Friday, December 11, 2009

Professional Profile: Amra Porobic - Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC)

I recently met with Amra Porobic, the Manager of Library Services at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) to discuss her position, her career path, and her role as a solo librarian. Amra is also the chair of the SLA Toronto Chapter Solo Group. The discussion we had highlighted several interesting and important points about challenges faced by solo librarians, the ways Amra’s SLA membership has contributed to her job and skill set, as well as her beliefs about information needs in the future. The Insurance Bureau is a national trade association serving insurance companies who sell car, home and business insurance, and Amra operates out of its Kennedy/Martin Library. She also works at a branch office of the IBC library one day a week.

In her current position, Amra serves a very diverse client base. Her in-house clients are lawyers, economists, policy-makers, public relations officers, statisticians, investigators, and vehicle engineers. Outside clients include brokers, adjusters, law firms, consultants, government officials, students, libraries, and the public in general. As a solo librarian, she performs collection development and maintenance, reference and research, legislation and media monitoring, web content development, and staff training. Amra finds that her position as a solo librarian provides her with freedom in the workplace, from prioritizing tasks, to proposing and trying new approaches within her library and organization. As such, she is currently developing a framework for the strategic advancement of the IBC library and is advocating for a change in areas such as electronic records management and enterprise content management.
Amra did her Master’s degree in Library Science at the University of Sarajevo over twenty years ago. She was a part of the first generation of students in that university’s program. Prior to this, having post-graduate degree in librarianship was unheard of. Her B.A. was in comparative literature and librarianship. Before the establishment of the Master’s program, Amra’s 4-year B.A. earned her the title of librarian, and she began working following its completion.

Amra has a rich and diverse work background. She began with an entry-level contract job at a public library, then moved on to a research institute library, a national and university library, a hospital library, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (as an information officer). She immigrated to Canada in 1994, joined a co-op program, and gained her first Canadian experience while volunteering at the Ministry of Community and Social Services Library. Her first paid job was with the Library Service Bureau, an agency that sent its staff to about 50 law firms around GTA to maintain their non-staffed libraries. For 6 months, she worked two other jobs beside LSB (one with Princes Margaret Hospital Library and the other was an indexing job worked from home, for the Canadian Periodical Index with Gale Canada). When she joined the IBC in 1998, she continued indexing for Gale for a while.

Amra believes that membership and participation in an association like the SLA was crucial in her career. Two of her jobs were actually the result of networking at SLA events. She is also a member of the Insurance and Employee Benefits Division, TALL, CASLIS, and AIIM. Amra uses the SLA website resources for planning group meeting, for her own continuous professional development, and to educate her organization on web 2.0 tools and information management risks.

It can be difficult to volunteer time for the association as a solo librarian, but, in Amra’s experience, volunteering will make one try things they otherwise wouldn’t dare; it can be very rewarding and make one’s job more fun. Solos in general have a great desire to meet and share ideas, but a lack of time can make things difficult. Amra tries to counter this by responding to their needs and offering events with interesting topics.

Amra believes that the learning she has undertaken since completing her Masters degree has helped keep her skills sharp and up-to-date. Services such as webinars, Click University programs, and the Professional Learning Centre’s courses have been helpful in this, although finding time for them was a challenge. Amra has been diligent in encouraging her fellow solo librarians to explore the SLA resources. In order to maximize resources and save time, she invited members of the Solos Group to pick a webinar of their choice and report back to the group. Amra in particular has found courses in electronic records and content management, records retention, and taxonomy useful in her work. She also subscribes to numerous listservs and follows the blogs and tweets of “gurus” in the library field, finding it to be a quick and easy way to keep abreast of new trends and ideas.

Amra has a wealth of advice for students and new professionals, particularly as a solo practitioner. For new information professionals, a solo position can be intimidating. The employee will be expected to be proficient in all library practices, as well as in conducting needs’ assessments, news monitoring, database searching, and e-records and content management. However, this method of learning through trial by fire can suit dynamic and flexible graduates. She finds that several skills are necessary for a position at any stage of one’s career. Time management is fundamental for solos, with the ability to prioritize and plan the daily tasks essential to serving the organization’s many needs. She also finds several non-library tasks to be a very exciting part of her job. She has studied tools such as RSS feeds and Wikis and then helped other staff grasp the concept in order to be able to use it at work. She follows discussions on Facebook and LinkedIn and provides quick summaries for relevant staff members to show them how to benefit from relevant social media, as well as which pitfalls to avoid.

Amra believes that enterprise content management is emerging as an important issue for many organizations, and that the skills which underlie it will be important for students and new professionals to develop. With business information now created and stored electronically, an ability to manage this content, as well as to develop and implement a taxonomy, will be crucial for new professionals. As these enterprise content management endeavours tend to be large undertakings, involving the input of many departments, knowledge of project management practices is another recommended skill. In addition, knowledge of legal research and resources is important in this area, and for many other tasks, particularly in regards to the Sedona principles and e-discovery rules. Amra also cannot stress enough the importance of people skills in all work settings. Being able to read the culture and social atmosphere of your work environment, and adjust your personal communication style to suit that environment, is crucial to one’s progress and to that of the library.

My interview with Amra revealed much about the challenges, and also the opportunities, that face a solo information professional within an organization. The role of her SLA membership during her career, in both keeping a connection to the library field and providing opportunities for collaboration and skill development, speaks to the ability of the association to allow information professionals to improve their skills and their role in their organization. The tips and strategies Amra uses to update her skills, collaborate with her peers, and increase her relevance within her organization are important to all information professionals, whether they operate as a solo or not.