By: Toni Beaton (First-year MI Student)
Danielle Hubbard graduated with her MLIS degree in 2013 and was recently appointed the Chief Executive Officer of the Okanagan Regional Library in British Columbia. I had the pleasure of interviewing Danielle and chatting with her about her rapid career trajectory since graduating.
Please tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? What initially brought you to the information management field?
My name is Danielle Hubbard, and I grew up in Victoria, BC. When I was an undergraduate student, I worked as a Page for the Greater Victoria Public Library. My mother was a Circulation Clerk, so I don’t know if it would’ve occurred to me to apply there otherwise. Partway through my undergraduate in Art History, it occurred to me that my [degree] was not terribly employable. After having a casual conversation with my mom, she didn’t push me towards librarianship or try to convince me, but it was an offhand comment about wishing she’d become a librarian. My mother is a very wise person. I took her non-advice and went to Dalhousie, and graduated in 2013. I’m now the Chief Executive Officer of the Okanagan Regional Library.
Which area of information management most interests you? Did you know this coming into your MLIS program, or did you discover this along the way?
When I entered the MLIS program, I thought I wanted to be an academic librarian. Like many librarians, I’m an introvert. The thought of doing something behind the scenes was appealing. When I started at Dal, I decided by week two that it was not what I wanted to do. I [was drawn] to the public library courses. I took a lot of programming, outreach, and children’s services [courses]. I really care the most about creativity and impact; that I’m doing something creative, and that I can see the positive impact of the work I’m doing. That seemed the most available to me first through programming and outreach, and felt it was even more true in upper management. I had a brief foray in children’s services, which is also very creative.
What has your career trajectory looked like since graduating from MLIS in 2013?
I did my four-week practicum at the Salt Spring Island Public Library [in British Columbia], partially because I love the Gulf Islands, but also strategically because this was a place I’d like to live and work. I wanted to use my practicum to make connections. I then worked there over the summer in children’s programming, which was a really good learning experience. Unlike a big city or regional system, when you work for a small, independent library early in your career, you get tossed into everything. There aren’t departments or silos, and you do whatever you are asked to do. In my second year of grad school, a librarian position at the Salt Spring Island Public Library came up (with a focus in outreach and youth services). I got the position, and I think my connections from the year before helped. I’d say the theme of my career path is that I never meet the requirements of the job postings. This one was [requiring] 3-5 years of experience, and I had just graduated. But the board knew me, and the chief librarian knew me.
After working there for several years, I then moved to Manitoba and worked for the Western Manitoba Regional Library as a Programming and Outreach Librarian. Similar to Salt Spring, that was an unexpectedly good career move. Rural Manitoba is very poorly funded, and public libraries there have some of the least funding in the country. These factors meant I had a lot of free reign to work however I could, with no budget for programming and outreach. I then applied for the Director of Library Services (Chief Librarian) role. I’d only been out of grad school for 5-6 years, and I was not qualified. But I applied, and was offered the position. I think again, because I had already built relationships with the library board, they trusted me as an employee. I had this job through the bulk of the pandemic, for 2.5 years.
My mother [became ill], and I resigned [from the Western Manitoba Regional Library] to move back to the coast to look after my mom in her last few months. When it became clear my mother was not going to get better, I looked for work closer to home; I worked for a time at the Port Moody Public Library in Greater Vancouver. After having been the director of a regional library system, I found that [this role] wasn’t demanding or creative enough. I began looking in the field again [for a job], and was offered a position as the Director of Public Services for the Okanagan Regional Library based in Kelowna. It’s one of the five biggest systems in BC, and geographically spans from Golden in the north down to Osoyoos in the south. I was initially responsible for the northern half of the system (staffing, programming, and outreach activities). Very soon after I started, the CEO announced his retirement and recommended I apply. I like putting myself out there and trying new things, so I applied. I was interviewed three times, and was then offered the position. I’ve been the CEO since November 1st of last year, so almost six months.
Congratulations on your new position as CEO of the Okanagan Regional Library. Please tell us more about your position. What are your roles and responsibilities? What does a typical day look like for you?
The term CEO in the public library is really synonymous with Chief Librarian, City Librarian, Executive Director… it just means you are the top staff member. I report to a board of elected officials with representatives from each of the ORL’s member communities. I am ultimately responsible for all operations of the library system; everything from finances, operating budgets, services for the public, our human resources, marketing, outreach… ultimately, I’m responsible for all of that. I have an executive upper management team of seven members, and then all of the staff of the library flow out from them. The majority of my time I spend interacting with those seven members of the management team.
I see my role as moving things forward. As the CEO, you are the connector; for example, taking IT, public services, and HR together, and finding a [common] ground that will work for all of them. It’s also my role to set and move initiatives forward. Right now, we’re in the early stages of doing strategic planning. The onus falls to me to set meetings and deadlines, and hold people accountable. Sometimes it’s like herding everyone forward. I also do a fair bit of work with the board (24 people). We have four annual meetings. They need to be in the know of what the library is doing, so that their municipalities will want to remain within the library system. It’s a very interpersonal, political, and tactical role. Honestly, it’s very far-removed from any assignment I ever did in grad school. I might be attending a finance committee, or driving to Revelstoke to speak to their city council, or attending a union labour management meeting, or a building project meeting, or talking to the press about a drag storytime we’re going to host… it’s hard to say exactly what a normal day is. It’s usually a lot of emails and lot of meetings.
Lastly, what advice would you offer second-year MI students graduating this June, as they enter the information management professional field?
I want to emphasize – be willing to move around, take initiative by applying for work that stretches your on-paper credentials, and take initiative within a role and be able to articulate what you uniquely contributed [in future interviews].
As you enter the profession, even if you don’t enjoy your very first role, learn what you can and contribute what you can. Be aware of where there might be gaps in what you know; for example, what are some of the experiences employers are looking for you to have? Project management, financial leadership? Where could you get those experiences, or how can you spin your experiences to show you are able to do that? Librarianship is so dynamic. You won’t have a cut and dry role. Really demonstrating that you are able and willing to go with the flow and set your own direction is what employers are looking for.
Apply above your rank, even if you don’t meet all the requirements… go for it anyway. I oversee hiring in my role, and right now public libraries are desperately looking for MLIS [MI] graduates. If you are willing to move, you stand a very good chance. I can’t speak for all organizations, but certainly based on my own experience and the conversations I have with other library leaders, I keep hearing the question, “Where did all the librarians go?” Being willing to move around really sets you up for career success, if that is what you want to prioritize. I don’t think it would’ve happened this way [my career path] if I hadn’t had my experiences in Manitoba before moving back to BC. Sometimes you just can’t gain the same diverse array of experience if you stay in one place.