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Finding Your Path and Your People: OCULA President’s Message

By Melanie Parlette-Stewart

Here are some thoughts I’ve had as a librarian:

  • “My boss is going to realize hiring me was a mistake.”
  • “They’re just being nice—I didn’t deserve that compliment.”
  • “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I wish I could say that after almost 8 years as a librarian, I no longer have these thoughts. However, through mentoring opportunities and building relationships with like-minded professionals, I’ve found “my people”—those cheerleaders and sympathetic ears that have empowered me and made the journey rewarding.

As a child, I didn’t dream of becoming a librarian. I stumbled across the MLIS degree while exploring opportunities for law school and realized that I would make a much better librarian than lawyer.

In 2008, when I entered the Dalhousie School of Information Management, I imagined myself focusing on children’s literacy and put little thought into academic librarianship. But that’s the funny thing about career paths—you never know where you’ll end up.

I landed at Conestoga College in a paraprofessional role in 2010, then became the liaison librarian for the Engineering and IT programs. Hello, imposter syndrome! What did I know about engineering? This job was a great experience for an early career librarian: I had the exciting opportunity of moving our Engineering collection and opening a new campus library.

I took a leap in 2013 and accepted a contract position at the University of Guelph as their first Blended Learning Librarian. Focusing on eLearning, educational technology and information literacy, this was my dream job—but there was imposter syndrome again! What did I know about doing research and being a librarian at a university?

I’m currently seconded as the Digital Media Librarian at the University of Guelph, where I’m carving a new path coordinating the opening of our Media Studio, and my old friend has returned! What do I know about designing a service?

Moving from paraprofessional to professional, from college to university, and figuring out how to carve out new roles hasn’t been easy—I’ve had moments of doubt and experienced imposter syndrome along the way. To deal with this, I’ve focused on owning my own identity as a librarian, building community and seeking out supportive and collaborative opportunities.

I combined my love of fashion and librarianship in 2013, starting what the librarian wore to build community and connect with librarians from around the world. I ignored that voice in my head, telling me that fashion was frivolous and not serious enough for an academic librarian, and focused on embracing my own passion within a diverse profession.

As a member of the OLA Mentoring Committee, I’ve had the joy of co-organizing the OLA Super Conference Career Centre since 2015. This has allowed me to work with a talented group of volunteers who value giving back and sharing their experiences with new professionals. We can all give back through mentoring and play a role in building the future of the profession.

These experiences have helped me value those moments of connection and realize the importance of finding your place within a large and diverse profession. You’re not alone when you feel like an imposter—one of the most fulfilling experiences of my professional career so far involved exploring shared feelings of imposter syndrome with Sajni Lacey through a series of workshops. What started as a one-off for OLA Super Conference became something that we’ve since shared in a variety of venues and formats. My work with Sajni has been rewarding beyond words, and it was OLA that brought us together.

It’s key to the future of the profession that each librarian feels confident enough to be themselves in an open, supportive and empathetic environment. I’m excited for the opportunities that the 2018 OCULA Council will provide for professionals, both new and seasoned—this passionate group has an ambitious year ahead of them.

You won’t want to miss the OCULA Spring Conference! This event will take place on May 4 at the OISE Library in downtown Toronto, and the theme—Building Better Libraries Through Diversity, Equity & Inclusion—inspires us to explore these core values in librarianship and recognize not only what we’re doing but what we could be doing. Registration is open.

Getting involved in OLA and OCULA has played a significant role in my own experience as a librarian. I encourage you to connect with Andrew Colgoni, the OCULA Volunteer Coordinator, if you’re interested in volunteering with us.

I look forward to serving as your 2018 OCULA President, but I wouldn’t be here without “my people.” So thank you to those that have leant a sympathetic ear or a word of encouragement—these are the colleagues and cheerleaders we should all strive to be for each other.

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