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On Campus With: Pam McKenzie

On Campus With: Pam McKenzie

October 9, 2017

Professor and Associate Dean (Graduate and Postdoctoral), Faculty of Information and Media Studies, Western University

Where are you from? What did you do before joining the faculty at Western University?

I grew up in New Brunswick and still consider myself a Maritimer. I came to my faculty position straight out of my PhD, but took a pretty convoluted path to get to that point. I started an undergraduate degree in physics, switched universities and programs and came out with a BA in international relations. Next was an MA in history and working in two different roles in the university library: weekends on the circ desk and gopher in the University Librarian’s office, both of which taught me a huge amount. I came to Western and worked a full-time year at Western Libraries before starting my MLIS. As an MLIS student I worked as a research assistant and did weekends at a third circ desk. I went straight into the PhD after the MLIS but took a 6-year childrearing hiatus during which I did public library and community literacy programming.

What are your research and teaching interests?

The big down side of having an administrative role is that I don’t do as much of either as I’d like.

I love teaching the MLIS research methods course, partly because most students come into it assuming they’re going to hate it. I love helping them realize that they may know more about research than they think they do. Depending on their background, there’s quite a lot of translation; e.g., students in an English program may not talk about “sampling” in the way social science researchers do, but they have and can articulate their criteria for selecting the texts they analyze. I love watching the students who get excited about research, and they always astound me with the ideas they come up with and sometimes go on to pursue in an individual study, guided research project, or sometimes a PhD.

My research has fallen generally into the “information behaviour” or “information practices” category. My current study is of how people keep track of things in their lives — I’ve had the pleasure of going with my research assistants into people’s homes and/or workspaces and looking at and talking about their lists, calendars, phones, computers, notebooks, stickies, loose pieces of paper, strategically-placed physical objects, etc. It’s been really fun and I’m looking forward to diving back into it when I’m on sabbatical.

What advice would you give to a new faculty or staff member?

Seek out a community of people you can count on, celebrate with, complain to about your work. I’ve got wonderful colleagues and no shortage of people to test-drive a new idea on. Going through that process inevitably makes my idea better.

Coolest thing in your office?

A treadmill desk.

If you didn’t teach librarianship, what would you be doing?

Manage an LIS program — I’m not sure that I have the skill set to do anything else!

What changes have you seen in the teaching of librarianship since you started teaching?

I’d say two big things. First is digital resources and technologies. When I first taught, there were few authoritative resources on the public web, and search engines were still very much in development and didn’t index a lot of content. Searching (online by command-line DIALOG or via CD-ROM) was definitely still something that experts did on behalf of users and print sources were more trustworthy because you could be sure they’d gone through a vetting/review process. Journal backfiles were all on paper so we all spent a lot of time photocopying!

Second is the increasing diversity of students, particularly the increase in the number of students with disabilities, which I hope means that we’re doing a better job of making it possible for students with disabilities to get to graduate school. This keeps instructors and administrators on our toes — one size clearly no longer fits all!

What do you think is the most important aspect of being an information professional today?

Continuing to reflect on core values as political, economic, social, and technological contexts change; holding fast where they’re relevant and adapting them as needed.

How do you stay current in your field?

My fabulous alumni! Having in my Facebook feed does a fantastic job of making me aware of a wide variety of happenings. Faculty colleagues also circulate things that they become aware of. Going to the OLA conference lets me both check in with people about what’s happening in their professional worlds and see what topics are of concern in the conference program.

What emerging topics do you foresee in the future of LIS research?

The two most recent articles I’ve reviewed have been about embodied information practices. From the perspective of LIS faculty, that’s an area of interest right now.

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