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Freshly Minted: Elizabeth Nash

Freshly Minted: Elizabeth Nash

November 21, 2017

Librarian, Statistics Canada

Who are you and what do you do?

My name is Elizabeth Nash, and I work as a librarian at the Statistics Canada Library.

My primary responsibility is conducting research to support program and service areas. This means I help Statistics Canada employees with their research needs. For example, I search databases, journals, and catalogues to help connect clients with reliable and relevant information sources. My research topics vary, so every day is an exciting opportunity to learn something new.

I also often work with the historic censuses. Need to know the population of a small rural town in 1851? I can help with that!

What was it that initially drove you to librarianship?

In high school I loved taking classes related to the arts and the humanities, but I was reluctant to do liberal arts in university. I was foolish enough to listen to people who told me I would never be successful if I didn’t study something related to the STEM fields. At one point, I told my parents I should take chemistry classes so that I could study science in university. My parents told me that if I studied science, they wouldn’t support me! I was incredibly lucky to have parents who knew what I actually wanted to do. Of course, many librarians have STEM undergraduate degrees, but my parents knew my passion was for the arts.

I graduated from Western University with a degree in English and French, and I knew I wanted to go to graduate school. I chose McGill’s Information Studies program because it was interdisciplinary and offered courses in a variety of subjects. I loved the library courses, and after my first year I signed up for the government’s Federal Student Work Experience Program (FSWEP). My summer job was in the Library and Knowledge Centre at Innovation, Science, and Economic Development Canada. I absolutely loved the job, and I knew that being a federal research librarian was what I wanted to do.

Where did you complete your MLIS? When did you start your first professional librarian position? How long did the job search take and how did you prepare yourself for it?

I graduated from McGill with a Masters in Information Studies in April 2017, and I started working at my current position a month later. All in all, my job search went incredibly smoothly! I started looking for positions in January, although I found it hard to balance looking for jobs and going to school at the same time. I mainly used LinkedIn, I Need a Library Job, and The Partnership Job Board.

I knew that if I was applying online, I would be competing against hundreds of other applicants. I realized that I needed to network, so I wrote down a list of people who might be able to give me guidance and advice for the job search. This list included everyone from my professors to former colleagues to my family. Ultimately, reaching out to my former boss alerted me to the opportunity at Statistics Canada.

How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?

I started my job search by being honest with myself about what types of jobs I wanted. I asked myself questions like:

  • Am I willing to move to another country for a job?
  • What type of library do I want to work in?
  • What city is best for me?

I quickly found that the sheer number of required documents for each job could be overwhelming. To help organize the search, I created a folder on my computer which was sub-divided into other folders for each position. I made sure to note when I had applied for a job, and when I heard back (whether it was for an interview or a rejection).

My biggest piece of advice would be to copy any online job postings into a Word document, and save it on your computer. A few times I had applied to a position and was called in for an interview… but when I went to look for the job description, it had been taken down!

The most challenging aspect of the job search was keeping calm. Even when I was still in school, I was scared I would never get a job. To support my mental health, I made sure to take time to meet with friends and to not let the job search consume my life.

Is your work as a professional what you expected and prepared yourself for while you were in the MLIS program? Otherwise, what would you have done differently if you knew?

My courses and my professional work fortunately match very well. A strength of McGill’s School of Information Studies was that we could take courses in diverse areas, such as librarianship, knowledge management, information technology, and archives. The variety of these courses gave me comfort in many different fields.

If I could hop in a time machine, I would tell my past self to volunteer more. I was highly involved in student government during both my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, but I wish I had done more volunteering in libraries.

Any advice for the many MLIS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional position?

If you’re interested in working in the government, and if you’re returning to school full-time in the next academic term, apply for FSWEP! It’s a great program that helps students gain experience and get into the public service. I wish more people knew about it!

I also encourage students to get involved in some way, whether that’s volunteering at a local library or joining student associations. At the end of the day, a degree is a few lines on your resume, while your experience is what will make you shine.

What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?

I think that being able to verify the accuracy of information is today’s most pertinent challenge. In the age of fake news, we’re being inundated with incorrect information, and this is re-shaping how we interact with news, politics, and entertainment. With our research and analytical skills, I think librarians are poised to be the experts in verifying accurate sources.

Another important aspect of being an information professional is being self-promotional. Tracking usage statistics and telling success stories is an integral part of our jobs in order to enhance support and demonstrate value. Tooting your own horn can be an asset!

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