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Toronto Solos Report – 2014 and Beyond

This year’s solo group events explored new flavours in terms of format and discussion. To start, we teamed up with the Toronto West group to organize a thrilling tour of the Testing Laboratory at Canadian Standards Association (CSA) Group followed by a copyright presentation by Rob Weisberg. The CSA Group facilities included plenty of surprises in addition to tons of equipment, tools and testing instruments likely seen for the first and last time in our lives. Donning protective gear, we followed our expert guide, Kent Pengelly, through the High Power Lab, where short circuit testing on Circuit Breakers is performed. From there, we ventured into the Acoustic Chamber which was an exercise in extreme silence. Next on the tour came the Clothes Washer / Dishwasher Energy Efficiency Verification  Lab (home of Energuide rating testing), to the EMC Chamber (think Holodeck from Star Trek).

CSA-Clotheswasher-rszd      CSA-EMC-Chamber-rszd

For those unable to attend the tour in person, the Copyright 101 presentation was made available via webinar. Our host, Susan Morley, secured a boardroom with the most technologically advanced teleconferencing gear as well as special giveaway gifts.

Toronto West and Solos at the CSA

The session on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), originally scheduled for May, took place in October. You can find out more about it from the presenter, Katie Thomas, in an accompanying article of The Courier. Delivering an inspiring presentation with a powerful message, no one would have guessed that Katie ran an astonishing four-hour marathon a scant 24 hours earlier. MOOCs was the first solo event where all registrants participated via webinar. This format clearly becomes the preferred style for professional solo development.

“What’s Under Your Hat” was a lively discussion on the challenges solos face at their workplace – from disappearing resources and slashed budgets to the nuisances of constant technological change. For some of us, the transition into new roles is happening very quickly. Media monitoring seems to be a big issue as quite a few solos devote more of their time to this service. There are lots of free resources out there, but no free aggregators, so solos end up compiling the sources in one way or another, using all sorts of tools (for example, Feedly, NewsDesk, website or journal alerts, tweetdeck,, Yahoo Pipes, programming or manual editing).

Many solos have had their library budgets cut while others keep it at the same level by cancelling services not frequently used. Those working with legal materials are aware that numerous subscriptions are replaced with free sources (gazettes, statutes, bills). However, when these resources need to be monitored, it’s crucial to have some sort of aggregator (whether paid such as CCH Pulse or free such as Osler’s biweekly Legislative Report).

The number of librarians involved with enterprise content products like CRM and SharePoint is growing. Some of the options suggested for official training in this area include special user groups, LinkedIn forums, iSchool courses, MOOCs, and AIIM certificates. One solo is planning to buy an eReader to test the feasibility of lending it, along with ebooks to users.

While we couldn’t come up with definitive resolutions, it felt really good to talk about some of the issues under our crazy hats, and listen to what our colleagues had to say.

Beyond 2014…

After six years of co-ordinating solo programs, I would like to now call upon the reserves of new information professionals to continue my legacy with the resilient Toronto Solo Group. While the group may be small, it’s filled with the most wonderful and skilled professionals. I would like to thank them all for helping me to make a positive impact in our profession by being a part of some of those events:

  • MOOCs: What’s in it for solo librarians? with Katie Thomas – October 20, 2014
  • What’s under your hat? Challenges at workplace – September 30, 2014
  • CSA Group Laboratory Tour and Copyright 101 with Rob Weisberg – February 19, 2014 (jointly with Toronto West Group)
  • Social media and data mining with Damian Bartolomucci – October 2, 2013
  • Reality check in solo land – April 16, 2013 (hosted by SLA Solo Division, with Ulla de Stricker)
  • Digital initiatives in solo land – eBooks and CRM – February 6, 2013
  • Communities of Practice & solos – September 25, 2012
  • LibGuides for solos – May 15, 2012
  • Solo librarians in turbulent times – February 14, 2012
  • RDA’s cataloguing rules and the solo librarian – October 19, 2011
  • Twitter @ work: IBC story – May 24, 2011
  • Challenges in implementing web 2.0 technology – February 10, 2011
  • Marketing library services – October 5, 2010
  • Web searching – May 4, 2010
  • Preserving organizational memory – February 4, 2010
  • Report from SLA Washington Conference – September 22, 2009
  • Keeping current: tools and techniques – April 23, 2009
  • Managing your e-resources – January 27, 2009

For more photos from these events, please visit my SLA Toronto solos album on Facebook.

