Tag Archives: Librarians

Canada Reads inspires the reader in all of us

7 Feb

Canada Reads is an annual competition where celebrities debate on the “best Canadian novel”. The goal of the Canada Reads debate is to put a spotlight on Canadian literature and, perhaps more importantly, it also ambitiously attempts to get Canadians to read more. It seems of course like a natural reaction for anyone who listens to an hour-long discussion/debate on the merits of a few specific books to then be enticed to go out and read them. The proof that Canada Reads truly does increase the readership of the selected titles is demonstrated by a noticeable increase in their book sales. Bookstores will usually jump on the promotional bandwagon and market these books as contestants on Canada Reads (in the bookstore where I used to work we would use special stickers to identify the Canada Reads titles). Equally from a public library perspective, the exposure creates a rush on these titles and consequently all of the copies in our provincial system are currently checked out and the reservation list grows longer as the debate intensifies.

Today was the first round of the three days of debates hosted by the amazing representative of culture in Canada Jian Ghomeshi. The five books voted to be included in this year’s competition and whose winner is supposed to represent the essential Canadian novel of the past 10 years are Essex County by Jeff Lemire, The Birth House by Ami McKay, The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou, Unless by Carol Shields, and The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. Now here I must shamefully admit that I have not yet read any of these five books. In fact prior to Canada Reads, I had never even heard of Essex County or The Best Laid Plans. This is particularly embarrassing considering that I’m a public librarian and that prior to my MLIS I worked in the book industry and have always had a keen interest in promoting Canadian literature.

I perhaps should not be too embarrassed though considering that the whole point of Canada Reads is to say to all Canadians “Wake up! Canadian authors produce amazing literature and you should read their books!”. Apparently librarians are not to be exempted from this wake-up call. As librarians we should not pretend that we know everything about popular books and authors or what people should be reading. We are often too guilty of reading only the genres that interest us or we simply regurgitate the recommendations that we’ve heard from others. What I love about Canada Reads is that it entices people to explore books outside of their regular reading habits (this year for the first time a graphic novel was included in the competition).

Tanya Abramovitch, director of the Eleanor London Côte Saint-Luc library gave the assignment last year to her students in McGill’s School of Information Studies Public Libraries’ course to read three books from a genre that they would not normally chose. I think that this assignment is a brilliant idea and that more librarians should be encouraged to read outside of their comfort zone. Canada Reads provides a cultural spotlight for Canadians to discover amazing titles and authors that they might not have otherwise read but that are worthy of our attention. Librarians need to be actively promoting Canada Reads as a way of tapping into the media attention surrounding these titles to increase readership. However, we cannot simply rely on Canada Reads; we need to be at the forefront exploring publishing catalogues, literary magazines like the Quill and Quire, websites like Goodreads, and our own library’s book stacks searching for the next great book to recommend.

I encourage everyone, even those not in Canada, to follow Canada Reads on the CBC Canada Reads website.

I also would really love if people posted below their own recommendation of a book they feel is worthy of a national literary competition.

Happy reading!

5 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Library School

27 Aug

1)      Never underestimate the importance of developing friendships with classmates

I only really got this concept near the end of my studies. Librarians and more specifically library school students can form a unique bond based on shared interests. People who decide to pursue a MLIS often come from diverse academic backgrounds and can be at various stages in their lives. Some classmates have just completed their undergraduate degree, some want to start a second career, and some are parents who must coordinate homework and group projects around their kids. Regardless of different backgrounds, your classmates in library school will most likely be passionate about libraries. Take advantage of this common ground to start great discussions and develop meaningful friendships! During my studies, I took for granted being surrounded by people who shared my librarianship values, now that I am the only professional librarian at my library, I completely appreciate being able to reconnect with my friends from library school through the internet to discuss the new library trends and annoying patrons!

2)      Your passion for becoming a librarian will be tested. Stay strong!

I guarantee there will be many moments during your MLIS when you will wonder what the heck you are doing. I knew a few people who dropped out of the program in first year because it was not what they were expecting. I promise that your studies do not reflect what being a librarian is actually like. Everyone has dark moments in Library School; mine usually came while researching particularly difficult reference question assignments in my Humanities and Social Sciences class. When I couldn’t find the answers, I’d convince myself that I was going to make a horrible librarian. One of the best librarians I know almost failed Cataloguing. Don’t be discouraged! Never forget your initial dream and hold onto that throughout your studies. Remember, a MLIS is only 2 years but being a librarian will be a fulfilling life-long career!

