Five Things I Learned From My First Year as a Manager During a Global Pandemic

My first full-year as a people leader and department manager was with a hospital/health system during a global pandemic. It was a year chock-full of learning experiences: sometimes through failing or getting it wrong, and others by realizing when I should (and that I can) trust my gut. In my role, I lead a team of eight information professionals (librarians, library technicians, and an archivist) at a multi-site academic teaching hospital network in Toronto. In April 2020 I wrote about my job and my team’s early pandemic activities, and for me at the time, writing about those experiences was a reflective and grounding practice to help gather and focus my thoughts on what I was going through. Like many other department managers in my organization, much of my leadership in the last year was an exercise in “flying blind”; making decisions with the information and best available evidence at the time, and navigating through uncertainty while supporting my team. I led with purposeful intentions of working closely with individuals on my team to check-in on their wellness, support them in resolving individual remote work challenges (e.g. technology, time-management, communication, balancing work and childcare, etc.), all while ensuring and maintaining the Library’s service outputs and deliverables. In 2020 as a team, we accomplished a lot, and I’m extremely proud of the tremendous creative problem-solving, nimbleness for pivoting everything we do to a virtual environment, the volume of new and high-quality services deliverable, plus their collaboration, teamwork, and support for one another while working physically apart. However, things with me (e.g. my own self-organization, work/life balance, wellness, mental and physical health) took a backseat (and I’m talking old-school station wagon all-the-way-in-the-back, rear-facing backseat). Thanks to a lengthy three-week break from work over the December 2020 holidays, I had some distance from my job and seized the opportunity to look back on my first year of management and leadership with a clear(er) mind.

With time and hindsight to reflect on my first year in management and leadership, I want to share five things I read, learned, heard, and self-discovered which resonated with me that I’m adopting into my practice as a leader in 2021 (and beyond).

1. Model the behaviours you want to see from your team

A major lesson I learned as a new manager and leader throughout the pandemic is to make sure I’m modeling the behaviour I champion, exhort, and expect from my team. In mid-March 2020 when all non-essential hospital teams began working remotely for our first lockdown, I communicated and acknowledgment to my team that the circumstances were strange and different, incredibly surreal, new, scary, challenging, abnormal, and unlike anything we’ve experienced before. I shared that I did not expect the same level of productivity from the team – times were stressful enough as they were – and, that the most important things were to take care of your mental and physical health, be kind to yourselves, communicate when you need support, be patient, take breaks, do your best, and we’d take things one day at a time. Makes heaps of sense, right? I thought so too! Except, I wasn’t doing any of these things. I was telling my team one thing (praising a new mindset of slowing down, being kind to yourself, thinking of productivity differently, etc.) while I went into overdrive with work. Because I was so new at having the responsibilities of my role (i.e. managing team performance, overseeing operational spaces at three hospitals, ensuring the budget and fiscal year-end were closed properly by March 31, operationalizing library strategic objectives, attending hospital senior leadership meetings to obtain information I needed to share with my team, etc.), I was not following my own advice. Somehow it didn’t register with me that I should also practice these basic principles, and wrongly, in retrospect, it seemed or felt to me that it was my duty and responsibility as a manager to work even harder under the circumstances. I would work on the weekends, and I dutifully continued working from on-site at the hospitals, mostly (I believe now) due to an unfounded concern that, as a manager, I would be needed to respond to something urgent at any moment.

Unconsciously I felt a sense of vocational awe, where my duty as a “fearless leader” was to be everything to everyone in these pandemic times, and to work even harder than normal. Somehow I didn’t recognize it (at all) at the time, but looking back I see how it sent the wrong message to my team. There would be times I’d see members of my team working too much, exhibiting great anxiety and stress over workload, and expressing scrutiny towards me for being on-site, and I would feel confused and wounded that they weren’t heeding my advice. I didn’t recognize my own hypocrisy, that I wasn’t setting the right example of the behaviour I expected from my team. I was able to speak about these experiences and my lessons learned at the 2021 OLA Super Conference in panel sessions about leadership in turbulent times and providing information services in health care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and I think talking openly and sharing these missteps have helped me understand myself better, and hopefully can help others feel more comfortable expressing these challenges as well. Overall, it would be great to foster a culture of openness among leaders with these topics/issues.

In 2021, I’ve embraced a new approach to work that actively values work/life balance: I don’t work or send emails all hours of the evening or work on the weekends, I communicate openly to my team when I’m taking a break in the middle of the day, I take vacation days often and encourage my team to do the same, and I’ve worked entirely remotely (just like them) with great success. I’m a work in progress, but so far, so good.

2. Recognize (and learn from) burnout and impaired wellness

These days we talk a lot about burnout. “Burnout” is defined by the World Health Organization as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy.” Burnout isn’t just a description for feeling exhaustion from work, there are actually scales of burnout, which define and characterize the symptoms and factors which contribute to ultimate burnout. Health professionals and educators often use the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) to help self-assess their stage of burnout.

My experiences in 2020 with burnout and impaired wellness probably aren’t unique from yours or others in our society. Eventually I became exhausted from working too much and too hard, began losing interest in aspects of my work that I typically enjoyed, developed a negative and cynical attitude toward new projects or work requests, felt depressed, anxious and overwhelmed, and felt just completely over it. Not to mention I secretly picked up smoking again, and (not-so-secretly) gained 19 pounds (the other “COVID-19“). Not great!

While I don’t think many folks would encourage anyone to experience burnout, there is growing literature to suggest that burnout and impaired wellness aren’t such bad things if/when you can harness reflection for the experience and how you responded to it, and focus on learning, building resilience, and growing from the incident. I recently heard a thought-provoking consideration of the ignored value of impaired wellness and burnout, discussed in an interview with Will Bynum on the Medical Education Podcast in the episode “Why impaired wellness may be inevitable in medicine, and why that may not be a bad thing“. In the episode, Bynum suggests how we are “undervaluing the potential growth and resilience that can be developed through engaging with those experiences”, and shares from personal experience that “each time I’ve dealt with [burnout] I’ve gotten better at identifying it, kicking in some coping mechanisms, and recovering from it.” I was inspired by the mindset of seeing burnout with a “silver lining” point of view, and it made me think differently about my own experiences with impaired wellness and burnout. To prepare myself for the future, I’m reflecting on my instances of impaired wellness and asking myself the questions below to help develop resilience and learn from the experiences I had:

  • What characteristics did you recognize that indicated you were feeling burnout?
  • How did your behaviour or attitudes change?
  • What will you do differently next time if/when you identify feeling these ways?
  • What strategies will you use to cope differently or to mitigate scenarios within your control?

