How I landed an awesome job through networking

As you may already know, in September I started a new job as Information Literacy Librarian at the King Campus of Seneca College, just north of Toronto. My position involves a lot of teaching (i.e., in-class information literacy sessions), some reference work, and a variety of fascinating committee-based projects. I’m working with an innovative library team, supportive faculty, and engaged students who are researching interesting topics. Life is good! And did I mention that I recently married the most wonderful woman in the world? Life is very, very good!

On this blog, I generally avoid writing posts that are purely personal, and I’m not telling you my good news because I want you to be happy for me (though I hope you are). I want to tell the story of how I landed my job through networking.

It all started back in March, when I was on the job hunt in Toronto. I had signed up for a course through the iSchool Institute that wasn’t so much a course as it was a series of panels where librarians would come to talk about their jobs and about librarianship in general. It was led by the fantastic Kim Silk, and although it won’t be offered again in 2013, you can still read the course description, and I would highly recommend that you check out Kim’s session at the OLA Super Conference (Thursday January 31st at 3:45pm – session #611), where she will be discussing the course. One week the panel was made up of government and academic librarians, and one of the participants was Kathryn Klages, who was at that time doing exactly the job I’m doing now (she’s at a different Seneca campus now). She was clearly a superstar librarian, and working on some very interesting projects, so at the end of the session I arranged to meet her for coffee so we could chat a bit more about her work.

I didn’t know much about college libraries then, having spent my professional career in Quebec; the CEGEP system is similar to college but quite different in many ways. So I was interested to learn from Kathryn about the college system, and how it differs from universities. I had heard previously that Seneca is one of the best academic libraries in Ontario to work for, and our discussion gave me the impression that this was accurate. Kathryn seemed to think I would be a good fit, so she kindly offered to mention my name at work. She even said there was a position opening up that would be perfect for me, and that she would discuss it with her outstanding Chief Librarian and Director, Tanis Fink. As you can imagine, I was ecstatic.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t eligible for the position Kathryn had in mind because it was the OCULA New Librarian Residency position, which is only available to recent grads (the good news is they found a great new librarian, Lydia Tsai – check out the video she made about her position). This was disappointing, but as you already know, everything worked out in the end. I kept plugging away at the job search, and a couple of months later I was at the OCULA Dinner at Ryerson, when I had the good fortune to end up sitting at a table with three Seneca people: Tanis Fink, Shanna Pearson, and 2012 OCULA President Jennifer Peters. I had a good chat with all of them, and Jenn generously offered to show me around Seneca, so we made plans for me to visit. She arranged for me to meet with four librarians, including Shanna and herself, so I could learn about different areas of the library. The visit went really well – everyone was happy to share their experiences with me and seemed to be working on very cool projects, and I could definitely picture myself working there.

A couple of months later, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a call from Tanis Fink, telling me that a position had opened up and asking whether I would be interested to come in for an interview. After months of applying (unsuccessfully) to jobs by emailing a cover letter and resume to a hiring committee I’d never met, I knew I’d succeeded with my networking when I received a call before even applying. The interview process was just as rigorous as it is for most academic library positions (after an initial interview I was called back for a second one where I gave a presentation), but looking back, it comes as no surprise that of the many interviews I went through this spring and summer, it was Seneca that offered me the job.

So here I am. I owe a huge thanks to Kim, Kathryn, Tanis, Shanna, and Jenn for their roles in the process; they are all fantastic people. I’d like to share the lessons I’ve learned from this experience, but I’m going to put some thought into it before posting. Stay tuned!

P.S. This is unrelated to networking, but here’s a photo of me at work, participating in Movember and doing my best Hulk Hogan impression.

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

Dressed up as Hulk Hogan during Movember

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.

How did I get here?

Steven Chabot over at Subject/Object has a Question for men (and women too!) in the library field: How did you get here? I’ve given a pretty brief explanation of this already, but I haven’t mused much on my choices as they apply to my gender.

