During the winter 2014 semester, the McGill Library welcomed 5 practicum students from the McGill School of Information Studies (SIS). The SIS website outlines the practicum experience as
a 3 credit academic elective course in which master’s-level students participate in field practice under the guidance of site supervisors. Students benefit from the opportunity to apply their theoretical knowledge base and learning in a real-world setting, while gaining experience and practicing professional skills. Site supervisors and their workplaces benefit from the energy, knowledge, and skills of an emerging information professional while providing students with a valuable mentorship experience in a real-world setting.
Library Matters took a practicum pause with all five students to talk about their work at the McGill Library and how their experience may help to inform Library units as they move forward with related projects. The first of five interviews features Emily Kingsland who was tasked with finding ways in which the Library could promote McGill’s digital collections through social media.
Library Matters (LM): How did you become interested in getting an MLIS degree?
Emily Kingsland (EK): When I was 17 years old, I got my first part-time job working at the Westmount Public Library. I ended up working there part-time for 7 years and I absolutely loved it. I loved providing reference service, working the front line with people, doing reader’s advisory, story time with children, helping with research assistance – all of it! And I thought, “Wow, I think I want to be a librarian.” It was something that’s always been at the back of my mind. I got to meet and interact with a lot of librarians and that was really what planted the seed. After holding a number of different positions over the course of 6 years, between my undergrad and going back to school, I knew this was the right path for me.
LM: What was your practicum at the Library about?
EK: It was about recommending digital collection outreach activities to McGill University Library based on an environmental scan, a literature review and a feasibility study that I conducted. The first thing I did was look at 13 different institution’s digital collections. I examined mostly American and Canadian academic institutions as well as a few non-academics such as, the New York Public Library. I looked at how large their collections were as well as their contents. I also examined how they used outreach. So sometimes they might use digital portals or hubs like the Internet Archive, or the Digital Public Library of America, as a way to get their content online and out there. But I learned that the vast majority of them use social media as a way to get their content out to the general public. Twitter was the most popular, followed by Facebook, as well as blogs, YouTube, Pinterest and Tumblr. So I chose 3 outreach activities, and tested them using items from McGill’s digital collections. I tried out Pinterest, Twitter and Wikipedia and based on my testing, I was able to recommend both Pinterest and Twitter as really effective outreach strategies for McGill. Unfortunately I discovered that while Wikipedia was interesting to edit and fun, it was extremely time consuming. And when you’re thinking of how much time you want to put into something, with the greatest output and reach the greatest number of people, Wikipedia wasn’t effective enough. Pinterest and Twitter generally were.
LM: How long was your practicum? Was it enough time to accomplish what you set out to do?
EK: Yes, it was. There are always things that you can’t get to but I think it was the perfect length of time for the project. It actually worked out really really well, and I have to give credit to my supervisor Digitization Librarian Sarah Severson for that, because she was the one who plotted out week by week all the tasks that I would do and we pretty much followed it to the letter. And it worked out brilliantly. She was really great at figuring out how long each step would take. It was perfect.
LM: What skills, lessons or “learning moments” did you take away from this experience?
EK: So many skills! One of the major hurdles that I encountered at the start when I had to go through all these different institutions’ collections, was feeling a bit overwhelmed because there was so much information out there. And because I knew I had 10 hours a week, I had a restricted amount of time in which to take all this information and synthesize it. I really had to prioritize and learn how to very quickly figure out key points when reading an article or looking at an institution’s website. What are the takeaways that I can see and incorporate into my recommendations for McGill? I don’t know if I would call it a skill necessarily, but I had never used Pinterest or edited a Wikipedia article before. Twitter I was familiar with. With Pinterest, I just came in as a brand new user and there was bit of a learning curve in learning how to use it. I incorporated all the best practices that I had learned from the literature review into creating McGill’s Pinterest account. What I really loved about this task was that, Web Services Librarian Ed Bilodeau set up a Pinterest account for me, and then really just gave it to me to manage. I was given total ownership over it. Everybody from the team trusted that I would do a good job in representing McGill online through their Pinterest account and this was an added motivator for me to do a good job. Learning how to edit Wikipedia was also new to me. It never even crossed my mind. Sarah hosted a Wikipedia edit-a-thon as part of Open Access Week at McGill and this helped me to learn the basics. There was a little bit of a learning curve involved since you need to add a little bit of HTML code but it was great. Overall, it was fantastic experience and I learned a tremendous amount from this practicum.
