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Library volunteer trip to Guatemala

15 Apr

Map of Guatemala
The past few weeks I have been going a bit crazy trying to finish my final assignments in order to complete my MLIS degree! If I had more time, I would blog about our preparations for the Librarians without Borders McGill Student Chapter’s upcoming 10-day trip to Guatemala. I can’t believe we leave in six days! Luckily Jen Cyr, the only professional librarian to join our group of McGill MLIS students has written a great summary of our eminent trip on her blog A Canuck Librarian. Check it out and feel free to post comments on her blog or mine! You can also check out more information on the LWB Guatemala Trip Blog.

New ABQLA Bulletin featuring Web 2.You report

29 Mar

The new ABQLA Bulletin is now available to download for free from the ABQLA website’s Bulletin page. As Lora Baiocco, one of the editors of the Bulletin, a librarian at Westmount Public Library, and the blogger behind Infinite Digressions affectionately teased me, this edition of the ABQLA Bulletin could be dubbed the “Graham and Amanda” edition. It is true that not only did I write up a summary of the Web 2.You conference (p.12-13)but between the two of us, Graham (Inspired Library School Student) and I appear in five pictures! These pictures are mostly from Web 2.You and the CODE Holiday fundraiser but I think is a testimony to our commitment to being involved in the library community that the editors would grant us so much face space in the Bulletin. The ABQLA offers a great mix of traditional library values and fun innovative events, they are also extremely supportive and encouraging of new librarians and library school students. I am grateful to have been able to get involved in this great association and I can’t wait to attend the 78th Annual ABQLA conference in May on “Libraries as Learning Places”!

Library volunteerism in Zambia

9 Feb

Today at lunch time, the McGill Librarians without Borders student group hosted Marjorie Gagnon, a librarian who volunteered for 5 months in Zambia. During her stay in Zambia, Marjorie participated in two library projects: The Book Bus and the Lubuto Library Project. Many students in librarianship have a burning desire to help people (even those stuck cataloguing in a back room want to help people find resources more efficiently by doing a good job classifying). Marjorie argued that because she stayed for 2 months at each project, she was able to observe the difference that books made in the lives of the African children who she was working with. By the time she left, she was able to see the progress in their reading skills, which is pretty rewarding! Many college/university students participate in this type of project during their “gap-year” when they embark on whatever volunteer-tourism program sounds most interesting. These student volunteers did not have the same goals as Marjorie since they had no idea what needed to be done in a library setting (Marjorie described their complaints at having to do a library inventory in the hot sun). Most of them preferred visiting the country’s touristic highlights to doing actual volunteer work. This did not faze Marjorie, she was able to draw upon her management skills from her job experience to prioritize projects and motivate others.

Marjorie did a lot of research before choosing to which projects she wanted to dedicate her time and energy. She was extremely helpful by giving us a list of other potential NGOs performing library work in Africa that she discovered during her research. This was extremely useful and I was able to copy down many of the names like Under the Reading Tree and Friends of African Village Libraries (FAVL).

We were warned that a volunteer trip like this cost a lot of money and volunteers must cover their own expenses for travel, vaccinations, visas, etc. Luckily Marjorie has been working full-time for the past ten years and could afford this trip that was taken during a sabbatical year. I’m not sure that most MLIS students would have the funds saved up for the type of trip. Okay, I know that I would not be willing to pay these expenses when I am just finishing school and I do not yet have a secured job with income. Having said this, I will be going on a less expensive library-volunteer trip to Guatemala for 10 days in April. More on this in a future blog post…

Christopher Marsden speaks on Net Neutrality at McGill

22 Jan

Chris Marsden PhotoLast week, I attended a fascinating talk on Net Neutrality hosted by Media@McGill featuring Christopher Marsden. Christopher Marsden is a professor at the School of Law at the University of Essex and a guru on the legal implications surrounding information transfer.


Net Neutrality is a term that I had heard thrown around a lot recently and I was interested in attending the talk because I still did not have a clear idea of how to define the concept and I was curious to learn more. I assumed that Net Neutrality referred to the opportunity the web provides to obtain Open Source software and applications such GIMP 2  and Open Office or the possibility the web offers to consult material made available through Open Access publishing. This talk, however, focused more on the pricing of Internet Service Providers and the regulations in place in Europe and in North America to ensure that consumers have a right to basic internet service. When I first walked into the room, I noticed that it was packed with students and faculty none of whom I recognized as being from SIS. The Power Point Intro Slide read “Medium Law and Network Neutrality – History, Common Carriage, Bottlenecks and Oligopoly “, “Oh my God!” I thought; I had no clue what that title even meant! Since I knew the speaker taught at a faculty of law, I was concerned that I had unknowingly walked into a talk directed at law students and that I should leave while I still had a chance. Luckily I stayed and learned about network capacity and the hidden costs of the internet. Most of the students and faculty present were from Communications or Media Studies. However, these issues have huge implications for Information Professionals such as librarians and I wish some of my fellow SIS students had attended.


