Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Professional Profile: Sophia Apostol - Coutts Information Services

Question: Tell me about your career so far.

Sophia began her library career at YBP Library Service as a library vendor that provided books (both in print and electronic) and supporting collection management and technical services to academic, research and special libraries. Through her co-op placement at the University of Guelph, she met a librarian who put her in touch with a manager at YBP, and she landed her first job with the organization even before she had completed her degree! Sophia worked as the Sales Manager for Canada, which entailed managing accounts for all of the organization’s Canada clientele. Sophia traveled all over the country, working with clients to determine their collections development needs and offering YBP’s products and services to help meet their demands.

Having established herself in the professional world, and sufficiently tired of the all-familiar “airplane smell,” Sophia decided to pursue a different field of librarianship by accepting a position at the Seneca@York campus of Seneca College. There, she worked as an Instruction Librarian, providing reference services, information literacy classes, and collection development. The knowledge she gained at YBP – working with academic librarians and academic library products – assisted her in understanding her new role in an educational setting.

Upon completing the contract position at Seneca, Sophia turned back to the world of library vendors to seek out her next position – a position for which she herself wrote the job description. Tapping into her personal network of information professionals, she wrote to a former colleague and described exactly what she was seeking in her next job. Her assertiveness paid off when the colleague called back to say he had the perfect job for her, which is how Sophia found herself in her current position as the Knowledge Resources Manager for Coutts Information Services.

Question: What does your current work for Coutts entail?

Coutts is a full service supplier of books and electronic content from publishers and distributors worldwide. They provide collections services and resources to libraries to make sure they get the books and e-resources they need to serve their patrons effectively.

As the Knowledge Resources Manager, Sophia ensures sound knowledge sharing practices within the organization to create better-informed team members and more satisfied clients. She ensures that people within the organization have access and exposure to the information and knowledge not only to do their jobs, but to do them better, by meeting clients’ needs and developing stronger, more usable products.

Sophia’s work is also client-facing: she provides user training on Coutts library products, working with collections development librarians and instructing them in how to use Coutts’ collections management products.

What’s more, Sophia is very excited to be embarking on interface design and information architecture for Coutts’ products. She works with the IT department on how to create usable, accessible products that meet the changing needs of academic and research librarians.

It is clear from her enthusiasm and positivity that she is incredibly excited about her role at Coutts, and is thoroughly enjoying her role with the organization!

Question: What are your tips for new professionals embarking on their careers in the information professions?

Network, network, network: Sophia got all her professional positions through professional contacts, and she cannot emphasize enough how important it is to meet people in the field and get your name out in the library world. This includes participation in professional associations, conferences, networking events and other venues, where you can meet members of the library profession, and maybe meet your future boss! We’re especially lucky in this profession: Librarians are friendly, approachable, and they love helping new professionals find their bearings, so don’t be afraid to network.

Be your own advocate: You have to be assertive with your employer if you want support for your professional development; time away from work to attend conferences, the ability to pursue continuing education, support in skills upgrades are all things you will have to negotiate with your boss, so be prepared to stick up for yourself and advocate for your needs. Librarians are not famous for being demanding and assertive, but it will pay off professionally, so don’t be scared to speak up!

All experience is good experience: Sophia gained a lot from the work experience of Western’s co-op program. Not only did she learn more about the field of librarianship, but she also figured out her professional likes and dislikes. It was in these co-op positions that Sophia made the first contact that has subsequently led to her various professional positions. So get exposure to a variety of library settings through work experience, job shadowing, or practicum classes – even if you don’t love it, it will help you make decisions about the direction of your career, and help you make professional connections in the field.

Question: Where do you see the future of our profession?

Sophia hopes that librarians will continue to explore collaborative technologies and become more and more proficient with social software. Make sure to maintain your technical skills and be curious about new and emerging tools – these collaborative tools have huge potential for improving information sharing and distribution, which will help librarians do their jobs better.

She also encourages librarians to be savvy with their marketing and advocacy approaches: When working at Seneca, Sophia created a Facebook page to answer students’ reference questions – and it was a big success! Know your users and your stakeholders so you can make informed decisions about how to meet the objectives of libraries: Making information accessible! Don’t be scared of applying some “business savvy” in your job. Being strategic, visible, and accountable is not a bad thing, whether you are in a public, academic or special library.

Although the economy is slowing down, there are lots of jobs out there for new professionals, but they’re not always posted. Get your name out there in the library world, and your chances of getting a call from an information organization will only get better!

-Interview Conducted by Meghan Ecclestone