3)      Don’t buy all the textbooks (and certainly not at full price in the bookstore)!

During my undergrad, I had to buy all of the required books on the reading list. I wrote essays on these books and my exams were based on their content. It would have been pure insanity not to have had my own personal copies that I was free to highlight and make notes in the margins. In library school, there are certain courses that have a required textbook but that I swear will never again be mentioned for the rest of the semester. Most often, the professors will summarize the contents of the readings in their lectures. The most ambitious students continue to follow the reading list for perhaps a month but in the end, being Masters students and all, we are smart enough to realize that our time is more productively spent doing something other than lengthy readings that will be summarized for us or not ever discussed again. I especially recommend talking to the second year students to get advice on which textbooks are important to purchase. If you must purchase a textbook try and organize buying one second-hand as you can save lots of money!

4)      Learn to like or at least be able to feign an interest in cats

The stereotype that librarians are cat-people? It’s true.

5)      Facebook will become an invaluable informal learning tool

Most people in the MLIS program will have a Facebook profile. This is a great way to connect with your busy classmates while outside of class and get quick answers to your burning questions on assignments and where people are hanging out on the weekend. When I started library school, I was extremely selective of who I confirmed as a Facebook friend. I declined those who were casual acquaintances because I maintained that a Facebook friend needed to be someone who I truly considered to be a friend. I soon realized that adding other library school students and professional librarians on Facebook was a fantastic way to find out more about that person and that it could become a valuable sharing tool. I have discovered so many interesting articles, videos, and websites that have been posted by people in the library field. Also, on more than one occasion, I sent out a desperate message asking whether anyone could help me understand an unclear question from an assignment. Luckily someone was always online, usually working on the same assignment so that we could discuss the ambiguous question together. So if you haven’t done so, clean up any potentially embarrassing personal pictures/info and add some new library school friends who will help you integrate more smoothly both socially and academically into your MLIS program!

Librarian doppelgänger

11 Jul

Yesterday, a librarian friend sent me the link to a blog post asking me what the story was behind my photograph being posted on an author/poet’s blog. I immediately went to the blog post which was entitled “The Irrepressible Miss Halfpenny“. Surprised yet flattered that someone would be writing a post about me without my knowledge, when I saw the post and the photograph I was in shock.  I read the post describing a librarian Miss Halfpenny and when I looked at the picture it was me, but it wasn’t me. In fact, the only way that I was certain it was not me was because I knew that I had never worn a dress resembling the one the photographed girl was wearing. So I have found my doppelgänger who also happens to be a librarian and has the same name as me!  The universe is such a crazy place. What are the odds of there being another young, blond, librarian with the very unusual last name of Halfpenny? I emailed the author of the blog who unfortunately was unable to provide me with much information on the Miss Halfpenny in question. He had come upon her in the park and she was reading a book of poems that he had written so he felt the need to take her photograph. The author of the blog is from Southey, Saskatchewan, so if anyone in the biblioblogosphere knows the identity of this other librarian Miss Halfpenny please let me know! I would love to correspond with her!

Gerald Beasley and Joceylne Andrews speak at McGill’s SIS

8 Feb

Gerald Beasley Photo

Gerald Beasley, University Librarian at Concordia University

Joceylne Andrews Photo

Joceylne Andrews, Technical Services Librarian at Westmount Public Librarian


This is a post that I started writing over a week ago but was never finished because the Web 2.You conference completely took over my life. I strongly believe that everything in this post is still relevant and important even over a week after the presentations discussed below took place:

Most students do not enter librarianship to become managers. Much to the dismay of these MLIS students, who cannot possibly envision themselves as managers anytime in the near future, the majority of MLIS programs do require at least one core course on management. This semester, I am the Graduate Assistant for McGill’s Information and Agency Management class. This is slightly ironic as, I too, only last year was a student sitting through this class thinking to myself, “I know nothing about business models, managing a budget, or dealing with the conflicts of staff members, I can’t possibly become a manager!” This is such a common frame of mind amongst students as well as a source of some concern. Therefore, it was incredibly reassuring last week in class to listen to Gerald Beasley and Joceylne Andrews, two engaging guest speakers, who addressed this common notion with much honesty.

