Dear Book Nerd: "I Have an Arrest Record. Can I Get a Librarian Job?"

Helloooo, Book Nerders! Today’s topic is both intriguing and informative (or at least that’s my hope), so let’s get right to it.

Dear Book Nerd:

“Does having an arrest record make it harder to become a Children’s or YA librarian? Especially a nonviolent, non-drug related felony?”

– Scared MLS Student


Dear Scared MLS Student:

This is a very interesting question to me, and one that most likely affects many people out there who are currently looking for jobs. It’s also an intensely personal question, so I thank you for trusting me with it. And, at its core, it’s a tough question. So, I’m going to be honest and let you know that I am in no way an expert in either the topic of felony arrest nor am I usually involved in any official hiring processes. Subsequently, my response is going to be a mix of my own opinion/analysis, some first-hand information from people who ARE directly involved with hiring children’s librarians, and some information I found the old-fashioned way: by the power of Google.

To be blunt: job-searching sucks. Sending out resumes sucks. Going on interviews SUCKS – your voice shakes, your palms sweat, you’re terrified of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. It’s like being on a bad first date, without the small consolation having an alcoholic beverage in front of you. So, yeah, looking for a job is a completely nerve wracking experience, even if you DON’T have any additional stumbling blocks like gaps in employment, sudden termination, or, as in your particular case, an arrest record. With that kind of strike against you, it might seem hopeless. But, as I’ve said before, I like to believe that there is always hope.

I think the first thing you need to do, Scared MLS Student, is to stop being scared (or at least try). You’re going to need a lot of spunk and confidence to embark on this journey, and fear will only trip you up. Remember, everyone has made mistakes in the past. EVERYONE. True, some mistakes are a little more serious than others. Having an arrest record is no small thing, but it’s also not the end of the world. Just think of all the great people who have been arrested and even imprisoned and have gone on to be “forgiven” in the eyes of the public and do spectacular things:

– Paul McCartney
– Lindsay Lohan
– Pee Wee Herman
– Martha Stewart
– Paris Hilton
– and of course, my future husband, Mr. Robert Downey Jr.

Okay, honestly, I’m not trying to make light of the issue, nor am I trying to glamorize it in any way. I just want to emphasize that one event in your life should not and does not necessarily have to define the course of the rest of it. The way that you explain and react to your situation can make all the difference. I’m also not going to lie to you about the job market for librarians right now: it’s rough out there. You might have to work extra hard to make yourself a viable candidate, but you CAN do this if you prepare yourself and act confidently. (Even if it’s fake confidence at first. Even if you have to go cry in a bathroom after each interview. Practice putting on a big, professional smile and FORCE yourself to feel like you are worthy of being hired. Because you are.)

So, that’s the internal emotional-y stuff for you to try working on. In doing some research for the practical part of this answer, I found this “How to Respond to the Felony Question” page from the Denver Public Library, which has some very good advice about this very topic. (And since it’s from a library, I inherently trust it.) Here’s an excerpt:

“If you have been convicted of a felony, you are likely embarrassed by this fact – and worried that people will not want to hire you because of it. You are wise to be concerned, but many employers will give you a second chance – depending on how you present yourself and your conviction. Also, it’s important that you think positively about yourself and your circumstances: You have served your time and have the same right to a job as anyone else.”

See? There’s that confidence thing again! They go on to give very detailed recommendations about how to fill out applications and handle interviews. I strongly suggest that you read it, if only to feel better in the knowledge that other people are in the same spot that you are.

As I alluded to earlier, I also know some people who are directly involved in the librarian hiring process, so I asked around for some more advice. One very smart youth services middle manager (whose identity and place of work I will keep anonymous, but trust me, he/she knows what he/she is talking about) had this to say:

“HR does a background check on all potential employees, but I don’t know what items on a rap sheet would disqualify them. I would HOPE that they would discuss the issue with the interview panel and we would consider ex-offenders on a case-by-case basis. It really depends on the nature of the offense, and I would look at a candidate’s background, resume, presentation, etc. as a whole and not necessarily rule out someone who has an arrest record.”

So, again, there is hope. I know it might be frustrating that a lot of this advice hinges on “it depends” – it depends on the nature of your offense (if, for example, you were applying to finance jobs and you had gotten arrested for embezzlement, it would be a lot tougher), it depends on your other work experience, it depends on how you come across in interviews. Ultimately, there is no easy answer to your question, so you’re going to have to take it one step at a time. But the most important thing is to take those steps without that pesky fear we talked about. Say to yourself: I made a mistake, it’s in the past, I’m ready to move on, I CAN get this job. And then go do just that.

Have a bookish question about love or life for the Book Nerd? Ask away in the form below!

Previous columns:

Dear Book Nerd: “My Family Doesn’t Read”

Dear Book Nerd: “My Girlfriend Never Read the Book I Gave Her”


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