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Hiatus and comeback!

11 Feb

As my regular readers have noticed, I’ve taken a little hiatus from my blog. This essentially corresponded to the time I left my position as the director of the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library in New Brunswick last September. I was extremely proud of the work I did at the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library and my decision to leave my position was bitter-sweet. On the bitter side, I was leaving an incredible library full of wonderful people to whom I’d grown extremely attached (patrons, staff, volunteers, library board members). I was also sad to leave behind projects that I cared passionately about such as our new library building project and our continuous efforts to create new and rewarding community partnerships. However, on the bright side, my decision to leave was based on a very happy development in my personal life (my engagement) and so part of me was definitely excited to relocate to Toronto.

Since I needed to relocate to Toronto, I got back into the full-swing of applying for library positions. This was a difficult period because I am definitely a perfectionist when it comes to applications and every time that I spent hours toiling over an application only to never even get an interview, it was like I’d lost a small piece of myself. After a few months, people said that it was because I hadn’t yet found the “right job for me”. In the end, this turned out to be true as at the end of August once “the right job for me” was posted it took me only 2 weeks total to send in my application, be contacted for an interview, have an interview, and be offered the position.

I now work for a Francophone school board where I am in charge of the libraries in two schools (a K-6 school and a middle school). This is a fantastic job because I have always been passionate about children’s librarianship. Being in a school library allows me to do story-time, teach information literacy, provide reader advisory and research and order books that kids will get excited to read.

Each Canadian province has different standards for what qualifications are needed for working in school libraries. In Ontario, most school boards have teacher-librarians in their schools; this position requires a teaching degree paired with a few courses in librarianship. When I went for my interview, I was told that my school board has not had teacher-librarians for over a decade, now all of the school libraries are run by library technicians. A part of me has issues with calling myself a library technician even though it is officially my job title. Having obtained a Masters in Library and Information Studies from McGill University, I tend to say that I’m a professional librarian who works in a school library (I was told by a friend not to say that I am a School Librarian because technically I’m not). Rather than feel limited by my job title, I use my professional knowledge and skills everyday to strive to ensure that I am creating the most positive library experience possible for these kids. Most of the kids at my schools are from recent immigrant families to Canada. The parents are often struggling to make a life for their family in Toronto and do not have the money to buy books nor do they visit regularly the public library with their children. Consequently, the library experience that I provide for these kids becomes their only exposure to libraries. I am very motivated by my goal to help kids discover a passion for reading that will translate into a life-long pursuit of learning whether they attend post-secondary education or not.

Last week, I attended the Saturday sessions of the OLA (Ontario Library Association) Super Conference in Toronto. This experience was extremely positive and encouraged me to get back into blogging because I realized how much amazing knowledge librarians share when they get together. The biblioblogosphere is an incredible place and I want to get back into the swing of things! (That and my dad kept asking me when I was going to post something new).

I have always been grateful to everyone who comments on my blog posts. So what do you think of the importance of job titles? How would you feel about taking on a non-professional position as long as you got to do something you love?

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Informal Training: when staff requires more than just on the job learning

15 May

Libraries are spaces that foster learning. Most librarians love helping users and teaching information literacy skills has become a fundamental concept in librarianship studies. So what happens when it is the librarians who need help learning? We are all conscious that libraries are constantly evolving; systems are updated with new features, new services are added, policies change to better reflect the times, etc. Yet are we doing a good job of making sure that all staff are aware and comfortable responding to these changes?  In a large library system like mine, we can receive several memos a day informing us of new additions to the catalogue/circulation system, services, policies, etc. There is a huge difference between staff reading these memos and being vaguely aware of them and then having staff who actually understand the changes on a level that permits them to integrate them into their work or confidently explain them to a user.

I have been thinking a lot about this lately specifically in relation to our provincial library system’s introduction of OverDrive. In the fall, our Public Service Librarian from our regional office provided us with a brief OverDrive training session. This training was unfortunately during opening hours of the library which meant that we were constantly being interrupted by users with questions and having to answer the phone. With all the distractions, it was very difficult to assimilate what we were being shown and as we know, OverDrive is full of little hiccups regarding compatibility issues and software which are hard to address until you run into them. As time goes on, more and more users have been asking about Overdrive and I realized that staff were completely reliant on me to answer all OverDrive related questions. People who work in libraries are very intelligent. However, without being taught the knowledge necessary to accurately respond to users’ inquiries, the situation between staff and users can be very discouraging and possibly even embarrassing.

Last week, I decided that it was time to sit down in front of a computer with a full-time librarian assistant and a library volunteer and download together an audiobook onto my Ipod. It was informal and during the process I was asked so many questions that went much beyond OverDrive concerning the differences between devices like iPads, iPods, MP3 players, smartphones, etc. I was happy that even though I am not the most tech-savvy person out there, I was still able to share knowledge that I do have. It was extremely rewarding to see how appreciative both women for the informal training. They now feel better prepared responding to inquiries and conversing with others on the subject of the different formats of e-books/audiobooks and how to download them.

It is fantastic that libraries present themselves as keeping up with the tech trends including providing the download of e-books. However, how well is staff being trained to respond to all the new technology in their workplace?

What is the environment like at your library for training librarians and staff and then working together as a team so that everyone feels comfortable with their new knowledge and skills?

Longing to be a leader

21 Feb

Becoming the director of a public library straight out of a MLIS program can be extremely daunting. I have fairly high expectations of what a library director should be accomplishing at their library and in their community but the past month especially I have felt particularly overwhelmed trying to live up to these expectations. Perhaps because it is February and February is known to be the most depressing month of the year, I find myself getting discouraged more easily and reacting more sensitively when faced with my own professional shortcomings.

