Our library is in the midst of two searches: one for a reference and instruction librarian and the other for a college archivist. We’re such a small group that bringing on two new librarians is a huge deal. That’s almost 1/3 of our librarian force! As a result, we are understandably picky. There’s no hiding from your colleagues when all of you can fit around the lunch table, so we want to like and respect the people we end up hiring.
CVs can tell you a lot about a candidate: where she went to library school, where he last worked, what research she’s interested in pursuing, what kinds of publications he’s written, etc. But rarely can you get a sense of a job candidate’s personality from her CV alone. As trite and played out as it sounds, the cover letter is what gives you a sense of the person behind the resume paper. This one to two page document continues to be a crucial component of every job application. Every bit of advice available to library job seekers stresses the importance of the cover letter, so much so that a tech-savvy librarian created an online repository of successful library job cover letters to help inspire other job seekers.
The advice given regarding cover letters is usually fairly straight-forward: relate your experience to the main points of the job ad, write something to make yourself stand-out from the crowd, and for the love of Dewey address the cover letter to the right person. What no one ever mentions is that at least in the case of academic librarian jobs, your cover letter is being read by a search committee of librarians and library staff that may, but usually does not include the library director or dean. That means that your cover letter isn’t just some arbitrary piece of a job application requirement, it’s a letter to your future colleagues. It’s your first opportunity to communicate directly with the people who are on the hunt for their next co-worker: the person they hope to collaborate with on projects, co-teach an interdisciplinary class with in the fall, and swap ideas with over lunch.
Your future colleagues are not interested in bullet points. Yes, they want to know that you read the job ad for the position at their library. They do want to know that match the qualification requirements and have the requisite experience needed to successfully carry out this job. But they also want you to like them. They want to know that you want to work at their library and are excited about the prospect of working with them. Your future colleagues also want to know what you’re interested in, and although I would love to hear that you too love listening to The Pixies and The Big Lebowski is also your favorite movie, what would be even more exciting to read about would be your interests within librarianship.
Use your cover letter to tell your future colleagues that you are interested in web design or learning more about user experience assessment. Share your love of reference or your passion for information literacy instruction. Discuss your opinions about embedded librarianship or your perspectives on libraries as makerspaces. Your cover letter is not just about convincing someone that you’re qualified for a job, it’s also a way for you to communicate your genuine interest in this job and all of the issues and ideas that surround it.
I wish I had a do-over on my own cover letters over the years. Thankfully I’ve ended up in a good job that I enjoy, but I do wish I could go back and rewrite my own letters to future colleagues.
Here’s a question for you: What would you like to read in your future colleagues’ cover letters?