Another year of Professional Partnering is over, but the connections will live on

The academic year is winding down, and last week was the end-of-year get-together for McGill’s Professional Partnering Program. Congrats to soon-to-be MLIS grad Adam Baron for organizing a great year of partnering (and a wrap-up with delicious food). Due to some scheduling difficulties, I wasn’t able to meet with my partner as many times as I would have liked this year, but we were able to chat at a number of events, and we had tea at my favourite tea house. And I know we’ll keep in touch, even now that the semester is over.

As I’ve said before, I really encourage all students to sign up for a mentorship program, or to create one if there isn’t already one in place (and of course I recommend it to professionals as well!). This is a great way to connect one-on-one with a professional – plus, at the kick-off and finale events, you’ll almost certainly have the chance to meet your classmates’ partners as well. If you’re not looking for a job now, you will be soon, and having someone to coach you through the application process is crucial.

Have questions about mentorship? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll share my wisdom. :)

New semester, new challenges

So I’m finally starting my first fall semester as a bona fide liaison librarian. Well, maybe “starting” isn’t the right way to put it, since students are already writing midterms. But the library is full of people, whether they’re studying for exams, asking for help with their assignments, or using the group study rooms to work on their group projects.

I’ve been doing plenty of information literacy and reference work, but here’s what else has been keeping me busy:

  • As the current president of the CLA Montreal Chapter, I’ve been working hard with the president elect and past president to line up some great events for the coming year. Anyone in Montreal should join us on Wednesday for our first event of the year in our Salon des
    Bibliothécaires series.
  • I’m also the Awards & Honours Chair of the SLA Eastern Canada Chapter, so if anyone would like to nominate an SLA ECC member as Member of the Year, please let me know.
  • I have a new partner in the Professional Partnering Program. Although I had the option of keeping Christie as my partner, she’s now working part-time at my branch, so I can’t stop her from bugging me I know we’ll still be in touch. My new partner couldn’t make it to the kick-off this past week, but I was fortunate enough to meet her at the ABQLA kick-off the week before – good thing we were all wearing name tags, or I never would have known it was her!
  • I’ve been writing for the Re:Generations blog for the past year, but now I’m officially on the committee! I’m super excited to be working with this great group of people, and we’ve even put in a couple of proposals for CLA 2011 sessions. You can check them out at the CLA’s list of proposals – ours are numbers 69 and 158.
  • Our weeding project (which I discussed briefly on the Re:Gen blog) has become more urgent than I had anticipated, so it looks like I will be spending a lot of time determining which of our print journals are also available online from a reliable source and evaluating the print books that haven’t circulated in the past decade. Fortunately, weeding is an activity I think is essential to any library, and I would even go so far as to say I enjoy working on it.

Of course there’s more, but that’s enough about me for now. Happy Thanksgiving to all of my fellow Canadians, and I hope everyone is having a great fall season.

Library school student power

Today I’d like to delve a little deeper into a topic I’ve briefly mentioned before on more than one occasion. I’m not sure whether students actually know about this; perhaps they’re completely in the dark, or perhaps they’ve been told but they can’t believe such an outrageous idea. At any rate, as far as I can tell, most students certainly don’t act as if they know about it. At its core, what it boils down to is this: library school students have power.

I can’t tell you whether this applies to students in other professional programs, or other Master’s programs, but I can certainly tell you that it doesn’t apply to most undergrad programs. Library school students are in a unique position to influence their peers and the profession as a whole, but they don’t seem to realize it. Here’s how I would describe this power:

  1. Professionals in the LIS community are not simply willing to listen to students; most of them are very much interested in hearing the student perspective.
  2. Library school professors are usually willing to change their classes based on student feedback.
  3. Students have a wide range of opportunities to set themselves apart from their classmates.

Before we get started, I’d just like to urge everyone to use this power for good, not for evil. Frankly, if your main goal in life is to hold power over other people, librarianship is the wrong field for you anyway. All of my suggestions should be fulfilling and add to your professional development in and of themselves; please don’t do any of these things just to feel powerful. Having said that, everybody wants to change the world, and it’s okay to make your voice heard.

Regarding point #1: librarians are notoriously nice people, so I can’t really blame a student who has a brief conversation with a professional and comes away saying, “well, of course he was nice to me. He’s nice to everyone. That’s his job.” But take it from me, professionals really are interested to hear what they’re teaching in school these days and we really are interested to hear fresh ideas. So how can a student get in touch with a librarian? I can think of a number of ways, some of which may be out of some people’s comfort zones, but there should be at least one that works for everyone.

