Profile: Eileen Lewis

Interviewed Eileen Lewis from the Ontario Legislative Library for the Toronto Special Libraries & Information Services Network, of which I was a member of. Check it out!


Eileen Lewis may just be the toughest librarian at Queen’s Park. By day, she works as a research librarian at the Ontario Legislative Library at the Legislative Assembly of Ontario. By night, Lewis straps on a pair of skates and channels her alter ego, “Marian the Diebrarian”, in a roller derby league. Raised in Hamilton, Lewis is a two-time University of Toronto graduate, where she obtained an Hon. BA in history and political science and a MISt in the library & information science and women & gender studies collaborative program. She sat down with fellow TSLIS member, Mimi Szeto, to talk about what it’s like to be a part of the Members of the Provincial Parliament’s library team and how the roughness on the rinks made her a better professional.

What is a day in the life of a research librarian at the Legislative Library?
There would be clients at the reference desk, an hour or two fielding incoming calls and answering the questions you’ve taken in. Rather than helping people find material and go about their research, we actually do the research. Our librarians are broken down to subject clusters that come up most frequently. If it’s something like health and education or planning and environment, we send it to the right people to do it. My cluster is planning and environment, so I do a lot of energy questions, municipal planning, agriculture, anything that falls into general parliamentary duties. As well, I train the general client team. We also work closely with our legislative research service, and those are mostly lawyers and people who are able to give more insight or more analysis.

What material does the library collect?
We collect a little bit of everything. Because we serve the Members of Provincial Parliament and their staff, there would be issues in legislating the province that could really range. If it’s policy-related or a government publication, we have them. We also have lots of licensed databases, unique products we get in-house, a small fiction collection and legal reference desk material. The bulk of our collection is Ontario government publications. Whenever the Ontario government publishes, we do our best to archive it, either in paper or digital format.

What’s your favourite thing about being a special librarian?
The thing I really like about being a special librarian is that you work in a smaller environment and get a broader sense of what actually goes on in the library. I think if you worked in a public or academic library, you’ll see your role in reference or your role in collections almost like an island. Working in smaller special libraries, you have to do more. You can do more character building and career building in a special library.

What’s the most challenging part about being a special librarian?
Definitely in our context, the pressure is on, just because of the nature of our work. There’s always the chance that someone would stand up in the House and misquote a fact that you’ve done. You want to be perpetually diligent about having factual, reliable, concrete information that you’re passing onto your clients.

You’re a derby girl. You mentioned once that it made you a better librarian. How so? How did you get into it?
A friend of a friend was starting a league and it seemed like fun to put on roller skates and hit people. And I did. The most important thing you learn from roller derby is you learn to fall and you learn to get back up. The best way you can have it is to get knocked down completely, dust yourself off, laugh, get back up and keep going. I think that makes you a better professional. Sometimes you get hurt, sometimes you’ll be at your worst, but you can keep going.

Would you ever let us come and watch?
Yes. I had a large cheering section from the Ledge one year, actually. They came out and had a big sign that read, “Shhhh!” It was awesome.

Connect with Eileen Lewis on Twitter @eflewis.


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