—Amra Porobic
Amra is the proud recipient of the 2013 SLA Toronto Librarian of the Year Award, and the Manager of Library Services for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). Her current interests include CRM, SharePoint, taxonomies, social media and emerging technologies. She can be reached by email, on Twitter at @porobica, or via LinkedIn where she manages the Solo group discussions.


Posted in V52-N1-Fall 2014, Volume 52Comments (0)

MOOCs or Professional Development on the Cheap for Solo Librarians

Many “solo” information professionals are left to fend for themselves when it comes to professional development.  This is largely because they are the sole managers of the “shop” and are time-challenged, and budget-challenged. However, it is for this reason that solos must and should seek out external learning opportunities.

I had previously written a paper for the blog On Firmer Ground entitled MOOCs: What’s in it for law librarians?

So when Amra Porobic, the esteemed Chair of the Toronto Solos, asked me to speak to the local Toronto Group on the topic, I thought this was a golden opportunity to spread the word of how easy it can be to engage in learning on your own despite being time and budget-challenged.

The presentation dealt both with MOOCs and alternative professional development opportunities such as meet-ups, twitter chats, conference archives, webinars, and slideshare.

For the session, it is worthwhile mentioning that all attendees attended via webinar – for free!!

What are MOOCs? The acronym stands for Massive Open Online Courses and they are ubiquitous. However, their ubiquity does not necessarily extend to professional development FOR librarians. There are plenty of MOOCs where librarians help to research and coordinate the material provided in the MOOC. In my paper, I mention courses that are available specifically for librarians. These include the New Librarianship Master Class taught by Dave Lankes at Syracuse University; Metadata: Organizing and Discovering Information offered by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; and the Hyperlinked Library MOOC at San Jose State University SLIS.  And, closer to home, the well-received Library Advocacy Unshushed: Values, evidence, action taught by Wendy Newman at the UofT iSchool.

To take a MOOC, one must be willing to “take” the course usually for a period of 6-10 weeks and to commit an estimated effort of 4-5 hours per week. Courses may or may not have a textbook for purchase. Also, some courses require collaboration with fellow MOOCers. In addition, certain courses allow you to pay money and receive a certificate of completion. However, with all MOOCs, you can take them on your own time.

To search for MOOCs of interest, try Coursera, or EdX. Also, you may want to take the MOOC on MOOCs!

So what of other learning opportunities besides MOOCs??

Conference archives are a wonderful source of learning. One needn’t worry about whether it is the most current year of the conference. Things change, but not that quickly! For example, the most recent Internet Librarian has most of the sessions posted as PowerPoint sessions – valuable educational resources. If you are lucky you can even find mp3s or a webinar – all for free.

Webinars are good too. Although many do cost money, it is worth looking for relevant courses. The Canadian Association of Law Libraries offers webinars for about $45, as does SLA, and OLA. Another example, the Open Education Database lists Free Live Webinars for Librarians. Geography is not important so you may want to try Free Webinars for November 2014 as listed by the Nebraska Library Commission.

Meet-up groups can be found just about anywhere. So take the time to look for useful sessions such as Knowledge Workers Methods, which meets in a down-town Toronto pub!

Twitter is not just about sharing what you had for lunch today. It is a fantastic resource for twitter chats. Find out what the hashtag is for a particular session and follow along. You don’t even need to follow in real time as the session can be quickly accessed by searching on the hashtag. A good example is the recent CALL chat on the future of law libraries, #CALLFuture, or the October 28th #SLATalk.

Also, think about YouTube – maybe you would like to watch Advocacy: Influencing Skills for Librarians, Trustees and Library Workers  with Stephen Abram. Or, visit the Slideshare site and look at the slides for the session Seven habits of highly effective library websites  from the CILIPS conference.

In summary, as a solo librarian, make sure to think outside the box. It doesn’t have to cost money to be curious.

—Katie Thomas
Katie is a Tax Research Specialist at PwC providing research to a busy tax practice and Wilson & Partners LLP.  When not researching, she likes to run – long distances if possible  – and has completed the Boston Marathon (2010) and many half, and other marathons. She can be reached at

Posted in V52-N1-Fall 2014, Volume 52Comments (0)

Toronto Solo Group Report: Practical, Informative and Engaging

2012 will be remembered for two major improvements in the Toronto Solo Librarians’ Group: the introduction of webinar technology and the inclusion of outstanding guest speakers.

