Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Professional Profile - Julia Brewster, Bennett Jones LLP

Julia Brewster is a recent graduate from the Faculty of Information. Julia completed her Masters of Information Studies in April of 2009. In her time at the Faculty, Julia focused on government documents, business and legal resources as well as database design and project management. Prior to attending the University of Toronto, Julia completed her undergraduate degree in International Development and Spanish.

Both before and while at the University of Toronto, Julia gained a wide range of work experiences both inside and outside the field of librarianship. Prior to coming to Toronto, Julia worked at the Vancouver Public Library as a library assistant throughout her undergraduate degree. While at the public library, she was responsible for answering references questions and shelving books.

Between her undergraduate and master degrees, Julia worked at Queen’s University. While completing her masters degree, Julia worked at Bora Laskin Law Library shelving books and answering inquires. Julia took advantage of the practicum program at the Faculty and completed a practicum project at Goodman’s LLP. This practicum project involved Julia turning the firm’s staff manual into wiki. Following this experience working within a law library environment, Julia spent her summer between first and second year working at Blake, Cassels & Graydon, LLP. At this firm, she worked as a reference librarian. Julia also completed a second practicum with Blake, Cassels & Graydon, LLP helping develop research guides.

Since graduation, Julia has taken a contract position as a law librarian at Bennett Jones LLP in Calgary. Julia’s current position is largely made up of reference work. On a daily basis Julia sits at a reference desk and answers reference questions both via email and in person. She monitors legislation for Alberta, Ontario and Canada on a weekly basis. She is also asked to focus on specific pieces of legislation for individual lawyers and monitor any amendments or regulations concerning these pieces of legislation. Julia also monitors case law for those wanting to know what progress is being made with a particular case.

When asked how her information training and background helped to prepare her for the job she currently has, Julia believes if she had not taken the legal librarianship, government documents or business resources courses she would not be nearly as competent in her current positions. These positions helped to gain a familiarity with databases as well as the jargon many of these fields use. Julia mentioned that the practicum project she completed at Blake, Cassels & Graydon, LLP helped to prepare for her current position at Bennett Jones LLP. She feels that without the experience gained via her practicum project, she would not have been able to make such a seamless transition into her current contract position, helping cover another employee’s maternity leave. Julia feels her previous position at Bora Laskin library helped expose her to wide range of different legal resources and the skills gained at Bora Laskin helped prepare her for her current position.

Julia had some extremely helpful advice for students currently completing their Masters of Information or Information Studies. She believes one of the most important things to do is to stay broad with the courses and job opportunities you select because this helps provide you with diverse experiences. Julia also strongly recommended taking as many practical courses as possible because it exposes you to many different resources. However don’t discount the theory courses but this is also valuable information. Julia emphasized the importance of technology skills because the information profession is a very technical one.

Julia mentioned that if you already know what field of librarianship you are interested in getting into make sure to take courses that focus on that particular field. She also recommended getting out and meeting people currently working in the field you are interested to see just what kind of jobs are out there. This shows how professionals currently working in the field got to where they are. Even ask these professionals which courses they think it would be wise to take for that particular field.

When it comes to applying for jobs, she recommended applying for any and all jobs that sound interesting because even if you think you’re unqualified, often employers are willing to train you. It really all depends on who is applying for the same position as you are. As far as gaining work experience while in school, Julia feels it is important to get as much work experience in a library setting as possible. She believes that students should not be closed to opportunities that come their way even if they are in a field they may not have thought they were interested in. Many professionals end up working in fields they never thought they would.

The one key factor Julia could not emphasize enough was the value of networking. Getting out there and asking questions is important. In her first year at the Faculty of Information, Julia was one of the Professional Development Co-Chairs which provided her a wonderful opportunity to network with professional associations. She said it is crucial to get out to professional association events, introduce yourself and network. In her second year Julia was the President of the Masters of Information Studies Student Council which she said was a valuable skill for her resume because it showed she was able to manage her time between both school and extracurricular activities.

When asked what helpful lessons she learned early on in her job search after graduation, Julia has some valuable advice. She recommended starting to look for jobs before school is over if you are hoping to be employed as soon as you graduate. Julia mentioned that often it takes a long time to hear back from potential employers but just be persistent and don’t give up. Send out several applications but make sure you are discerning about which position you take. You should be excited about the job and not just take it because you feel you have to. If you don’t feel the job sounds interesting in the interview, it probably is not the position for you.

Julia pointed out again that talking to and networking with people currently working in the industry is helpful. She also mentioned that if you are willing to relocate and be mobile then definitely look for jobs outside of one particular city. Your chances of finding a position may be better if you are willing to travel.

Julia made an interesting point in that often librarians are asked to take on several responsibilities within an organization. Librarians have to be willing to take on these responsibilities and be prepared to takes risks. This helps show organizations who may not see why librarians are necessary understand the valuable role they play. Be prepared to go above and beyond what you learned in school.

In the end, Julia really emphasized that it’s all about networking and being able to market yourself. Once you get your foot in the door, it becomes far easier to find other positions.

NOTE: Since completing this profile, Julia Brewster has accepted a new position working as the Career Librarian at the Calgary Public Library.