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Stephanie Tolson is the Dean of Learning Resources and Academic Support at St. Charles Community College.
What is a challenge you faced in your job or career, and how did you deal with it?
Change is a constant challenge. Several years ago, I was asked to take over the academic tutoring department on campus in addition to overseeing the library. This was new ground for me, but I soon found learning about tutoring and developmental learners were not insurmountable tasks. The institution wanted to make changes, and I was willing and able to take on the challenge. Many of us serve in very traditional roles, handling responsibilities in the library or information center that have not changed much over the years. However, we are now living in a rapidly changing society. With advanced technologies and shifting priorities, we are being asked to do more with less. Employers are looking for more adaptability out of their workers, so one should not be surprised when their role is expanded or eliminated due to shifting enterprise needs. Information professionals who continue to expand their skill set will be better prepared for career changes. We should not assume that because we achieved a master’s degree that we do not need to continuously learn more to remain valuable.
What’s the one piece of advice you would tell someone new to the field?
Think BIG. Do your homework. Do the research needed to promote an idea or introduce a new service. Once, I was asked what I would do to outfit a new computer laboratory. I did the research on what would be needed (cost, space allocation, electrical needs, etc.). I recommended the placement of eight computer workstations in the allotted space because I thought the institution would not give me enough funds for more. To my surprise, my boss told me to resubmit with a plan that would fill the allotted space. I may not have been funded for that project immediately, but within a few years the new computer laboratory became a place to satisfy many student needs on campus. Do not assume that everyone will understand your dreams or aspirations; it will be your job to pitch it and sell it. Realize that decisions do not happen overnight. Often, an idea has to be introduced several times before it sinks in. You have to want to advance your idea bad enough to go to bat for it. And do not forget about lining up your allies. Get buy-in from those inside your department as well as those outside. Be ready to demonstrate how your idea will benefit others (i.e., the customer). If you think BIG, you will also have some wiggle room if your sponsor suggests approval with limitations.
What do you value about SLA?
I value a professional organization that continues to look out for its members by providing growth opportunities and services that help us develop new skills. My involvement in SLA has strengthened my skill set. I learned more about marketing from conference programs and enrolled in courses on taxonomies and copyright management just to name a few. I have served SLA in the roles on the Standards, Cataloging, and Conference Programming Committees. Ultimately, I had the honor of serving on SLA’s Board. All of these have made me a wiser person and a more valuable employee. SLA gives its members opportunities, but it is up to us to decide to grab the baton and run with it.
What book(s) are you currently reading?
I’m reading David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas. I heard McCullough speak at an SLA Conference. He was such a dynamic speaker I decided to buy his John Adams. Last year, I found that my library owned his book on the building of the Panama Canal and since I have been to the canal, I decided this would be a good read. I am also reading The Butterfly Mosque by G. Willow Wilson. She is informing me about Islamic life in Egypt.
What’s your favorite metro St. Louis area restaurant/food/landmark?
I love Zia’s on the Hill.
Lastly, how can people connect with you?