Gerald Beasley is the University Librarian at Concordia University in Montreal (directing both the downtown and Loyola campus libraries). In the field of librarianship, no one has more management issues to deal with than an academic library director and Gerald Beasley seems to accept the responsibilities of his position with humility and extreme interest. His extensive career demonstrates the potential to be elevated to positions of authority without necessarily seeking them out. Gerald Beasley began as a Rare Books cataloguer, probably the position least likely to lend itself to becoming a leader in an academic library environment. However, when listening to Mr Beasley talk, it is easy to understand why he was promoted to a position of authority. He comes across as a man who genuinely cares about the mission of libraries in addition to the well-being of the people who choose to work in these settings. As a response to one question on how he started taking on leadership responsibilities, he answered that in a work environment, decisions are made all the time and at one point he realized that he wasn’t always happy with the decisions that were being made. He then started to become more involved in the decision-making process and obviously the decisions that he made set him apart as a respected leader in the library as he was then rose in the ranks of management.

Although Gerald Beasley was extremely inspiring and he has had a fascinating international career, I think that it was easier for students to identify with Jocelyne Andrews’s talk on management. Jocelyne graduated from McGill’s MLIS program only four years ago in 2006 and therefore seemed a bit closer to the current mind frame of students. Her well thought out talk highlighted various reasons of why students might be afraid of the prospect of management and discredited these potential fears. Like I said, I did not enter into librarianship to become a manager but Jocelyne argued that as professionals, the likelihood of us being called upon to fill a management position is quite high. We therefore need to think about developing valuable management skills like problem solving, learning to prioritize and communicating effectively. She argued that we can start improving these skills immediately by becoming involved in library associations, taking part in group projects and by drawing on our experiences from part-time jobs.

I am so grateful to be the Graduate Assistant for this class. I honestly feel that I am learning just as much in this position as last year when I was taking the class. It is perhaps because I am getting closer to graduation and I realize more now than when I was in first year just how important management skills are when working as a professional librarian. In fact, I have a few interviews lined up in the upcoming weeks for a few open positions in library management. I hope that the theory learned in the Information and Agency Management course, my various job experiences, as well as the valuable insight shared by Gerald Beasley and Joceylne Andrews will help me convince my interviewers that I have the skills necessary to be trusted in a position of management!

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!

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?

Professional Partnering Program

6 Nov

The Professional Partnering Program organized by the McGill CLA student chapter is now well underway for its 2nd year. The PPP, as it is affectionately known, is a student initiative at the McGill School of Information Studies to match MLIS students with professionals in order to establish contacts in the library community as well as receive insight on how things work in the real world of libraries. Most students met with their professional partners at a kick-off 5 à 7 event held in October. My partner however was away that evening at an annual Cégep librarian conference, so I was pleased to meet her last week at the library where she works. I am thrilled to be partnered with the librarian at the Cégep du Vieux Montréal. She was extremely friendly and I learned a lot about the role of cégep librarians.

For those of you not familiar with the Quebec education system, cégeps are the educational institution between high school and university and I specifically requested that my professional partner work in this type of library. I am curious to learn more about this type of library as I feel that this level of educational library is not addressed in my classes at McGill. (Why is this? They seem to be catering to the American and Out of Province students when they ignore such an important type of library found only in Quebec). Cégeps offer an ideal time for students to mature and discover themselves before entering into university, they also offer many technical programs for those training for a specific career like Police Foundations, Graphic Design, Library Technicians, etc. I felt that this type of institution can present unique opportunities for librarians. There are many academic-focused programs which means that teaching information literacy and research skills is important. At the same time, cégeps are usually smaller and more student-focused than universities; the institution’s structure is less hierarchical and the overall environment is less pretentious/formal than most academic libraries. My professional partner confirmed that her library is a dynamic and student-friendly environment where students go to further their education by accessing a cornucopia of both print and electronic resources.

There are no set rules for the Professional Partnering Program, each student and their partner determine how often they will meet, the subjects they will discuss, and what activities they will do together. Last year, Graham, the inspired library school student was partnered with an academic librarian from Concordia who offered advice on interviews and resumes in addition to providing concrete insight into the role of an academic librarian. He found this relationship to be very enriching and I hope to develop a similar relationship with my partner so that I feel comfortable asking her my many career-related questions. I look forward to seeing her again at the ASTED Conference “Investir le monde numérique” (Investing the Digital World) next week on Wednesday.

To any MLIS programs that do not have a Professional Partnering Program, I highly recommend that you reflect on the benefits of this type of program( very high). The relationship with a professional really is invaluable to the students and, since we are such a friendly bunch, most of the librarians are more than happy to be matched with a student and pass on their experiences. I also encourage librarians to get involved in a program like this because your advice is so precious to students and we honestly appreciate all the time you offer us to help us grow into your future colleagues.