Emerging leaders: SLIS alumni Lorisia MacLeod and Kayla Lar-Son

University of Alberta School of Library and Information Studies (SLIS) alumni Lorisia MacLeod and Kayla Lar-Son are proving to be influential leaders in the library community.

MacLeod, who currently works as a Learning Services Librarian for The Alberta Library, was recently appointed Chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations. Lar-Son, who holds positions at the University of British Columbia as an Indigenous programs and services librarian for the Xwi7xwa Library and program manager librarian for the Indigitization Program, has been recognized as one of the American Library Association's 2022 Class of Emerging Leaders.

We had the opportunity to catch up with MacLeod and Lar-Son to chat about their accomplishments, their academic journeys and the ways in which they inspire the Indigenous library community.

Lorisia MacLeod (‘18 MLIS)

Lorisia MacLeodYou were recently appointed chair of the Canadian Federation of Library Associations (CFLA-FCAB)—congratulations! What was your reaction when you heard the news?

I was really thrilled when the board elected me to be chair! It was a strong vote of confidence in my leadership skills. It’s moments like this that I find very affirming because you have colleagues in the field confirming that they feel you are the right person to do the work.

It was also particularly exciting because this was the first time that CFLA-FCAB has had an Indigenous chair and I’m thrilled to see such a young organization have that kind of representation in leadership. As someone who got into librarianship to learn how to be a good leader because I didn’t see many Indigenous people in those positions, I feel like this is a good example of change and hope it inspires other Indigenous folks to go for leadership positions.

What will you be doing as the chair of CFLA-FCAB?

The chair is aptly named, as they are the person who chairs meetings of this broad and diverse board. Chairing a meeting can seem really daunting at first, but it’s actually all about ensuring respectful conduct and that all members have the same expectations about the meetings. Beyond that, my role is to ensure the board follows through with directions that we vote on, be a voice for CFLA-FCAB, and uplift the work our board and committee members do.

One important thing to remember with any association work is that it isn’t about ego. While as Chair my name is going to end up being the one signed on certain documents, the work that those documents represent is the undertaking by our whole board and members of our strategic committees.

Tell us about your life outside of CFLA-FCAB.

In addition to being a proud member of the James Smith Cree Nation and the chair of CFLA-FCAB, I am also the Indigenous ancestry representative on that same board. I am also a co-councillor for IBBY Canada, and communications officer for the Library Association of Alberta as well. For my day job, I am a learning services librarian for The Alberta Library.

Can you give us an overview of your professional journey up to today?

I would say my path here started with my role as VP and then president for the Library and Information Studies Student Association while doing my MLIS. Even as a student, I didn’t hold back from doing professional service because I also served as student representative of the Greater Edmonton Library Association and CFLA-FCAB’s Indigenous Matters Committee.

After graduating in 2018 from the MLIS program, I maintained a high commitment to professional service, broadening my scope as I went. I must admit that along the way I had moments of imposter syndrome, but I had a great network of colleagues who continued to support me and cheer me on even as things changed drastically due to the pandemic. In June 2021, I joined the CFLA-FCAB board as the Indigenous ancestry representative.

Who is your biggest inspiration?

My dad, Kirk MacLeod. He’s an alumnus of the same program and taught me from very early on the importance of professional service. He’s always so busy helping the field but very humble about it. It’s really empowering to have my biggest inspiration, supporter and pacesetter in the same field as me.

Beyond my family and field, I have to say a big inspiration is the Honorable Murray Sinclair. Sinclair really inspires me because he took on a lot of heavy important work but always remained humble and kind. I clicked with his perspective on the importance of service with his committee work and commitment to doing the work that was worth doing even if it was hard.

What advice would you give to current students in the MLIS program?

Participate in student governance, like getting involved with LISSA or another association—that experience early on is irreplaceable. Even if you don’t think you want to do much professional service outside of your future job, chances are you’ll end up on internal committees or doing group work within your day job, and those skills will really help you to create a collaborative constructive team effort.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni of the program! I have found that most alumni were more than happy to chat with potential or current students, and they have some great advice! It’s also a great way to build your professional network and learn more about the huge variety of things you can do with an MLIS degree.

Kayla Lar-Son (‘18 MLIS)

Kayla Lar-SonThe Faculty of Education was excited to hear that you were named one of ALA's 2022 Class of Emerging Leaders! What was your reaction when you heard the news?

I was really excited to be named as one of ALA’s Emerging Leaders. I know a few folks who have been part of the program and got to learn about the amazing experiences that they had. For me, being an Emerging Leader means that I can connect with other IBPOC librarians who are interested in leadership and working on larger projects together.

Where are you working these days?

My current roles are as the Indigenous programs and services librarian for the Xwi7xwa library at the University of British Columbia, as well as the program manager librarian for the Indigitization Program.

My days are really varied! I spend a lot of time providing outreach to community members as well as presenting on my areas of interest, which are Indigenous data sovereignty and open access. Some days I’m really involved in my work for Indigitization and supporting Indigenous communities with their digitization and cultural heritage management needs.

Can you tell us about your professional journey up to today?

My journey to Xwi7xwa has definitely been a wild one! I have a BA Honours in Native Studies from the U of A, where I studied under Dr. Frank Tough and this is where I learned my passion for research. After that, I received my MLIS in 2018 where I focused on Indigenous librarianship and was an Indigenous intern in the Rutherford Library.

My first librarian position was at the U of A in Digital Initiatives where I was mentored by Leah Vanderjagt and James Dorion. They strengthened my research data management skills (RDM) and helped me figure out where my knowledge of Indigenous protocols might fit into the larger picture of RDM, Indigenous research and community engagement. While at U of A, I was also an ACRL Diversity Alliance resident and was able to travel to Greensboro North Carolina, to meet other residents who were participating in the program.

Today, I am a current member of the CLFA copyright committee, the COPPUL Indigenous Historic Publication Working Group, the Portage Experts Group, and help other organizations when they reach out.

What takeaways from your time at the U of A have you found most valuable?

I really appreciate all the mentorship that I received from my professors and colleagues, I learned many practical skills from hands-on experience. Additionally, I learned how to engage in advocacy within the profession and learned how we as librarians can create transformative change within communities when we listen and ask how we can help.

What advice would you give to current students in the MLIS program?

It’s important to not lose your passions and learn how to incorporate them into your learning. I was able to take a few classes outside of my MLIS through the Faculty of Native Studies which were on land-based learning and advanced research.

Lastly, how do you wind down after a stressful day?

I recently took up bouldering! Most nights I can be found climbing in the gym. I’m really looking forward to being able to climb outdoors this summer. Other than that I live pretty close to the beach, so when the weather is nice that’s where I can also be found!

Feature image: Lorisia MacLeod with her father, Kirk MacLeod (supplied).