3. (Re)Consider the format of every meeting (or even cancel the meeting)

In the early days of the pandemic I heard from many folks on my team that they were lonely and missed the human connections at work. I was concerned about their feelings of isolation and despondency and I wanted to ensure they retained a sense of connection during the abrupt and unfamiliar switch to remote work. As a result, we met as a team and held individual update meetings more regularly through Zoom, and were in constant contact using Slack. Meeting so often (and on Zoom) made a lot of sense in the beginning, and for some individuals it continued to make sense throughout the year. But, after a while, it felt like we were meeting an awful lot, and our days became full of back to back Zoom meetings. We were also very busy, and I routinely questioned to myself if we truly needed to be meeting at all (especially for the default 1-hour which so many meetings are scheduled).

For 2021 I’ve adopted a new approach for meetings with members of my team. I try to reflect on the purpose, the need, the format and length of each meeting, and in advance I’ll check-in with the person I’m meeting to ask if they have a preference for the meeting format. If the purpose or need for the meeting aren’t pressing or urgent, I’ll propose we cancel or reschedule the meeting. Here’s my guiding decision-framework:

  1. Do you need to hold the meeting you’ve organized?
    – Yes/No
    – Unsure? Ask the person/people you’re meeting
  2. For each meeting, determine the best or most appropriate format to meet:
    – Zoom: Use if something must be shared and discussed visually; there are 3 or more participants; or you want face-to-face time
    – Phone: Use if there is nothing to share or discuss visually; there are 2 participants in total; it’s intended to be a short conversation; either of the meeting participants do not wish to be on videoconference for any reason, or it’s not a good time for videoconference due to nearby distractions like children, partner or roommate also has a meeting, etc.
    – Email: Could this meeting be an email? Consider sending an email instead of meeting if the purpose of the meeting is simply information sharing without any discussion or input.
    – Slack: If there’s not a lot of need/purpose for a meeting, and you’re checking-in with the person about a) whether you need to meet, or b) the preferred format, ask them if they’d like to merely have a chat on Slack about the meeting topic. Avoid phone or videoconference altogether!
  3. Length of the meeting:
    – Not all meetings need to be an hour! Be brave, schedule a meeting for 15, 30, or 45 minutes.
    – If your meeting needs to be an hour, be mindful to schedule gaps allowing for short breaks between meetings (i.e. start the meeting at 9:10 instead of 9:00 on the dot).

4. Be authentic and brave, show you’re human too

As a manager and people leader, I’m learning to recognize and appreciate the importance of showing vulnerability, communicating honestly (about my wellness and my needs, etc.), the benefits of being transparent about workload and stressors, and ultimately showing my authentic self to my team and colleagues. I suppose I’m talking about the idea of bringing your whole self to work. For some people (and perhaps for more people than I’m aware), this is hard work! I’ve been mindful of this ever since I started working, and have always struggled with being my whole self in a work context. I think as a gay man I’ve had to work-through and unpack the shame associated with being gay, and it’s impacted how I behave and communicate in a “professional” environment. There’s a whole other blog post about this in my head somewhere, but I’ll summarize by saying that for a very long time I’ve had my guard-up in professional settings in an effort to hide or conceal my authentic self from fear of homophobia or discrimination.

However, what I have learned from 2020 and in my current work setting, with my present colleagues, and in my leadership and management role, is that showing myself and being authentic actually does make things better, and I’m encouraged to do it more. Being vulnerable, open, and honest sets a positive example for your team and fosters a culture of openness, and encourages or gives permission to members of your team to do the same. I underestimate the influence I have on my team, and I see now that when I’m open, vulnerable, and honest, it’s not only appreciated, but I see others mirroring those behaviour too.

5. “Wellness” isn’t just a buzzword

The three weeks of vacation I took in December 2020 were a life-saver. I needed that time away from my job more than thought. It helped to change my outlook, improved my mood, and helped me see my job in a more positive way. I used this time off to re-focus on things I’d been missing that bring me joy, like reading for pleasure, cooking, going for walks, and watching a ton of bad TV. In a nutshell, I learned I need to incorporate the following into my routine: take breaks, breathe deeply, read more, and get daily exercise (and I mean something as easy as going for a walk).

The lesson I learned is that no matter how busy I get, I need to prioritize wellness and make time to get what I need to recharge. It will always pay-off and help a headspace that is stressed-out, anxious, or overwhelmed. For me, “recharging” can look like taking three minutes to complete a breathing exercise (here’s a great .GIF for guided box breathing, and another one for simple deep-breathing), going for a short (or long) walk/getting some fresh air, or changing a routine to incorporate things that bring opportunities for reflection, relaxation and calm (e.g. reading, reflective practices/exercises) because ultimately it will help you feel better.

So, this concludes my very long-winded list of five things I learned in my first full-year of management and people-leadership in 2020 during the pandemic. I hope there is something you took away that may help you in your life/work, and that some of the experiences I shared resonated or were validating for you.

Hospital Librarianship during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hi! It’s been a while (7 years!) since I posted anything on this blog, but lately I’ve been eager to share some of my experiences in health/hospital librarianship during the COVID-19 pandemic. Last week I wrote this Tweet and received many responses from folks who shared they’d like to hear about what my team has been up to during this pandemic.

There’s been a lot of discourse on Twitter and in the media regarding public health and labour concerns of keeping public and academic libraries open, and advocacy for closing (which, they all should). When I share with family, friends, and social media that I’m still going to work, folks don’t always make the connection that while yes, I’m a librarian, I also work in a healthcare setting and my library serves hospital leadership and front-line health workers who urgently need information and resource supports.


Because I recognize the activities, services, and impact of hospital libraries might be unknown or seem opaque to a lot of folks, I wanted to share some details about what my library team has been doing during this pandemic. I’m excited to share how we’re continuing to support staff and physicians, how our activities have pivoted in an “all hands on deck” crisis, how library staff are recognized for their expertise from hospital leadership, and how our libraries (i.e. staff, services, collections/resources, and spaces) are valued and needed at this time. I’m extremely proud of the work we’re doing, and of our contributions to supporting front-line health workers and combating the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where I work:

I work for a multi-site health system in Toronto comprised of three teaching hospitals fully-affiliated with the University of Toronto. The organization upholds a strong focus on research, patient care, and quality improvement. Each of the three sites is unique: a community hospital, a downtown trauma and emergency centre, and a rehabilitation and long-term care facility. I can only speak to things happening within the health system where I work. The types of projects or activities, departmental pressures, and redeployment staffing needs differ across healthcare organizations, so the library activities I’m sharing may be unique to my team’s experience in our particular organization. At my organization I’m the manager of the health sciences libraries, archives, and knowledge mobilization program.

What’s the role of a library worker in a hospital environment?

