Freshly Minted: Robyn Cameron
July 30, 2017
Master of Information Candidate, Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
Which information studies program are you attending?
I’m a second year Masters of Information student at the University of Toronto’s iSchool, studying User Experience Design and Knowledge and Information Management.
What are your current classes like? Which is your favorite so far, and why?
Amazing. Being in a professional program is completely unlike a research master’s degree, and I love diving into the issues and getting into prototyping and testing ideas. I never used to think of myself as a technically inclined person, but looking back over my first year, the classes that got me the most interested were information architecture, human-centric design, and user interface design. The two workshops I chose in first year were standouts – competitive intelligence and UX in board game design. The board game my team built, “Short Turn! The Toronto Transit Game,” is so much fun that I still bring it out at parties. The next class I’m looking forward to is called critical making and physical computing. I can’t wait to tackle something completely different, and make something cool with my amazing colleagues.
Is there one aspect of the profession that surprises you that you were not expecting when you started the program? What is it?
The complexity and multifaceted nature of information studies is what surprised me the most. It’s so easy to look at a program and think, “Librarian? That’s not me!” Information studies is far more complex than a lot of outsiders and new students think. The focus on service and on the users of information services is what keeps me motivated. People depend on our expertise to connect them to what really matters, in every aspect of information services. The wealth of contexts in which that service takes place is what consistently surprises and inspires me. Looking back on my interests over the years, I can see that this drive to achieve excellence through building resilient processes has always been with me, and it was the iSchool that gave me the words to describe this drive.
What was it that initially drove you to librarianship?
Initially, I thought I would be joining the archives stream. It fits in with my background as a historian (I have a previous MA in history) and I had never even heard of user experience design, or information management. I’d been working at a small company for a few years, getting my hands on everything from managing the website, dealing with our paper and electronic documents, to leading tours, research and creative writing. The company was a tenant at the Centre for Social Innovation, a small business incubator, and I got to see other people who were incredibly passionate about the core of their business, but were drowning in administrative work. I felt strongly that I wanted to be the one who set up platforms and created simple administrative processes for other people to use. Atul Gawande’s book The Checklist Manifesto has always been a favourite read because I loved how he got to the heart of organizational complexity by breaking it down into steps, and described the difficult design work that has to go into building a tool that can be used simply.
At the iSchool orientation, the head of the new UXD concentration gave a 30 second introduction and it just clicked that UX was exactly what I had been trying to get at. Learning about design gave the vocabulary to express what I’d seen, and the tools to help me help others. It’s been tremendously empowering, and I’m so grateful for the professors, other students and work mentors who have helped me see past my initial narrow conception of what information services can be.
If you could work anywhere, and do anything with information, what would your dream job look like?
My number one desire for work is to have the ability to look at problems holistically, and to be able to completely re-evaluate systems. Right now I’m working for Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, and the mandate of our organization really speaks to me. My dream project would be to do a user study of a refugee’s journey of applying to come to Canada, and to make the system work for them. Another dream project, which is kind of hazy, has to do with creating welcoming entry points to digital literacy. Computers and information services don’t need to be terrifying and monolithic, and I would love to help people discover the ways that they can participate in the digital world.
Other than that, my dream job would have lots of Instagramable moments, and I’d get to have a giant jar of post-it notes and a graphics tablet for sketching out ideas. My ideal workspace would have a big table where I could put all my projects, books, various computer bits and tools. Most of all, I would like time to take courses and workshops to learn new things.
If someone were considering going to library school, what would you advise them about?
If it sounds interesting to you, go for it! Loving the work is essential, everything else can be learned. Start with thinking about your goals early, and keep in mind that they might change. Where do you want to be? How do you like to work? What have you done so far that will propel you forward towards your passions? Relate everything back to your core values and needs. It’s as simple as chatting to people about stuff you like.
Every experience is what you make it, and don’t be afraid to try new things. I’ve always found that owning up to your feelings and expressing them is how I’ve made significant changes. When you’re nervous about trying something new, tell your friends, tell the person sitting beside you. Your fellow students are your network, so open up to them. Tell your professors when you don’t understand something. Ask people who do cool things to go out with you for coffee (or tea!). Tell everyone what you love and what you want to do, and your network will pay off. But also, leave time for video games.
What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?
Love what you do, stay curious, stay in touch with other people and new technologies, in that order. People are at the centre of everything we do, so don’t worry if you aren’t up to date with everything new and shiny. Help people and have fun!