Mount Royal University Librarian Jessie Loyer is currently on sabbatical and has been spending the last couple of months here visiting the University of Alberta. The pandemic has significantly impacted what her time here has looked like. We would like to share this interview with Jessie conducted by one of University of Alberta Library’s Indigenous Interns, Kaia MacLeod.
What’s a typical day of work for you (pre-pandemic)? What do you normally do?
I’m an academic librarian at Mount Royal University, which is a teaching focused undergraduate university. The librarians there do quite a lot of teaching. It’s a big part of our workload. I’m responsible for two areas: Indigenous Studies and Anthropology. A typical day could involve some collection development for either of those areas and then there is the classroom stuff. That could be something as simple as how to find three scholarly sources. But, it also includes things like a class that I’ve worked with for a couple of years, where one of their big assignments is that they have to create or substantially edit a Wikipedia page. So, it kind of runs the gamut of what teaching can be. Both of those areas are really interesting. That’s kind of a big chunk of my teaching side of things. Collection is part of teaching, and then I would say there are all kinds of fun committees that, as the only second tenured faculty member who is Indigenous at Mount Royal, have a higher demand on my time. Committees, as I think a lot of people will know, do take up a lot of time. So I don’t know if there is a typical day, but I would say most weeks involve some combination of those three things.
How has the pandemic impacted all of these things?
I was still teaching in the spring and we basically had, I think it was, two days where classes were cancelled and then they were back the next week, so we basically had to be like “how are we going to teach?” How do you package this information that we often provide in different ways and in ways that are responsive to different classes? I am very grateful, in many ways, that I have taken a sabbatical, because a lot of the kinks will be figured out, and I’ll be able to come in and hit the ground running in August 2021. The one thing that the pandemic has done for a sabbatical is that I can’t physically be with all of you. So there is that side of it too, right? You know, there is so much that you gain from being physically immersed in a place. I had set up visiting professorships at the UofA and at the Xwi7xwa Library at UBC, and then at University of Washington in Seattle. My co-author is a lecturer there. Obviously that is not happening any time soon, but what does it look like to be a visiting professor in an online space is an interesting challenge that we are still living through.
How do you think Mount Royal is doing with reconciliation?
I think that, like most places, people want to hop into the reconciliation side before they sit with the ugly nastiness of the truth side of it. I think that, like most institutions, they want it to be all nice feelings; already heading into “how do we care for each other” when we are still dealing with a lot of really hard truths. I think that you can do a lot policy-wise and you can do a lot in terms of programming. But, if you’re not looking at the overarching structure and thinking through how Indigenous people can thrive in your space, never mind survive, it’s not going to be close to reconciliation for a very long while. So I think it’s complicated. I do think that Mount Royal’s Office of Academic Indigenization, under the work of Renae Watchman and Liam Haggarty, has done a lot of great work for years. They built relationships with all different kinds of communities. I was very lucky to co-teach a Treaty Seven field school a couple of years ago with Liam Haggarty, where we took students out into southern Alberta communities. That had been developed years before and in a class like that you really sort of see the work that has gone into developing community relationships. You have people that are sharing their knowledge at Morely, at Siksika and at Tsuu T’ina. Those kinds of things don’t happen overnight. It’s a challenging environment where a lot of older academics who come from a particular perspective have made life very hard for people who are racialized, LGBTQ2S+ or Indigenous. They don’t see the challenges they are putting forward as being obstacles for anyone.
Is there anything that Mount Royal is going to be doing that you’re excited about?
What I’m excited about is the language revitalization courses being offered. When I started, I’ve been working there since 2012, Blackfoot and Cree classes were on the books, but they were non-credit courses. So people could take them through the Faculty of Extension, and many students did, but other students looked at their course load and said “I can’t take an extra course if it doesn’t give me credits towards my degree.” We have had a ton of feedback from various students and community thinking about “how do we get Blackfoot, Tsuu T’ina, and Nakota classes into Mount Royal.” That work is ongoing. I was working on it before I left and it’s been taken on by Bob Montgomery and a wide variety of other people, but it’s really exciting because it also shows that different languages can have different needs. We can look at something like Tsuu T’ina which has very few fluent speakers. They are quite elderly, but they are very close to Mount Royal; like, physically 5 minutes away. For Nakota, there is a higher fluency but there are fewer written resources and so it’s thinking about “how do we create resources.” Can classes that are teaching language create resources that can then be used not only at the University but also at Morely? It’s exciting! I think it has been really interesting to see how something that you would think is simple, is actually so much more complicated.
What are you researching?
In general my research looks at information literacy from Indigenous perspectives. That can look like a lot of different things, obviously. Indigenous perspectives is a wide swath of things, but I am using specifically Cree perspectives in thinking through some of it. I’ve written about concepts around kinship and how we think about care for each other, and thinking of emotional care as part of information literacy. I am really excited because I am working on a manuscript with Sandy Littletree, who is Navajo/Diné, and Nikki Andrews who is Maori. The three of us are thinking through how our own perspectives shape the way that we teach. Nikki and I both primarily teach undergraduates information literacy and Sandy teaches at a library school- the University of Washington- so we are thinking through how we position information literacy in each of our three perspectives. How do we bring our backgrounds into teaching, and how are we thinking about things like what does it mean to teach online if we think that land is a foundational relationship? It is really exciting. We are in very early stages, part of the sabbatical was to also give us the space to get some of these thoughts, which have been percolating for all three of us, down. We so rarely have the time. Like, oh my gosh, how do I actually think about this and find time to think through it and write about it? So, that’s what I am hoping to do on this sabbatical; some of the preliminary work on that manuscript.
How do you think the pandemic has impacted your role as a librarian?
It’s interesting, because I think that sometimes the labour of libraries is invisibilized in regular life. I think that has become even more so during the pandemic. As physical libraries have had to close, people aren’t going in and actually seeing the individuals that are associated with the resources that they access. I do worry that the work of library staff is being invisibilized in this process. There is a reason you got this interlibrary loan and it’s not due to robots. It’s people, their labour and their work, and I think it is really important to recognize that people have been working hard during this pandemic. Adjusting and shifting services; and as publishers have been terrible during this process, really spreading the work of open education. There is some really cool stuff that people have been doing in all of those areas. I just want to shout it out, because I think that so often that work isn’t talked about in a way that other people can really appreciate. I think what the pandemic does is make that less visible while raising that risk immensely, so I am really grateful for all these librarians that are just sort of, figuring it out along the way and assessing what the risks look like and assessing what services we still want to provide. I think that libraries are really essential, but I think that people are more essential. So keeping people safe is super important during the pandemic.
What have you been reading lately
I recently just gave a talk to a really lovely book club in Calgary, so I re-read Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson, and I mean she is a genius. She is so thoughtful and funny and I love the contrast of this bubbly, beautiful, big auntie energy with some dark, gritty fiction. I read that and the second one in the trilogy, Trickster Drift, which was the first time I had read that. It was really, really great. So I’ve been sort of trying to balance the theoretical work that I’ve been doing with some fun fiction. I’ve also read a YA novel called Pet by Akwaeke Emezi, who is a non-binary writer. The book is this a super exciting piece of Afrofuturism about a little girl; what she believes to be a monster comes to her and wants to go monster hunting. That has been a nice shift away from the more theoretical stuff I’m thinking about. For information literacy we are thinking about the ways that you know from Cree perspectives, how do we think about care, so I’ve been looking at Nationhood Interrupted by Sylvia McAdam and Elder Brother by Rob Innes. These are books that look at Wahkohtowin and think about the kinship that exists.