Reliable Sources: Interview with Allison Milne and Katie Skidmore

Interviewer: Mélanie Brunet

In early February 2017, I interviewed Allison Milne and Katie Skidmore, two Ottawa-area information professionals working in content management at Export Development Canada (EDC), a Crown corporation.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Allison: I’ve been at EDC off-and-on for about eight years, and I’ve been in my current role as an advisor in the Content Management group for nearly two years. I worked in both the corporate library and the records management team until they merged into Content Management. I’m from Ottawa and did my undergraduate studies at the University of Ottawa and then studied library science at Western in London.

Katie: I’ve been at EDC for about two years as well where I’m also part of the Content Management team as a Senior Associate. My role comprises of working both on the Library and Recorded Information Management (RIM) team. I’m from Ottawa as well, but went to Wilfrid Laurier University (WLU) for my undergrad, where I completed a 6 month exchange in Sweden. I returned to Ottawa to get my Master in Information Studies in 2011.

What was your first library or information-related job?

Allison: I had a student job in the records office at EDC during the summer of my third year as an undergrad. It involved filing, paperwork, boxing files for offsite storage, which was quite boring. But after I graduated, EDC hired me for a two-year contract to do an offsite storage audit of their holdings. I got to learn about how they did their offsite storage processes, solve discrepancies between systems, do research, and I was exposed to their reclassification structure. I saw that managing information was more than just filing. It was three years later that I seriously considered a career in this field.

Katie: I worked at the WLU Library in my last year as an undergrad. I worked the graveyard shift – and loved it! My primary responsibilities were assisting with circulation as well as retrieving books to fulfil loans requests from the University of Waterloo and the University of Guelph (which share a tri-university catalogue). It was very much the traditional librarianship that most people associate with the field.

How did the MLIS program at Western and the MIS program at uOttawa prepare you for this work?

Allison: Because I initially worked on the records management side at EDC, the MLIS program did not prepare me much in terms of what to expect. But in general, it helped me develop my critical thinking, apply myself in group settings (there were lots of group projects!), how to approach tasks that are not well-defined and figure things out. Community development was an interesting course but I did not get to explore that further in my work. It was an 18-month program, including a coop placement.

Katie: I completed a bilingual program since I was planning on living and working in Ottawa. The MIS courses dealt largely with pure librarianship – think cataloguing. There were few courses dealing with information management and technology. I completed an eight-month coop placement at the uOttawa Management Library which allowed me to get practical on-the-job training, practice my French, network and become exposed to day-to-day challenges in the field.

What did you hope for in terms of employment as you completed your Master’s degree?

Allison: I hoped to remain employed at EDC, but I was not able to go further without a master’s, so I took a leave to get an MLIS. I returned to EDC as a coop student and was hired on contract for eight months after I graduated. Then I worked in the federal government and later as a consultant in the private sector, which is how I met Katie; we worked at the same firm. Being a consultant taught me a different reality and skills I never knew I needed, such as going to a new site, picking up from nothing and hitting the ground running. These skills have helped me in every position I’ve had since. My goal was to stay employed, but I got more out of it than that. I was able to make connections with people in other industries.

Katie: At first, I was focused on getting a job in traditional librarianship, not knowing there were other options. I was just ready to start my professional career, whatever that looked like. I started in the consulting field knowing nothing about it. An employer took a chance on me and that was the greatest opportunity I’ve had because it launched my career.

How have your previous jobs prepared you for this one?

Allison: Being a consultant taught me confidence – it can be really scary to be sent to a new site and figuring things out – all aspects of management, how to handle a room, how to represent your company, keep up with best practices in the industry and trends in the field you’ve just joined. And to identify the gaps that everyone is trying to address. I gives you an idea of what you might be facing in a new job.

Katie: Ditto. Consulting prepared me to be ready for anything, whether that be leading or supporting a project – large or small. It helped me develop my soft skills and often took me way outside my comfort zone. In most organizations there is the mindset of “see one, do one, teach one”. As a Consultant, you are not always afforded that opportunity and may jump right into “do one” or “teach one”.  

What kinds of tasks do you do on a daily and weekly basis?

Allison: I manage database and journal subscriptions, including costs and terms of use to ensure access. I also work at the reference desk, and help with SharePoint (content management system), advising on what to store and where, metadata structure, governance of the system in an organization that’s a bit decentralized. The idea is to make sure SharePoint is well managed, keeping in mind the balance between helping each client and providing them what they need to do their job, and delivering the system.

Katie: As I mentioned previously, I have a dual role operating in both the Library and on the RIM team. Within the Library, I renew subscriptions and provide reference and research support; but my primary focus is on information and records management. Often, I am providing advice on guidance on a wide variety of topics, but my passion is deploying SharePoint sites and delivering training across the organization.

What most surprises you about your job?

Allison: The speed at which things change. EDC is transforming in the way it delivers services, and it drastically impacts how we work, the type of information we provide, the projects we have on the go, how SharePoint sites are delivered. Cross team collaboration is important because when a request comes out of the blue, we have to make sure that it’s in line with what IT and ATIP is doing. It’s hard to keep all employees in the loop when things changes quickly.