Presumably, many reading this don’t work in healthcare or in libraries, and (perhaps even if you do) might not be familiar with the function or services of hospital libraries. So firstly I wanted to briefly review the roles and activities of our library within our particular health system and hospital sites. Again, this may not be true for all hospital librarians, but is the case for my team in our organization:

  • Our library supports ALL staff and physicians of our hospital network. This includes clinicians (i.e. health care professionals working directly with patients such as physicians, dietitians, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, nurses, etc.), scientists and researchers, administrative staff, educators, and students; these are our library’s “users”. Our library does not serve patients, their families, or the community.
  • Generally speaking, our library supports the “information and knowledge needs” of our users. This translates to:
    • facilitating access to information sources (e.g. clinical point-of-care tools, medical and academic databases, journals, eBooks, interlibrary loan, etc.);
    • supporting and collaborating with users to fulfill literature searches, research projects, knowledge synthesis activities (i.e. systematic reviews, scoping reviews, meta-analysis, etc.);
    • curating information/knowledge for their use and care practice (through the creation of online resource guides, organizing and contributing to clinical rounds, supporting publication of research projects, etc.).
  • A fundamental underlying principle of library work in health settings is the importance of evidence-based medicine and evidence-based practice. Clinical staff (and administrative staff alike) operate by learning from and building-upon the evidence. Simplistically put, this is often done by reviewing the literature to understand what questions have been asked, how they were studied, and examining what outcomes have been determined. A direct result of the need to consult evidence translates to the role of library workers: to construct and systematize search methodologies, collect results, and synthesize evidence to support and guide decision-making. These practices are true not just for pure sciences, but also in the social sciences (e.g. examining social determinants of health), and quality improvement projects (e.g. how to improve hand hygiene compliance among personal support workers in long-term care homes). Everyone should start their new project by exploring the evidence to position their research, and build-upon what knowledge or evidence has already been proven.
  • Finally, our library supports staff learning by delivering training on how to use medical and health sciences databases, teaching skill-building for managing citations, preparing for research activities, mobilizing knowledge, and scholarly communications, and even offer workshops for Microsoft PowerPoint and Excel (e.g. advanced features, pivot tables), and visualization tools for infographics.

What’s changed for hospital library staff during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Effective March 13th, we closed our library spaces and in-person access/service points at all three sites. My team (6 librarians, 2 library technicians) began working virtually from home. To stay connected we adopted Slack, and are using Zoom for virtual/teleconference meetings. While we continue to operate “business as usual” services (i.e. fulfilling reference/information requests and literature searches, Zoom-based workshops, interlibrary loan for e-resources, library committee projects), the current priority of our work is supporting COVID-19 projects, initiatives, and the needs of clinical units as they arise.

What’s impressed me most about these circumstances is how my library team has risen to new and unanticipated challenges, and to witness how our expertise (“library skills”) is contributing to interdepartmental team efforts to achieve the same end goal. I want to share the ways my library team is working differently during this pandemic, and highlight some of the ways we’re contributing to new, interdepartmental COVID-19 projects:

Supporting the COVID-19 Command Centre

In early March 2020 a Command Centre was established for our health network’s senior leadership to hold daily briefings to review COVID-19 updates, ICU capacity, and other emergency preparedness precautions. From the beginning, a librarian from our team has been a dedicated resource to the Command Centre for supplying news alerts, statistical updates, including a short a précis of Canadian and international news from key policy makers—Canadian Health Ministers, politicians, the CDC—and has set up automated search alerts.

COVID-19-Related Literature Searches 

Building on what I mentioned earlier with evidence-based practice, since mid-March we’ve received over 30 requests specifically for COVID-19 information and literature. These requests have come from practitioners and hospital leadership related to caring for COVID-19 patients and their pre-existing health conditions, exploring different nursing team models and precautions for COVID-19 in specific units, and looking for guidance to inform best practices for our approaches to simulation training. Some of the literature search topics/requests we’ve received are listed below.

  • Exploring social determinants of health and equity considerations for COVID-19 (Rapid review)
  • “Looking for evidence of new staffing models of care for patients with COVID-19, including: critical care teams, primary care vs team nursing, pod models, roles of different disciplines such as RT and PT. Models of care for dealing with the surge of patients and staff shortage.” (Grey literature search)
  • “What literature is there on various nurse staffing models in the ICU during a nursing shortage?”
  • “What literature is there on COVID-19 and acute kidney injury” (requested from Diabetes Complex Care team)
  • “What literature is available on COVID-19 and ICUs (in relation to time from admission to hospital to transfer to ICU; LOS in ICU (with/wihout ventilator); LOS post-ICU)?”
  • “Working on a mathematical model for the ideal approach to quarantine/isolation for COVID-19” (requested from Emergency Medicine)

COVID-19 Resource Guide

Yes, it’s cliché in library circles, but we built a LibGuide ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  We wanted to curate COVID-19-specific resources on a platform that was mobile-responsive, accessible outside the hospital’s IP range, could be updated quickly, and was easy to navigate. Key resources we incorporated into the guide included:

  • COVID-19 pre-print publications;
  • pre-defined/pre-built searches for COVID-19 topics in popular databases;
  • newly-available and open COVID-19 content from other publishers and library vendors, such as ebook packages, and access to clinical tools like UpToDate;
  • open access content;
  • approved training materials for clinical teams.

As of April 20th at 6PM, the COVID-19 Resource Guide had 1860 views in 35 days since it launched! 

Collaboration & Redeployment with other Departments

In most hospitals, “non-essential” workers (e.g. staff in administrative areas who don’t directly support patient care) may be redeployed to different departments across the organization to support emerging staffing needs or fill staffing gaps (within the individual’s existing training, skills and abilities). Some departments can become stretched very thin as a result of heightened demands, and a solution is to redeploy staff from another (closed) department to support the short-staffed team/department.

Virtual Care

An example of a short-staffed department in our organization’s context is Virtual Care/Telemedicine. Briefly, this department is responsible for providing the technological framework and solutions for clinical staff and physicians to meet with patients virtually (by phone, and/or videoconference), these activities are accompanied by a roster of requirements to protect patient personal privacy and patient health information. With physical distancing being a fundamental solution to mitigate virus spread during this pandemic, the demands on Virtual Care have skyrocketed. Primary care providers need information, best practice instructions, troubleshooting FAQs, and access to guidelines and teleconference accounts. A librarian on my team has been partially-redeployed to the Virtual Care team to support efforts to streamline these details for a new website developed for clinical staff and physicians needing virtual care support.

