- What is your current position? Director of Collections and Research, Dance Collection Danse.
- What do you enjoy most about your work and what are the most challenging aspects? I love working with artists to help them preserve their histories and to share their stories. I also love historical research, the digging, finding pieces of the puzzle and discovering how dance fits into the larger social, political and economic history of Canada.
- What was your first job as a librarian or information professional?
This one. I was called Research Coordinator.
- What was your subsequent career path?
I came to Dance Collection Danse (DCD) to do research when I was an undergraduate and I fell in love with DCD founders Lawrence and Miriam Adams and the work they were doing. They hired me in the summer of 1993 through a youth employment grant and then I just kept hanging around. I continued to do research as I finished my degree and then they hired me to do a little research and a little editing here and there when I was in grad school. In 1998, they were able to hire me full-time. For 3 years after grad school (’95-’98), I had worked as the administrator of a dance school and company, and also started to organize that company’s archives. I also freelanced as a writer, dance history teacher and copy editor. Throughout these years, I was at Dance Collection a lot doing my own research for writing and teaching projects. As an academic pursuit, Canadian dance history is quite young so I didn’t get a lot of it in university. Much of the writing I have published is based on primary source research at Dance Collection Danse. I also created the Society for Canadian Dance Studies in 2000 to support this burgeoning field and directed that for a decade before passing it on to someone else. So I have always had my hand in a lot of things and have been very active in the professional dance milieu as a writer and teacher but also in advocacy work.
- What is your educational background?
My BA is in Fine Arts Studies (focus on dance and film) from York University and my MA is in Journalism from the University of Western Ontario. Additionally, I trained in multiple dance genres from age 7 and then into university until a severe back injury ended that training; I had to then switch my major from dance performance to fine art studies, primarily focussing on dance and film history at that point.
- How did your information training and background prepare you for the job you now have?
I come to this work as a subject specialist, really – but with an innate sense of organization and a meticulous nature – good combo. My communications education has been invaluable even though that may seem like an odd combo. I’ve supplemented that education with courses and workshops through the Ontario Museum Association, Canadian Conservation Institute and other like organizations, plus webinars on all kinds of topics … and then just being a good old autodidact. There are a lot of great professional development opportunities in the museum and archiving world; I also have found colleagues to be extremely generous in sharing information and passing on knowledge. I think it’s the nature of the field. People go into the information sciences because they love information and they have the desire to share it as widely as possible. Because DCD’s collection is a combo of archives and museum artifacts, I’ve tried to soak up as much information from both worlds as I can. I still feel like I have so much more to learn and I’m grateful to the organizations who can offer these short PD opportunities so one can balance life-long learning with continuing to work.
- What skills and experience should students be building up by this point if they want to work in your field?
Frankly, I need more dance historians. We’re getting the information all organized over here but we need a new generation of dance historians to interpret it and disseminate it to the world through writing and exhibitions. Also, because our subject is so specialized, we haven’t turned over any cataloguing to volunteers yet because we need the describing to include a certain level of detail and knowledge about the art form itself. When I look at descriptions of dance materials in other collections, I can see the guesswork at play. It is a specialty for certain. We actually developed our own catalogue – the Canadian Integrated Dance Database – which includes fields that are particular to a dance collection. It also includes a table that allows us to record the intangible details of a choreographic work. Looking after dance heritage very much includes the preservation of intangible cultural heritage – the main product of our art form is performance that usually does not include language and often doesn’t include narrative so it has complex issues that other collections don’t always have to worry about. For our database, we turned to dancer-turned-information-specialist Cliff Collier to create the Collier Descriptor Thesaurus because existing thesauri were completely inadequate – we would have been attaching the same two descriptors to everything in our collection.
- What helpful lessons did you learn early in your career? Any general advice for students or recent grads?
The big bugs are not as scary as the little bugs – the little ones are much more worrisome. Get your hands dirty, always be learning, love what you do, embrace researchers because they are our raison d’être – we exist to serve them. Having come to libraries and archives as a researcher and historian first, there’s nothing more disheartening than encountering an information specialist who could care less about helping you. Our job is to look after information so that it can be shared with the world; therefore, sharing it enthusiastically is also our job.
- Why did you join the SLA (or other professional organizations), and what did you get out of it?
I’m not actually an SLA member because the library collection is actually a very small portion of our collection – archival material and artifacts including costumes, props and backdrops are a much bigger part of the collection so my memberships tend to be connected to museums and to the dance profession. That said, collegial organizations of any kind are really important for continued learning, seeking advice, building partnerships and collaborations, and for feeling part of a larger community of like-minded people. Find ones that suit your personality and join up!
- If there is one thing you’d want to know about the state of your libraries (or libraries in general) 10 years from now, what would it be?
I would like our collection to have a larger home within the decade so that more of it can be accessed and interpreted.