For our first member profile of 2012, we talked to Rachel Kolsky. Rachel is a longstanding member of SLA, and served as SLA Europe’s president in 2006/7. Most recently, Rachel has been making use of her information professional background as a tour guide, and to research and write a book on Jewish London.
Can you tell us a bit about your background? How did you first become involved in the information profession?
I studied Politics and Modern History at Manchester University and my first job was in a statistics unit (anyone who knows me will be aghast at this idea – Rachel and numbers!). When the librarian was on holiday they asked me to look after the library in her absence. When I sat at her desk for the first time, I just KNEW that is what I wanted to do. So, after my post-grad library qualification I started work in the City. By luck not judgement but I really enjoyed the buzz of the financial world. My experience covered merchant banking (now called investment banking), fund management and insurance and I was lucky to work for three top-class organisations, SG Warburg, J Rothschild and AIG. While at AIG I was encouraged to join SLA and later was invited to join the Board of SLA Europe. The collaboration with fellow info pros both in the UK and abroad via SLA really increased my confidence outside of the immediate day-to-day office environment and also gave me the opportunity to speak at an international conference.
I understand you’ve just written a book. Can you tell us a bit about it? Where did the idea come from?
Roslyn, my co-author and I love travelling. Where ever we are in the world we seek out Jewish heritage, synagogues and try to meet members of the local communities. Amazingly, there was no guide-book to Jewish London. Despite a growing interest in Jewish heritage in London, vibrant cultural centres, festivals for literature, music and dance no guide-book existed to ensure visitors and residents have all the information they need in one easy-to-read format. Roslyn and I volunteer at Jewish Book Week and, two years ago, after one of our shifts she asked me if I had ever thought of writing a book based on the coach and walking tours I lead around London. With Roslyn’s knowledge of the Jewish community, particularly the synagogues and food matched with my knowledge of the history of Jewish London, it seemed that we MUST write the book!
We then had to find a publisher. We poured over guide books in Stanfords and chose the publishers who we wanted to work with. New Holland took us on and then it was all go ….. no sooner than they said they rather liked the idea we were writing sample chapters, sending in the text, having to edit ….. drastically. The commissioning editor got the measure of me very quickly. You write like you talk he said …. don’t!! I had to learn to cut, cut, cut. It was tough at first but the words had to go!
The book covers both walking tours around key areas of Jewish interest but also features about historic cemeteries, Jewish art and artists, important Jewish personalities such as Disraeli and the Rothschilds, areas off the beaten track and suggested days out. Holocaust memorials are all listed and museums and Judaica are profiled. Several sites are very underknown so we hope the book will encourage greater number of visitors.
How did your background as an information professional help you with writing the book?
As an info pro with nearly 30 years behind me of researching all manner of subjects, whether in the early days using books and newspaper cuttings to later using on-line resources it was experience of research and checking sources for validity! It was also true that whether in the commercial world or the ‘literary’ world you must use personal communication too. You cannot get results without working with those who are the experts in their fields and in the case of a guide-book, those wonderful curators who manage the museums and galleries and the synagogue administrators who know their communities.
My work as an info pro meant I could be very well organised, or at least, aspire to being well organised. Preparing the guide-book was a collaboration between two authors with very different career backgrounds but we found we complemented each other.
I did the picture research too! This was a challenge as I did not really know what I was getting into but I loved it! Through my Jewish London walking tours and my many books on the bookshelves at home (yes, lots of real books!) I had lots of photos of my own but also an idea of which archive images I felt would add some interest to the London visitors would see while exploring. This led in turn to use my negotiation experience from working with business information suppliers. Costs of reproduction rights for images are very high now but I found that the copyright owners were really helpful and understanding about the lack of budget. I am thrilled with the range of images in the book – photos, works of art in galleries and historic archive images.
The publication timetable was tight, deadlines were always changing but never in our favour and they had to be met! We had both been used to busy corporate environments but the pressure in the corporate world never matched that of producing the book!!!
What advice would you give to someone just starting out as an information professional?
1) Any subject can be interesting. If you are naturally inquisitive then any subject, even if you previously knew nothing about it, will become fascinating once you are immersed in it. Obvious ones are medicine, law, finance but what about wool, cement and aviation? Whatever your background, never discount an organisation or subject matter as being uninteresting.
2) The info pro world is a service industry – you have to like people and want to help
3) You might not know the answer but you will certainly know how to find it or know the person who knows. Remember, that is often as good as knowing the answer yourself.
4) Info pro work is so varied. Whatever your favourite part of the work – using hard copy, researching on-line, finding the expert, analysing info, presenting info, writing – your role will include it. And if it does not, then encourage your unit to branch out into wider services. Your clients will appreciate it.
What are your plans and predictions for 2012?
Since leaving a PAYE working environment and becoming freelance my plans tend to be very simple …. paying the bills and praying the roof does not leak! But that is not me really. I am always making plans. Three years ago I thought how wonderful it would be to be a lecturer on cruise ships. Now I am! Two years ago I was wondering if I could write a book. Now I know I can! The key is to plan but not to be despondent if the plans do not come to fruition. Next plans? Now Jewish London is published I am planning my next book … there is lots of interest in the theme (sorry, secret at the moment).
Thank you Rachel for sharing your insights with us! All the best of luck with your next book – sounds very exciting!