New PPE Directives

Another major project occupying a great deal of time and energy of a librarian on my team (including daily meetings, working over weekends to meet tight deadlines) is the creation and development of visual aids and infographics to support change management of PPE (personal protective equipment) directives. PPE conservation strategies have been top-of-mind for many as rapidly evolving supply chain management issues progress. There’s a global shortage of PPE, so new education resources are required to instruct all patient-facing hospital staff on how to don, doff, re-use and extend the use of their PPE. This is an ongoing project, and the team (comprised of infection prevention control, clinical educators, supply chain management, librarians, and administrative staff) has produced nearly a dozen new visual aids supporting education for change management.

Easing Anxiety and Stress through COVID-19

Shortly after non-essential staff (i.e. primarily non-clinical teams) were directed to begin working from home, it was clear that this “new normal” would have an impact on the mental health of our organization’s staff (regardless of their work arrangement). Our team wanted to provide some resources to assist individuals in managing stress and anxiety, so we compiled a list of online resources (eBooks, mobile apps, websites) to help anyone needing support. You can find the blog post here.

Library Spaces

While all library spaces and in-person service points are closed to users, new (and unexpected) needs have emerged for these spaces. For example, due to the library’s location and proximity to the Assessment Centre at one of our sites, the library is now a meeting space and break room for the clinical teams who staff the Assessment Centre. At another site we’re using vacant library space to train critical care teams, train redeployed non-clinical staff for donning and doffing personal protective equipment, and adapting computer work spaces (such as our computer lab, pictured below) for patient charting in adherence to physical distancing.


Image of the Library’s Computer Lab, April 15, 2020. In adherence to new distancing directives where no more than 5 individuals may work together in the same space, dedicated workstations have been labelled and include instructions for sanitizing procedures.

There was even a conversation I had with my Director about re-purposing an empty library for sleeping space to clinical teams who staff COVID-positive units. This solution would have required the temporary relocation of all print collections (!!!) to mitigate any risk of contamination/spread through surfaces of library materials. Thankfully, other spaces were identified for sleeping, and that idea was not pursued.

What’s next?

We’re at a point in Canada where signs are pointing to a flattening of the curve, it’s encouraging and feels optimistic. But as pressures remain on our health system, the library team will continue to be nimble, flexible, and helpful in all of the ways it can, along with working as a team to keep spirits up, support one another, and stay positive. We obviously don’t know when the library spaces will re-open, or when my team will be expected to return to working onsite, but we’ve shown that we’re absolutely essential in supporting patient care areas, which is rewarding and a great source of pride.

This experience has also allowed us to troubleshoot our processes (for remote service delivery, virtual collaboration and communication), and refine our web properties and online services. Necessity is definitely the mother of invention, and it’s also true that when new challenges or opportunities arise, it’s the perfect time to experiment and try things differently.

Thank you for reading! Stay healthy, keep calm, and take care.

Cataloguing Flash Mob: Update

It’s been one month since I hosted the Cataloguing “flash mob” party at my library, and I wanted to write a post about how it all went down. If you didn’t hear about this event, you can check out my initial post, and read about it on the TBG’s website.

The idea came about one Saturday at work (April 20), when a volunteer and I remarked at the massive amounts of cataloguing that had to be done. The idea of hosting a cataloguing event was proposed that day, and I’d imagined that we might be able to attract 15-30 people to help out over the two days we had in mind, which were Saturday May 4th and Sunday the 5th. It was the beginning of spring and the weather was exceptional, so we maintained a realistic sense of optimism that perhaps at least 15 people would be interested in participating over the course of that weekend. Because really, who would want to stay inside all weekend and catalogue books… right?

The following Monday (April 22), I sent an email to my boss to ask if she thought it would be a good idea, and her response was that I should go for it. The event was to take place less than two weeks from the date the idea was imagined, so there was a lot of work to do.

On April 23 I sent messages to the SLA-TOR listserv (Special Libraries Association, Toronto), the TSLIS Network listserv (Toronto Special Libraries and Information Services Network), and the Seneca College LIT program coordinator inviting Toronto-area information professionals to help out. I also put out the word on Twitter and Facebook.

Almost immediately, I received emails from individuals who were interested in participating. I was (and continue to feel) incredibly blown away by the overwhelming response this event received. In just a matter of days, there were nearly 50 enthusiastic people signed up for the cataloguing event. By the 4th, I’d heard from about 65 professionals in the Toronto-area who RSVP’d that they were coming. Some came from as far as Kingston!

Now, while I did receive a tremendous amount of positive feedback for the event’s innovativeness, ingenuity, and uniqueness… It was not without its detractors. Much of the criticism that I received for the event surrounded the idea that cataloguing is a skill and practice that shouldn’t be devalued through volunteer work. Also, that by calling for volunteer help, it was taking away from possible paid opportunities or a student internship. I did (and do) appreciate this feedback and criticism, because it gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I was really doing, and how it was being received by the library and information community. However, after careful reflection, I didn’t (and don’t) feel that the event in any way was taking away opportunities, devaluing cataloguing, or taking advantage of anyone. The spirit of the event was to contribute one’s cataloguing skills and bibliographic interests through volunteerism to improve access to information and the betterment of a small library at a non-profit and charitable organization. Also, it was meant to be a fun networking opportunity, and a chance to participate in a unique project.

My favourite of all criticisms was a post written about my cataloguing event on the ALA’s “Annoyed Librarian” blog, titled “A Cataloging Sweatshop?”. Please have a look, and be sure to read the comments section.

So, less than 14 days from its inception, the Cataloguing Flash Mob Event began on the 4th. Eager cataloguers trickled into the library at 9:30 in the morning, and the room was soon full of laptops, extension cords, library books, and cups of coffee. By 7:30 p.m., the last cataloguer packed it in, and we left for the day. On the 5th, it was the same sort of scene. However, my greatest fear was realized when we crashed the internet, and were without access to z39.50 clients for about an hour and a half. We regained access to the web, and continued cataloguing, again until about 7:30 p.m. when we were kicked out of the building by the TBG’s caretakers.


In summary, the “mob” catalogued over 900 titles in two short days. It was a really fun event, and I am more than happy about how it all went down. People seemed to really enjoy themselves, and had positive feedback about our library’s new ILS (Koha). I’m also looking forward to presenting a session on this event at the 2014 OLA Super Conference which will explore the project in more detail.

Photos of the event can be found on the TBG’s Facebook page. Click here to see the photos!

Thanks for all of your support and feedback!

Cataloguing party at my library, May 4th & 5th!

