by Kimberly Silk, Toronto Chapter, Business & Finance, Academic, Leadership & Management Divisions
I graduated from what is now known as the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto in 1998, and since that time I have been mentored by many successful people, both within the information profession, and outside of it. Some of these mentors did not know they influenced me, but many of them did, and do, and I owe much of my own success to their wisdom, kindness and generosity.
Very early on in my information career, even while in graduate school, I was sure that I would not become a conventional librarian. Though I love libraries and am inspired by the knowledge they hold, I’ve always known I would not succeed in that workplace. Thanks to several wonderful professors and practitioners, I became aware of a wide variety of environments where information professionals could pursue their passions. These places were not libraries, or even information centres. But, they all employed information professionals, and those info pros were pivotal to the organization’s success.
Over the past ten years I’ve been asked to speak as someone who has pursued an “alternative” library career. I really enjoy talking about my career (who doesn’t??) but I’m surprised at how often I’m still asked. It seems to me that our profession should be evolving more quickly. I am concerned that my career path is still considered “alternative”. Here we are more than a decade into the 21st century, where conventional library jobs continue to disappear, and at the same time the information profession is changing so quickly we struggle to define it. How can it be that my choice to not work in a conventional library is still unusual?
I am not alone in my confusion. You need to look no further than the struggles of our very own SLA to see that we’re all trying to figure out who we are, and what we want to be when we grow up. As president of the Faculty of Information Alumni Association, I talk with many students and new graduates, and it’s clear they’re nervous about the future. Of course feeling nervous as you enter a new profession is normal; still, I believe it’s our responsibility as practitioners to help new information professionals feel more confident in themselves, and optimistic about our profession.
Practitioners have a lot to offer new info pros: experience, knowledge, passion, and positive anticipation of the future. Many of us are being the change we want to see in our world. We are forging new paths, redefining our profession and weathering the bumpy road as we go. We run up against obstacles such as the squelchers who fear change, even though change is necessary, because the alternative is unthinkable. The world is changing quickly – we know we must evolve or die.
I believe we need to take personal responsibility for the future of our profession. We cannot do much about the squelchers, and it may be best to ignore them. Our energy is much better spent focusing on the future, and the future lies in the hearts and minds of the new information professionals. All of us can be active change agents through mentoring. Those of us who consider ourselves leaders can make an even bigger impact by mentoring our new colleagues – by talking with them about the exciting changes our profession is going through, the amazing opportunities opening up to us, and the adrenaline rush of achieving new firsts. I’m paying it forward through mentorship, and encourage you to, too. The most effective way to change the world is to make a positive contribution to the future, and for us, the future is the new information professional.
Kimberly Silk is the Data Librarian at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think tank at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. She is also President of the Faculty of Information Alumni Association, and Technology Director for the Toronto Chapter of SLA. While she lovingly embraces the librarian moniker, her current job is the first that has ever held that title. Kim loves what she does, and likes to infect others with her enthusiasm. You can read her blog at www.KimberlySilk.com and email her at email@example.com.