Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Professional Profile: Sonia Solomon - Merrill Lynch Canada

Question: How did you get your start in the information profession?

A friend of mine was studying for a library technician program and I occasionally helped with doing research for her homework. After becoming more and more interested in library and information work, I decided to enrol at the graduate library program at the University of Toronto. Sonia’s first work experience in the field was a summer position at the Legislative Library of Ontario.

Question: Please describe your current position.

I work as the Vice-President of the Corporate Library at Merrill Lynch Canada. I started at Midland Doherty shortly after graduation. After a couple takeovers, the company is now called Merrill Lynch Canada. Merrill Lynch was recently acquired by Bank of America. The Corporate Library is focused on serving internal clients – providing our staff with research to help them in their work, rather than the general public. The subject matter can range from Canada’s oil industry to questions on aerospace – anything Merrill Lynch is involved in can involve the Library.

One of the interesting challenges involves taking the time to learn the information needs of different offices and staff. We’ve supported brokers, marketing staff, the human resources department, and client development. You have to find the right thing for your client - there’s no one size fits all service here. Further, I represent the corporate library to others at the company. It is important to be out there and meet people – you have to create a lot of your own opportunities. I also work with other information professionals who work at Merrill Lynch’s offices across Canada (e.g. Edmonton and Montreal) and the world (e.g. London). For example, when the New York office went down on September 11, 2001, the Toronto office played a major role in supporting Merrill Lynch staff in the United States. We support and collaborate with each other to provide the best service to our clients, even though most of our day to day operations are independent.

Question: What advice do you have for new graduates?

Much of the library education I was familiar with was very focused on the public sector environment. If you wish to work in the private sector, address this by taking time to learn more about business; learn something about finance, sales and even communications. In this field, it helps a great deal to be interested and understand as much as you can of the firm’s business. Clients are not interested in cataloguing standards – they want quality service and help meeting their information needs. Many times the requests are challenging and can be difficult. My role is to provide the client with the materials they need to do their job. Delivering good results is the key to client satisfaction.

Finally, no matter where you are, you have to be curious and open to opportunities. In this field, you need to be prepared to wear a lot of hats. Roles evolve, new technologies emerge and it is vital to stay informed about changing trends. I wouldn’t trade this for the world – I find this profession to be fascinating!

Question: Can you comment on the role that the Special Libraries Association (SLA) has played in your career:

SLA, professional organizations and networking are very important. The experience and knowledge of others is invaluable at all stages of a career. In the early years of my career, I found that SLA was critical, to meeting others in the profession. Courses and meetings were a font of excellent information and insight. As time went on, and I became more experienced, I still valued the insight of others. Bouncing ideas off of others can be very helpful because working in a corporate setting you are usually the only person in the company doing the work that you do. The information specialists at Merrill Lynch who work in our offices around the world are important to us in that they support us in our reference work, providing information that we may not have available to us locally, and we have a forum to bounce ideas and strategies that we face in our business.

Contact: sonia UNDERSCORE solomon AT ml DOT com

-Interview conducted by Bruce Harpham