In the past decade, a popular and growing phenomenon has been the proliferation of flash mobs across the world. A “flash mob” has been defined as “a group of people mobilized by social media to meet in a public place for the purpose of doing an unusual or entertaining activity of short duration” (source). These mobs have taken shape as choreographed dance routines, protest movements, pillow fights, and even for the purpose of cataloguing a library’s book collection. In this last example, it is essentially when a group of people come together to catalogue an entire library collection for the greater good of access to information. While not necessarily the same as a “flash mob”, a similar cataloguing challenge was achieved at The Center for Cartoon StudiesSchulz Library in 2011, when volunteers came together to add new barcodes to the entire collection. Ever since I learned about the project at Schulz, I’ve been inspired by the idea of bringing people together to build a catalogue. In a sense, it really is a cataloguing party!

The idea of hosting a “cataloguing party” (for the lack of a better name) has been weighing heavily on my mind lately, and what follows explains why…

A major project that I am spearheading at my library is the migration of our integrated library system (ILS) and catalogue from InMagic DB/Textworks to an open source online platform called Koha. It has proven to be a herculean task for me as a solo-librarian, and I have sought the help from two skilled and talented volunteers to help move the project along. The catalogue migration project has been especially tricky and time-consuming because the format of InMagic records are not MARC-based. InMagic records are comprised (for the most part) of free-text bibliographic fields (e.g. Call number, Title, Author, Publisher, Year, Subject(s) etc.), rather than the specificity involved with MARC fields (e.g. 082, 100, 245 $a/$b, 260 $a/$b/$c, 650 $a/$x$v$z, etc.). So the greatest challenge of migrating the library’s catalogue has been creating MARC records from the records exported from InMagic. For more on how we achieved this, see our OLA Poster Session presentation “ILS on a shoe-string budget: open source software in a non-profit organization“. To make a long story short, the library consists of approximately 9,500 titles, and we have successfully migrated 5,000 of those into the new Koha ILS, leaving roughly 4,500 records to go. Just over half of the collection is searchable and catalogued, and we need to get the other half up and online.
Here’s where the “cataloguing party” comes in…


Help the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s Weston Family Library complete the migration of their collection by contributing your copy-cataloguing skills! There are 4,500 records left to go, and our goal is to get them all catalogued in 2 full days. Is it crazy? Maybe. Ambitious? Yes! Possible?? With your help, DEFINITELY!


Weston Family Library at the Toronto Botanical Garden
777 Lawrence Avenue East, Toronto


Saturday May 4 and Sunday May 5, 10:00 or 11:00 a.m. (or whenever you can join) until we’re finished! The time commitment is whatever you can contribute.


  • There will be coffee, pizza, and prizes!
  • It will be fun, a good cause, and a unique way to network, meet other professionals, and refresh or develop your cataloguing skills!
  • Because many hands make light work.
  • But in all seriousness, because the Toronto Botanical Garden is a non-profit educational organization with limited financial resources that functions through the generosity and assistance of volunteers. The TBG Library is an invaluable resource, and plays a significant role to support Toronto’s horticultural and community needs, and the TBG’s mission as an educational organization. Having a public, online, and searchable catalogue will help the Weston Family Library enter the 21st century.


If you have any questions, want to join, or have any other inquiries, please contact me at or call 416-397-1375.

THANK YOU for your consideration!

I hope to see you on May 4th and/or 5th. Be there or be square!

Adventures in Library Promotion: Buttons

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since my last post, but for a good reason. In January I took a new position as the Head Librarian at the Toronto Botanical Garden‘s Weston Family Library, and since starting in this new role I have been busy, busy, busy. The TBG is home to the largest private horticultural library in Canada, and includes materials in the broad area of domestic horticulture. “What’s that, though?”, you ask? For the most part it’s floral arrangement and design, gardening, herbs, plant biology, ornithology, garden and plant history, literature, biography, landscape design and architecture, green roof information, sustainability initiatives, urban agriculture, balcony gardening, food security, wildlife, plant identification, etc. It’s an amazing specialized collection, and I’m thrilled to be working there.

One of my responsibilities as Head Librarian is to actively promote the library’s collections, services, and programs. I tackle this through a number of traditional means, such as brochures, bookmarks, on the web and using social media, but most recently I had a new and exciting idea: buttons! Now I know what you may be thinking… it’s not new (and some may not think it’s very exciting), but I’m ready to change your mind. Buttons are cute, inexpensive to create, trendy, and if done properly with creativity, they are a lot of fun. I should also state that I’m referring to 1″ buttons, not their 2.25″  “uncool” distant relative that we’ve seen throughout our lives. Also, some people call them “pins”, but I don’t.

A preface and some context to my newfound interest in buttons: Every year, the Word on the Street Festival takes place in participating cities across Canada. If you haven’t been before, it’s a celebration of books and magazines, authors, publishing, literacy and everything in-between. This year in Toronto it will take place on September 23rd at Queen’s Park Circle, from College Street all the way to Bloor. It’s a terrific and free event that draws hundreds of thousands of people annually. This year I was very keen to have a booth for the Toronto Botanical Garden at the festival to highlight the library, host author signing, promote the TBG’s adult and children’s education, and overall to get the word out about the organization. It has been a blast to plan and co-ordinate the activities for our booth, and I’m getting pumped for the 23rd to be here. In preparation for the event, I wanted to have something to give away at the booth that would grab the interest and attention of passersby, and work as a tool to promote our presence at the festival and as a destination in the Toronto area. Clearly, I chose buttons. Luckily for me, another department at the TBG conveniently had a button-maker on the premises.

I got the idea from the University of Waterloo Libraries, who have been doing this for the past year or so. Check them out here. In the beginning I was just making buttons with the TBG logo, ones that say “Weston Family Library”, etc. Standard branding. However, things got really fun when I had another idea, to create unique, one-of-a-kind buttons from our discarded books. My library receives a lot (thousands) of donated books on a yearly basis, and depending on the relevance, need, and shape they’re in, we either include the donation into the collection, or we sell them for a few bucks. Unfortunately for the used books that are not sold (usually ones from the ’70s or ’80s about gardening), we recycle them or re-donate them to a Value Village. Since we have boxes and boxes of books in the last category, I thought, “Why not make buttons from the images and text in these old books? They’re being discarded anyway!” There is some really colourful, comical, and interesting (albeit, often not useful and sometimes harmfully outdated) literature that we discard, so I’m glad we can reuse these materials somehow.

It’s become a real hobby, and I’m even considering buying my own personal button making machine just for fun. Check out some of the buttons I made below:

The availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic libraries

Below is the text from a poster presentation that I delivered at the Canadian Library Association 2012 National Conference and Trade Show, May 30-June 2, 2012 in Ottawa. An image of the poster itself is above.


Think tanks are in the business of creating innovative ideas to address policy issues, which are disseminated through timely, well-researched publications made available for free or at a nominal cost. In 2007, L. DeLong published “Do think tanks matter to libraries?” which revealed “if not surprising, rather unsettling” results of the absence of this literature in Canadian library collections. The study drew on public and academic libraries across Canada and identified that only 31% of the publications sampled were available. As think tanks produce highly relevant literature to many academic disciplines, the disparities in visibility and inclusion in Canadian research libraries are worth re-visiting.