Webinar technology is BIG for solos. About twenty percent of meeting and workshop registrants cancel at the last minute, and many can’t attend meetings because of their location. With the webinar option there is no excuse! Although webinar technology can create hiccups and require extra preparation, it DOES help keep attendance numbers up, averaging fifteen attendees per workshop.

Guest speakers are another refreshing enhancement. High calibre presenters such as Connie Crosby and Martha Murphy were truly valuable and extremely appreciated by solos.

Featured themes were: “The Corporate Library in Turbulent Times” (February 14, 2012), LibGuides for solos(May 15, 2012), and “Communities of Practice and solos” (September 25, 2012).

The Corporate Library in Turbulent Times consisted of a panel discussion following a similar talk at the 2011 SLA Annual Conference presentation, which was bursting with practical tips, lively stories, and questions to consider, such as:

  • How do we spot warning signs of trouble like reorganization, loss of clients, or high turnover?
  • How do we recognize and deal with potential triggers of further turbulence, such as a new supervisor, moving, or new technology?
  • How might libraries be affected by loss of space, resources, downsizing, or going virtual?
  • What new roles could your position morph into or take on—social media, web content management, records management, editing, marketing?

The crucial point is how to defend your value in tough times. Some points to consider:

  • Play different roles for different customers
  • Evaluate your services using impact analysis
  • Recognize when an area of service must be dropped out
  • Bridge the gap between knowing what you do and understanding what your clients value
  • Know the “what-if” scenarios, in case the worst happens:
    • Document everything that you do
    • Keep records accessible (bookmarks, contacts, personal files, passwords)
    • Decide in advance what you are willing, or unwilling, to do
    • Find mentors, and
    • Don’t take it personally

The “LibGuides for sols” workshop had the largest participation level thanks to presenters Martha Murphy, from Workplace Safety and Insurance Appeals Tribunal, and Joanna Bielecki, from Toronto Health Economics and Technology Assessment Collaborative. The workshop covered the functionality and features of LibGuides, as well as business requirements and implementation issues.

LibGuides is a fee-based Web 2.0 application, built for libraries to facilitate sharing knowledge. The platform can be used for subject and research guides, information portals, training and instructional sites, and bibliographies. It is predominantly used in the academic environment, but numerous special libraries are implementing this product into their corporate intranets. Interactivity, control and privacy features, ease of use, and analytics are the main characteristics that make this product stand out from wikis and traditional sites. The LibGuides, created by Martha for the family of libraries within Ontario Workplace Tribunals and the Office of the Fire Marshal, exemplify the added value they bring to organizations.

If you want to know if LibGuides are right for your organization, view Martha’s presentation, and don’t miss the resources listed at the end of Part 1!*

“Communities of Practice” (CoPs) “are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” — Etienne Wenger

Thanks to Connie Crosby, this workshop was an interactive and energizing session that brought a sense of belonging and connected us all. We realized that, for all these years, Toronto Solo support group has been a living model of an autonomous and informal Community of Practice. We do what all CoPs do: share information, techniques, and resources; explore common issues and ideas; and act as a sounding board for each other. We document our knowledge on the wiki in the form of presentations, handouts, and minutes.

There are many examples of Communities of Practice in the workplace: working groups, work teams, and project teams. Pay special attention to these communities as they can maximize your value in the organization. If you are isolated and without peers in your institution, CoPs can help you survive—this is why the discussion on how to build and cultivate CoPs inside our organizations was extremely helpful.

I am looking forward to more practical, informative, and engaging sessions in the year ahead.

Please contact me if you have ideas for upcoming topics or are interested in co-chairing solo events. Solos usually meet at lunchtime at the Insurance Bureau of Canada (777 Bay Street).

— Amra Porobic
Manager of Library Services for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). Prior to taking on the position of the Chair of the Toronto Chapter Solo Subgroup in May 2008, Amra co-chaired the group with Jasmina Landekic from 2000-2001. Amra has been a solo librarian since the onset of her IBC career in 1998. A member of TALL, AIIM, and ARMA, she can be reached at aporobic (at) ibc (dot) ca, or via LinkedIn where she manages the Solo Group discussions. 

*IBC has been sponsoring Solo events since 2008.

*Presentations and materials from the first two events are posted on SLA wiki (found through the links: SLA Solo Division –Toronto Chapter Solos). Connie’s presentation can be obtained from Amra.

Posted in The Courier, V50-N2-Winter 2013, Volume 50Comments (1)

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