Walking the corridors around the offices of the School of Library of Information Studies brought the responsibility of being its new director into sharp focus for Kenneth Gariepy. As Gariepy and his partner, both SLIS alumni, perused the photos of graduating MLIS classes reaching back to 1978, he says he saw the faces of mentors, colleagues, movers and shakers in the world of library science who got their start at SLIS.
“All those pictures remind me of the responsibility this position carries,” Gariepy says. “SLIS has such a long history of excellence, it’s a tremendous privilege to serve as director.” While this tradition of excellence bears on his sense of responsibility, Gariepy says he’s focused on the future of SLIS, advancing a vision of a school that is both racism-free and anti-racist, committed to reconciliation and decolonization, and grounded in the professional and social realities that are shaping librarianship. For example, as public libraries shift away from physical collections to offering more dedicated creative, work and community spaces, library workers of all types find their role expanding as front-line service providers to increasingly diverse populations with complex needs, including unhoused people and newcomers to Canada.
“The complexity of the job needs to be imparted to students so they avoid perpetuating existing systems of oppression,” he says.
Gariepy is also concerned with the longstanding decline of K-12 libraries in Alberta, especially in rural areas, where the lack of staff, collections and training for parents on how to use e-resources is resulting in an unequal school library system that is impacting literacy — an impact felt disproportionately by FNMI communities.
In his first months as SLIS director, Gariepy says he has devoted time to building important on-campus connections with units that contribute significantly to library and information studies such as Ed. Tech. and the University Library. He’s also reached beyond campus, forging relationships with municipal, regional and provincial libraries and those in Indigenous communities.
“I want to hear their perspectives on how the profession is changing, how we can work together, and how they perceive library education,” Gariepy says. “I have learned that people respect our graduates and value the attention paid to high quality education.”
Gariepy is quick to note he’s assuming the directorship at a propitious time. Not only was the School’s MLIS program’s accreditation by the American Library Association renewed for an unprecedented eight years in 2020, but he sees SLIS’s strengths aligning with the University’s imperatives to welcome more students and faculty, and to expand opportunities for online learning. He adds that, as an alumnus and former resident with deep local roots, he’s glad to be back.
“It’s good to be home,” he says, “and Edmonton is truly home.”