Objectives and Purpose:

  • To determine if think tank research, rich in policy-relevant academic study, is being included in academic library collections.
  • Update and contribute to DeLongʼs 2007 study: is the relative absence of think tank literature still a problem? What has changed?
  • To identify if library research guides include information on think tanks.


  • Six Canadian think tanks were chosen, ranging in area of focus (environment, economics, social issues, and international politics), and political lean (conservative-right, non-partisan, liberal-left). The organizations chosen were:
  1. C.D. Howe Institute
  2. Caledon Institute of Social Policy
  3. Conference Board of Canada
  4. Fraser Institute
  5. Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)
  6. Pembina Institute for Appropriate Development
  • Four publications were selected from each organization to be used as a sample for the study. Each at least 5 months old, substantial in length, and free. These publications were searched in the OPAC of eight large Canadian academic libraries, from Nova Scotia to British Columbia:
  1. Dalhousie University
  2. University of New Brunswick
  3. McGill University
  4. University of Ottawa
  5. University of Manitoba
  6. University of Saskatchewan
  7. University of Alberta
  8. Simon Fraser University
  • Subject guides were also consulted for the mention of think tanks and their activities.

Findings and outcomes:

  • The availability of the 24 publications differed greatly by library, however, this study found that since 2007 there has been an overall increase in the availability of think tank literature in Canadian academic library collections.
  • From the sample of 24 publications searched in the 8 library OPACs, only 99 were available out of a possible 192. Therefore 52% of the publications sampled in this study were available in library catalogues across Canada.
  • 5 of the 8 libraries maintained research guides that list Canadian think tanks, their activities, and resources.

Lessons Learned:
What has changed since 2007? The increase in availability from 31% to 52% is
worth noting, as well as the inclusion of think tanks within research guides. Consortium agreements among libraries, the expansion of electronic documents, and the advent of WorldCat OPAC systems at many academic libraries have also assisted with the visibility and access of think tank publications and other grey literature in Canadian academic libraries.
Works cited:

  • DeLong, L. “Do think tanks matter to libraries? Assessing the availability of Canadian think tanks publications in Canadian libraries and databases.” The Serials Librarian, Vol. 5 (3/4), 2007: 157-164.
  • Moon, J. “Microlog and the ʻCanadian Public Policy Collectionʼ – A comparison.” Partnership: the Canadian Journal of Library and Information Practice and Research, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2011: 1-13.
  • Tompkins, E. “Think tanks and public policy research institutes: An annotated bibliography.” Behavioral & Social Sciences Librarian, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2007: 11-27.
  • Umbach, K. “Think tanks on the web as a curriculum resource.” Knowledge Quest, Vol. 32, No. 5, May/June, 2004: 44-45.

Citation Analysis: Measuring impact and delivering value to your organization

At many non-profit and for-profit companies, it is important to measure the reach, influence, and success of the organization’s efforts. This is not always easy and sometimes not even feasible, but when quantification is possible, it should be carried out to gauge the impact of a task on an audience. This is often done through media monitoring, but what about measuring your organizations other outputs?

An organization’s publications (e.g. reports, conference proceedings, authored works, etc.) are a good starting place where impact can be measured, and in organizations where an information professional is employed, the work is cut out for them. Tracking and measuring the impact of your organization’s output is a clear-cut way to demonstrate your value, contribute to department goals, and generate useful statistics that will benefit your employer.

Many information professionals will be familiar with the concept of citation analysis, and its application in the activities of scholarly research. Citation analysis is a method of bibliometrics that attempts to gauge the impact of an author’s work through the frequency of being cited in other works. The process of citing acknowledges previous works, and debatably, implies that a work is significant. The practice of measuring the number of cites is predominantly of interest to authors and stakeholders in the sciences, and some in economics, but is helpful in other fields as well. Citation analysis is also prevalent (and of greater interest) in academic environments where an author’s published research enhances their clout, and professional profile.

Because of its wide acceptance in academic settings, many of the tools available to analyze citations do not incorporate “non-scholarly” literature (often termed “grey literature” e.g. working papers), since they do not undergo the same scholarly publishing process. The majority of grey literature is not indexed in proprietary or free citation databases, because it is not controlled by commercial publishing. Consequently, the trickiest aspect of measuring the impact of your organization’s output is that citation indexes will often not include the publications you seek to evaluate.

With these obstacles is mind, I compiled a list of tools for conducting citation analysis, some are fee-based and others are free:

  • Thomson Reuter’s Web of Science/Knowledge: ( (subscription required)
    Web of Science (WoS) is the premier citation index and includes an extensive range of very impressive analysis tools. With a lofty price tag, not every organization will be able to afford this product (and unfortunately, they do not offer a non-profit rate). The indexed content is drawn almost exclusively from scholarly journals and conference proceedings, and its historical coverage is unmatched. Free 30-day trials are available, and you can select from seven subject database packages based on subject area. Thomson Reuters also provides access to “Highly Cited Research” (, a free resource to identify highly cited authors and works. WoS is tremendously useful for tracking cites in academic journals, but quite disappointing for measuring citations from grey literature.
  • Elsevier’s Scopus: (subscription required)
    Scopus is a slightly less expensive alternative to Web of Science, and boasts having “the largest abstract and citation database of research literature and quality web sources.” Scopus has a free author/organization lookup tool, which I highly recommend testing. This will give you an idea of your organization’s cited works in the Scopus indexed content. Similar to WoS, grey literature is relatively absent from this database.
  • Google Scholar: ( (free)
    Using the advanced Google Scholar search option, you can perform searches by author name, or by affiliated organization to retrieve articles where either are mentioned or cited. This can be tricky however, as it is not possible to narrow search results to the bibliography or footnotes. Your search results might include many unwanted items. That said, Google does a much better job than WoS or Scopus of retrieving obscure and grey literature citation mentions.
  • Publish or Perish: ( (free)
    Public or Perish (PoP) uses Google Scholar citations, and runs as standalone software that links to the web. You must first download PoP, then perform your citation queries to retrieve the analysis of an author or publisher’s works. It is less accurate than the fee-based products like Scopus or WoS, but PoP is also quite straightforward about its shortcomings. PoP performs much better than Google on the web, and as a free software, is worthwhile and effective.
  • CiteSeerX: ( (free)
    CiteSeerX focuses on (but is not limited to) literature in the areas of computer and information-science. As an index database, CiteSeerX is unique for adding complex metadata to its contents, which enable a greater capacity for linking documents, and locating related materials. Documents are automatically harvested from the web, so indexed content is continuously up-to-date. Try this tool in combination with others, as depending on the field of your organization and its outputs, CiteSeerX’s subject specificity might not track your publications.
  • Scirus: ( (free)
    Scirus is a science-specific index database encompassing a very wide range of web pages, government resources, academic articles, and special information sources (e.g. patent data from LexisNexis, technical reports from NASA, institutional digital repositories, etc.).  Scirus’ capabilities rival some fee-based indexes, and it also includes an impressive range of non-scholarly grey literature content.
  • RePEc: ( (free)
    Research Papers in Economics (RePEc) is a database of over one million items, largely in the social sciences, economics, finance, and computer sciences. The items in RePEc are unpublished papers, non-commercially published materials, and also pre-published versions of academic articles. RePEc is useful for many types of organizations that produce literature because it encourages free and open dissemination of these materials throughout a variety of outlets. It works by users (e.g. authors of works, or information professionals on behalf on their organization) uploading publications and providing the metadata and bibliographic information. To perform citation analyses, RePEc has an embedded system for tracking these uploaded items. With this, you can quantify how often your publications are downloaded, cited, and shared. RePEc is also a collaborative effort with many other repositories, such as EconLit, EDIRC, and IDEAS.

