Reflecting on 2012

Porter Airlines Boarding Passes2012 has come and gone, and it’s been quite a year.  If you’ve been following along on this blog or elsewhere, then you probably know that my theme for these past twelve months has been “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.” Since starting a term position as Government Information Librarian at Wilfrid Laurier University, I split my time between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Waterloo, Ontario. So, not only do the students at the Library’s Second Cup know my name and face, but so do some of the stewards and other professionals at Porter Airlines in Toronto. I’m now part of the jet-set, and I can also rhyme off CANSIM tables to you like nobody’s business.

Taking on a new position in a new city (and new province) means that there has been a lot of learning and adjustment. A new job brings new duties and new work cultures.  And a new city means new roads and neighbourhoods, new cafés and pubs, and new local cultures.  I’ve traded in a Maritime hospitality built on lobster, rum, and sea shanties for Kitchener-Waterloo’s beer, schnitzel, and breads. (and I love bread.  Not kidding). Waterloo has pockets of cool, and I’m getting on quite well here.

I love my job. It has met – and exceeded – my expectations. As the Government Information Librarian, I help the university community access and use government-produced materials in their research. All of last spring’s cuts to the federal government, and especially to Statistics Canada, LAC, and to libraries within federal ministries definitely dampened the spirits of Canadian GovDoc librarians in 2012, but I’m still happy that I’ve been able to help my library’s patrons understand what the cuts mean for them and their research – today and in the future. If anything, these cutbacks have increased the need for local government publications expertise at Canadian universities, and I think the government information librarian’s role on campus is now more important than ever.

My favourite part of this position has been my work with statistics and data. Like many university libraries across Canada, responsibility for socio-economic data at the Laurier Library lies largely with the Government Information Librarian since so many of our statistical resources come from Statistics Canada.  (You can read more about the relationship between StatCan and academic libraries here. This paper by Wendy Watkins and Ernie Boyko should be required reading at library schools in Canada). I’ve long wanted to practice in this field, and I saw this posting as my opportunity to work regularly with the data skills I’ve developed through the years, and to learn even more from a whole new group of data librarians. Nearly all my favourite interactions with faculty, students, and other stakeholders in 2012 are data-related, from helping students acquire data on migration to the far north, to meeting with community members and legislators to explore nation-wide open data initiatives. These are the moments where I see my skills and expertise in librarianship put to action, and the positive contribution I make on campus puts a spring in my step. Data librarianship is an essential part of the academic enterprise; I’ve given a lot of effort in this area, worked and learned from the right people, and made gains for the library and the university. So, I’m willing to smile and say “yeah, I did that, but with the help of my friends, too.”

Scholars Portal HomeWhen it comes to adjustments, I have to say that the thing that took the longest to get used to was the new jurisdiction. I say this to all librarians, young and old, green and experienced: you will never really know how important your consortium is to your daily work until you join a new one. When I moved from Nova Scotia to Ontario, I left the Council of Atlantic University Libraries, ASIN, and NovaNet, and I joined forces with the Ontario Council of University Libraries, Scholars Portal, and TUG.  Now, my online resources are different. The OPAC is different. ILL is different. Committees are different. Organizational cultures and funding are different. Conferences and workshops are different. Support channels are different. Let me be clear: everything changes when your work takes you to a new consortium. Libraries really do things better when they work together. We’re stronger this way. But it’s not until you shift to a new jurisdiction that you’ll be reminded several times daily just how much effort colleagues at your library and at other institutions have put into making things work better, faster, and cheaper for everyone. We stand on the shoulders of giants.

The best example I can give to demonstrate this is <odesi>. Built and managed by Scholars Portal, ODESI is an essential part of socio-economic data discovery at Ontario universities. It is a repository of StatCan DLI-restricted surveys, and it also houses extensive polling data that stretches back decades in some cases. Using the Nesstar data dissemination platform, it helps novice and experience users find information from these surveys and polls, right down to the variable, and it also helps new users perform some statistical functions they may not otherwise have the knowledge to do. ODESI is a vital part of my work and I use it to access survey data almost daily during the school term. But prior to taking this position last winter, I had no access to it since most university libraries in Nova Scotia rely on the Equinox data delivery system out of Western Libraries. Moving to a new jurisdiction meant that not only did my committees and consortial colleagues change, but so too did my tools and resources, and I had to learn how to use new ones – fast. Today, I don’t know how I ever got on without ODESI. But last winter, ODESI was completely new to me because I hadn’t ever worked at an OCUL university. I have great colleagues at Laurier, and they gave me time to get to know this vital tool, but until I moved to Ontario and joined a new consortium, this was a foreign resource.

(For what it’s worth, ODESI, and the people behind it at Scholars Portal have done so much heavy lifting for students and faculty at Ontario university libraries, and I’m grateful I can use this resource and learn on their expertise. I’m also grateful that I can lean on province-wide and regional data committees for help and advice. This is a big shout-out and thanks to some great people out there – you know who you are.)

