Professional Profile: Kim Silk – Martin Prosperity Institute

Kim Silk is the Data Librarian at the Martin Prosperity Institute, a think-tank at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Kim’s position is unique from other library jobs at U of T. She deals with a very specific user group, which has allowed her to develop a subject specialty in a unique brand of economic geography. Kim works in a research environment that is based on creativity and problem solving, and performs research that will hopefully influence policy.
Kim noted that during job interviews she found herself spending a lot of time educating people on what an MLS is, and how being a librarian can go beyond the walls of a traditional library. Information professionals need to understand both the collection and the users and use this understanding to shape information to particular interests. To Kim, this is the core of information science and the essence of what information professionals do. Kim commented that “information is tofu – whatever you put with it changes its flavour”, and that it is important to look at what your collection is, who your users are, and how they are going to use it. When asked about courses she would recommend to aspiring information professionals, Kim noted that she thinks courses on classifying and organizing information are extremely useful.
Here are some further thoughts from Kim on her professional experience and her advice for aspiring professionals.
Describe your current position.
“This position is a unique combination of academic and “special” librarianship; in that I am a solo librarian who supports the research process here at the MPI. This includes a very wide range of initiatives including managing a data collection of over a terabyte, as well as a modest monograph collection. I am the liaison for a variety of ongoing projects with various external partners from the government and NGO communities. I take on the strategy and implementation for all of our technology (liaising with Rotman IT) and adopt new technologies that accelerate the research process and aid in distributing our research to an international academic and public audience.”

Describe your educational background.
“I have a BA in English Literature and a concentration in Computer Science from the University of Waterloo (1993). I earned my MLS from the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto in 1998.”

Describe your first job as a librarian or information professional etc. and subsequent career path.
“While attending the Faculty of Information part-time, I worked full-time at Discovery Channel Canada where I was their webmaster. During my studies and for the eight years following graduation, I worked in the digital media field, focusing on developing systems and web sites that were easy to use. Between 2001 and 2009 I was a sole proprietor who provided digital media consulting to a variety of clients including educational institutions and libraries, as well as clients who were not in the library industry. In June 2008 I began working at the MPI as a consultant to build, manage and maintain their data library, and I joined them as a staff member in March 2009. Now is the first time in my career that I have had the title “librarian”. I have always been proud to be a librarian, although I did not always market myself as such. Even without the title, I’ve found my MLS to be highly relevant to my work in digital media.”

How did your information training and background prepare you for the job you now have?
“Whether information is analog or digital, the foundations of organization remain the same. Another commonality is to always design systems from a user’s point of view. While I was studying at the iSchool, I was fortunate to be able to customize my courses to serve my interest in early Internet applications and ways of communicating. Another important skill is to be that “go-to” person for many things; I position myself to be as resourceful as I can so that my organization sees my value every single day. I think it’s really important to stretch yourself to gain new abilities so that you are seen as indispensible to your organization.”

What advice would you give someone who is currently doing his or her Master in Information?
“Don’t restrict yourself to your idea of what an information professional is. Be open to new definitions because the profession is changing rapidly and there are more and more opportunities for our skills. While some positions are fading away, many more are opening up. I encourage all information students to push themselves to consider organizations and environments that are new or foreign to them.”

What skills and experience should they be building up at this point, if they would like to work in this specific field?
“Technology skills are very important. For me, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing that an information professional is willingly ignorant of technology. Don’t fear it – embrace it! And it doesn’t mean you have to become a geek; rather, being the liaison and translator between your user group and your IT department is one of the most valuable roles we can play. Information professionals who refuse to adopt a basic understanding of how technology is changing our world should probably choose another profession.”
Any general advice for new information professionals?
“Try new things, and don’t restrict yourself to anyone’s definition of what it means to be an information professional. We are in an information and technology economy. The jobs of years ago are disappearing or are already gone – be prepared to create – and embrace – your own definition of information professional.”
What helpful lessons did you learn early in your career? Do any of them still apply today?
“Perseverance is very important in any career. Acknowledge that your career will evolve over time. Sometimes you will find yourself in a job that isn’t a good fit – but try to gain what you can from the experience while, at the same time, doing what you can to move to a better role. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. It’s a sad stereotype that information professionals don’t promote themselves as well as other professions. I encourage you to have pride in your skills and expertise, and don’t be afraid to be a part of the important conversations in your organization.”
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