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?
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.
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.