you for further elaboration on your responses, please provide your name and e-mail address below. Thank you!