The short answer that I love to give is that the decision to go to library school was inspired by seeing a t-shirt design online, with the phrase she blinded me with library science. And that’s true, but I hope no one believes I’m a shallow enough person to base my career entirely on a t-shirt slogan.

As a young boy, I wanted to become either a major league baseball player or a scientist, both of which are male-dominated professions. Of course, at that age, I didn’t fully appreciate the extent of either career; I believed that being a star baseball player mainly involved showing up to games and hitting home runs and that being a scientist mainly involved wearing a white coat and mixing chemicals. At any rate, I believe my interest in both of these fields waned before I discovered at school that I did not have the aptitude for either one.

In high school, I dreamed of becoming a computer programmer (another typically male career) after witnessing the popularization of the internet and watching movies like Hackers, but again, the activity turned out to be much more difficult than I’d imagined. To make matters worse, for some strange reason the university computer science programs I looked into also required chemistry, which I’d already dismissed.

I discovered psychology in my first year at UBC and fell head over heels for it – I loved studying the way people think, and I especially loved the fact that it followed the scientific method without being too, well, sciency. I opted for courses in social and developmental psychology (the least sciency ones), which meant that my classes were overwhelmingly female, as the men were taking cognitive and biopsych. Then again, even my honours class, which was made up of students from all areas of psych, was disproportionately filled with women. At any rate, I had no objection to being in a female-dominated field, and to be completely fair, although there were fewer male students, the ratio was much more even at the faculty level. My plan at that point was to one day become a psych professor myself.

After graduation, when I made the decision to choose library school over psych programs, I don’t think I was fully aware of the gender disparity in the LIS field. Of course I knew the stereotypes of the shushing librarian with her hair in a bun, but my high school librarian was a man, and I’d dealt with a number of male academic librarians at UBC. And then there’s the hero of Questionable Content (the webcomic that produces the aforementioned t-shirt), who is male and works in a library. In fact, one of the only librarians I actually talked to between applying to library school and starting the program was a gentleman I happened to meet while working at a restaurant in downtown Toronto. Even from that time, I’ve always been most interested in academic libraries, and I equate academic librarianship with academia in general, which was once a male-dominated domain but is now much more gender-neutral (at least in terms of the gender ratio of academics – I’m not trying to start a debate on whether male and female academics have equal opportunities!).

So when I finally started at SIS, I was quite surprised to find that my class was literally about 90% female. To be fair, men in my year are especially scarce – there are significantly more in next year’s graduating class. I haven’t found it to be much of an issue, though. I believe my gender has neither hindered nor helped me at SIS, except that professors are quick to learn my name because there are so few male names and faces to keep apart.

Steven wants to know how to encourage more men to take librarianship seriously, and here’s my advice:

  • Show them that it’s challenging and intellectually stimulating, that it’s an academic pursuit that can lead to tenure
  • Show them that it’s not about shushing and making sure no one tries to walk off with the reference books
  • Show them that it involves technology and keeping up with the latest innovations
  • Show them that it can take a variety of forms, each with its own strengths, including academic, public, school, and special librarianship

I’m certainly not saying that these points will only appeal to men – show them to women too! What I’m really suggesting is that we make people look beyond the stereotypes and see what the field is really about. Show them the breadth of opportunities available, and surely there will be something that they find appealing.

How I found my summer job

I thought I’d say a few words about how I landed my summer job. Working in Ottawa for the summer is a popular choice for Canadian students, especially for those of us who attend school in the eastern part of the country (since, as we all know, Canada’s really big). The federal government encourages students by helping to arrange for us to find three- to four-month full-time positions with federal organizations, often not just related to our fields but actually quite tremendous opportunities, that employers would likely never offer us on the free market. This is how I ended up working for the federal government this summer.

