Celebrating Information & Referral Day

  • November 16, 2018

    Posted by: Dawn Bourbonnais

    Since its inception in 2011, when the United States Senate first officially designated November 16th as I & R Day, this date is used annually across North America to celebrate and advocate for information and referral services and their critical role in a community.

    Here at Volunteer Manitoba, we have two professionals dedicated solely to the management of Information & Referral services across Manitoba.

    Click their names to get to know Philip Wolfart and Alanna Palmer and the critical work they do!

    Who is Philip and why does he email me all the time?
    A conversation with Philip Wolfart, Manager, 211 Manitoba

    "Community I &R is a lot like cataloguing books in a library, but the difference is I get to talk with the authors." Philip Wolfart, an experienced librarian and geographer, has likely chased you down for information at one point or another. He shared with us his professional experiences,the importance of I & R day, and future directions he imagines for the I & R community.

    Why do we celebrate I & R day?
    P: There are a lot of folks who work in the information & referral sector who don't even know they do. Information & Referral has existed since humans decided to organize into communities, such as sharing where the best watering hole is. Since I & R is everywhere, this day highlights all of the work that is being done, and advocating for it's crucial role in community development and healthy societies.

    What board of directors do you currently sit on?
    P: I am the Vice President of Inform Ontario, a member of Inform Canada's board, as well as a member of the 211 National Service Provider Committee.My main role with sitting on these boards is to learn the current challenges the sector is experiencing, participate in meaningful discussions and brainstorm new ways things can be done, and take all of that back to Manitoba.

    What is your background education & experience?
    P: I traveled overseas and studied briefly in France, and eventually pursued a Historical Geography degree at The University of Oxford in England. I eventually completed graduate work in Geography at Queens University, taught Geography courses for Queen's in the UK, and subsequently a master's degree in Library & Information Sciences from Western University. I worked as a librarian for a Law firm, a Business librarian, and eventually a reference librarian for the University of Manitoba. I have been with Volunteer Manitoba since 2011.

    What is your role now, and what do you see in the future?
    P: I am currently the manager of 211 Manitoba, which is the latest manifestation of information & referral. I chase updates from organizations, I help make sure the database is current and complete, as well as liaise with various sectors to develop relationships, such as a current partnership with the newcomer community. I work to leverage information I obtain to create more information. In the future, I imagine the development of a 211 call centre, to follow suit with other 211 centres across Canada. I would like to see a method in place to follow up with referrals, and I hope to see a method of sharing community events, so that people see more of a community calendar than a static phonebook.

    Are there any trends you've noticed?
    P: By far, the most searched for information is related to citizenship.

    You can reach Philip at philip.wolfart@volunteermanitoba.ca or by phone at (204)-477-5180.

    Who is Alanna and what does she do with my information?
    A conversation with Alanna Palmer, Information & Referral Specialist

    Alanna Palmer, the Information & Referral Specialist, can be likened to a walking, talking, community encyclopedia. As the longest working staff here at Volunteer Manitoba, she has seen many developments in the I & R department since she first started back in 2002. We sat down with her to discuss some of the history of Volunteer Manitoba's I & R services, her role and certifications, and to provide an example of the many complex referrals she is trained to tackle with ease.

    How does Volunteer Manitoba fit into I&R?
    A: Believe it or not, Volunteer Manitoba began with collecting information about organizations on recipe cards! The information was used to help direct people to services, to let other organizations know what services existed, and to help direct volunteers. For example, when the 1997 flood happened, people came to us to find out where they could pitch in to help.
    This information became quite robust, and it led to partnerships and contracts with organizations who needed information, such as the creation of the Health Services Directory.
    Nowadays, Volunteer Manitoba is home to 211 Manitoba, and maintains a complex database of community information. We are the intermediaries for so much information.

    What is your role?
    A: I am the Information & Referral Specialist. I help maintain a complex database of community information,through contacting organizations and using taxonomy codes... roughly ten thousand codes are used to classify community services!
    I work with individuals and organizations to connect them to services they need. Additionally, I keep up to date on what is happening in the non-profit community such as AGM's, events, and I take part in occasional outreach. In the future, I hope to continue mentoring people on things to consider before incorporating as an organization.

    The fancy letters beside your name, "AIRS", "CIRS"... What do they mean?
    A: The professional membership association of my work is called the Alliance of Information and Referral Systems (AIRS). AIRS certifies individuals, databases, even whole call centres! So as an individual, I am AIRS certified. I sat a professional exam in 2007 to become a certified Information Referral Specialist (CIRS). In 2009, I traveled to Calgary to sit the exam to become a resource specialist, which prepared me to do all of the taxonomy mentioned earlier.

    Can you tell us more about your background?
    A: I graduated from the University of Windsor and began practicing as a lawyer. I worked primarily in family law. My dream has always been to help people in some sort of fashion... if blood didn't creep me out, I'd be a doctor! I was helping people in the legal field, however the procedures can take a lot of time, and I sought out the ability to help people faster. As an Information & Referral Specialist, I'm able to help people immensely just with one phone call or one e-mail.
    My career in Law helped train me to become an expert active listener. I can pull all of the important pieces out of a conversation and filter them.

    Can you tell us an interesting story of a referral?
    A: An elderly man needed to transport an urn from many provinces away, to a small town in Manitoba. He couldn't drive, and just had the funds for the plane ticket. I helped navigate finding services to get him from the airport, to the small town, a way around the town, and a hotel to stay in. Referrals often involve many moving parts! He safely and securely got to where he needed to be.

    You can reach Alanna at alanna.palmer@volunteermanitoba.ca, or by phone at (204)-477-5180.

    This VM Blog entry was written by Brianna Boyse


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