Tag Archives: McGill University

Save the planet and your precious time – Recycle stuff!

30 Apr

One evening last week I was busy putting together a presentation for a few grade 7 classes on how to use the Internet effectively for research.  I was definitely under a time crunch as the teacher had asked me with very little notice if I could do a presentation with her classes. Never one to turn down an opportunity to help the students develop their information literacy skills, I accepted.  The only problem was that I was stuck. My ideas weren’t flowing, I was having trouble coming up with an interesting concept for the presentation and I was getting tired and frustrated. That is until I remembered that during my second year of McGill University’s MLIS program I had already put together a presentation for high school students on evaluating websites for my Information Literacy class. Luckily I was able to find the presentation saved on my laptop and to my sheer delight, it was a great presentation! I definitely had to tweak a few things but everything I wanted to share with the kids on establishing the criteria for a good website to use for research was there. Even the examples of websites that I had used a few years ago for my assignment were still relevant. The example of the article on Barack Obama on the website Conservapedia was especially useful in helping the grade 7s understand the difference between websites that present objective vs. subjective information regardless of how “professional” a website might look. Way to go 2010 Amanda!

During library school, students are often asked to “make up” a fictional library or scenario for assignments. My advice to students is to try and take advantage of these types of assignments to prepare material that might actually be of use to you at a future date. So many students simply go through the motions when it comes to completing their assignments. However, if you truly think that your work might serve you in a professional situation then you will put a lot more thought and effort into it! Use your class assignments to create tutorials, information literacy presentations, strategic planning charts, etc. that you can “recycle” when you need them most.

For professionals, I encourage you to take a peek at your old assignments (especially if they are still on your computer). You might be surprised at how well written something is that you wrote while still in school. The whole point of library school is not to get straight As but rather to give us a foundation for our professional careers. So then, with all the things we need to accomplish in a day, aren’t we lucky if our MLIS assignment that we got a A on could also save us time?

Have you ever recycled an assignment for professional use?

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!

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!

MLIS specializations, are they worth it?

13 Mar

Recently a reader of my blog who wants to apply to do an MLIS emailed me with a question regarding the differences between MLIS programs at the different Canadian universities. I am assuming that she is not alone in having these questions so I thought that it might be useful if I posted my response to the Biblioblond blog. This reader was particularly interested in school librarianship and questioned me on the lack of specialization at McGill University for this field of librarianship. She asked whether I thought she should consider MLIS programs like at the University of British Columbia or at the University of Alberta that offer this specialization. Her thoughts and questions sound extremely similar to my own when I began library school two years ago. My ambition when entering library school was to find a job afterwards working for a school board. My previous job experience had allowed me to gain knowledge in children’s literature and I often travelled around Quebec presenting workshops to teachers and pedagogical counselors on the topic of how to integrate literature into their classrooms. Initially I was disappointed at the lack of focus on school librarianship in our MLIS classes at McGill. However, someone explained to me that an explanation of this lack of specialized courses on concepts unique to school librarianship was because the present situation for school librarians in Quebec and other Canadian provinces is currently very difficult. Most librarian positions in schools and at the school board level are for library technicians, this is combined with significant cut backs to school libraries budgets in the past few years. For further infomation, here is a slightly dated yet still discouraging article from the Quill and Quire. Although one wishes that this situation will improve with time, McGill’s program wants to focus on providing instruction that will be preparing students to find professional careers upon graduation.

For these reasons, I strongly encourage potential MLIS students to avoid limiting themselves by doing a specialization in school librarianship. In the case of any type of library, I think that it is better to have a more generalized education and then you can develop your specific interests through work experience and extra readings. The MLIS degree at McGill provides a theoretical foundation to become an information professional in any environment and it is up to the individual to decide where they want this education to take them.

Having said this, I took the class “Children and Youth Services” that is offered at McGill and I absolutely loved this class. It could be applied to both school libraries and children’s sections in public libraries. We discussed the developmental stages of children and youth as well as hot topics like including and defending controversial literature in a children’s collection. This class is usually taught by Leanne Bowler, a wonderful professor who worked as a Children’s librarian for over 15 years and is now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh.

Furthermore, I have been able to strengthen my knowledge regarding issues pertaining to school librarianship by tailoring various class assignments to meet the needs of high school students. For example, in my Information Literacy class, I developed a 6-week series of workshops on Information Literacy for secondary 4 students. I also designed the proposal for a high school library website in my Web Design class. There are always ways to further develop your interests during these types of assignments. I also have a subscription to School Library Journal

I have enjoyed my education at McGill. The first semester everyone becomes a bit disenchanted with the general required courses but like I said, it provides us with an important foundation on which we can develop our more specific interests. Also, it is important to emphasize that professors are accommodating and for almost all of our assignments we are encouraged to tailor them to the specialized environments in which we hope to find jobs. Sarah Severson, a librarian/archivist at CBC Radio recently told us that while she was at McGill she lamented that the program was too theoretical and that she wished there was more instruction of practical skills. I believe that this opinion is widely shared amongst MLIS students across North America. However, once Sarah began her career, she realized that practical skills were easy to pick on the job, and that she truly appreciated the theoretical background provided by her Masters that gave her a professional edge. I will start my job as a public library director in June, but in the future, I might still work in an academic library, a school library or a special library. I am extremely happy that I have not pigeon-holed myself into one specialization and that my general education will help me adapt to any field of librarianship.

