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.

Visit to Library & Archives Canada!

Over the weekend of July 10-13 I visited my family’s cottage in Gatineau, Quebec. Since I only work part-time and have Mondays off, I decided that it would be a good time to visit Ottawa’s regional libraries that are of interest to me. I’m definitely attracted to Government Information centres and the kind of services they provide, and with the help of my Mother’s contacts (btw, I love you Mom!), was able to meet with several individuals who work at the Library & Archives of Canada (LAC). These contacts work at the Preservation Centre in Gatineau, and the LAC Main Building on Wellington St. downtown Ottawa. Being practically unemployed, I’m beginning to realise and take advantage of opportunities for informational interviewing. I’ve never been a very avid or natural “networker”, as I felt shy or silly doing it, I worked so much while in school and was always busy, and to be frank, I didn’t think it was important to start doing while in school (bad mistake). Now that I have more free time, I’m learning the importance (professional development-wise) and the personal significance/satisfaction that informational interviewing can create. It’s very interesting to meet individuals who work and thrive in the environments where you have interests, and that you have been educated and trained to enter. The first contact that I met is named Bruce Walton, the director of the digitization division of the Preservation Centre in Gatineau (image below).

Library and Archives Canada Preservation Centre

Bruce gave me a tour of the very impressive facility where roughly 70 employees work on preserving archival materials in a variety of formats. To my surprise, much of this work involved digitization initiatives using both scanning and photographic technologies. I had presumed that most “preservation” work involved more tedious and less interesting tasks (i.e. practices such as re-binding, etc., not really my thing..). Needless to say, I was thoroughly and increasingly impressed with what I was shown by Bruce and his colleagues.

Next I drove 20 minutes or so to the main building of LAC, located in downtown Ottawa. I met with Ian McDonald, a reference librarian and Government and Law Specialist. He was very kind and I greatly enjoyed meeting with him. We had lunch in the cafeteria, and he spoke candidly about his professional career; opponents, achievements, obstacles, etc. For 25 years, Ian worked at the Library of Parliament (LoP) as a reference librarian in various roles. I told Ian that as a child I visited the LoP with my family, and I remember telling my mother that one day I wanted to work in that library. (If you ever get a chance to visit the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, you muuusst visit the library. It’s an incredible space! Here are some photos). Later, Ian and I chatted more about the kinds of work that he does on a day-to-day basis. He talked about the pleasures and advantages of working in a subject-specific library or specialized research collection. I too feel that this kind of subject specialization is one of the major strengths that librarians can provide in a research and reference setting. Without really knowing your collection (its strengths, scope, areas for improvement, best access points, etc.), a librarian’s job in the dissemination of information is greatly unfulfilled. While I worked with the Data, Map, & Government Information Services reference desk at the Robarts library, I learned very quickly that the ability to provide quick and accurate reference help was something which would really improve my abilities as a reference librarian. Government documents are often tricky and difficult to manoeuvre, and knowing their organiational secrets (and the CODOC classification system…) are invaluable skills! So ANYWAY, back to Ian and the LAC. Overall it was a great encounter and I really enjoyed speaking with a seasoned professional in the field of government libraries.

The sculpture outside LAC entrance

The sculpture outside LAC entrance