Having completed his Master’s degree at the U of A’s School of Library and Information Studies in 2014, James Smith Cree Nation member Kirk MacLeod returned to campus this year as one of the Board of Governors’ newest members.
Having been in the position for only two months, MacLeod said being a part of the U of A’s highest governing body can sometimes feel “overwhelming.” Decisions made by the Board of Governors impact both faculty and students, including changes to departmental funding, student tuition, and infrastructure maintenance. But the long meetings and hefty paperwork have done little to curb MacLeod’s enthusiasm.
“I’m very excited to be able to take part and give back to the school that I attended,” he said.
This is in part because the U of A isn’t just a school for MacLeod, it’s his “home away from home.” As a young child in the late 80s, MacLeod would spend many days at the U of A’s J. A. Weir Law library, where his mother worked as a library technician.
“Growing up in libraries was a huge part of why I could see the benefit they are to students and society in general,” MacLeod said. “It’s not like I grew up knowing a lot of (men) or a lot of First Nations people who worked in a library. But because my mother worked in the library field, I felt like that was a thing I could do.”
Sitting amongst the shelves of law dictionaries, MacLeod would watch as students’ frowns became smiles when library staff brought together the information needed for their assignments and exams. It’s from observing his mother’s work that illustrated to him how important preserving and disseminating information can be.
MacLeod started his career working in a traditional library setting, single-handedly managing a joint library for the Native Counselling Services of Alberta and the Nechi Training, Research and Health Promotions Institute. After his graduate degree, MacLeod decided to move his work into the digital world, curating provincial documents and statistics for the open Alberta website.
“It’s a very exciting field to be a part of, and I’m happy to see my work in that has gotten one of my kids very interested in working in the library world,” he said.
In 2016, two years after MacLeod graduated from the U of A, his eldest daughter enrolled into the same master’s program. His youngest daughter is currently completing a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies, and is considering graduate school in library studies as well.
“You can say it’s a family business,” MacLeod laughed.
It’s this intimate connection he’s built with the campus that makes the U of A more than just an institution for MacLeod. He remained deeply immersed in campus culture even after graduation as the communications officer and eventually president of the library school’s alumni association. When board chair Michael Phair, suggested he apply to be a Board of Governor’s member in 2017, MacLeod jumped at the opportunity.
“I know the decisions I make (as a board member) have a direct and immediate effect on my kids, on my kids’ friends, on their classmates, and everyone else they interact with.” MacLeod said.
Having received his education at the U of A, and now with his two daughters following suit, MacLeod wants more diversity in university governance. He said having a more diverse crowd in positions of power will inspire young marginalized students to rise up into leadership roles.
“As a kid I didn’t see a lot of First Nations people working in libraries. It’s the same thing sitting on boards,” MacLeod said. “When you have a very diverse populace of students coming into a school, you want to make sure you have a diverse board to represent the needs and interests of (our) varied communities.”
Thinking back, MacLeod said it was having his mother as a role model and being able to watch her working at the U of A that made him feel a university education and a career in librarianship as something he could attain.
“It was a very good way for me to see university as a natural thing you could do. It took me a little while to get there, but I did get there eventually,” MacLeod laughed. “Seeing it as a small kid was pretty great, I’m really grateful I later got to attend the very school I hung out at as a young child.”