Credit: Camrose Booster Ltd
Freshly Minted: Robyn Gray
April 8, 2019
Director, Camrose Public Library
Who are you and what do you do?
My name is Robyn Gray, and I am the Director of Camrose Public Library.
Camrose is a small but mighty city in Alberta, with about 27,200 citizens between the City of Camrose and Camrose County. A few of my tasks are to work with the Library Board to ensure our space meets the needs of citizens, develop positive working relationships with community groups and other public libraries, and manage our 25 staff. In addition to offering programs, resources, and services right at the library, we are always looking at ways to do new outreach and collaborations in the community.
What was it that initially drove you to librarianship?
I have always loved libraries, but never thought about it as a career path until the last semester of my Bachelor of Arts degree.
I was trying to think of possible next steps, like a Master’s in English or maybe Law School…but when I realized I could be a librarian, I instantly knew it was the perfect degree for me and I have never looked back. I wanted a career where I would be constantly learning and growing, and librarianship offers that variety of experience and endless possibilities.
Where did you complete your MLIS?
Dalhousie University, in Halifax. I loved my experience there!
When did you start your first professional librarian position?
I started at Northern Lights Library System in May of 2016 as a Public Services Consultant. I knew I was willing to move anywhere in Canada to begin getting experience as a librarian, so I happily moved to Elk Point, Alberta for the job!
How long did the job search take and how did you prepare yourself for it?
I started applying for jobs extremely early; in November of my last year of school I had already started sending out applications across Canada! But I didn’t get any interviews until March 2016.
When Northern Lights Library System asked me to deliver a presentation as part of the interview, I prepared a ‘handout’ to send ahead of time, guided them through a PowerPoint presentation, and I had spent a great deal of time perusing their website and social media before the interview. This showed them that I was willing to go the extra mile to get the job, and in the end I was able to start right after I graduated.
How did you do your job search? What were some of the things that worked and didn’t? What was the greatest challenge?
I monitored job sites regularly, such as the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Jobsite, the Jerome listserv, the Foothills Library Association jobsite, and the Partnership Job Board. I had a lot of generous mentors who agreed to read over my cover letter, resume, and curriculum vitae, and I soaked up any advice I could from them. I customized every cover letter and would also make alterations to the resume depending on which job I was applying for.
The biggest challenge was probably deciding when I shouldn’t apply for particular jobs. I wanted to apply for anything and everything, but applying to too many things meant that the quality of each cover letter would suffer as I didn’t have the time to customize each one. Sometimes you have to be honest with yourself and realize that certain jobs aren’t worth your time based on your knowledge of your own priorities.
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?
I’m very grateful that I took a management course in my MLIS program (it was required) as my job now is a full-on manager! I don’t think I had expected that at all during my MLIS, but I also had kept an open mind throughout the degree. I’m grateful that I took a wide variety of courses during my MLIS (including law librarianship and information literacy) as I can bring a wide background of information into everything that I do.
I don’t think I would do anything differently; no matter what job you take on, you will need to learn new things regardless of what you learned in school. I also took on a wide variety of part-time jobs and volunteer roles while at school, and that played a huge part in rounding out my experience that I could speak to in job interviews.
How do you stay current in your field?
I’m always staying aware of new trends by following a variety of libraries on social media and staying in touch with other library professionals within my region. I love to hear about all sorts of ideas, and then I can establish whether they are ideas we could apply here in Camrose!
What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?
Adaptability (to new technologies, new duties on the job, and potential changes in circumstances), the ability to educate others about the dangers of Fake News, and the willingness to embrace that libraries have changed so much since their initial inception. A library can be so much more than a warehouse for books, and there are so many ways you can let others in your community know that!
Any advice for the many MLIS students who will be soon graduating and looking for their first professional position?
Don’t be afraid to network. Kindly ask professionals to meet for coffee and share their knowledge with you. Some connections won’t go beyond an initial discussion, but others may turn into lifelong friendships. Don’t network with others if you’re hoping to get a job out of them (which is a major turn-off!), but rather network for the sake of the actual discussion. Another note in regards to networking: if you are a bit of an introvert (like me) and are attending a conference or library event, set reasonable goals for how much networking you will do – instead of getting intimidated by being around a ton of people, try to talk to two new people each day of a conference.
Get involved in library executives and volunteer opportunities if you can – you never know what valuable skills you’ll learn from each new experience.
Also, you can never be too prepared for a job interview. Go through the job description point by point, thinking of all your experiences that relate to each qualification the posting is looking for.
Don’t be afraid to bring forward a wide range of examples from your background that show the variety of experience you have to offer.
And let your enthusiasm shine through! Sometimes, it’s less about how much you know and more about confidence, and how eager and ready you are to learn. A lot of the jobs I didn’t get were because deep-down I thought they were too advanced for me, and that showed in the form of hesitation in the interview. Set aside some time to really peruse the workplace’s website and social media – it’s a step that shows how eager you are and how willing you are to get the job done. Best of luck to all of you!