Although these options may not provide the complete picture of your organization’s impact, I found that using a combination of these tools can produce a rough, but useful solution. Optimistically, there are ongoing developments in this field, such as Google Scholar Citations (, and Open Grey (, and the maturation of these products will benefit the efforts of citation analysis for grey literature.

If your organization produces publications for stakeholders or a general audience, consider tracking cites through the abovementioned means. It will strengthen your value to the organization, and provide them with a quantifiable source of evidence-based measurement for organizational outputs.

Listed below are additional sources that review and compare citation analysis tools:

  1. Badia, Giovanna. “Google Scholar out-performs many subscription databases when keyword searching.” Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2010: 39-41. Available from
  2. Bosman, J., et al. “Scopus reviewed and compared.” Utrecht University Library, 2006. Available from
  3. Connor, E. “Searching for science: a descriptive comparison of CiteSeer, FirstGov for Science, and Scirus.” Journal of Electronic Resources in Medical Libraries, Vol. 2, No. 2, 2005: 35-47.
  4. Pauly, D. And Stergiou K. I. “Equivalence of results from two citation analyses: Thomson ISI’s Citation Index and Google’s Scholar service.” Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics, December 22, 2005: 33-35.  Available from
  5. Science Intelligence and InfoPros. “Google Scholar Vs Web of Science: McDonalds Vs a Gourmet restaurant?!” December 7, 2010. Available from

Librarians & online content

I read something online recently that made my heart beat faster, and I felt that I had to get this out of my system. There’s a popular idea that because things can (and increasingly do) exist electronically, that the need for classification (and in a way, librarians) are not required or are becoming unnecessary. Please, let me convince you that this is absolutely not the case…

  • Digitization and digital books: People assume that with the advent of e-Publishing and scanning technology that libraries are going to digitize all of the print materials in the library. This is not the case, and would be illegal under copyright laws. Libraries do not own the rights to digitize and make published materials available online without consent of the publisher and sometimes the author(s), or other owners of the materials. There ARE many books that have been digitized because of their age, public domain, etc., but libraries are not, and I doubt will ever be, fully digitizing their collections.
  • Misconception that electronic materials don’t need to be organized: Call numbers, classification systems (e.g. Dewy Decimal, Library of Congress, etc.), shelves, and signage are long-held systems to help people find print items in a library. The equivalent tools exist for electronic materials: hyperlinks and URLs, controlled subject vocabularies, tags and keywords, images, book covers, etc. These fields are in place to help people find materials in the easiest way possible. Just like their print counterparts, electronic stuff has its own access points, unique to its medium. Digital books have a classification and cataloguing system of their own, and they’re usually established by librarians.
  • Librarians, search tools and the Internet: I heard there was a scene on Parks and Recreation where Amy Poehler’s character said to the librarian something about being unnecessary or replaced because of the Internet. I can’t stand this argument… It’s obviously a cinch to find basic information on Google, but not everything is indexed on search engines like Google. Information isn’t always free, and Libraries have the resources to pay to have them available for you through subscriptions. If you’re only looking for basic details about something, clearly a librarian isn’t required. If you’re looking for something substantial or specific… you might have to scroll through a shitload of Google results if you don’t know what you’re doing. The Internet holds an incomprehensible amount of information. While having made it quicker to find lots of cool stuff, it has also been made more challenging to find authoritative or quality information. Librarians and other information professionals are essential in organizing, processing and helping to make sense of it.
  • Librarians as “gatekeepers”, not custodians of information:Librarians aren’t threatened by the Internet, or think that our jobs are in danger because of it. We use the Internet to make finding stuff easier, and we help people to use the Internet to make their lives and work easier. Heck, it makes our jobs easier too.

Learning from relatives: academic, school, and public libraries

Librarians and information professionals who work in special libraries often stick together. This makes sense, of course, as they tend to serve like-minded users, provide similar information services, and face challenges unique to special libraries. Librarians in corporate, non-profit, law and “non-traditional” information centres must rarely (if ever) consider some of the fundamental and everyday decisions of their distant relatives, the public and academic librarians. While public librarians debate the impediments of children’s literacy, or academic librarians struggle to teach undergrads how to find a peer-reviewed journal article, the special library community faces entirely different user-needs and information management concerns. Despite these inherent professional differences, I believe there is much that can be learned from one another.

The Ontario Library Association’s annual Super Conference takes place each Winter at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. This past January I attended the Super Conference with the hopes of reconnecting and networking with colleagues, liaising with vendors, and most importantly, learning from the experiences of other librarians.

Traditionally and informally, the OLA Super Conference is more or less a platform for library technicians, academic, school, and public librarians. There seem to be few special librarians in attendance at OLA. This year I pondered if librarians from special libraries could benefit from what the Super Conference has to offer. Coincidentally, the theme of this year’s conference was “The Power of C – Collaboration!” OLA President Mary Ann Mavrinac writes, “Collaboration makes us smarter. The power of collaboration is a catalyst for community engagement, communication, cooperation, connectivity, conversations, crowdsourcing, collectivism and collegiality” and further, “helps us make better choices for communal and collateral benefit” (source). I felt energized by this message of teamwork and camaraderie, and think that despite differences in the users we serve, that both groups can take away valuable and transferable lessons from each other’s major conferences.

When the Super Conference session schedule was released, I read some abstracts out of curiosity for what might be available. To my surprise, more than a handful stood out as innovative, interesting, and helpful in the context of my library’s current projects and workflow. Fully aware that I’m not the ideal audience for this conference, I registered reluctantly but excitedly.