  • Join a mentoring program, like McGill’s Professional Partnering Program. I know I keep mentioning this, but it’s really a no brainer: if there’s one available to you, sign up. And if not, start one on your own. This is a super low stress way to meet someone, since you know the professionals have volunteered because they’re interested. For bonus exposure, ask your classmates about their mentors and consider organizing a group event.
  • Attend events put on by professional associations. Later I’m going to urge students to become involved with their student chapters, but a great way to meet professionals is to go to events that aren’t designed specifically for students. For example, I’m involved with the Canadian Library Association Montreal Chapter, and we often organize informal social events. Students are encouraged to come to these events, and no one is treated differently than anyone else: professionals learn from students and vice versa. For bonus influence, start asking around to find out whether the chapter will be looking for new exec members after you graduate.
  • Start a blog. This is another piece of advice I’ve given before, but consider this: every time another blogger mentions your blog or quotes something you’ve written, you are influencing the biblioblogosphere. While I was a student, I got in touch with a number of librarians through my blog and formed some lasting professional relationships. And for every blogger who mentions your blog, there will probably be a bunch of professionals who read it, enjoy it, and don’t leave a comment. For bonus power, leave comments on other LIS blogs.
  • Find a professional you admire and contact them. This is where it gets a bit scary, and I’m afraid I can’t promise every librarian will want to be your best friend. You might be surprised, though, at the number of professionals who would be more than happy to spend some time telling you about what they do, or even showing you around their place of work. If there’s a particular library you’re interested in working at, get in touch with one of the librarians there. A good way is to look up the library’s website and find the email address of a librarian who has a job that looks interesting; just write to them explaining that you’re a student and asking whether you could meet with them to ask a few questions. For bonus points, make sure you have a few specific questions in mind when you actually do meet them, since some librarians may not have a good idea of what to tell you unless you ask.

Point #2 is fairly straightforward: if you don’t like the way a course is being taught, or if you have suggestions for how it could be improved, just tell your prof. Your best bet is to schedule a time to meet your prof in person, since this shows that you’re serious. Naturally, make sure your suggestions are constructive; don’t criticize anything unless you also suggest how it could be improved (this will serve you well in your professional life as well). At the very least, put in some serious thought when you fill out your course evaluations – profs read these comments and adjust their teaching based on them.

Point #3 mainly applies to having power over your own career path. As I briefly mentioned recently, many students choose to sit back and let library school happen to them, arguing that they can’t do much more because they’re “just a student.” Simply attending classes and showing up to an extracurricular event here and there means that you will receive your MLIS and impress potential employers to exactly the same degree as everyone else from your class. Fortunately, setting yourself apart is relatively easy, and not even terribly time consuming.

  • Get involved with a student group. And don’t just attend their events; if you actually participate on the group’s exec, you can put this on your CV or cover letter. In my experience, it doesn’t even matter that much which group you work with. SIS has a wide range of student groups, but they all do fairly similar work, so don’t worry if there’s no position for you at your first choice of group.
  • Organize an event. For example, in my second year of library school, I was co-organizer of Web 2.You. It can be intimidating to contact a well known speaker, but you will find that they are very friendly to students, and in many cases speakers who usually charge a fee will reduce it or waive it altogether for a student-run event. This is really a fun way to gain some experience, get some exposure, and help your fellow students (not to mention helping the local professionals who attend the event).

I hope this helps motivate students to take control of their careers. To the professionals reading this: do you have any tips for helping students exercise their power? Leave your advice in the comments!

Professional Partnering Program: the view from the other side

Last year I told you about the Professional Partnering Program, organized by students at McGill’s School of Information Studies. I told you about my fantastic partner Jared and how great it was for me to have the chance to get a taste for what an academic librarian really does and to see an academic library from behind the scenes. I enjoyed the experience so much that I recommended it as one of my tips for surviving library school.

This year I’m happy to have the opportunity to participate in the program from the other side; now that I’m a professional (wow, it still sounds strange to call myself that), I’ve been paired up with a first year SIS student. Her name is Christie Silkotch, and we first met at the PPP kick-off event in October. Unfortunately, we had some trouble matching up our schedules at the end of last semester, but finally this week I was able to show her around a few branches of the McGill Library.

Christie is keeping an open mind as to what sort of library she would like to work in, which I definitely think is the best way to go, especially in your first year of library school. The only disadvantage to this approach is that when I introduced her to my colleagues, many of them asked whether she had a particular interest in their area of librarianship, to which she had no firm answer. She was quite easy going about it, though, as I was when I was in the same situation; I knew before I started library school that academic librarianship was for me, but even now I’m quite open to a variety of positions. It’s understandable that librarians are excited to meet students with whom they share common interests, but we have to keep in mind that many (perhaps most) people come to library school without knowing whether they want to be cataloguers or political science liaison librarians.

