Monday, January 10, 2011

Professional Profile: News Librarianship Special!

Have you ever thought about applying your skills acquired at the iSchool in a position in the media or journalism? If so, news librarianship might be a career you should consider! 

The first Professional Profile of 2011 is a special one, bringing to you the advice of three news librarians currently working at top Toronto papers. They have shared insights into their daily tasks and responsibilities, as well as tips on how to secure a career that appeals to you - whether it be in news librarianship or another special library role.

Professional Profile: 
Ceclia Donnelly and Stephanie Chambers 
Celia Donnelly (front) and Stephanie Chambers
Photo Credit: Paula Wilson

I recently had the pleasure of visiting the Globe and Mail newsroom to talk with two of the paper’s news librarians, Celia Donnelly and Stephanie Chambers. This trip was both exciting and informative: it was fascinating to speak with these two interesting information professionals, and I was also able to catch a glimpse of the compelling Globe and Mail environment and learn a great deal more about news librarianship. 

Celia is the manager of the library at the Globe and Mail who, in the past few years, has worked diligently to raise the profile of the library in the newsroom. Unfortunately for all aspiring news librarians, when budgets are tight, librarian positions are some of the first to be cut in any newsroom, making such jobs hard to come by. Yet, Celia has committed herself to raising the profile of the librarians at the Globe and Mail, in an attempt to prove their roles as indispensable to the organization and balanced reporting. Proving that Google is only the first step in any search, Celia and Stephanie often scour property and mortgage records; lien and outstanding loan reports; automobile histories; bankruptcy files; personal blogs; Facebook; Twitter; Stats Can data; and any other source of information they can get their hands on that will give them a clue or a lead into a story. They liken their occupation to detective work; which they say makes it exciting, but often times challenging. Usually, they are expected to produce results within a very short time, as journalists often work with very short deadlines. Moreover, they are expected to respect ethical practices for both finding and disseminating information. 

However, Celia and Stephanie have taken many steps to minimize their daily stress levels and streamline their work. For instance, they maintain an Intranet with quick links to all the commercial databases they make use of, as well as ongoing research on current events and major public figures, in case this information is needed at a moment’s notice. They also maintain an editorial history and Excel charts chronicling the causalities in Afghanistan, for example. There is even a checklist of the steps to take when researching, which is always helpful in a rush. Additionally, Stephanie and Celia take the time to pass on their research expertise to the journalists, so that they may maximize their own searches and bring only the really challenging questions to the research department. 

Celia was inspired to go to library school after her older sister completed the program. Celia had already obtained a Bachelor of Arts in Canadian history and literature, and was very interested in library work, but decided to first try her hand at it before committing to her master’s. Thus, after graduating from her undergraduate program, she found a job in a chemical library, where she worked for three years before enrolling in the library science master’s program at McGill University. From her previous experience, Celia knew that she preferred special library work, and thus kept this as her focus throughout her education. After graduation, she got a job at the library of Sun Life Financial; she secured a management position right away and worked here for two and a half years. She then moved on to the library at CN Railway before spotting an advertisement for a position at the Globe and Mail library. Celia was interested in this position and felt that she would be a great fit, given her background in Canadian studies, as well as her business and financial experience. She secured the job, and has remained in the position ever since; moving into an assistant management position after five years time, to eventually become manager of the department. 

Unlike Celia, who focused on library work straight out of her undergraduate degree, Stephanie spent a few years working in the copyright field before becoming interested in the library profession. While she enjoyed working in copyright, she felt she was ready for a change and realized that library work would be a good fit for her. Stephanie had a friend who worked at the Globe and Mail, who encouraged Stephanie in her career change and put her in touch with Celia. This connection boded well for Stephanie; Celia became a mentor for Stephanie, giving her advice about the LIS program and about careers. Celia also served as a great network for Stephanie, letting her know about a summer position that became available at the Globe. This position gave Stephanie a foot in the door; after graduating with her degree in LIS from the University of Toronto, she obtained part time work at the Globe and Mail library, which eventually evolved into full time employment. 

Both women agreed that their education was immensely helpful in preparing them for their current work; although they suggested that the practical courses better prepared them for their jobs than the theoretical courses. Nevertheless, both Stephanie and Celia agreed that most of what they learned in school has become useful in some capacity or another, be it reference knowledge or cataloguing experience. Their advice to current students, however, is to focus on the practical courses, such as government documents and reference. It is these courses that best prepare you for life on the job, they maintained. Moreover, both women were involved with professional associations while in school; Celia was — and still is — a member of the Special Library Association, while Stephanie volunteered her time with Knowledge Ontario. 