Katie: The importance of partnering with teams within the organization. In many cases, I will be on a project that will require expertise from different fields. That’s why cross team collaboration is so important. I am in constant communication with my IT and ATIP department, but I can say that I have leveraged almost all support teams at EDC to assist in responding to client requests.

What’s your favourite part of your role?

Allison: Definitely the client interaction and customer service. Every day, I help two to ten people, give them what they need while meeting corporate standards. I do problem solving within specific parameters, and I build relationships when I work with clients.

Katie: Watching clients’ eyes light up when you provide them with a simple tip or trick on how to better manage their information – usually via SharePoint. It might be simple but it can really improve process efficiency within a team.

Do you have any advice for students interested in getting into the information field?

Allison: Participate in a coop placement if you have the opportunity. It’s an invaluable experience, from the interview process to learning on the job. Also, be outgoing and confident. Don’t wonder “should I apply for this job?” Just go for it. It was scary at the time to work for a private company, but it was the best decision.

Katie: Become a consultant at some point in your career. It’s the greatest decision I ever made. I was exposed to a wide variety of departments within the federal government, including different types of team structures, leadership, and bureaucracy. You can’t get that experience within the four walls of one organization.

What’s next for you, career-wise?

Allison: On an operational basis, I’d like to rise a bit above where I am now and keep advising on strategic enterprise-wide decisions. But above all, I want to be happy and work for someone who believes in me, and continue in the information field where there’s a place to grow.

Katie: I want to continue challenging myself and working where professional and personal development are encouraged.

 

Note:

As of March, Allison accepted an internal position at EDC with the Operational Excellence team. She spends her time coaching EDC leaders and employees in the field of Lean management and in problem-solving methodologies and capacity saving techniques.

As of April, Katie accepted a position at the Bank of Canada leading a Shared Drive Migration project. Her priority is to reduce the amount of content being stored on the Bank’s Shared Drives and reinforce the usage of SharePoint.

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.

Reliable Sources: Esenia Jubea

By Sarah Simpkin

In this column we’ll be featuring interviews with local library, archives and museum staff and students. Our fifth interviewee is Esenia Jubea.

esenia_photo

Who are you?

I’m Esenia Jubea, Information Resource Coordinator at the National Capital Commission. I started working with NCC about two and half years ago. It started as a three-week field work placement during my Library and Information Technician diploma at Algonquin College, and they’ve kept me on to work on special projects ever since!

What kinds of projects?

My first one was my pride and joy! I worked to build a Digital Photo Catalogue for the NCC architects,  meant to help them search, easily locate and download photos of previous projects. After just seven months the archive contained more than 39 thousands photographs. I’ve prepared a slide collection for transfer to Library and Archives Canada, and also worked on transferring information to Heritage Canada. My current position is split between two roles, but I’m still within the same department. I spend half of the day in the service centre managing the business information and helping our clients search for it. The other half of the day I am support the administration of our Enterprise Content Management System (ECM). Our physical and electronic documents are managed through this system.

Wow, sounds like a wide range of tasks! How did Algonquin College prepare you for this work?

The program gave me the main skills for getting into both library and information management roles. Most importantly, though, they taught me how to learn. The program really encouraged me to keep learning. I especially enjoyed taking database-related courses, and was happy to discover that I would keep working with them on the job.

How did you discover the program?

I wasn’t sure which program to take at first, but Algonquin’s career counselling staff was very helpful. I researched the job market in Ottawa, and realized just how many information management jobs exist in all kinds of organizations. I had a great mentor in Helena Merriam, the program coordinator. I also had the fortune to meet my current supervisor early on. Lindsay Stephenson has taught me so much — I’m still learning so many things from her and from the rest of the NCC team. It’s a very supportive and friendly work culture.

Helena mentioned that you grew up in Moldova.

I immigrated to Canada from Moldova seven years ago. I can’t believe how much has happened in that time. I’ve studied two languages, completed my diploma, found work in my field, and had my second child! I’ve fallen in love with this country. I’ve met some amazing people and felt very supported.

How do you like working for the NCC?

I enjoy it enormously! I’m only a small part of the team, but I’m very proud to the work that we do, and I’m happy that I’m able to contribute to keeping the National Capital Region as a source of pride for Canadians. Our work culture is very positive. People are very friendly and collaborative, team-building is very important to them, and the corporation provides a lot of learning opportunities for staff.

Do you have any advice for people considering the Library and Information Technician program at Algonquin College?

The program provides so many opportunities to see what library and information management work is like. Field placements are so important, and can lead to permanent jobs. They allow you to get a taste of the work. Practical experience working in those environments is so valuable. I also encourage students to meet as many people as possible. Don’t be shy! Show your enthusiasm!

It sounds like interpersonal skills are very important.

They really are. It’s not just about working with information — people are a big part of the process too. My favourite part of the job is being able to bring the right information to the right people at the right time. It’s so rewarding when I help someone find exactly what they were looking for.

Who should I interview next?

I think another ‘Reliable Source’ should be Priyanka Sabnany. She is working as a Library Technician for the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board. I met her while volunteering at my children’s school. You will be amazed to hear her story — especially the part about building the Chapman Mills Public School Library from scratch.