Job-hunting and interviewing when you have a disability

Originally posted at INALJ on 3/22/2013.

Job hunting is nerve-wracking, but it is even more anxiety-inducing if you have a disability. There’s so many questions involved in addition to the usual ones: When should I disclose my disability? What if the interviewer asks? What jobs canI do with my disability?

First, know your rights. Second, be honest, but provide only the necessary details. Third, put a positive spin on it. There’s so much that can be written on this subject, but for this post I distilled the basics down to nine tips.

Know your rights

1. Employers are not allowed to ask people if they have a disability, or about the nature of their disability (especially if it is an obvious one). They are not allowed to require a medical exam before offering a job to you. If interviewers ask, you do not have to answer the questions. Deflect it tactfully and turn the focus back to your abilities. Cite the EEOC if you wish. (If an employer asks that question, it should raise red flags.)

2. Employers can ask whether you are able to perform the essential functions of a job. Can you lift 50 lbs on a regular basis? Can you reach the top shelf in the bookstacks? Can you sit for an extended period of time?

3. You can ask for reasonable accommodations for the interview. This could be a sign language interpreter, or a screen reader, or other type of assistance. Reasonable accommodations is a vague term, but generally speaking, employers will do what they can to help you as long as it doesn’t cost too much money or involve extensive changes to operations.

Be honest

4. Even though we prattle on about accommodation and empowerment, not all jobs are suited for your particular disability. Hard of hearing persons may be able to use the phone with or without accommodations, but a job that requires extensive phone usage might not be right for them. Individuals with physical limitations may not be able to do a job that frequently involves moving heavy boxes around. Be honest with yourself about what the job requires.

5. That said, if the job can be done with reasonable accommodations, by all means, apply!

6. Honesty is good, but there is a place and time for everything. In general, an interview is not the place or time to talk about the particulars of your disability. If you’re receiving reasonable accommodations for the interview or have an obvious disability (eg, in a wheelchair), you may talk about it if you wish, but focus on your abilities and the job itself.

Put a positive spin on it

7. Phrase things positively. Instead of, “I need to use an iPad to help me with my ADD,” say, “I use my iPad to help me take notes and record things. It helps me to stay on top of all the tasks I need to accomplish in any given day.”

8. Show setbacks as opportunities. “While I was on medical leave last year from a car accident, I used that time to learn Spanish, which will help me better serve the Spanish-speaking population in this neighborhood.”

9.  Have a plan for how you will accomplish work with accommodations. While this is more suited for after you get the job, but it is good to be mentally prepared to emphasize your ability to do the work. It will help you keep confident during the interview. “I understand that in a quiet environment I have to use headphones for my screen-reading software; I stay aware of my surroundings by simply using an earbud in one ear to keep my other ear open.” “I find my CapTel very useful for providing phone reference assistance.”

Bonus Tip

10. Check in with your state’s Vocational Rehabilitation office (or similar organization in your area). They provide many forms of assistance to help individuals with disabilities gain and keep employment, especially if you have limited means. I was able to get a hearing aid some years ago with the NE Voc Rehab’s help when my old one bit the dust. It was absolutely critical for me so I could keep my two part time jobs and finish out my undergraduate program. There was a lot of paperwork involved, to be sure, but it was very much worth it.



United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. (n.d.) “Disability discrimination.” Retrieved from:

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Kirtsaeng v. Wiley, or, Copyright laws that affect libraries

Thank goodness the Supreme Court ruled against the publisher! When I first heard about this case some time ago, I could kind of sympathize with the publisher wanting to protect their market share in the United States, but if they had their way, it would have severely impacted libraries. Especially academic libraries that have a ton of books manufactured overseas.

The Library Journal has an excellent run-down of the ruling, reactions to it, and other details.

This highlights just how important it is for us librarians to a) be aware of copyright laws and guidelines, b)  keep up on changes in copyright laws, and c) advocate for the freedom of information.

I am so glad I took a class on copyright laws for libraries since it really helped me to wrap my head around frequently contradictory rules, but it sometimes seems daunting to stay on top of changes.

How can we keep up with copyright news? Aside from maintaining a habit of reading general local/national/world news sites, there’s a few other sites that will help us keep abreast of changes.