It is fascinating to think of how fast the internet evolves and one of Chris Marsden’s points was the difficulty of Internet Service Providers to predict the changes in consumer needs and wants. Originally the internet was primarily text based and therefore basic internet service was more than adequate. However, with arrival of Napster, consumers demanded much faster network capacity (do you remember how exciting it was when a song took less than twenty minutes to download?). Now consumers want to upload photos and stream videos to their hearts’ content which requires extremely fast networks but they don`t want to pay more than they did for the basic service. The most alarming concept for me as an information professional is the idea of price scaling which means that network providers could charge more for different types of service (websites with more applications). In a tech-based society where so much information is shared on the web, especially through Web 2.0 technologies, having network services with differentiating prices would reinforce a tier-society of those who could access online information and those who could not. From Chris Marsden’s talk, I took away the idea that since network providers are companies seeking to make a profit, as librarians, we must fight to keep the information highway open to everyone by lobbying for Net Neutrality and for striving to keep our users information and technology literate through open technology in the library and programs like workshops that users to develop the knowledge and skills crucial for their advancement in our internet-based society.

Chris Marsden also took the opportunity to promote his upcoming book on the same subject as his talk Net Neutrality: towards a co-regulatory solution The book is not yet available in print but while waiting you can also pick up Chris’ previous publications Regulating the global information society (2000) and Codifying cyberspace : communications self-regulation in the age of Internet convergence (2008). I cannot say that I completely agreed with everything that he said on the topic of Net Neutrality but he is incredibly knowledgeable man and I count myself fortunate that I could attend this talk. Thank you Media@McGill for hosting this great speaker! In the future I will consult their list of events with greater interest.

Advice on how to get a part-time job while completing a MLIS

16 Jan

You asked me for advice on how to find a part-time job in libraries while completing an MLIS and here it is! I discussed in a previous blog post How Valuable is Library Experience to MLIS student? the advantages of gaining important experience while still in school. I hope the advice from that post along with the tips listed here will be useful for those of you confident enough to take on both studies and a job. Good luck!

Talk to people about your job search

This may seem extremely self-explanatory but I cannot emphasize the importance of discussing your job search with other people. This begins with other students in your classes who perhaps already have a part-time job and know that their boss is looking to hire more staff. This also includes your professors who might need students as research assistants or know of other job possibilities. Even though working as a research assistant is not specific library experience, it will demonstrate that you have strong research skills, which looks great on a librarian’s C.V.!

Talk about your passions

If you are passionate about a particular area of librarianship, let people know! If you can establish your reputation as being an expert in an area then people will want to tell you about available positions that would interest to you. This is how I got my job at the Montreal Children’s Library last year. I am so obsessed with children’s literature and everyone in my program knew that about me from almost Day 1 of the program. When a paid part-time position at the Children’s Library was advertised, I had several people email me with the information encouraging me to apply for the job saying that it sounded perfect for me.

Subscribe to Job ListServs

McGill’s School of Information Studies has an extremely active Job ListServ for students and graduates. Every week I receive emails regarding job postings for libraries looking to hire. Although most of these postings are for full-time positions for which I am not yet eligible, from time to time, we do receive part-time job postings that are suitable for students. Some people wait until they are closer to graduating before subscribing to the Job ListServ because they figure that the job postings are all addressed to candidates who already have obtained their MLIS, This is a mistake because in the meantime they are missing out on part-time postings that would provide them with valuable experience.

Get Involved

Employers are impressed with students who are involved in extra-curricular activities. Getting involved in various associations and the planning of events also allows you to meet a larger circle of professionals who could become valuable contacts. My job at Westmount Public Library is a perfect example of how getting involved is the best way to impress employers and find a job. Last year, I applied for a part-time position at the library and although I thought I’d put together a convincing cover letter and professional-looking C.V., I lost hope when I didn’t get called for an interview even after I performed a “friendly follow-up call”. However, things changed in my favour when I co-organized Web 2.You 2009, a conference on the implications of Web 2.0 technologies in libraries, and the entire professional staff of Westmount attended the event. My boss remembered my application and at lunch time asked me to sit down and talk with her. Although I had an official interview afterward, I know that our lunch time discussion at the conference was the real interview and that I impressed my boss by being having organized of such a successful event.

