LANCR-ABRCN Travel Bursary Winner: Interview with Michelle Lam

In this column we’ll be featuring an interview with Michelle Lam, a student at Algonquin College studying in the Library and Information Technician program and recipient of this year’s LANCR Travel Bursary.

Sharen Caldwell (left) and Michelle Lam (right) with their poster at the OLA Super Conference 2016

Sharen Caldwell (left) and Michelle Lam (right) with their poster at the OLA Super Conference 2016.

Who are you?

My name is Michelle Lam and I’m from Vancouver, currently in Ottawa completing my last year of the Library and Information Technician Program at Algonquin College.  On the recommendation of my sister, I chose to go to Algonquin to pursue my studies.  I have a Bachelors with a Major in history, a minor in sociology and an associates in sociology.

Why did you choose to pursue a career in LIS?

When I was a child, the librarian at my school was amazing and I subsequently spent a lot of time in that library.  Once I was old enough I even began volunteering in the same school library.  It was my early experiences in the school library and the active encouragement from my parents to read which led me to eventually want to pursue a career in libraries.  During a 2 year break, I became certain that I wanted to pursue a career in libraries.  It was during this break that I moved to the UK on a working visa and met a school librarian.  Following our discussions, I decided that I would pursue my studies in library and information sciences.  Additionally, meeting likeminded people allowed me to learn more about other potential career opportunities and ultimately decide which would be a good fit for me.

You mentioned that you looked at Algonquin based on your sister’s recommendation, why did you decide to pursue your studies?

Before deciding on the program at Algonquin, I explored other programs.  There was another program I was interested in but it was too business centric and this did not appeal to me.  I found that Algonquin’s program was well rounded with classes focused on a number of topics: acquisitions, interlibrary loans, database searching, reference (with special topics), and much more.  Also, there are a number of opportunities available to students in Ottawa.

How did you adjust to moving to a new city and pursuing a diploma?

The first semester proved to be a shock, both adjusting to the winters and life itself in Ottawa.  Initially I was a bit unsure about my choice but I talked to Helena Merriam, the program coordinator of the Library and Information Technician program at Algonquin College, who was able to orient me and provide much needed guidance.  Additionally, I knew that Ottawa offered a number of opportunities to students in library and information sciences which I would not find elsewhere.  So with the guidance and support received I was able to overcome the initial shock.

Can you talk about some of the activities you were involved in during your program?

Throughout my studies, I continued to remain in close contact with Helena who was able to offer both continued support and guidance towards different learning opportunities as they became available.  During your studies, it’s important to show a willingness and an ability to take on additional opportunities.

You’ve mentioned how you kept up relationships with instructors, why is this important?

By keeping up in contact with Helena, I was able to participate in a number of projects.  I was selected to participate in an Algonquin College Museum Studies project with the City of Ottawa Archives for the exhibit “Taverns & Troublemakers” where I assisted the students with research. I also held the position of research assistant to the Chair of Marketing for Algonquin College.  This experience allowed me to develop many skills, most importantly project management skills.  Finally, I also held the position of secretary on the CLA Local Planning Committee for the 2015 conference held in Ottawa.  In this position, I took notes and actively participated in the planning process.  And finally, the library spaces project.

How did you decide to come up with the research topic “Library Design & Community Development: A Socio-Spatial Analysis of Calgary and Halifax Projects” for your OLA poster?

It all started off with Helena and Cabot Yu, from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. My classmate Sharon Caldwell and I were asked to assist Cabot with a blog regarding Canadian central library projects.  When a new central library project makes the news, we provide a short blurb and a link to the article gets posted.  I already had an interest in library design, so this project was a good fit for me.  We had a lot of freedom with the project itself and were able decide the direction website the website would take.

Once school is finished, we plan on further expanding the site.  We would like to create some best practices for smaller libraries.  These best practices would provide information regarding how to scale concepts that are used in larger libraries projects and implement them for smaller libraries.  It’s important that libraries engage their community before make changes to the physical space.  Spatial redesign should be user based.

Why did you decide to submit a poster?

Helena sent out a notice regarding the call for posters and we decided to apply.  We will also be presenting our poster to library professionals and our peers this spring during the poster session that Algonquin College puts on.

Now that you are nearing the end of your studies, do you have any plans to celebrate the completion of your program?

Travel is an important, whether it be in Canada or abroad.  We can stand so much to learn about what life is like in different places.  After I have graduated and found a job, I plan on taking a trip to Europe with a friend.

For more information regarding library design and community development, consult the blog Reimagining Libraries: An Archive of Canadian Central Library Development Projects.

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