  • The Copyright Clearance Center has a digital newspaper with a handy email subscription option. It gathers news shared by other people and websites into one central location.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is another fantastic resource. While it is all about digital and internet freedom and not solely about copyright laws, the two are similar and are often linked.
  • Gizmodo has a whole section on copyright and changes in copyright laws. You can access previous stories on the same subject through the right rail.

Are there more sources I’m missing? Please share! I will add it to my list.


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Trying to run errands on St. Patrick’s Day weekend

Trying to run errands downtown on St. Patrick’s Day weekend:

Drunk people, GET OFF MY LAWN.

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Librarians: Helping people (we disagree with) find information since 10,000 BC

That’s part of our ethos: helping people find information, even if we disagree with their beliefs or opinions. We can’t help it–we need to help people. Even when we’re off the clock,  on lunch break, or even out and about town. It’s like a primal urge that’s honed and refined in library school, and it’s unaffected by differences in opinion.

This is good, because as a profession, we’re against censorship.

Today, while on lunch, some teen missionaries were canvassing the campus to convince people to come to a Bible-based poetry slam in the bookstore tonight, and to come to their new plant church somewhere else in Chicago. While I was not interested (and disagree with the whole premise of teen missionaries on college campuses or in third world countries), I helped her anyway. I told her where some of the public bulletin boards were on campus so she could post signs.

A librarian friend of mine was on campus after an event late one night, and some missionaries tried to recruit her, too. She declined, but she also told them of resources for setting up a student group.

That’s just the librarian way, isn’t it?

I remember the 2008 elections, when I was working in a public library. Obviously, as a government agency, we took no political stance, and kept on helping people find information they wanted for their side (and secretly jumping with glee when someone actually wanted help seeing what both sides had to say).

I also remember having to store the newspapers behind the circulation desk because they either kept disappearing, or they appeared elsewhere in the library with devil horns drawn on then-Senator Obama. That’s another post, too: “How to promote accessibility of our materials while preventing graffiti and vandalism.”

There was this one very sweet older gentleman at one library who needed help navigating the Internet to find articles about certain, ahem, theories about Obama and the Liberal Left. Many of them had been debunked by Politifact and Snopes, while others were merely news stories with a clear and announced bias. Yet we helped him anyway.  It doesn’t matter if I agreed or not–what matters is that he felt welcome at the library, despite his somewhat unique views. I wanted to preserve that.

I remember when I was in high school and I applied for a job at Borders. My mom asked me what I would do if someone wanted a book on Wicca. She believed it was sinful to even help people find information like that, because it would make me “morally culpable” and share part of the sin of Wicca. I can’t remember what I told her, but I remember thinking that

  1. It would be presumptuous of me for assuming that someone wanting a Wicca book was going to use it as a practice guide.  They could be studying it for academic or theological reasons. Who am I to judge? What people do with the information I help them find is up to them.
  2. it would be wrong of me to use my beliefs to prohibit others from accessing information about their beliefs, if they were indeed practicing Wicca. I have the freedom of religion, and so do they.

Granted, my beliefs have diverged from my mom’s in the past few years for numerous reasons, but the concepts are still there. In fact, it grew stronger while I was working on my MLIS. Being a librarian, having so many tools to find even the most esoteric of information, we have the power to prevent people from finding information. Because of that power, we have a special obligation to help people anyway, whether or not we disagree with them.

Sometimes, I think some of library anxiety stems from the fear of our power. I fear that some people see us as gatekeepers instead of as facilitators, as guards instead of helpers.

How can we help alleviate their fears?

One step is to always help people find information, even if we may vehemently, virulently disagree with it.

p.s. Unless you think the person is a clear and immediate danger to him/herself and/or to others–but that’s more than just disagreeing with the person.

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Helping People with Disabilities in the Bookstacks

One thing I have noticed is how few libraries have plans for helping people with disabilities retrieve books from the stacks.

  • What should people with low vision do if they can read a book with assistive technology, but have difficulty reading the spine labels? What if they want to browse?
  • The bookstacks aisles may be wide enough for a wheelchair, but how are they going to be able to reach material from the top shelf? For that matter, what about individuals with mobility issues that prevent them from reaching very far overhead or using a kick-stool?
  • Audiobooks are great for people who have low vision or are totally blind, but how can they differentiate between one CD case and another?

