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.


So far, 2010 has been a great year. The weather in Toronto has been fantastic, I had a terrific time attending the Super Conference, my first paper was published, and to top all of that, I was offered a dream job. Four weeks ago I started as the Collections Librarian with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) in Waterloo, Ontario. CIGI is an independent research centre/think-tank that focuses on issues related to international governance and foreign relations, and has partnerships with academic institutions, policy-makers and businesses all over the world. Their library houses a specialized collection of books (formerly the print collection from the Canadian Institute of International Affairs), a strong digital collection of electronic resources and publications, and also the Canadian Foreign Relations Index (CFRI). In my role as a collections librarian, I work with the Manager of Content Services (“Head Librarian”) to manage the print resources, perform acquisitions and cataloguing, conduct outreach and promote CIGI’s unique and specialized collections, and assist with research requests. This position is truly a dream job, because it combines my longstanding interests in special libraries, advocacy and access to rare special collections and research resources, establishing or improving access points (cataloguing/indexing), and assisting with research. Overall I’m extremely pleased and feel very lucky to experience this challenging and satisfying position. While it is only a 14 month contract, it’s the perfect kind of commitment for right now.

Just wanted to post an update on what’s new! More to come in 2010!

Wordle: Create text clouds from existing texts!

Wordle is a tool that I’ve recently discovered, and have been having a lot of fun using.

What’s cool about this application? The ability to generate a text cloud for a particular document or website; to reveal content of a digital text or web page through the  representation of re-occuring words by size. Words that are repeated most frequently will appear large, while other words that are used less often will be represented much smaller.

How can you use it? There are a lot of really neat functions! The first is its main ability to create text clouds for existing documents, websites, or blogs. That means you can upload the URL from your blog or add word documents (i.e. recipes, written work, resume, CV, etc!), and the program will read through the text to generate a word cloud. Next, you can modify its appearance, font type, colour, and if you don’t like the position of words (or any particular words you don’t want included), you can re-arrange and delete items in the Wordle.

Below I’ve put my CV/resume into Wordle. Click on the image to enlarge.

My Wordle'd CV

Another rad application is TextArc. This is a visualization tool that allows you to experience a text in a very nontraditional way. Since electronic text is digital (..duh), and consequently, far more malleable and transformational than a print counterpart, there are practically infinite ways to present the text of any piece of literature. Two examples that are available on the TextArc page are Hamlet, and Alice in Wonderland. The application displays all of the words (text) from each story, and as it is “read” (by generating text, line by line along the bottom of the screen), the words are highlighted within the large “cloud” of text in the centre of the screen. This can be useful, as there are thesauri, and other tools that one can use to better interpret and experience a text. Most essentially, TextArc is a cool application because of its visual appeal. You need to check it out! Watch one of the examples provided on the TextArc page. Below is a screen-shot of the Hamlet text.

TextArc: Alice in Wonderland

I’m really interested in applications such as Wordle and TextArc, because of my broader interests in digital humanities and the creation and uses of electronic texts. On May 5th, 2009 I participated at the fifth annual TRY (Toronto, Ryerson, York) Library Staff Conference, at St. Michael’s College, U of T. With the collaboration of my colleagues Marian Davies and Alison Callahan, we designed a poster to promote awareness of how libraries can support the digital humanities, entitled “Re:evolution_of_the_text”. This poster addressed definitions of the emerging field, how its applications and services fit, and are used within libraries, and finally, the forseeable roles that librarians can assume in the creation and proliferation of digital humanities projects. We also provided recommendations for librarians, particularly for training, advocacy, and becoming creators. To read more about this conference, click here. The abstract for “Re:evolution_of_the_text” can be read on the third page of my CV or on the TRY 2009 Poster Sessions descriptions page.

Library outreach and my modeling career

When a new school year begins at academic institutions, it’s becoming increasingly vital for libraries to advertise and promote their services to the community they serve.  So many undergraduate students don’t know the library, or how the collections and services there can help them in their studies. By now, most libraries participate in virtual reference (e.g. Meebo, AskON online research help, etc.), and email reference services, catering to the needs/wishes of library users who want information quickly. Visiting the library for print materials is becoming soooo passé.  Library users want materials that are available electronically, and from their own laptops, wherever they may be.  Sometimes this neediness (and often laziness) can be frustrating as a reference librarian, since library users often demand that everything be available to them in PDF format, but it remains important to be on the Friendly people to help you :)cutting edge of electronic collections and services in academic libraries. Though also, it’s easy to understand how bourgeoning digital collections and the advent of scanning retrospective journals/Open Access can instill a sense of “why isn’t it available online??” … .  …. Sorry, I’m getting off-topic.

This September at the University of Toronto Libraries, where I currently work part-time hours at the Robarts Reference & Research Department, there are new brochures and bookmarks available to incoming students. These promote the various ways to get in touch with a librarian for help with research inquiries. If you look closely, you’ll see that there are “Friendly People to Help You”… 😉 and there’s a photo of me!

Hehe, the incentive to create this post was inspired almost entirely by me wanting to put this bookmark online to show people.. I’m practically a Library Celebrity!…Right??? If anyone needs a library model for any kind of promotional materials… please get in touch with me. My modeling career for libraries is taking off!

Rookie blogger

Howdy visitors! This homepage and blog is dedicated to my newfound free-time. I have very recently completed my Master of Information Studies degree from U of T, and have the ability (i.e. the time) to do things like read for pleasure, cook, create and contribute to a blog, etc. So this is one of the outlets that I’m using to fill my time, network, get experience with web 2.0 tools, be creative and all that fun stuff.

It feels like such a heavy weight has been lifted being done a term of school… but it still hasn’t really sunk in that I won’t be returning to a classroom in September. On Sunday night I was writing the last assignment for my final Masters course. When I was finished proofreading, I emailed the document to my prof., took a deep breath, and started to cry! I was overwhelmed with joy, pride, fear, and strangely, I knew that I was really going to miss all of those stressful and crazy times inherent with student life.

So. I’ve whiped my tears away, and am looking forward to new challenges and opportunities! Now that I’m done school, I’m still working very part-time with Robarts Reference, and cataloguing with Data, Map, & Government information services, while actively looking for full-time employment. Wish me luck!