Saturday, 12 July 2014

Skype Interview: Theatre Alberta Library

On Wednesday, June 25th, the UWO SLA student group was joined by Becca Barrington, one of the librarians at the Theatre Alberta Library in Edmonton, Alberta over Skype.

Our promotional poster created by UWO SLA Communications Coordinator, Sarah Calder.
Theatre Alberta Library is the largest, independent fully-circulating theatre library in Canada, boasting over 19,000 playscripts, periodicals, and other materials in its collection.

One particularly interesting feature of Theatre Alberta Library is their eScripts collection. The Theatre Alberta Library eScripts collection is comprised of unpublished plays written by local playwrights who are members of Theatre Alberta, which have been produced in Alberta. The website provides an option to submit playscripts to the library by uploading them for approval, and if added are searchable on the online catalogue.

I, along with a number of other members in our student group, am in the process of applying for jobs in the library field. As a result, whenever possible, we have the slight tendency to ask our guest speakers how they ended up working where they are.

A piece of advice that Becca told us was that it was important to be active in professional organizations, and this is something that has been repeatedly noted by information professionals I have come across. As well, while informational professionals in other special libraries have indicated that most of the specific subject content may be learned on the job, Theatre Alberta Library demonstrates that having expertise in the subject focus of the library definitely does provide some edge. I guess that what we can learn from this is that even if our academic backgrounds are not in a related content area, gaining any experience will do that much more for us.

One of my favourite questions to ask a librarian (especially for one who maintains a special library of some sort) is what the most obscure title in the collection is. Becca entertained us by enthusiastically pulling out what was very dated playscript of Richard II, which she mentioned is kept hidden unless specifically requested for.

I am currently enrolled in the Special Libraries course in the program, in which we learned that special libraries tend to encounter the following challenges:
  1. Limited physical space
  2. Decreasing in-person visits from clients
  3. Maintaining cohesiveness and value within the larger organization
  4. Small staff size

However, despite being a special library, Theatre Alberta Library doesn’t seem to have as much difficulty as others.
  1. Yes, the physical space of the Theatre Alberta Library is limited - composed of 3 main stacks, along with the desks for the librarians, and a few other cabinets – however, because playscripts are thankfully thin and therefore, it is easy to store many more of them in a smaller amount of physical space. To assist even more, the playscripts are also in the process of being digitized.
  2. Yes, the in-person visits are generally limited to those in the Edmonton area who don’t have so much of an issue commuting to the library, many of the transactions between the library and clients who are elsewhere in Alberta are conducted through interlibrary loans.
  3. Yes, Theatre Alberta Library exists within the larger organization of Theatre Alberta, however, the two are very much intertwined! The library caters to Theatre Alberta’s members including anyone from actors and actresses to stage managers to academics. There seems to be a very positive relationship between Theatre Alberta and the University of Alberta and MacEwan University’s drama programs. As well, the library assists in promoting community events, auditions, and festivals to and on the behalf of Theatre Alberta members; the Freewill Shakespeare Festival, Improvaganza, and the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival just to name a few. The Theatre Alberta Communications and Marketing Coordinator has even created a YouTube video that shows viewers how to find the library within the building! It really seems as if the Theatre Alberta Library is here to stay for quite a while.
  4. Yes, there are only 2 librarians running the show, but given the limited physical space, it might be better that way. As well, Becca’s background from the University of Alberta’s Bachelor of Arts Drama program combined with her colleague, Solveig’s background from Grant MacEwan’s Information Management and Library Technology program overlap well enough to cover all the bases needed to operate the library!

All in all, by the end of the interview, we were all quite convinced that Becca and Solveig have our dream jobs, but it always fosters hope by hearing about such wonderful experiences working in libraries.

A great, big thank you to Becca Barrington for enlightening us on the ins and outs of the Theatre Alberta Library!

To learn more about Theatre Alberta Library, visit their website or follow them on their blog!

Megan Siu is in her third and final term of the MLIS program at Western University. She is the current Event Coordinator for the UWO SLA student group in addition to her involvement in various other groups. Megan is very excited to return to Edmonton in less than a month, in search of opportunities in special libraries and/or non-traditional library environments! 

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