Different Skills in Your Librarianship Path: Art Tours and Cataloguing

By Kaia MacLeod (Follow us on LinkedIn)

Oftentimes, I use a 2021 job posting for a Canadian National Film Board Librarian as an example of requirements versus skills when talking to current MLIS students. As someone with a film degree, there was a chance I could become a film librarian but one of the job requirements was giving tours. This was during the peak pandemic, and I had no idea how I could get that skill even if I applied for the position. It felt like an obvious weakness in my presentation.

Photo Credit: Andy Nichols (04/28/2023)

Fortunately, I was hired into a tenure-track position at the University of Calgary. As the Indigenous Cataloguing Librarian, most people do not expect my position to have a variety of duties beyond cataloguing. However, being the inaugural Indigenous Cataloguing Librarian gave me wiggle room to add to the job in a variety of ways including working with one of the curators on an art project.

I wanted to take this time to talk about how I, the Indigenous Cataloguing Librarian, got experience doing tours at my job. The project was straightforward, I would research for the curator all the artists who had pieces in the collection so we could have information for tours and a future website. The Indigenous art collection in the main library consists of 22 paintings across six floors. Including art from Alex Janvier, Jane Ash Poitras, David Garneau, Adrian Stimson, Joane Cardinal-Schubert, & Dale Auger. Many of the paintings were of Residential Schools or related to them. I did research on what different galleries were doing with tags to identify Indigenous authors. The artists selected either had a connection to the University of Calgary or were Indigenous from the surrounding area. This meant I would look for graduation photos of some of them.

Photo Credit: Andy Nichols (04/28/2023)

All this work culminated in me giving tours alongside the curator on September 30, 2022, which is National Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada. They were a hit and I offered to do more tours throughout the semester, and now I’ve done 12 of them for various groups of people, the public, students, staff, and visiting conference attendees. Each time I get to do a tour I have a chance to positively represent the University, share information and gain knowledge on the difficult topic of residential schools. During one of my tours for the Association of University Architects, they informed me the reason that Residential Schools were brick was because that was the cheapest material.

Honestly, giving these tours is a highlight of my position, as I’m squirreled away on a different campus with the archives and cataloguing staff. As someone who falls under the technical services umbrella, I am not required to teach. I am often reminded of this while looking at example tenure packages and academic performance reviews of liaison and public facing librarians. Therefore these tours  are a chance for me to teach and interact with the public in a way that I choose. For those in library school, this should illustrate that you never know what you will be doing in your job until you have it, and for those in their careers it should go to show a little wiggle room goes a long way. 

Photo Credit: Andy Nichols (04/28/2023)


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not those of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.