As for final pieces of advice, Celia and Stephanie suggested that current students should try to find a mentor in some capacity, be it a professor or a professional. Such a relationship is beneficial when students are looking for work. However, they also suggested that students should always be willing to learn and grow, even if this means starting at the very bottom of the career ladder. Never think that anything is beneath you, and always be willing to work hard and be an engaged, proactive learner and employee. Particularly for those students interested in news librarianship, Celia and Stephanie maintained that one must be a people person, as well as a team player; have “nerves of steel” and a tolerance for stressful environments; be a good multi-tasker, and be adept at switching from one task to the next at a moment’s notice. Furthermore, an aspiring news librarian should be up on current events, have a wide range of knowledge, and of course, a sense of humor. While Celia and Stephanie agreed that there are very few news librarianship jobs out there, they noted the reason is because it is a fulfilling profession, so people don’t want to leave! Thus, as much as obtaining a news librarian job is about skill, it is also about serendipity in timing. 

Professional Profile: Astrid Lange 

Astrid Lange is a news librarian at the Toronto Star, where she has worked full time since 2000. Astrid’s daily tasks include conducting research and providing reference to the newsroom; maintaining a collection of books and magazines, as well as maintaining the Intranet, which consists of web resources that journalists make use of on a daily basis; and archiving the newspaper feed — the raw data newspaper that has to be cleaned up and sent off to various databases. As well, Astrid often prepares the old newspapers for microfilm, which is bought by libraries across the United States and Canada. Astrid is also involved in training new members of the newsroom, whether they are new hires or summer students; she gives them a crash course in journalism research, teaching them which resources to use and how to use them. 

Astrid did not always know she wanted to be a news librarian, but rather came to her present career through trial and error. She went to the University of Toronto, where she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in International Relations. She stayed at the University of Toronto to pursue a Master’s degree in History, specializing in American history. After this degree, Astrid went into the workforce, where she began what would be a series of various research roles. She first worked for a television program on CBC Newsworld called Face Off. After this position, Astrid contemplated going back to school, and thought that law school would be a good choice for her. Before enrolling, however, she spent a year as a legal intern. It was here that a legal librarian noticed her penchant for research and suggested she look into a degree in library and information science. Astrid took this advice applied to library school. She then took on a few other research positions; specifically conducting prospect research for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and entertainment research at CTV. 

Astrid (second from right) with her colleagues on "Desk Set Day"

While at school, Astrid had the foresight to scour summer positions she felt she had a serious interest in; and even if the company had not put out an advertisement, Astrid nonetheless sent her resume in. This lead to a summer position at the Toronto Star, which continued as part time work throughout the last year of her degree. After she graduated, she stayed on at the Toronto Star working part time. While she really loved this position, she was aware that she needed full time work, and thus applied for various positions that interested her. However, Astrid exercised a great deal of patience and perseverance in this job search, and chose to pass up on several job opportunities that she didn’t find herself too interested in. This patience paid off, as eventually a full time position opened up at the Toronto Star library, and Astrid was hired on. 

Astrid credited her time at library school to introducing her to a wide range of professional associations, such as the Special Library Association, and the Canadian Library Association and their Special Library division (CASLIS); she is still actively involved in both the SLA and CASLIS. It is through these associations that Astrid was able to build up a network, which helped her a great deal when she was a new professional. Moreover, Astrid noted that many of the courses offered to her during her LIS education were extremely helpful in preparing her for her current work. Courses such as online research, legal librarianship, and government documents were essential in giving Astrid a broad education, and molding her into a “jack of all trades”; which she noted is a beneficial characteristic for a news librarian to have. She suggested that current students should take advantage of courses in web design or basic HTML and databases, as these prepare you for any work environment and give you a basic understanding of information technology; which is helpful for not only news librarianship, but nearly every other library profession. Astrid suggested that all students should take a variety of courses to prepare them for a variety of roles — even if you hope to obtain a specific job, you may not be get it right away. Thus, it is beneficial to be prepared for whatever may come your way. 

Other pieces of advice offered by Astrid included the suggestion for current students to get involved with professional associations. As Astrid pointed out, this involvement helps one to start building a network of current, working professionals who may be able to help you in your job hunt. Such a network is also beneficial in making one aware of the variety of opportunities that are available to people with a library education. Moreover, Astrid suggested that students shouldn’t limit themselves to job postings. If you have an idea of where you might like to work or a position you would like to find, conduct some research and make some cold calls. Like Astrid, don’t wait for the job posting; you never know where a cold call might get you!