Allowing people to request checked-in items helps people with disabilities a LOT (provided the catalog is accessible to screen readers, that is.) No worrying about how to reach the top shelves, no worrying about trying to read the tiny font on the spine labels, and a reduced need to ask for help. Unfortunately, there are many libraries that do not allow catalog-based paging of materials, probably for logistical or financial reasons. Especially at academic libraries. I can just see how popular it would be for, say, grad students to page about 100 books. Even if only 10 grad students do that, that’s 1000 books to look for.

There may be technological means of allowing only individuals with documented disabilities to page not-checked-out books. It theoretically would be pretty easy to include a field that identifies people who need assistance.

Even with this, people with disabilities should have access to joy of browsing the stacks. Us able-bodied, sighted people find all sorts of books that we might not have otherwise found in the catalog. After all, we frequently teach people to browse around a specific call number to find similar material on a particular topic, right?

If someone is unable to browse, what can they do? Ask a librarian to go with them and read the titles from similar books in the area? I can see some of you running through logistics in your mind. It’s hard to get away from the circulation or reference desk when the library is busy. It’s hard to justify helping just one person when 10 others need to be assisted. People with disabilities know this. However, all should have equal access to information, regardless of abilities.

We should say “yes.”

“Would you mind waiting for a few minutes until my student worker comes back? She’ll be able to help you.”
“I would be glad to help you. Please wait a minute while I find someone to cover the desk, and I’ll go up with you.”
“I would be happy to help you, bu we’re very short-staffed at the moment. Will you be able to come back in an hour?”

We may not always be able to help individuals immediately, but I highly recommend making arrangements or appointments to help them at a specified later date. That way they know that we want to help them.

In fact, if we offer browsing appointments to people who need it, that would be even better. They can submit a request through KnowledgeTracker or your library’s question management system, email a designated email bounce list, call, whatever, but it would help both them and us.

That leaves just one other question: How can we let people know that we can help them? I highly recommend having a page for disability services on your website. Don’t hide it–put it right there on the front page. Let people know they can page materials. Academic libraries–feel free to have a statement encouraging people to register with Disabilities Services, but please, provide service anyway while the Disabilities office works on the paperwork. Tell people they can stop by and seek browsing assistance. You can also tell them that if you are busy, you may not be able to help them right away, but make sure you make it clear that you WANT to help them. Provide multiple communication options – form, email, IM/e-reference, phone, etc.

If you have the time, money, and inclination, you can produce Braille labels for large-print books and audiobooks. However, this is not absolutely necessary. Unless, of course, you have a large blind and Braille-literate population. Having a staff member help is probably the more cost-effective way of serving people for most libraries, plus then you have a framework in place to help people with other disabilities, too.

Oh. Also, don’t forget to train your staff members. It’s awkward to offer a service without letting your staff members know.


I found only one example of bookstacks paging online so far from the University of Chicago Library. If your library has an example you’d like to share, I would appreciate! I’ll add them here.

If you have other advice or a story to share about helping people with disabilities, please comment–I love to learn how other libraries handle disabilities services. We all have much to learn from each other.

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Stealth Library Jobs

Diving into the thick of job-hunting now that I have my MLIS, I’ve been noticing just how many jobs out there are stealth library jobs. Stealth library jobs are ones where employers don’t say they want a librarian, but everything else in the job description screams WE NEED LIBRARIANS.

This is important to recognize, especially since these stealth jobs won’t show up if you search for “library” on job boards. Sometimes they show up under if you search for “archive,” but not always. “Information organization” is another keyword that these employers DON’T use, even though they desperately need someone who understands the principles of organizing information.

It’s also important for us MLIS grads to realize that stealth library jobs exist for another reason. Remember how people kept talking about the upcoming retirement wave that would open up thousands of library jobs? At the risk of sounding cynical, it’s an old lie. Well-meaning, perhaps, but it doesn’t help us when it comes time to search for jobs. (and why am I thinking about the last four lines of Wilfred Owen’s poem?)

