Featured Librarian: Karen Nicholson

[This post mirrors content I’ve posted to Re:Generations, a blog for new and emerging academic librarians.]

This is the third in a series of posts featuring librarians taking an interesting approach to the profession. Previous posts have profiled bike-tripping University of Oregon Social Sciences Librarian Miriam Rigby and Heather Ward, UN Librarian and certified mahout.

If you know of someone else you’d like to see interviewed, please let me know in the comments.

Karen Nicholson photo

Karen Nicholson is a fellow Re:Generations blogger, as well as the Teaching and Learning Librarian at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. She’s been a librarian for about nine years, and she’s about to be whisked away to work with the Council of Ontario Universities on undergraduate learning.

Karen says:  “Remember that the library world is very, very, very small. Try to make this advantageous to you, not a hindrance.”

Q: What do you do? (What’s your job title, who do you work for, where in the world are you?)

A: My title is Teaching and Learning Librarian, and I work at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.

I have *just* accepted an eleven month secondment to work as Teaching and Learning Development Officer for the Council of Ontario Universities: my job will be to help universities implement Ontario’s Undergraduate Degree Level Expectations.

Okay, but really–what do you do? (Describe your job in big outlines–what kinds of things might you do in any given day?)

A: I spend LOTS of time in meetings and meeting with people. This might include informal chats about teaching with liaison librarians, talking to faculty to plan information literacy classes for students, or preparing workshops for librarians related to pedagogy or teaching and learning technologies.

McMaster will host WILU 2010 in May 2010, Canada’s main information literacy conference, so that also involves a lot of online and F2F meetings. I also involved in some projects with the Centre for Leadership in Learning, the campus teaching and learning unit, which involve (more!) meetings, reading articles, reports, etc.

When did you get your MLIS/MLS, and what school did you go to?

A: I got my MLIS from McGill University in 2001.

What other jobs have you had before this one?

A: From September to December of last year, I was seconded to McMaster’s Centre for Leadership in Learning (CLL). Since I work closely with the CLL to ensure that library programs are based on sound pedagogy, working within the department seemed a logical next step in building a strong partnership between the two units. It was a great experience.

During my term at the CLL, I was responsible for two projects: the first was to create the framework for a new third year undergraduate course, “Digital Media for the Social Sciences”. The idea is to help students develop critical thinking skills with regard to digital media, to explore contemporary controversies and issues related to digital media within a social sciences’ framework, and to improve students’ ability to use information and communication technologies to communicate effectively. The second project was to establish communities of practice, or learning networks, at McMaster, so that with people with a common interest in issues related to teaching and learning can meet to share ideas and knowledge.

Before moving to Ontario, I worked as the Information Literacy Coordinator at McGill University in Montreal from 2002-2007, and before that, I was a Reference and Subject Librarian at Concordia University from 2001-2002.

Outside the library world, I have taught a few university courses as well as English as a second language in Montreal and Japan. I also worked in the congress industry when I was a student: it was fun because we got to travel all over the US, and I had the opportunity to visit Paris. I teach fitness classes, and eons ago I was a synchronized swimming coach.

What’s the most useful thing you learned on your way to this job–either in school or along the way in your career?

A: Take the time to get to know the people you work with. The worst situations came be made so much better when you’re with friends and good colleagues.

It’s often better to shut up and take the time to reflect before giving an answer. (Something I am not very good at yet.)

What are you learning now? Or, what do you wish you were learning now?

A: I am currently learning about the gap between student and instructor expectations and what universities can do to address it through academic and non-academic programs and services.

If the stars align and everything goes according to your heart’s desire, what else would your career bring you?

A: I would love to be able to complete a PhD in education. I would also like to be an extravagantly paid educational consultant to UNESCO or a similar organization, and live in a beautiful city in Europe. Or somewhere warm. I have wanted for several years to undertake a study tour in Australia to learn more about their information literacy programs. Actually, the coolest job would probably be to work as a consultant, staying in fantastic places for a few months at a time. 😀

What are you reading right now?

A: I am currently reading Alligator by Lisa Moore, a Canadian author from Newfoundland.

Any words of advice for new librarians?

A: Remember that the library world is very, very, very small. Try to make this advantageous to you, not a hindrance.

A career as a librarian can take you down many unexpected and surprising paths.

Be collegial and ethical.

The good fights are always worth fighting (which is another way of saying “be ethical”).

Thanks, Karen!


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