2022 ULS Candidate for Vice-Chair Elect – Laura Gariepy
Tell us more about yourself and how you became an academic librarian.
I’ve been an academic librarian for nearly 13 years, after receiving my MSLS from UNC Chapel Hill, and have been at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Libraries in Richmond, VA since 2009. I started as an Undergraduate Research Librarian, and over the years assumed new responsibilities, and now I’m the Associate Dean for Research and Learning. I could not imagine a better institution or library system to have landed in. Between that and the amazing network of colleagues I’ve made through organizations like ACRL and ULS, I cannot imagine a better profession or career than what I’ve experienced in librarianship.
Like many librarians, I was an eager student and a library enthusiast from childhood to college. But I was specifically motivated to become an academic librarian after serving on a committee in college at Appalachian State University that was chaired by a librarian (thank you, Glenn Ellen Starr Stilling!). We were tasked with evaluating my institution’s textbook rental program. I learned so much about the library’s resources and the way it could supplement curricular materials during that time, and saw for the first time how much the academic library can enrich students’ college experience, playing a particularly critical role for students who may have limited financial means. I also learned the phrase “information literacy” from Glenn Ellen shortly thereafter, and I was hooked.
How long have you been involved in ULS and what attracted you to the section?
I’ve been a member of ULS for 12 years, and joining was an easy decision. Having landed at a large research institution for my first job at VCU, I was eager to tap into a deeper understanding of how university and research libraries advance research and learning so I could to my job well. ULS has been an excellent forum for that, and has allowed me to build a fantastic network of colleagues far beyond my own institution. I look forward to new ways to give back to the ACRL section that has given me so much.
In your opinion, what are some of the most interesting topics or trends we’re seeing in university libraries?
So many things! But here are just a few…
I think librarians coming to grips with and championing the fact that we are not neutral, but can and should be agents for social justice and inclusion, is one of the most significant and impactful transitions in the profession right now. An institution that claims to be neutral is one that is not aware of the role it likely plays in perpetuating harmful power structures, and I have been honored and inspired to be a part of the profession as we change our way of thinking on this. We serve as agents of social justice by embracing critical pedagogies, designing spaces and services built around the principles of universal design and universal design for learning, and increasing access to voices that have been historically oppressed. We must also work so, so hard to transform our own organizational cultures to truly celebrate the value of a diverse and inclusive staff.
The shift from a collections-centric model of librarianship to a services-engaged model is another hugely important trend. We continue to evolve our role as providers of information to organizations that create or facilitate the creation of new information and also serve as academic partners. Digital scholarship, creative media studios, maker spaces, scholarly communications initiatives, research data management, the strategic integration of information literacy into curricula… these all speak to the new and innovative ways university libraries are contributing to their campus communities. A major challenge, of course, is identifying legacy services or activities that libraries can stop doing in order to create space for these new opportunities, especially in a time of dwindling funding sources for higher education.
I’m also keenly attuned to the importance of assessment, continuous improvement, and demonstrating value are ever-increasing for libraries. There’s no doubt that it will become increasingly important for us to demonstrate how we advance our specific institutional goals. But assessment and evaluation – especially in the age of learning analytics and the use of individual-level student data – sometimes challenges our long-held professional convictions regarding user privacy. We have both an opportunity and a considerable challenge to determine the best and most ethical ways to understand our users and libraries’ impact on their success so that we can strive to serve them better.
Finally, I would be remiss not to acknowledge how COVID-19 and our nation’s racial reckoning has impacted us not only over the past two years, but how it will likely impact us for… ever. It has sharpened our focus on issues related to equity and our students’ and employees’ needs. I hope so much that it has deepened our empathy as professionals. And it has enormously changed the way students, faculty, staff, and librarians work, learn, and teach.
What goals for the section would you have if elected to this position? How do you envision committees and members helping the section achieve those goals?
I would like to extend the good work happening in ULS to understand how we can best serve early-career librarians and students who work in (or hope to work in) university library settings. University libraries – which can be large and sometimes slow to change as a result – benefit tremendously from the perspectives and energy of new professionals in our field, and ULS should embrace every opportunity to support programming by and for early career library employees. To get there, we need to seek input from new professionals and students who are and who are not engaged with ULS, and be responsive to it. ULS has explored this with the engagement of an ALA Emerging Leaders team, I look forward to an opportunity to extend that with a particular focus on supporting opportunities for librarians an students from under-represented groups.
In addition, I would like every aspect of ULS’s work thoughtfully examined to ensure we are advancing inclusion. ULS has already embarked on some of this important work through a recent survey conducted by the ULS Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion task force, and I hope we can continue to look for big and small ways to transform our work so that equity and belonging are the cornerstones of everything we do. These could be large changes and small ones to shift our organizational practices and culture towards a more inclusive environment overall. This creates space to lift up voices and ideas from members who may not have had as many opportunities in the past to share their perspectives.
So, overall, I’d like to see ample opportunity for ULS members who may not have felt able to speak up in the past for any numbers of reasons to actively contribute to ULS conversations, goal-setting, and initiatives.
Where do you see ULS going in the future? How does it need to change and evolve to stay relevant to academic librarians?
In addition to some of what I mentioned in the previous question, there are opportunities for ULS to encourage members to think provocatively about the future of university libraries. We can create spaces and programming to ask the hard questions that make us uncomfortable about the future of libraries – such as what services or initiatives we might have to let go to make for new ones. We can also develop programming that equips librarians to thrive in environments of perpetual change, and to be change agents ourselves.
Tell us something interesting about yourself that not very many people know.
How to pronounce my last name! It’s a mystery to most. But I’ve got the perfect memory trick that now you’ll never forget: “Gariepy” rhymes with “therapy.” You’re welcome!