Freshly Minted: Kaya Fraser
January 4, 2016
MLIS Student, iSchool @ UBC: School of Library, Archival and Information Studies, The University of British Columbia
Which information studies program are you attending?
I am attending the School of Library and Information Studies at UBC. I am midway through my first year of an MLIS degree; I aim to graduate in early 2017.
What are your current classes like? Which is your favorite so far, and why?
I am between semesters at the moment, having just finished up my first term. At SLAIS, all students take a set of “core” courses in their first term, which deal with some of the foundational concepts of information studies and major issues in the field. We also took a course in research methods. I enjoyed all of them, but I think my favourite was the course on Human-Information Interaction, taught by Dr. Heather O’Brien. To be honest, I had no idea what to expect from that course, but I enjoyed the high-level thinking it asked me to do about how and why people access information. Our project for the course also involved doing some in-depth reference work for a real-life information client, and I enjoy that kind of challenge. I’m excited to start my next term, which will involve three courses on youth services/literature, as well as a course on the instructional role of the librarian.
Is there one aspect of the profession that surprises you that you were not expecting when you started the program? What is it?
I think I was most surprised by the number of people in my program who don’t actually plan to be librarians!
SLAIS is truly part of the iSchool movement, and the course so far reflects an orientation more toward information studies than toward librarianship as such. This being the case, there are lots of students who want to go into information-related fields other than librarianship. I’m still early on in my degree, so I might find that I deal with more library-specific material in the coming semesters. But of course, librarianship is an information profession, and I can already see how what we’re learning connects to the type of work I would like to do in libraries.
What was it that initially drove you to librarianship?
My first real job was in a library: I worked as a page in the Children’s Department at Westmount Public Library in Montreal. I loved that job and the ones I held subsequently, too, as I progressed through the ranks there. I left WPL in 2003 to go on my first excursion in grad school, studying English Literature at Western University in London, Ontario. I earned an MA and began a PhD there, but ended up abandoning my PhD after four years, deciding that an academic career was not really what I wanted. I am also a singer-songwriter, and at that point I was also putting considerable time into that pursuit–another reason why I felt I needed to let the PhD go. After that, I moved to the west coast and returned to library work at the Greater Victoria Public Library. I’ve greatly enjoyed my time at GVPL (I still work there on an auxiliary basis); I’ve had lots of opportunities to try different positions and learn many skills. I had been holding off on the decision to go back to school because, frankly, I’d already done quite a lot of it! But in 2015 I finally decided that, since I love working in libraries and it’s where most of my working experience lies, I would like to learn more about the field and open up advancement opportunities for myself. I love helping people, finding things out, teaching, and creating things. I also love culture–books and art and all the artifacts that other people, past and present, have created. Librarianship seems like a career that lets me work (and play) in all these areas, and use many of my skills and strengths.
If you could work anywhere, and do anything with information, what would your dream job look like?
At this point, I see so many interesting opportunities that I’m hesitant to pick just one “dream job”! I came into the MLIS pretty intent on youth librarianship in a public library, which is still something I would love to do. However, I have an open mind about what I might want to do next. I’d really enjoy bringing my musical skills to bear in my work somehow, and I could imagine that happening in a children’s-services setting, for example. But I would also enjoy working in a music library, or in an academic setting where I could use my years of training in the humanities. I am inclined to keep my options open and see what opportunities are available when I’m finished my degree–especially considering the way the field has been changing so fundamentally in the past few years. I’m excited for what the future might hold.
If someone were considering going to library school, what would you advise them about?
I would say that if librarianship is your reason for pursuing an MLIS, try to get some work experience in a library first. I am finding that my 10+ years of experience “on the ground” has really helped me contextualize the abstract concepts I’ve had to grapple with in library school. It’s also given me a taste of what the work might actually be like afterwards. (Spoiler alert: it’s NOT about sitting around all day in hushed, dusty sanctuary, reading books!) Talk to as many professionals as you can to find out what their work is like and how they got there. Also, be prepared to adjust your expectations about getting a job right out of the gate: you need to collect your skills and experience, see how they might work in a variety of professional settings, and get ready to make a case for yourself. The good news is that there are lots of new kinds of opportunities for MLIS-holders–but you might have to broaden your horizons and do the work of explaining why you are a good fit. And also, it seems very important to take the initiative in learning new skills and embarking on projects, both inside and outside the walls of your library school, that might set you apart on the job market.
What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?
There is so much at stake right now in the way information functions in our global culture. Information is a currency of power, pure and simple–almost as much so as money is–and power affects and shapes people’s lived experience. I think the vast majority of people don’t fully grasp the importance of information, or its corollary issues, such as privacy, access and freedom of expression. When you work in a public service setting, any time you can help one person gain a little bit more information literacy, you have done something very good and meaningful. It could be helping a child learn how to read, or helping a senior understand how to access an online service, or helping a new Canadian fill out a government form. It could be just providing a humane space where someone can go when they don’t have any money to spend. These are all radical and humanitarian acts, no matter how small-scale they might seem. They can change lives. It’s important not to lose sight of that.