These are unprecedented times in university libraries. The D.G. Ivey Library is in many ways the heart of the New College community, and the role of its librarians in supporting students is more important than ever before. This past June, the College was very excited to announce the hiring two new permanent librarians. For Mikayla Redden, the new Instruction and Information Services Librarian, beginning a new job in the middle of a pandemic, and in a remote environment, provided a unique set of challenges, but also an inviting space for creating opportunities.
Redden joins New College from Centennial College where she was Research and Development Officer for a newly formed department, The 8th Fire, Place of Reconciliation for All Our Relations. Her work at Centennial was guided by the Indigenous Strategic Framework, which focuses on cultivating community, creating equitable access opportunities, Indigenizing spaces and curriculum, and providing cultural experiences and services for students. Prior to accepting a position with The Place, Redden was Centennial’s first Indigenous Services Librarian. In this capacity, she focused on decolonizing collections and programming, consulted on embedding Indigenous perspectives into teaching and learning resources, and worked with college administrators to develop guidelines and frameworks to support the college’s commitment to Indigenize. Redden, who is of Anishinaabe & Scottish heritage, has been motivated both personally and professionally by a passion for decolonization. It has been the driving force in her career and will guide her as she navigates her new role at New College.
In accepting a position at New College, Redden is excited to become part of an organization that prioritizes equity, solidarity, and decolonial perspectives. Reflecting on her first months at the college, Redden notes, “I’ve been learning so much during my time here. I’m looking forward to approaching my work not just from an indigenization standpoint, but thinking more broadly about multicultural and global perspectives. I feel like New College is giving me the opportunity to evolve professionally from being a specialist to a generalist”.
Over the past months, while the majority of the U of T community has been learning and working from home, the Ivey has continued to provide its vital services with minimal disruption. Even when the physical building closed to the public, (the library reopened in September and remains open to U of T students) a robust range of services remained available to students, thanks to a dedicated team of college librarians. Under these complex circumstances, Redden has had to acclimate to both a new position and a new virtual space, in a job that is traditionally very closely tied to a physical space.
For Redden, being hired after the University had shifted to predominantly remote work, this has meant coming into this position thinking about the library more as a virtual or cloud space. While there are obvious challenges associated with working with students remotely, there have also been some positives. She notes, “I’ve enjoyed spending time in video calls with students and taking the time to really dive into the library resources with them. Throughout this process, I’m enjoying a growing familiarity with the library’s collection and creating one-on-one bonds with students”. Redden feels the virtual space makes students less hesitant to reach out. One of her priorities is to ensure that students feel like they are connecting with her on a person-to-person basis, rather than seeing her as an authority figure. For Redden, creating bonds with students based on working together collaboratively is one of the most rewarding aspects of her work.
Working with the New College programs has also been a bright spot for Redden. She appreciates that New’s programs promote alternative ways of thinking and she believes that New College is the right place at the right time for her work to enact change. According to Redden, “New College is well-positioned to support current world movements as we try to create a modicum of change. I’m excited to be a part of that change and for the work happening at the Ivey to influence other parts of U of T and it’s library system”.
One project that Redden has been thinking about since joining the College is a language revitalization program. Inspired by work that has been happening in the New One program, Redden wants to bring her passion and energy for decolonization and equity to linguistics, phonetics, and connecting with people who speak languages that are losing speakers. This kind of work aligns with her interest in all things related to decolonization, both in physical spaces and practices, and her goal of amplifying traditionally marginalized voices.
“My passion and goal in life is to help people who have a voice and important things to say. They can use their voice to express the things they care about, but people also need to listen. I want to be someone who encourages people to listen to those voices. That’s what New College is to me, because at New College we value those people and what they have to say.”
Redden appreciates that New College is not just about the optics of change, but about providing an environment where ideas can be actualized. “New College gives us a supportive community of like-minded folks who can bring their networks and skillsets together to do important work”, says Redden. Above all else, this is what excites her most about her new position. We will all benefit from the energy and passion that Redden brings to our community, and we look forward to the day when we can pop by the Ivey and say hello in person!