Below are some sessions from the 2011 Super Conference that I enjoyed:

“Library Mashups: Exploring new ways to deliver library data” presented by Nicole Engard (Bywater Solutions): Highlighted various examples of how your library can incorporate the API (Application Programming Interface) from your current subscriptions (e.g. The New York Times) and embed that code within your library’s OPAC or website. Hypothetically then, you can present your users with seamless and immediate access to the latest content related to your organization’s focus. Additionally, introduce things like Google maps and other applications to your Library’s web page.

“Using Open Source Software in a shared integrated library system” presented by A. Rivers-Moore (Hanover PL), S. Leighton, (Grand Valley PL), W. Allen (Grey Highlands PL), and R. Dotten (Shelburne PL): Explored the challenges and successes of implementing the open source ILS, Koha. My library uses a number of open source platforms, Koha in particular. As the only librarian (and one with amateur open source abilities) it was a terrific opportunity to speak to others in the same situation about some of the obstacles and rewards involved in introducing free and open source software.

Overall, I was thoroughly impressed by the diversity and depth of most sessions, though disappointed by the elementary coverage of some others. I heartedly recommend browsing the list of sessions for the 2012 Super Conference. You may be surprised at what you find! As the leaders of access and information management within our organizations, we should actively keep abreast developments, technologies and projects throughout the wider profession of librarianship in order to anticipate and meet the needs of our users. There is much to be learned from our librarian relatives in the academic, school and public environments, and there is much that we can teach them as well.

Professional Profiles Series

Recently I was interviewed by the President of the SLA-Toronto Student Group, Zoe Cliff.  Zoe asked if we could meet to chat about my career in special libraries for for their blog’s professional profiles series. I thought it would be neat to share some insight into job hunting, my experiences in libraries, and landing a job.

Below is a transcript of the interview. To read other professional profiles, visit the SLA-Toronto Student Group Blog here:

1. Describe your current position
I’m a Research Librarian in a special library at CIGI, a non-profit research organization (“think tank”) that focuses on international governance concerns: energy and environment, economics, development and security. I provide a wide range of library and research services to the organization’s researchers and experts. These users have strong academic credentials, extensive international research experience, and a wide range of policy expertise. As a solo-librarian, I’m responsible for nearly all aspects of maintaining the library: acquisitions, cataloguing, collection development, subscriptions and serials management, research requests and support, special projects, outreach and communicating with the wider organization. It’s a lot of fun!

2. Describe your educational background
I have an honours Bachelor of Arts from Acadia University in history and sociology, and a Master of Information Studies (MISt) from the University of Toronto, with a focus on Library & Information Science.

3. Describe your first job as a librarian or information professional etc. and subsequent career path
This is my very first job as a librarian. After graduating from my MISt, I worked briefly at the Information Centre of De Beers Canada (the mining company), and then landed my current position. I also held a handful of library positions while at the iSchool: I worked part-time at the Robarts Reference & Research Services desk, and did some cataloguing and reference for the Data, Map & Government Information department. In addition to this, I worked at the Royal Ontario Museum Library & Archives.Regarding my current job, I was initially hired on a contract basis as the Collections Librarian, but after some restructuring, I was promoted and hired as a permanent full-time Research Librarian.

4. How did your information training and background prepare you for the job you now have?
I think that a combination of my experiences prepared me for the job I have now. Specifically, I owe a great deal to my work experiences while studying at U of T. I worked hard to get as much library experience as I could, because I felt that I would get more out of hands-on experience in libraries than I would in the classroom. I was very lucky, and landed some really terrific student jobs. In those roles I had the opportunity to assist with in-depth reference for a range of academic disciplines (humanities, social sciences, business, government documents, data and statistics), I performed original and copy-cataloguing, got involved with knowledge management and Web 2.0, and worked with archives. I was exposed to a diversity of information settings, user groups, and subject areas, and I think that a mixture of these experienced helped me to thrive in my current position where I handle most aspects of the Library. When I saw the job posting at CIGI, I thought to myself, “…this job description was written for your background and experience: apply.”

5. What advice would you give someone who is currently doing his or her Master in Information?
As a relatively new grad myself, I don’t think that I have a ton of wisdom to share, but here are some bits of advice that you might find helpful:
  • I know it’s easy to get into doing this, but don’t just take soft skill “bird” courses. Especially if you’re looking for a job in special libraries, it’s crucial to have those practical, “hard skills”. For example: aspects of cataloguing; abilities with open source; knowing something about HTML, MySQL, or web design, data, etc. I think that employers are looking for people who can walk into a job with as little training as possible and who can make a real impact. Impress them with your knowledge, skills and innovative ideas!
  • Speak to a few people in the field who have jobs that you want: inquire about how they got to where they are, ask them to critique your resume and/or CV, and in general, get your name and face out there. A similar suggestion is to request to speak to someone in Human Resources at a large library where you’d like to work. While I was job hunting, I met with the Head of Human Resources at UTL to have a mock interview and resume critique, and it was an invaluable experience. They see a lot of resumes, after all.
  • Create an online presence! You should want to be found in a Google search on sites like LinkedIn, through your personal website, and on Twitter. It will show that you’re web-savvy, relevant, and have something to say. (N.B. At the same time, be vigilant about Facebook privacy settings… you don’t need potential employers to know too much about you.)
  • Get experience. Realistically, everyone at the iSchool will graduate with the same degree. So what really counts (and what will make you stand out), is your experience. I think any experience is good for your resume and getting a job. If you can volunteer, great. If you can get part-time jobs, even better.
  • In the end, I think that getting a job relies on the following: who you know, your experience, luck, and timing.

6. Any general advice for new information professionals?
Network with colleagues, collaborate and be nice. Sometimes I feel like there’s an aura of competition that exists within special libraries (but maybe it’s other places too), and I think it can make people uptight and insular. Participate in socials, activities, listservs, and collaborate. It would make our community even more pleasant than it already is.

7. What helpful lessons did you learn early in your career? Do any of them still apply today?
Don’t be overwhelmed, stay organized, and take it one day at a time. When I was at De Beers, I worked with the Manager of Information Services (it was just the two of us), and I was always impressed with her ability to stay calm under duress. The library was never in shambles, but there were some problem areas that I would have lost sleep over. I asked how she dealt with that kind of stress or pressure, and she said, “No library is perfect. You just have to deal with things in stride, and prioritize your time.” I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I think of all of the things that need to be done at my library, e.g. backlog of cataloguing, responding to requests, maintaining print collections, broken links on the digital library, etc.; but I try to stay organized and prioritize competing long-term tasks, one day at a time.