Leveraging Talent

Strategies to improve library recruitment, retention, and diversity

January 3, 2023

Kimberley Bugg

In 2015, I was working at a library with a fantastic leader who was recruited away and left the organization. We were without leadership for more than a year, which, for a small library team with a relatively flat organizational structure, meant the library lost the agency and advocacy necessary to move critical initiatives and strategic goals forward.

In sharing my frustration with others, I learned there was nothing novel about this scenario. Other librarians had experienced this phenomenon, which I refer to as a pipeline issue. The experience led me to write a paper, “Best Practices for Talent Acquisition in 21st-Century Academic Libraries,” rethinking traditional approaches to recruitment and retention.

I went on to work at other libraries that experienced this stagnation during periods of leadership change and wondered: What can be done beyond succession planning to fill gaps within an organization?

While succession planning can allow us to think about the future and put plans in place, creating an internal pipeline allows us to actively engage in everyday work and moving goals forward. That means thinking about the talent of those currently in our organizations and leveraging that talent, even before leaders or individuals in key positions leave.

Fast-forward to now: Libraries, like other industries, have faced tremendous workforce change. Not only did they grapple with meeting user needs in a largely remote environment at the start of the pandemic, but libraries continue to contend with staffers leaving positions at a faster rate than positions can be filled. Many positions, once posted, languish for extended periods of time, unfilled because of lack of interest or qualification requirements.

A diverse and well-qualified workforce is essential for the success and sustainability of the profession. In response, leaders within libraries are beginning to think differently about ways to attract candidates by making recruitment more transparent and equitable.

This transparency includes posting salaries, conducting pre-application information sessions, and sharing questions in advance of an interview. Additionally, efforts like the Association of College and Research Libraries’ Diversity Alliance program—which unites academic libraries committed to increasing the hiring pipeline of qualified and talented individuals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups—create a network of support for early-career librarians of color. Library residency programs can also be integral to recruitment and retention, as noted by librarians Angela Boyd, Yolanda Blue, and Suzanne Im in their 2017 article “Evaluation of Academic Library Residency Programs in the United States for Librarians of Color” for College & Research Libraries.

A diverse and well-qualified workforce is essential for the success and sustainability of the profession.

Current efforts within libraries primarily concentrate on making positions more attractive to those who are already in the pipeline looking for a job. However, these efforts do not increase the number of individuals in the pipeline. To do that, one strategy would be for libraries to equip individuals already at the organization with the skills to fill gaps. This might include cross-training opportunities, internal training programs for needed skills, and support for obtaining an MLS through funding and allocated time.

Individuals within an organization have already demonstrated buy-in and commitment. Hiring managers at libraries must focus on recruiting individuals with shared values who are poised to meet future needs rather than solely individuals to accomplish specific tasks. They must also keep in mind the need to build internal organizational capacity to fill roles at the point of vacancy.

Expanding the pipeline, hiring, and retaining a diverse and well-qualified workforce can ultimately lead to a sustainable future for libraries.


Illustrations depict five library jobs that are currently on the rise. From left to right: There is a man holding a magnifying glass, representing user experience librarians. A woman stands next to a lightbulb that is filled with gears and a plant, representing sustainability librarians. Game pieces of different colors represent directors of equity, diversity, and inclusion. A laptop with human arms represents open educational resources librarians. And finally, a person on a ladder lifting a slice from a pie chart represents data visualization librarians. These illustrations were made by Adobe Stock user Nuthawut.

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