As I introduced Christie to some of the people I work with, I was reminded how much I like librarians. Although there can be quite heated debates when it comes to policies, procedures, and the best ways to serve our clients, most of us became librarians because we want to help people. We’re especially willing to help out students, perhaps because we can remember how overwhelmed we felt when we were in their position.

We only managed to visit a few of the branch libraries, so I think we’ll try to set up a time to see some more. Christie says she found it helpful, and I enjoyed spending time in some buildings (and seeing some colleagues) I don’t have the chance to visit as often as I’d like.

Guest post – Jared discusses online music

Today’s guest post is from my professional partner, Jared Wiercinski, Digital Services / Outreach Librarian and Music & Contemporary Dance Librarian at Concordia University. Thanks, Jared!

Graham and I met through the Professional Partnering Program which is organized by the Canadian Library Association McGill Student Chapter. It’s been a great experience so far. I got to gulp down a really tasty radioactive sugar drink at the kick-off event, and Graham has been continually handing over secret documents from McGill (obtained through his work with the library administration there). So far, so good.

Graham was kind enough to invite me to write a guest blog post on anything I wanted to write about. At first I struggled with the idea, not knowing what to write about. Writer’s block, I believe it’s called. But then it dawned on me – why not write about online music?

Concordia has a really interesting Music Department that includes jazz, classical, popular and (my personal fav) electroacoustic music. Probably the most interesting  project for me so far has been looking at different ways to make sound recordings available online. For the most part things are pretty old school here. As far as course reserves go professors typically bring in compact discs to the library and then students come in and borrow them (or not). Truth be told it’s pretty hard to motivate yourself to come to the library to listen to CDs with so many other alternatives: iTunes, peer-to-peer file sharing sites, MySpace, YouTube, last.fm, et cetera. Especially during this holy season known as winter.

So I’ve been experimenting with different ways to make music available through our website. The set-up I’m currently using involves a Flash Player embedded in a web page that plays the mp3 files off of our server. The web page is hidden behind our WAM software, which means that only students who are registered in the course can listen to the music. This pilot project is in the early stages but seems to be going well. So far I’ve set up online audio files for two courses: “The Music of the Beatles” and “Rock and Roll and Its Roots”, both taught by Craig Morrison.  Needless to say it’s been a labour of love.

So yeah. That’s all I’ve got to say. Drop me a line at jared.wiercinski@concordia.ca if you’re interested in or working on this type of thing as well. I’d love to hear from you. Cheers!

Professional partnering continues

This week I spent some time with my partner from the McGill CLA Student Chapter Professional Partnering Program, Jared. He showed me around the Concordia libraries, where he works, and then we sat down and he told me a bit more about what he does. Since I’m interested in academic libraries, this was a great experience for me, especially since I’d never been to the Concordia libraries before.

I met him at the downtown library – his office is at the Loyola campus, but he comes downtown quite often for meetings. He showed me the collections and services available to students, but what interested me the most was meeting some of his colleagues. We had a great chat with one of his fellow librarians about information literacy programs in academic libraries, which really captured my attention because I’m taking an info lit class this semester and I hope to be involved in that area one day. We also bumped into Olivier Charbonneau, a Concordia librarian who is an expert in copyright law. I told him how much I’d enjoyed his talk at McGill last week, and Jared had a question for him about whether he could legally use an excerpt from a recent translation of an old play.

Then we took the shuttle bus to the Loyola campus, which is located in the much quieter Notre-Dame-de-Grâce neighbourhood of Montreal. Here Jared introduced me to some more librarians, and I was amused to discover that they’d seen my name before: Jared had been passing around my business card because he liked the way I’d designed it at Moo.com. We sat down in his office, and he showed me his list of responsibilities for the year. It looks like Concordia is going to be keeping him busy! Besides spending a certain number of hours each week doing reference (including some chat reference), he has a number of projects working on digital services and outreach, and he’s on a whole bunch of different committees. I never doubted that academic librarians work hard, but this really confirmed it.

Overall, it was an eye-opening experience, and I’m looking forward to meeting up with Jared again.

Professional Partnering followup

This post is going up a bit late because I spent most of reading week in New York City (visiting, among other attractions, the gorgeous New York Public Library) and then had to scramble to catch up on assignments. At any rate, I’m pleased to announce that the Professional Partnering kick-off was a great success! Everyone I spoke to was having a terrific time and the food was delicious.

My partner is Jared Wiercinski, Digital Services / Outreach Librarian and Music & Contemporary Dance Librarian at Concordia University. Although I have no academic interest in music or dance (I do, of course, enjoy both in my spare time), his work with library technology is right up my alley. He’s offered to show me around the Concordia campuses and let me see what exactly he does, so stay tuned when that happens, a couple of weeks from now. Did I mention that he’s also a really nice guy? For more about Jared, check out his research guides for music and dance.

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