Attend Job talks and Career Fairs

The most obvious place to find a job is at a Career Fair. However, it is not as easy as it seems. You must know how to talk to the right people and to be able to sell yourself a necessary asset to their library. Last year, at the McGill Career Fair very few of the libraries there actually had vacant positions to fill, but if you managed to impress the right person, it was well worth the exhausting afternoon of going around introducing yourself to everyone you met. It was at the Career Fair last March that I met Maya, a liaison librarian from McGill’s Education Library, and we talked about my previous experience working with teachers. Although there was no open position at the Education Library at the time, she thought that I would be a great addition to their team and I was hired on in September to work at the Reference Desk.

Never be afraid to sell yourself

If you want to be hired, people need to know what you have accomplished in the past as well as your strong qualities. Even if you are by nature a humble person, learn to speak up about your strengths! In this economy it is unlikely that anyone simply hand you a job on a silver platter. You will have to demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the position, so learn to speak with confidence about why you should be hired!

Good luck, I hope this is useful!

Published in ABQLA December Bulletin!

4 Jan

ABQLA logo I was extremely excited today to receive in the mail my new ABQLA Bulletin. As I’ve mentioned, I am the president of the McGill Student Chapter of the ABQLA (Association des Bibliothèques du Québec/Quebec Library Association) and, in September, I was asked to write a contribution to the next bulletin. My article is entitled “Why Get Involved?” and it focuses on the importance of students and informational professionals getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as the organization of social events and professional development opportunities. I wrote this text months ago and I’m so excited to see it published! You can access the PDF version of the Bulletin from the ABQLA’s website.

Volunteering at Investir le monde numérique/Investing the Digital World

14 Nov

Amanda and Anne volunteering at Investir le monde numérque This past week I have had the pleasure of volunteering at “Investir le monde numérique/Investing the Digital World”, a conference organized by ASTED and 7 other professional associations that reflected on the transformations in libraries due to the evolutions in information technology and also how information professionals can take a proactive approach in influencing information technology tools.

Volunteering at conferences is a wonderful experience for students. During the past few days I have met many interesting people who are interested in the same issues as me. Also, I have listened to thought-provoking speakers who approach their subjects from a different perspective than what is presented in university classes.

Although everyone knows that conferences are a fantastic opportunity to network, I was shocked to witness a certain volunteer take this opportunity too seriously. At the beginning of the conference, all the volunteers needed to find our name badges that were filed alphabetically with those of the conference attendees. When one volunteer couldn’t find her name, she became visibly stressed out; she was almost panicking. I told her not to worry because we all had to wear rather flashy hats that made us stand out as volunteers (see picture). The woman replied that she had just finished her program in library school and was looking for a job. Her objective in coming to the conference was to meet potential employers and if she didn’t have a name badge for people to learn her name then she would have been better off staying at home. I could barely contain my shock at how easily she announced this narrow-minded attitude to the volunteer co-coordinator and the other volunteers. Honestly, I had met her only moments before and I already knew that, given the opportunity, I would never hire her because she obviously
a) dealt very poorly with stress and
b) lacked the creativity to come up with any alternative solutions to her problem (i.e., she could have brought business cards to distribute, she could have been proactive in introducing herself so that she wouldn’t have to rely on people reading her name badge, etc.).

I am admittedly an extrovert and I needed no coaching to talk to people at the conference. However, I view these people as librarian colleagues who share my interest in how technologies are influencing libraries, not uniquely as potential employers or contacts for job opportunities. My favourite presentation was “Bibliothèque universitaire: nouvel esprit du lieu”. This talk was given by Silvie Delorme, the director of the libraries at l’Université Laval, my alma mater. She spoke of how the architectural elements and design of a building influences how people use that space, whether they enjoy being there and want to linger or rather if they come simply to accomplish a task and then leave right afterwards. Last year I did a project on contemporary architecture in academic libraries and this is a topic that I find extremely interesting. After the talk, I went to Mme Delorme and introduced myself. We spoke about her talk and the major renovation project that Université Laval has planned for its two libraries. I never mentioned the fact that I would like to work at Laval’s library one day, although I would, because I felt that it was not appropriate in the context of our conversation and it probably would have come across as being pushy. Perhaps I am naïve and I will think differently closer to my April graduation when I will be more actively searching for a job. However for the moment, I will appreciate my many experiences volunteering at “Investir le monde numérique/Investing the Digital World” for the interesting conversations that I had with the librarians and other volunteers present as well as the experience of contributing to such a successful event.

I encourage students in all disciplines to get involved in conferences in your field; it will be educational and a lot of fun!