LM: What do you wish you had known before you had started your practicum?
EK: Well, when I was analyzing the 13 different institutions, Sarah and I chose some institutions that we admired, like the New York Public Library. We chose certain ones that we considered to be at the same level as McGill, in that they were Canadian, they were the similar size in terms of student body and number of digital collections and then we chose a few random institutions. In retrospect, I think I would’ve liked to have had a bit more time to research whether it was really worth our time looking into those random collections. Because of the time constraints, I chose them arbitrarily and just thought “Okay, let’s have a look at these.” And it was only until halfway through a very thorough analysis that I realized that, really their digital collections weren’t as strong as I initially thought and there wasn’t really much that we could learn or gain from them. But because I was already halfway through, I was committed to it and felt I had to finish it. So in retrospect I think I would’ve allowed myself a bit more time to do a preliminary research of the institutions that we were interested in examining so that I wouldn’t look at institutions that weren’t really worth our time.
LM: Did you discover something really amazing during your time at the Library?
EK: Yea, absolutely, with Pinterest. Not just because I had never tried it out before, but also because I had never considered it in the context of an academic library. I had friends that were on Pinterest who would talk about it a lot and try to get me to join, but I never thought about it in that particular light. When Sarah proposed it at the start of the practicum, it didn’t make any sense to me because Pinterest was something my friends used to pin photos of dresses that they liked and things like that. To me, it was more trivial. But when I looked into it, I thought, “This is the perfect medium for sharing items that have a very strong visual impact.” And so, when I was going through McGill’s digital collections, I was amazed at the amount of variety that we have. It’s stunning. We have really gorgeous photos of furniture and furnishings for the household. We have a great art deco collection which really lends itself well to Pinterest, because again, it’s just so visually stunning. We’ve got fantastic vintage photographs which are a huge hit both on Pinterest and on Twitter. We also have rare Islamic manuscripts that are absolutely gorgeous. These are all items that seem to be really popular on Pinterest. It’s something that at the start of the practicum, if you had told me, I’d say “no way”. And now, I just find it so exciting. Pinterest was definitely the most addictive part of the whole practicum. Just being able to add items from the collection and just be able to immediately see the impact. See users like the pins, re-pin them, it was nice because it was really interesting to engage the users in a way that I’d never done before. Most of my jobs before had been frontline, so this was an interesting mix because it was behind the scenes, but you were still able to engage with people, just in a different kind of way. I thought that was a lot of fun.
LM: What was your most memorable moment?
EK: Being able to present my entire project to the McGill community through the practicum presentation event that Ed organized. It was an adrenaline rush. I have to admit that it was extremely nerve-wracking. I have given lots of presentations before, generally to strangers, but this was really intimidating because this was a packed house and it was a room full of people that I had known for years and that I respect, admire and want to impress. So, that was a lot of pressure. I’d never felt that kind of nervous energy in myself before. I over-prepared for the presentation, just so that going in, I would know that I would be okay. It was an amazing experience once I had finished presenting to immediately get feedback from other librarians and hear their questions and comments and be able to respond to that. It was a great experience especially for someone who’s about to complete their MLIS. I wish everybody who does a practicum has this sort of experience because students who are doing practicums, aren’t necessarily doing it at McGill. There are people who are doing it at law firms and hospitals and they aren’t necessarily getting the opportunity to present their findings in a “10-minute-stand-up-in-front-of-a-crowd” kind of way. It was a great experience for me and that was definitely my favourite part.