Here’s a prime example of a stealth library job from the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve highlighted the library-relevant terms:

Collection Manager for Comprehensive Inventory

Assists the curator in his or her work on the eighteen-month inventory of the permanent collection. Participates in research and cataloguing of the collection. Serves as liaison between departmental curator, departmental specialist, and support staff, with departments of Conservation, Registration, Imaging, and other museum departments for all collection inventory-related issues. In consultation with curator, departmental specialist, and staff from other relevant departments (e.g. Registrar, Conservation, Imaging, and Digital Information and Access), assists in developing protocol pertaining to the permanent collection inventory (it sounds like they want someone who can set up an ongoing procedure for inventorying the permanent collection) and is responsible for its coordination and implementation. Maintains and updates departmental accession files, locations lists, and corresponding CITI records in an accurate, consistent and timely manner. Assists the curator in ensuring that all documentation is correct. Serves as departmental liaison with CITI projects. Coordinates with the department specialist in organizing movement of works of art to facilitate inventory process and safe keeping of the collection. Provides research support to curator in regard to the permanent collection inventory.  Coordinates rapid imaging of collection with curator and imaging personnel.  Assists visiting scholars in viewing works in storage and departmental files and makes museum resources available through providing photographs and collection information for the assessment process as appropriate, and as time permits.  Other duties as assigned.

M.A. in Art History or related subject required; museum gallery and collection management experience a plus; knowledge of European Decorative Arts and/or collection important; strong research and cataloguing skills; comprehensive knowledge of CITI or other collection management systems desired.

I looked up CITI, and if I’m correct, it’s the Corporate IT Inventory software. So, basically if you know any ILS, you can figure out CITI. Anyway, you can see just how much theyneed a librarian without actually realizing it. Bonus points if you have an art background.

So, if you’re in the job hunt, too, don’t despair at the lack of library jobs. There’s actually a fair bit of jobs out there that need librarians.

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Reaching Deaf and hard of hearing patrons in the library

For those of you who already know me, I’m profoundly deaf and wear a cochlear implant and a hearing aid. For those of you who don’t–now you know! Many don’t, particularly if I wear my hair down. I talk quite normally thanks to the cochlear implant, and I hear well enough to “pass” for hearing. However, I struggle in some situations, and people get frustrated and say, “Never mind, it wasn’t important,” or assume I’m stupid or rude.

Deafness is an invisible disability. It’s easy to remember to make sure that there are ramps and elevators for people using crutches or wheelchairs. It’s easy to be aware of the blind person navigating the library with a cane or a seeing eye dog. But it’s not so easy to be aware that someone is deaf unless they have short hair and colorful, clearly visible earmolds.

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to accommodate the needs of deaf and hard of hearing people, making them feel more welcome in the library. I can write at length on the subject, but for now, I’ll give you tips on two things: communication and accessibility of library programs and services.


First, you DON’T have to know sign language, either ASL or SEE, in order to communicate with the culturally Deaf people who communicate primarily through sign. Is it useful? Undoubtedly yes. But not every library branch has an employee that can sign. And unlike, say, finding Spanish speakers for predominately Hispanic neighborhoods, there are no “Deaf” neighborhoods to relocate these signing staff to. It probably wouldn’t be feasible to be sure to train at least one staff member at each library location to know ASL.

And besides, not every deaf person knows sign language. I didn’t learn it in any real, systematic way until I started college; my parents raised me as hearing. Many others are late-deafened (think about your grandparents) and still prefer to communicate aurally and verbally. And many others are only mildly to moderately deaf, and have had little difficulty with hearing.

So, how can you communicate with deaf people?

First, get their attention. Don’t flap around like a crazy person, or else we’ll ignore you out of embarrassment. But if you don’t have our attention, waving your hands is okay. Light touching on our arms are okay. Then start talking. Normally. Oh, please don’t try to move your lips in an exaggerated manner. It’s like trying to listen to someone who is talking while his mouth is full of marshmallows. Yelling doesn’t help either. It’s hard to understand overly loud speaking, the same way it’s hard to drink from a fountain if it’s shooting at your mouth like a fire hydrant geyser.  Just talk normally. Easy, right?

Background noise freaking sucks. I’ve heard that hearing people can somehow “pick out sounds” and focus on it even if there is some background noise. It’s a mythical concept to me. So, if it gets temporarily loud in the library, pause during the loud noises, and repeat what you said as needed. Sometimes you might repeat things two or three times, so be patient. A trick some people use after the second repetition is to rephrase the sentence. Use synonyms. Reorder the sentence. “Are you looking for a specific breed?” can become, “What dog breed are you looking for?” and it can finally help make the sentence click in our minds.

