On Informational Interviews

I’m not one of those who is comfortable contacting strangers, or even second- or third-degree contacts, and asking for a bit of their time. In some ways, in certain situations, I find talking to people almost more daunting than making my way up a rock face in a harness (the last, second, and final time I went rock climbing was a disaster. I have a small fear of heights). Each one I conduct gets a little easier, however.

One of the prevailing pieces of wisdom often shared with information students and young information professionals, by our more experienced colleagues, is the value of informational interviews. What I want to share is my own experience – and how I propose to conduct my own informational interviews in the future.

Firstly, I always try in more formal conversational settings to mind my manners (no, they’re not out of style yet!) – sit up straight, don’t interrupt, don’t talk with my mouth full. The basics.

Secondly, I usually start with a short list of questions. It helps to do a bit of research to find out what the interviewee does, and about the company he/she works for, but often these generic questions (and others like them) will do for a start:

  1. What are your main responsibilities as …?
  2. What is a typical day for you?
  3. What are your favorite aspects of the job?
  4. What inspired you to work in this field/setting/environment/position?
  5. How did you get to be where you are now? What was your career trajectory?
  6. What trends and developments do you follow in the library world?
  7. What do you think is the future of academic/school/public/special libraries (or rare books, books, libraries in general, information professions, etc.)
  8. Do you have any advice for a new information professional/librarian?

Finally, I have found that sticking strictly to these questions, or any list I come up with, is often not necessary, since my curiosity about the interviewee will direct the conversation.

A few other things I want to remember before the next one:

  1. The golden rule: never ask for a job.
  2. Following the conversational lead of the interviewee is not a bad idea.
  3. Reveal what I’m comfortable revealing about myself, but the focus is truly on the interviewee’s experience and knowledge.
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My Interview as a New Information Professional

One of the best things about information, or library, school, was the amazing group of colleagues with whom I worked. I learned more from them than I think I did from any of my courses, which is saying quite a bit. I definitely appreciate the supportive network of which I’m now a part. And I know they feel the same way.

As an example, over at Libraries, Books, and Words, one of my colleagues has determined to show off her colleagues’ talents, passion for, and dedication to the field. She’s got a nifty series over there, which she calls “snapshots” of, well, us. And I’m so pleased to be a part of it. She’s published an interview with me about being a new information professional. It provides a little more insight into why I went to information school, and serves as a personal reminder for the advantages I gained in going back to school. These days, that’s not always a no-brainer. Watch out for repeats of the Puppets video and Rupert Giles!

See it here: Meet a New Information Professional!

Self-Reflection: What’s next?

So, with the big “What next?” question looming over my future, now that I’m sandwiched between grad school and employment, I’ve begun to seriously consider what subjects, topics, fields, areas, etc. I find most fascinating, interesting, and compelling. The unfortunate problem is that now that I’m seriously considering it, and applying for jobs, I keep coming up with more and different ideas of what I want to do!

In light of this dilemma, and of the fact that I need to know what I want to do so I know which jobs to apply for, I thought I’d use this space to work out what pieces of the library and information professions I want to contribute to and be a part of.

So here’s the list.

1. Originally, when I started applying to jobs back in February, I was just finishing or had finished my favorite course ever, (INF2162 Rare Books and Manuscripts), which brought to my attention how deeply I enjoy investigating historical artifacts. I got especially excited when we learned about provenance (no surprise here – I’ve always been into social history). This left me with a strong conviction that I was meant to be a rare books librarian.

Well, then I found out about the “second master’s degree” highly preferred requirement. And although I am willing to go back and do more schooling, my current situation declares: “Not possible.”

2. I finished school and started applying again, and this time I had recently completed a practicum in a corporate, science library and archives. Where I realized that I really enjoy working with software and programming and that sort of thing. And I remembered I want to save (read: preserve) historical, cultural artifacts, books, and information.

3. Recently, I have begun reading about preservation of analog and digital information, and articles that advocate for preservation. And I have discovered that this enjoyment in working with software, and this passion about preservation, has led to a definite interest in working with and preserving not just historical information, but contemporary information in varied, and digital, formats.

4. I have spent some years working in a museum environment, and although that particular situation was not a good fit for me, I did leave with an appreciation for historical artifacts, but also for educational programming and the curation of exhibits. I like the idea of curating information in order to provide people with the means to make meaning out of the information – both the meaning intended in the curation, and meanings that are particular to the individual.

So this leaves me with: rare books, outreach, musuems, digital preservation, preservation and conservation, and basic information services/digital collections development. The list is long, but the silver lining is that I keep finding job openings that interest me.

Gordon Cressy Student Leadership Awards Ceremony: Highlights

1. Seeing my friends and colleagues from the Hart House Board of Stewards and Faculty of Information receive their awards.

2. Listening to the citations of 182 people who are already saving the world.

3. Listening to Gordon Cressy’s inspiring advice to the award recipients: to wake up every morning with a positive attitude, to build, build, build and maintain relationships, and to dream big.

4. Hearing the T.E. Lawrence quote, which is my new favorite: “All men [and women] dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but dreamers of the day are dangerous men [and women], for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible” (remembered with a little help from Wikiquote).

5. Mingling at the reception.

6. Receiving my award, of course!

My Work-Student-Life Balance

I don’t have much of a social life, and most of my time is spent on work or assignments, but I do strongly believe in a balanced life.  My concentration is not of such caliber that I can become entirely focused on work, to the exclusion of all else. More importantly, I think an imbalance in life leads to misery.

I have done quite a bit of describing my responsibilities, in volunteering, work, and grad school, but aside from a few casual hints, I have never really brought up what I do to stay sane (definition of “sane” being relative, of course).

Some of my favorite “balancing” activities:

1. Soccer – I tried out for the intramural soccer team this year, and made it onto the Division 1 team! The season is short, only five games and a tournament, but even so, it has provided me with invaluable experiences and relaxation. For the time it takes me to get to, play, and get home from soccer games, I have a commitment, that has nothing to do with school or work. I can put away the guilt, the worries, the stress, for those two hours every week, and just enjoy playing. Not only that, but there is so much literature out there in the world about the beneficial mental side effects of physical exercise. I believe it.

3. Reading – This is something nothing will ever take away from me. I read like I am addicted to it. Although I have less time for reading now than I did as a child (surprise!), I still spend some time every day reading for pleasure. You might ask, why do I read for pleasure when I do so much reading for school and work? I don’t have a concrete answer for that, except to say that it is different.

4. Dinner with friends – This doesn’t happen as often as I would wish it to, but the dinners my good friend and amazing cook makes for me, and the conversations we have over the food and after, are some of the best evenings I have had since I started grad school in a new city.

5. Swimming – Challenging as it is, the half hour I spend in the pool with two of my good friends is one of the most relaxing half hours of the week. Not quite a commitment, the benefit comes from the exercise, the endorphins, the chats in the locker room, and somehow, the pool itself.

6. Exploring – Again, I don’t get to this as often as I would like. Having been in Toronto for just over a year, I want to get to know it as well as I can. All the different neighborhoods and cultures, the festivals, the coffee shops…

7. Cleaning – Still doesn’t qualify as relaxing, but it makes a positive difference in my ability to focus at home, when I do it regularly.

What do you do to balance work and fun/relaxation?