My interview (which was mercifully over the phone, since Montreal is close but not THAT close to Ottawa) was not actually for the position I ended up with. My name had been selected from the FSWEP pool as a candidate for a reference position at the Industry Canada library in downtown Ottawa. When I accepted their offer of an interview, I was fully aware of two major problems, but I was happy enough to have been offered an interview that I didn’t worry too much. The first problem was that the job required me to be bilingual, and the second was that my French is quite weak. When the interview finally took place, they asked me five questions, to which I gave four rather good responses and one embarrassingly bad one; indeed, the interviewers seemed quite impressed with all of my answers except the one in French (though they were certainly nice enough about it).

Now, I’ve hunted for summer jobs enough times to know that my first interview of the season is not usually my best, so I chalked it up as a practice run and expected not to hear from Industry Canada again. To my surprise, a few weeks later I received a call from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, which is a very small part of Industry Canada, and they wanted to know whether I would accept a position at the CIPO Resource Centre in Gatineau, immediately across the bridge from downtown Ottawa. Apparently IC had liked me enough that they’d passed my name on to CIPO, where they were looking for a summer student for a non-bilingual position.

Anyway, it’s been a great experience so far – and it’s hard to believe the summer is almost halfway through!

Alive and well in Ottawa

I realize I haven’t posted in what, by blogging standards, is a very long time, but don’t fret. I’ve just been setting myself up in Ottawa, where I have a summer job working for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office Resource Centre. To be honest, I’d never put much thought into working in a government library before being offered this job, but I recognized it as a terrific opportunity. I found the position (or to be more accurate, it found me) through the Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP), which is an absolute must for Canadian students and students studying in Canada looking for a summer job.

I will post more about the job soon, but for now I will show you how pretty Ottawa is in May (click for more Ottawa photos in my Flickr stream):
Victoria Day weekend on the canal 2

Story of my life

I’m happy to report that I’ve completed my first year of library school, and at the moment I’m spending some time with my parents in Toronto before I start my summer job in Ottawa on May 1st. Looking back over my year, I decided that now would be a good time to write a personal post about my experiences leading up to my MLIS program. I’m not sure that my story is typical of library school students, but then again, it seems that we come from a pretty wide variety of backgrounds.

I received my BA in psychology from UBC in the spring of 2006 (two whole years ago – wow!). At that point, I had never considered library school; I was vaguely aware of the field of “library science,” but I had no idea that being a librarian required a Master’s degree. To be perfectly honest, my main use of the public library was as a free DVD rental service, and I only went to the UBC libraries when I was performing research that couldn’t be done through their online services.

Upon graduation, my plan was to pursue graduate studies in social psychology. Fortunately, the other part of my plan was to take a year off, in order to write the dreaded GREs, put some time into my grad school applications, and then spend the rest of the year living in Paris and working on my French. I say fortunately because, looking back, I now realize how important that year was in terms of figuring out what I really wanted to do with myself. In many ways that year was disappointing (I spent months studying for a test that I didn’t end up needing at all, and I had to cut my time in Europe short), but it was entirely necessary, and I would implore anyone thinking about going straight from undergrad to grad school to consider taking some time off in between.

Shortly before the application deadlines, I was struck with a rather unsettling notion – perhaps psychology was not the right field of study for me. After close to four years of preparing for a career as a psych professor, I suddenly realized that I wanted a grad school experience that would leave me with a wider variety of options. Around that time, I also stumbled upon a t-shirt for sale from one of my favourite webcomics, Questionable Content. Here I am last August, just before heading off to library school, wearing this supremely nerdy shirt:
She blinded me with library science

No joke – that’s really how the idea of library school occurred to me. I saw it on a t-shirt design.

Fortunately, I still had time to apply. I actually didn’t spend much time comparing schools. I’d been wanting to live in Montreal for a long time, and I knew McGill was a prestigious school (in general, not necessarily for its library school in particular), so it was my first choice and in early 2007 I was accepted.

Whew. I think that’s enough for now, but at some point I will move on to my reflections about library school itself. I hope the weather is as nice where you are as it is in Toronto right now!