I hope that this helps future MLIS students. Please feel free to add any comments including disagreements with what I’ve said.

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!

Thoughts on “Back to School” for MLIS students

12 Sep

Back in School

Another school year has started and this time as a MLIS II, I feel myself sharing a lot of advice with the incoming first-year students.  Their biggest concern seems to stem from the fact that they are feeling overwhelmed and that they do not know what level of time commitment will be expected of them for their classes and assignments. If I learned anything over the past year it is that “you get what you give”.  In other words, you get out of your library school experience whatever you put into it. I would argue that it’s fairly easy to float through Library school without too much effort, but really, how boring does that sound?  Many professors have told me that grades will not be important once I am looking for a full-time librarian position. What will be important will be that I can demonstrate how I spent my time in the MLIS program developing skills that are vital to working in the library field.

This year, I am the president of the McGill student chapter of the ABQLA, I have two part-time jobs in two different types of libraries (public and academic), I am planning on doing a practicum and I have submitted a proposal to conduct a 6-credit research project.  I’m also planning on posting regularly on the BiblioBlond blog! There is no doubt that I will be a very busy person this year and so I might not have time to get through all of the books that I want to read or catch up to my friends who are on the third season of Mad Men.  But I will be learning the whole time and hopefully getting the most possible out of my experience as a student so that I will be a well-rounded, skilled librarian once I get out into the real world.

Being a MLIS student can be whatever you make of it, so I encourage all the new MLIS students to decide early on how you want to live your experience at library school. Good luck with this new stage in your life!

Top 5 tips for incoming students:

1)      Make friends with your fellow classmates!

– You will have more fun, trust me!

2)      Learn how to work in groups!

– There is a lot of group work which can be challenging so brush up on your team management skills! Check out books like Group Genius by Keith Sawyer or Time management for teams by Merrill E. Douglass.

3)      Remember why you wanted to be a librarian in the first place!

– It is easy to become disenchanted with classes and assignments. In order to not lose your passion, stay focused on the reason that first motivated to become a librarian.

4)      Attend visits by guest speakers!

-Throughout the year there will be many opportunities to hear information professionals speak about their experiences in the field. Attend these mini-conferences, ask questions and don’t be afraid to introduce yourself afterwards- These guest speakers could become valuable contacts!

5)      Get a part-time job in the field!

–  If you manage your time properly, the MLIS course load allows you the option of working part-time during your studies. Use your new contacts or subscribe to a  library job ListServ to find opportunities for part-time work. You will gain valuable experience and contacts in the library field and it might end up being more beneficial than what you learn in class!

Defining Reading

3 Aug

For a final paper for a summer class at McGill’s School of Information Studies (SIS), I was asked to contemplate the question of the demise of reading. I argued that rather than the demise of reading, we should be considering the evolution of reading since forms of reading and writing have been evolving for longer than millennia. Even Socrates lamented an evolution in the popularity of writing that he felt ““[gave] only the semblance of truth; [students] will be hearers of many things and will have learned nothing; they will appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality” .

The topic of my paper came about from “Reading at Risk” a report from 2004 on the decline of reading in America and in its 2007 follow-up report “To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence”.  In these reports the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) predicts the demise of literary reading as a leisure activity within half a century.  However, much like Socrates, the NEA’s reports rely on an obvious preference for the status quo; a narrow definition of reading that focuses on the reading of fiction in print format for leisure purposes.

I argued that with the incredible transformations that have occurred in the 21st century society due to the invention of the internet, it is unrealistic to expect that the concept of reading remain the same as it was in past centuries.  Thanks to the popularity of Web 2.0, the tendency of passive reading has evolved into a reading-writing relationship. People are now participating in communities of dialogue where formats like blogs and on-line editorials allow readers to interact with authors and with other readers.

Of course upon reading these comments my dad argued that when he read, he did not wish to participate in a dialogue but rather he reads as a form of escapism, to become lost in a good  story with intriguing characters.  I agree that there is a lot of be said for this act of escapism. Why else would I and so many other people be addicted to Sophie Kinsella books? However,  as a future librarian, I cannot assume that this form of reading will remain popular throughout my entire career.  I admit that I prefer a good novel like the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer to any blog posts I’ll read, but I recognize that librarians must be ready for whatever evolution in reading comes their way. Unlike the NEA, I will not sit back and cry that people aren’t “reading” anymore.  I will be ready to meet the needs of my future patrons, but perhaps I will keep a stack of good novels in my back room, just in case!