Steeves positioning libraries as a ‘catalyst for success’

Adela Talbot // Western News

Catherine Steeves, Western’s new vice provost and chief librarian, looks forward to working with the academic community on campus to enhance Western’s profile. “It is an exciting place to be. Western’s reputation is just growing, which means great things for all of us in the future, including the libraries,” she said.

When Catherine Steeves first walked through the doors of an academic library as an employee, the institution was at the cusp of great change.

That was almost 20 years ago and, since then, there has been a shift from the tradition of print to an electronic mode of information access and dissemination. Information once stored in books, including details found in card catalogues, now resides in a constellation of ideally collaborative information systems, said Steeves, Western’s new vice provost and chief librarian.

But all this isn’t news, and it isn’t the change she’s here to facilitate.

Steeves, who started her five-year term in August, comes to Western by way of a career spanning academic libraries from Cape Breton, N.S., to Edmonton, Alta. Prior to her current role, she worked at the University of Guelph, where she was the deputy chief information officer and associate chief librarian.

“The role of the librarian is changing. In some ways, I think the core role still exists, but the nature of the work has changed considerably,” said Steeves, who completed an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree at McGill University prior to coming to Western for her MLIS in the early 1990s.

“Libraries – and librarians – have always been there to build and maintain collections, understand the programs and research strengths of our institutions, make sure the information resources we have available reflect their needs,” she continued.

But it’s the library’s role as a “catalyst” Steeves is most excited about.

It’s a strategic move that will trump up the strengths of both the library and university, simultaneously. Steeves feels she is starting from a solid base, working with a great team in a library system known for its strong collections.

“More libraries are working to advance research in a more collaborative, partnership fashion, not just providing information,” she said.

However important, it’s not just about a helping hand with research methodology, or more active engagement in research, Steeves said.

“We need to actively engage and set a strategy to ensure we can continue to actively support the transforming needs of higher education research. Change is happening at a very rapid pace. We need to continually examine our role, services, projects and strategic initiatives in providing leadership so our university can advance,” she explained.

One of the things that excited her about Western in the first place was seeing the new Strategic Plan recognize this and allocate a place for the library in the advancement of its mission.

Steeves and her team will be looking at conducting a workforce analysis of Western Libraries over the coming year, assessing the use and allocation of its resources, to seek new ways of providing services to the academic community.

“We’re doing it to ensure the libraries are positioned well to respond to whatever successes come our way,” Steeves said, noting in everything the library does, it’s important to measure its impact on teaching, research and learning.

“We’ll be looking to see what we can achieve over the next three years, to demonstrate the impact we could have with renewed investment in the future,” she continued.

“It is an exciting place to be. Western’s reputation is just growing, which means great things for all of us in the future, including the libraries. I’m going to work with my organization to make sure we have the greatest positive impact on helping the university reach its goals, and helping its scholars, researchers and students so we can act as a catalyst for their success. At the end of the day, that’s what we hope we are.”