Indigenizing the Library: An Interview with Kayla Lar-Son

In 2016, immediately after getting her undergraduate degree in Native Studies, Kayla Lar-Son began her master’s degree in Library and…

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In 2016, immediately after getting her undergraduate degree in Native Studies, Kayla Lar-Son began her master’s degree in Library and Information Studies. After graduating with her MLIS this spring, Lar-Son isn’t slowing down anytime soon. This fall she begins as the Indigenous Academic Resident for U of A Libraries, and she has big plans for making going to the library a welcoming experience for all.

What does an Indigenous Academic Resident do?

It’s a one-year contract and my job placement is in Digital Initiatives. I’m going to be doing some small project management roles within that, likely outreach with Indigenous students on campus. But I’m also looking at helping our Digital Initiatives Librarians Indigenize or decolonize some of the digital practices that we have and some of the digital collections that we have. So whether it’s research data or maps, how they can enhance their practices to be more respectful to Indigenous people, especially in areas such as access and copyright.

What does Indigenizing or decolonizing library services mean?

I think Indigenizing libraries means changing our ways of thinking about knowledge, knowledge systems, and how we share information. And relationship building is key. We can think about all these Indigenizing initiatives with libraries, but we need to start outreaching more to communities and letting them have their voices heard on projects, because if we initiate a project but it doesn’t really help Indigenous students, faculty, and staff, it doesn’t matter.

Why do you think it’s so important to have Indigenous librarians at the U of A?

I think it’s really important because it’s a way of connecting with Indigenous patrons, faculty, and staff members. Because of your own lived experience you have more connection, and you know where people are coming from, and possibly someone who’s non-Indigenous doesn’t have that same connection. And it’s not to say that all Indigenous people have the same perspectives or are connected, but it’s just a way of knowing and a way of relating that may not be understood by others.

Why do you think there are still so few Indigenous librarians?

Libraries, although trying to change, are very slow to do so. And libraries and library practices and ideologies can still be very racist. If you look at our classification systems they’re still very racist, very problematic. And also the way libraries promote themselves, they’re not normally places where Indigenous people see themselves, especially because of the lack of representation. When you go into a library and everybody’s usually a white, older lady, you just don’t see yourself there. And then if you don’t interact with people who have the same ideologies as you, it can be hard to stay in that position as well. Which is why the internship and the residency is so important here, because then you have peers. If you’re having a hard day or something’s just not going right, you have someone who can support you and be there and mentor you.

What do you love about libraries?

[Laughing] So I’m definitely not the librarian that’s like “I read books all the time”, that’s definitely not me. What I love about libraries and working in libraries is helping students with research. My biggest joy is when a student has a project that they’re really passionate about, being able to help them with that extra research step. I love seeing student success through using libraries.

What is something librarians looking to Indigenize their own LIS practices should do?

One of the things that happened when I started as the Indigenous Intern is I and [the other Indigenous Intern] Lorisia MacLeod suggested the librarians at Rutherford take the Indigenous Canada MOOC. And now that’s something that’s becoming more popular, librarians and libraries working with Native Studies and the MOOC, so that’s been great. It’s an awesome way to increase knowledge without Indigenous interns or librarians having to do all the work.

Kayla Lar-Son is a Michif (Métis) and Ukrainian woman and a proud member of the Métis Nation Region 4. She has a BA (Honours) in Native Studies and a Master of Library and Information Studies, both from the University of Alberta.

Jordan Cook — Communications Associate, Faculty of Native Studies and Marketing and Communications (University Relations)

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Jordan Cook is a Communications Associate with the Faculty of Native Studies and the office of Marketing and Communications. Before coming to the University of Alberta in 2017, she worked as a communications and digital literacy specialist at Yellowhead Tribal College for 5 years. Jordan has an M.L.I.S. from Dalhousie University.