This is where the post peters out into vague resolutions and outlooks for the new year.  How will 2013 differ from 2012?  Well, I hope to not fly so much (the lustre wears off quickly), and I hope to get involved in more professional activities again. I also plan on finding new ways to up my game at work.  This will involve taking some courses and hopefully using more streaming communications tools to meet with students and faculty. We’ll see where it goes. Happy 2013!.

Reflections one year out of library school

This past June marked a year’s time since I graduated from library school, and this July marked the end of a one-year contract that I started just weeks after crossing the stage.  I was real fortunate to find work so quick after getting my MLIS degree, and I thank my lucky stars for that everyday.  Of course, there was some skill and good grace involved, but I know that finding work often involves being the right person in the right place at the right time, and I’m happy that things worked out as well as they did.

Anyway, July was a whirlwind for me.  Between wrapping up projects and clearing off my desk, using up the last of my vacation, and taking in a few more short conferences, I had little time to think about what I’ve done since graduating and what that meant.  But now that I’ve found a moment’s peace, I can lay out some advice to recent LIS graduates, based on what I’ve learned the past year.  It’s imperfect, I’m sure, but nothing is ever 100% or complete in this world, so I’m okay with what follows.

Advice to LIS graduates from a recent LIS graduate:

  • Share your opinions with your employers and colleagues
    • You still have a lot to learn, and these people can help you along the way.  But more importantly, these people want to know your opinions, too.  You may be new and green, but to a lot of people, you represent vast potential because you can bring different and new ideas to the table.  You shouldn’t ever take over a meeting with your opinions and antics, but you should definitely speak up and be heard.  Remember: you won’t be hired to be a bump on a log, so make sure your contribute to your library and your team.
  • Don’t shoot for the moon
    • Once you land a job, you may be so full of enthusiasm that you’ll want to tackle everything at once.  Don’t do this.  Prioritize what needs to be done against the library’s timelines, your schedule, and also against your own learning curve.  Taking on too much will burn you out and potentially let others down.  Instead, create a schedule with your supervisors or mentors, and return to it regularly to adjust it up or down.  This shows foresight: they’ll appreciate that you’re balancing your duties and also keeping them in the loop.
  • Ask Questions
    • You’re going to be a brand new hire at a brand-new-to-you organization.  Your co-workers will know this and expect you to have some questions.  Frankly, it would be weird (if not unfriendly) if you never ask them anything about how things work locally.  These people will become your mentors, and they will be expecting you to be looking for guidance on some things and instruction on others.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions – it’s best the way to get to know your new workplace, colleagues, and duties.
  • Spend time at the end of the day planning for the next one.
    • For your mental health, turn off your e-mail 20 minutes before your day ends in order to focus on what you’ve accomplished today and what’s in store for the next.  This is a simple planning technique that will make 830AM Wednesday not appear so daunting because you’ll walk into Hump Day knowing already what ought to be worked on first.
  • Keep reading.  Keep learning
    • Librarianship (especially academic librarianship) is an awkward blend of theory and practice.  Take time in your schedule (mark it in your calendar) to research what’s going on your field:  look at academic and professional journals; read some blogs; get in the conversation on Twitter and Google Plus.  Since you’ll have just started work (or will soon be starting work), it will be easy to fall out of the loop on account of the duties you’ll be taking on while on the job (see my points above).  Therefore, plan ahead and reserve time to keep yourself up on LIS news and research
    • Look ahead to what you will formally study in the future.  Whether it’s professional development or a part-time degree or certificate, you should be thinking about what you may want to study in the future that will help you get the Next Great Job You Really Want, or that will help you stay informed about the Great Job You Just Found And Don’t Want To Leave.  “Continuous Learning” isn’t just a happy PR line.  It’s a requirement for life, in my mind.
  • Keep networking.
    • I don’t care if you do it in person or online, but don’t stop meeting people.  Networking isn’t greasy.  Networking is just what people do – getting to know other people, which will be helpful at work and at play (you never know who your new Best Friend Forever will be).  And make a point to meet people outside of Libraryland, too.  There are a lot of people working outside of LIS whose interests are similar to our own, and they can bring you new perspectives and ideas that you may not be thinking about simply because they’re working with a different network in the first place.
  • Keep writing job applications.
    • Don’t fret when you don’t find work right away.  And don’t fret when the term position comes to an end, either.  Like I said at the very beginning of this post – finding work is a combination of your hard work and a little bit of chance.  Find postings that appeal to you for whatever reason, and then apply to them.  Don’t worry about what you can’t control (i.e., the candidate pool).  Just write the best damn application you can every time (but never lie), and know that you’ve given it your all every time.  And keep applying.  The world may be going broke, but there are still jobs out there.  And your perseverance will pay off, I promise.
      • (Sidenote: Are you interested in academic postings only?  Keep in mind that the hiring process in academic library land can be real slow, and that often, postings open three times in the year: Fall, Winter, and Spring.  Don’t let this get you down: it is what it is.)
Have you got any advice to share?   Comment below and share your insight!