Achieving Success in a Non-Traditional Position: Meet Stephen MacDonald

. . . by Christina Wilson , Head Editor, INALJ Alberta

Achieving Success in a Non-Traditional Position: Meet Stephen MacDonald, MLIS and Resource Coordinator for Edmonton’s Social Planning Council  (ESPC)

Stephen_001After obtaining his MLIS, from Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, Stephen MacDonald aspired to become a reference librarian, but was open to pursuing other information management opportunities.  His career path leading up to his current position with Edmonton’s Social Planning Council included working on a digital exhibit for a university archive and being a collections manager for a community museum.  Stephen’s varied career demonstrates that MLIS graduates are qualified to succeed in non- traditional positions, outside of libraries and bring great value to these organizations.

I met Stephen at an Edmonton area “speed networking” event and learned how his transferrable librarian skills equipped him to succeed as Resource Coordinator with Edmonton’s Social Planning Council (ESPC).   In this non-traditional position, Stephen mixes information management and social advocacy work to achieve the goals of the organization, working independently and fully using skills learned at library school.  Edmonton’s Social Planning Council is an independent social research organization “dedicated to encouraging the adoption of equitable social policy, supporting the work of other organizations who are striving to improve the lives of Edmontonians, and educating the public regarding the social issues that impact them on a daily basis”.  Social planning councils exist in many communities throughout Canada, from British Columbia to Newfoundland.  They are focused on a range of community development and social justice issues.  Edmonton is fortunate to have one of only two non-profit, social planning councils functioning in Alberta.  ESPC is fortunate to have a librarian as their Resource Coordinator.

As ESPC  Resource Coordinator, Stephen’s tasks include managing  the resource services program, which disseminates knowledge and research services to community stakeholders;  manages and promotes ESPC’s physical library and its research database (;  provides a free research service to Edmonton’s non-profit community; edits a monthly newsletter;  organizes a lunchtime speaker series to create awareness and understanding of community social issues; maintains Edmonton’s Social Research Directory, a valuable resource for libraries, archives and other area information centres and manages ESPC’s Social Justice Internship Program.   The threeSOURCE database is an important and unique repository of reports on Alberta’s “third sector” (or non-profit sector), social issues in Alberta, and related subject areas which acts as the “library catalogue” for ESPC’s physical library.

All of these areas of responsibility are greatly enhanced by the employment of an MLIS graduate, skilled in information organization and retrieval, whether the material is physical or online.   Below are some of the skills and attributes Stephen uses in his non-traditional, but varied position.  These  skills are key to transferring  to fields beyond librarianship:

  • organizing  and classifying information,
  • conducting research and reference interviewing
  • assessment and evaluation, information fluency
  • critical analysis and problem solving
  • collaboration and mediation ability
  • adaptability, flexibility and creativity
  • written (print and digital) and oral communication skills
  • time management ability
  • web design, beyond basic knowledge of HTML and CSS.

Lessons learned:

Stephen MacDonald offers the following advice for those considering employment opportunities beyond traditional librarianship.  Think about how your information management skill set can be applied in different types of work environments.   While taking your MLIS, take practical courses (i.e. cataloguing, web design, database management, records management, discipline-specific librarianship courses) that can transfer to other fields.

Attend as many networking events as possible to stay informed about your field and connect with others that could help improve your employment prospects.

After graduating, get involved in professional associations, ChristinaWilsonattend conferences and continue to take courses in your area of expertise. All of these learning opportunities help you remain connected to your field and help you stay informed about new developments in information management.

And, for those considering a geographic move to improve employment prospects, is a great resource given that the job postings are organized geographically.


Stephen’s photo taken from