Professional Profile: Jan Dawson – Ask Ontario

Jan Dawson is the Project Coordinator and a Virtual Reference Librarian for Ask Ontario ( which is a project of Knowledge Ontario (, new website launching soon!).
As Jan describes, “Ask Ontario is Ontario’s virtual reference service and is available to all Ontarians. We have public, public-french, college, and university services which are provided by librarians from respective sectors from all over the province who collaborate to provide 45 hours a week of chat reference service to public library visitors and over 60 hours a week to post-secondary students.”
Describe what your job as the Project Coordinator and a Virtual Reference Librarian entails.
The askON Project Manager and Project Coordinator are currently the only two positions at askON and we do the work of several people. It is a very fast paced, dynamic work environment. I love it! As Project Coordinator, I oversee operational issues and perform duties such as: scheduling over fifty partners in the collaboration; monthly askON Staff Newsletter; askON Intern program; askON practicum placements; operational assistance with both the chat vehicle and the staff portal; staff accounts; training and professional development; virtual askON courses; presenting at conferences; and oh ya–working on the service as a VR Librarian! As well, I’m overseeing a pilot project called askON CALL where we are inviting our visitors to Skype within the chat interaction. Stay tuned for our reporting and findings to be presented at OLA’s Super Conference in February 2010!Regarding my role within Knowledge Ontario, I sit on a Social Media committee where we’ve hired a consultant to work on our social media strategy. We are also getting ready to launch our new KO website in the New Year and I will assist with the development and maintenance of this site. Other than that, KO staff keep each other abreast with emerging technologies and innovative ideas in the library world and beyond! It’s a wonderful, dynamic, and inspiring team that I’m so proud to be a part of.
Describe your educational background.
I have a Music degree from Mount Alison University and I got my MLIS from McGill University.
Describe your first job as a librarian or information professional etc. and subsequent career path.
This is my first job as a librarian and I feel incredibly lucky to have it. I’m still smitten and have recently celebrated my one year anniversary with askON. It’s been an incredible experience, working with over 600 wonderful people in the world of libraries. Everyone is kind, professional, and helpful. I love this profession.
How did your information training and background prepare you for the job you now have?
Alongside my MLIS courses, I did a lot of extra-curricular work. I co-planned a “Web Workshop” with a classmate and two alumni of McGill’s MLIS program which I’m thrilled to see has become an annual event.
What advice would you give someone who is currently doing his or her Master in Information?
Get involved with at least one professional association and be as active as you can. Also create opportunities for yourself. Maybe you have expertise in a certain area and can plan a workshop with your cohort. There’s lot’s of funding out there for these projects.
What skills and experience should they be building up at this point, if they would like to work in this specific field?
Multi-tasking; Collaboration; Communication; Resourcefulness; Opportunism; Information Literacy; Customer Service Excellence; and various other hats that information professionals wear! We do it all!
Any general advice for new information professionals?
Seek out opportunities. They don’t just fall on your lap. Yes, the economy is difficult at present, but BE PRO-ACTIVE. Use this time to write that article you’ve been meaning to start or start your own VR service for your peers (I think that’s what got me my present job!).
What helpful lessons did you learn early in your career? Do any of them still apply today?
I’m lucky to have a fantastic Manager/Mentor. Her motto is “honest and kind”. If you take a breath and think about what that means when dealing with challenges, you will always be successful. I think I will carry this with me for the rest of my life.

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