If verbal communication is exceedingly difficult, or if you’re talking to a completely deaf person, use writing tools. The traditional means of communication can be a pencil and paper, though it can be annoying to both sides. Here’s another idea: Use Word on your computer. Turn the screen around so both of you can see it. Bring up Word or Google Docs in a separate window. Type what you need to say. We’ll tell you verbally in return. Or if they are completely deaf, let them use the keyboard to type what they need to say. Turning the screen around during reference and circulation transactions helps anyway.

Other communication tips

Hopefully your library has a TTY number and if you’re more forward-looking, chat assistance. Some deaf people use a relay service when calling, so be aware of that. Though, personally, relay SUCKS anytime there is a phone tree, so please have other contact options. Be sure to provide email addresses on your library websites for reference and circulation, or have an online contact form. Some deaf people do call. I do, with great reluctance. So please be patient and ready to repeat and rephrase things.

Library Programs/Services Accessibility

Now that we’ve covered the basics of communications, can you see where some of the problem areas might be for library programs and services? How you accommodate the deaf and hard of hearing can greatly depend on the library’s budget and grant income. Here are your options, from cheapest to more expensive:

Priority seating. Save some seats near the front where us deaf and HOH folks can read the speaker’s lips. Be sure to remind the speaker to always face the audience when talking, otherwise it doesn’t help at all. Make sure we know that those seats exist.

Printed transcript. If at all possible, procure and print some copies of the transcript, speakers’ notes, etc, and have them on hand for when people ask, so they can read and follow along during the program.

Captioning for online video/audio resources. It is possible to do this yourself thanks to YouTube. If you can’t afford the staff time, post the transcript. If you can afford the time, have someone upload the transcript to YouTube’s automatic caption-fier. Then go through and correct the text, since YouTube uses a combination of your transcript and it’s voice recognition to create the caption file, and voice recognition isn’t the best. Another option is to outsource the captioning to a company for video posted elsewhere that does not have caption service. There are many companies, big and small, but here’s a couple of examples to give you an idea: Vitac, AmeriCaption, CaptionMax.

CART captioning. Court reporters often make a little extra money using their equipment and skill to create real-time captioning. The downside to this is that, as far as I know, it serves only one or two deaf people at a time.

Sign language interpreter. In contrast to CART captioning, sign language interpreters can help a larger group of people. Although if you do have a large group of deaf people, getting an interpreter makes more sense than the other options.

There you go! I hope this helps make reaching out to deaf and hard of hearing people less daunting.

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How to handle controversial subjects on a Facebook page

Ever since I became aware of the fact that has a Facebook page a few months ago, I became a fan for two reasons.

  1. I want to better understand how the changes will help me and my friends.
  2. I wanted to see how they would handle the inevitable negative commenters.

They really have succeeded. At least, I think they have. They don’t delete the negative comments. People can disagree. They let the comment debates happen…to an extent. And somehow, the comments have stayed under control.

Turns out they have a social media policy that helps to govern the page. The comment policy is short and sweet.

  • Stay focused
  • Be respectful
  • Tell the truth
  • No spam

My personal favorite is “Tell the truth.” It’s so easy for misinformation to spread, especially with something so controversial such as the new health care laws. That’s why it’s so important to nip lies in the bud before it grows like kudzu in the Southeast.

This policy could probably apply to pretty nearly any other Facebook page. Even a library page. Even if you don’t think you’ll ever post anything controversial while running a library page, there will be someone, somewhere, who will take offense at something you post. Even something about seeking donations of books or money for the library will spark some ire. (“Why aren’t you cataloging the books I wrote and self published? Why is it going directly into the booksale? I gave you guys 80 copies!!!”)

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My cat absolutely hates the printer

I printed out the readings for this class, yesterday. And yes, I kill a lot of trees. But I print duplex, and often multiple pages per page. However, the duplex setting makes my cat, Joe, think it’s an evil cat-eating machine. He got brave yesterday, though. He started trying to hit the paper to make sure it’s dead, after the printer regurgitates it…

That’s Pumpkin (Punk) on the right, supervising the cat-attack mission. Mistletoe (Missy) doesn’t really give a fig about the whole printer thing, oddly enough.


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