One of the areas that I am particularly struggling with is the concept of leadership. In the past, I have definitely never considered myself to be a leader. No one can question that I am very dedicated to my library and that I work hard but do I have innovative ideas? Do I have the creative approach to motivate others to work towards a common goal?

Prior to starting a MLIS, my formal leadership experiences were limited to being a camp counsellor and I certainly had no experience as a manager. During the one SIS management course at McGill University, we spoke a lot about management and leadership. However, there is a huge difference between discussing these matters using theoretical examples and being faced with real life situations. Unfortunately, real people do not always react the way that you thought they would when doing a case study!

Luckily, in the fall of 2010, I applied and was accepted to attend the 2011 edition of the Northern Exposure to Leadership Institute. NELI, as it is often called, is a leadership training institute in Canada that is designed specifically to assist in the development of future leaders in the library and information profession. Even after a few months of learning that my nomination was accepted, I am still incredibly stoked to be participating in this highly reputed institute! I know librarians who have attended in the past and they all agree that it is a truly transforming week professionally and personally. Yet I feel that it could not come soon enough…

In the meantime, I am still trying to find ways to improve my theoretical baggage on management and leadership in hopes that some of it will transfer over to real life situations. I have discovered an interesting conference PowerPoint Presentation entitled Creating Leaders put together by Daniel Phelan who conducted an interesting survey of NELI participants and who also provides a recap of some key leadership theory. I would be extremely open to any other suggestions you know of have of resources that might help me provide my library and my employees with the leadership that I know they deserve!

First Impressions

12 Jun

Officially I will be starting my position as library director at the Tracadie-Sheila Public Library this coming Monday. Ironically I have spent much more time and energy stressing about my move from Montreal to Tracadie than I have about starting my job. Since arriving on the east coast this week, I’ve been especially concerned about making good first impressions wherever I go because I never know who I will meet. I’ve been warned that the gossip train travels fast in this small town and so if one person doesn’t like me then the whole town is likely to hear about it within a few days.

Unfortunately, as those who know me are aware, when I try too hard to be friendly I tend to become rather awkward by talking too much. I guess it is my way of overcompensating for being nervous; some people clam up but I talk a lot. I want so badly to follow Stephen Abram’s advice that we have two eyes and two ears but only one mouth for a reason. This is such perfect advice for me but I find it hard to follow. For example, today when I attempted to check out my new library incognito, I ran into the assistant regional director who had interviewed me for the position. She introduced me to all the staff and I found myself rambling on and on. It was almost like an out of body experience. I could see myself dominating the conversation but I felt helpless to shut myself up. Luckily on Monday, I will have my orientation so I will be required to listen attentively and take notes all day.

Despite having to face my own awkwardness, I am really having a wonderful time discovering my new community. I have been passionate about Acadian culture since I read Pélagie-la-Charette (in english Pélagie: the Return to Acadie) by Antonine Maillet during my first semester of French Literature at Université Laval. I have been so excited about moving to an Acadian area and so far I have not been disappointed! I was even invited to a fresh lobster meal yesterday and was taught the difference between a male lobster and a female lobster. What an experience!

I promise to keep you all posted once I actually start my job!

Job Loyalty- a thing of the past?

29 Nov

Photo of loyal dog In the past few weeks, I have heard two guest speakers at McGill’s School of Information Studies who have gotten me thinking about the idea of organizational loyalty. Some people of a certain generation (usually grandparents) boast of their life-time dedication to a particular employer/organization. We hear about “30 years of loyal service” and companies creating loyalty incentives to hold on to experienced workers. I actually work with a library assistant who has been at McGill Libraries for 40 years. In her case, the library is trying to offer her a package to get her to leave but she doesn’t want to, she enjoys her job too much! However, it is obvious to me that less and less people, especially professionals, are interested in the idea of being loyal to a single company for too long and certainly not for their whole careers.

One perspective that often keeps people at the same job over time is that it feels kind of cheap to pick up and leave an organization after an employer dedicates time and resources into an employee’s professional development. It’s almost like a slap in the face to that employer for the employee to then take elsewhere their valuable experience and skills learned.

One guest speaker told us how she left her job where she was becoming increasingly unhappy even after her employer had paid to send her to a conference and had big projects for her in the organization. She wanted to stay on good terms with her employer because they had developed a friendship but, understandably, he took it hard when she told him she was leaving. Tough situation! Although hopefully this seems like a no-brainer to most people, if you are unhappy at a job then it’s in your best interests to find another job where you will be happy.

However, a different perspective that our second guest speaker brought up is the idea of never staying too long at one organization even if you are happy with your job. This approach is a bit more difficult to appreciate and I’m sure it will leave people divided. Our guest speaker explained that although she loved and was very comfortable at one library where she worked for 19 years, she felt that she stayed there too long. Her argument was that as professionals we want to continually grow and learn new things which becomes difficult when we grow too comfortable with the status quo at one particular workplace.

We might attribute this to different personality-types. Some people love and need stability in their lives, whereas other people crave adventure and new experiences. I enjoy stability but I can appreciate the need for change in order to stimulate continual professional and personal growth. When I left my job as educational and institutional representative at La Maison Anglaise et Internationale, I had been working there for 4 years. I liked my job, my boss, and my colleagues but I knew that I did not want to stay there forever and coming back to school to do a MLIS seemed like the right choice. I do not regret for one second this change and I know that I am growing more as a person by gaining new knowledge and experiences.

What about you? Can you envision yourself staying loyal to one organization for 10, 20, 30 years? Also, from an employer’s perspective, what type of incentives could you offer to employees who you value and want to retain?