13 Questions With: Mark Black
November 6, 2017
Manager, Library and Archives, Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity
Who inspires you in your career?
This could be a very long list. I’ve been lucky to learn from a lot of librarians and library staff – Faye MacDougall, Ian MacIntosh, Therese MacDonald, and the staff at Cape Breton Regional Library were all instrumental early on in instilling in me the importance of libraries to a communities, Kristina Parlee, Matthew McCarthy, Julia Stewart, Ken Williment, and Janice Fiander gave mentorship, advice, and encouragement and continue to be great examples of the possibilities of librarianship, and Lindell Smith, Marcus James, and Sherri Butcher at Halifax North taught me more about working with a community than I ever thought possible. Oh and of course Storytime Underground!
TL;DR: Everyone at every level has moved me or informed me in some way. Thank you.
The first job you ever held and at what age and your first position in the library and/or information services field?
My first job was working at Rita’s Tearoom as a dishwasher in Big Pond, Cape Breton. If you ever want to fully appreciate the beauty of Rita MacNeil’s musical catalogue I suggest spending 40+ hours a week washing dishes in a kitchen with potent chemicals stinging your eyes. I worked there for two and a half years and never met Rita. I suspect that it was all an elaborate revenge scheme me for whining and complainging audibly during her EXPO 86 performance in Vancouver.
My first library position was as an after school library assistant at the McConnell Library in Sydney, Cape Breton during my last year of high school. It is still my favourite library. I would be a much different person if it wasn’t for the library and its staff.
Why a career in librarianship?
Because I can’t think of a good reason not to. Healthy or not, librarianship probably consumes most of my waking hours. In Say Anything, John Cusack says, “I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career” “I am looking for a dare to be great situation”, he’s describing being a librarian. Or that’s what I thought when I first saw that movie and it resonated with me. Punk was (and still is) a big part of my life and working at an institution that served everyone the same and operated as a leveler in terms of access to resources and knowledge creation seemed like the most punk thing I could do. Also the movie Party Girl.
Coolest thing in your cubicle or office?
A Randy Johnson bobblehead replete with glorious mullet. He’s in a Montreal Expos uniform. Oh, what could have been!
What is your guilty pleasure?
Having been raised Catholic, every pleasure feels like a guilty one. But I guess watching Big Brother is a bit of guilty pleasure. I actually can’t believe Kevin didn’t win America’s House Guest. Duuuumb.
Career advice – what’s your top tip?
I’ve had some great advice and have ignored a lot of it. But the three best pieces that I go back to often are:
“Ask yourself, is there blood?” – before reacting, know how serious things are (thank you Janice Fiander).
“A manager is only as good as their staff” – this is so true especially at the library. Never forget how crucial frontline staff are to the work of the library. Their knowledge and expertise is what keeps people coming to the library (thank you Patrick Lawless).
“You can’t turn down a job you haven’t applied for” – don’t talk yourself out of an opportunity. You can always turn it down when you get the offer, but make sure you’ve put yourself in the position to make that decision. (thank you Ken Williment).
What useless skill(s) do you possess?
If you need someone to rap all the lyrics from the movie CB4, I guess I would be your person.
Proudest moment in your professional life?
The moment I got the call from Ken Williment at Sackville Public Library asking me if I wanted to be their new youth services librarian. I started the day after I graduated.
If you had 24 hours all to yourself, how would you best like to spend it
Get out of town. Find some great pho. Go record shopping. Pet a dog. Have a pint somewhere, crack some jokes, and watch a baseball game.
If you didn’t work in the information industry, what would you be doing?
Struggling? Probably working in television as a production or script coordinator and fielding lots of complaints about the craft services table.
Finish this sentence: “In high school, I would have been voted the person most likely to … “
“…stay up all night worrying whether I was liked or not.”
How do you stay current in your field?
I am lucky to have a great network of colleagues who I can bounce ideas off of and who blow my mind on a routine basis with their smarts, approach to librarianship, and their candour. Basically I have made friends with librarians who are all far more talented and intelligent than I and I am reaping the benefits of those friendships.
Aside from that: Storytime Underground, In the Library with the Lead Pipe, Library Journal, the writing of David Lankes, twitter, Quill and Quire, conferences, seminars – listening, reading, and talking. I am trying to do a lot more of the first two and a little less of the latter.
What would you like your headstone to read?
Jack Lemmon’s tombstone reads “in”, I can’t top that, but maybe something like “checked out” or “due date: n/a”.