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Sarah Shujah

Getting Your First Break as a Librarian: OCULA President’s Message

I got my first break as an academic librarian at the Steacie Science and Engineering Library at York University.  York took a chance on me, and that experience truly shaped my focus and ethos as a librarian.

Information literacy

One of my focuses as a librarian is information literacy (IL), or more generally, teaching and learning. Even though I come from a family of teachers, as a teen I vowed never to become one. Yet, teaching is now a part of my job that I thoroughly enjoy.

Initially, my knowledge of IL was… basic. I did not take an IL course in library school. However, with my break into academic librarianship at York, I was provided the opportunity to hone my IL skills through attendance at conferences such as WILU, and other training provided at the institution. After becoming co-Chair of the library’s teaching and learning committee, I helped launch teaching training for librarians in collaboration with the Teaching Commons with the goal of all teaching librarians at York to become Instructional Skills Workshop (ISW) certified.  I also provided training for colleagues on the (then new) ACRL Framework for IL for Higher Education in collaboration with the TRY (University of Toronto, Ryerson University and York University) community.

During a time of change in the IL landscape, York took a chance on me, a new graduate, to help forge ahead with new ideas that left a lasting impact.


As a new graduate, York knew I had the aptitude and motivation to be innovative and creative. During my first break, I really experienced the philosophy of openness. It started with my joining the scholarly communication committee, where I helped organize Open Access Week. Here, I helped to develop a campaign around the “death of evidence” at a time when scientists were being muzzled by the government. Furthermore, I initiated and founded the now annual Steacie Library Dungeon Hackfest, a non-competitive hackfest that supports the ideas of openness and collaboration.

Activism and social justice are principles I already subscribe to. They are part of the reason why I became a librarian, and they help guide me as I move forward in my career today at Centennial College Libraries. Here, I have helped to initiate an Open Access Week committee, and most recently, I have become an “open ranger” for eCampus Ontario during the Open Education Summit, where I will help to promote open educational resources (OERs) and transform a Centennial College course into an open course offered through eCampus Ontario.

New Librarian Residency Award

I have heard that you never know when something you say or teach will have an impact on a student. You could say the same about a new librarian: you never know the impact that giving a new librarian their first break will have on them, the institution, and librarianship—as it did with me.

Taking a chance on a new librarian through the New Librarian Residency Award (NLRA) helps kickstart a career. It can also give the institution a chance to pilot an innovative librarian position, helping to shape the library in new ways. It’s not just a career starter, it’s a life changer. That is why OCULA is launching the NLRA crowdsourcing website, where you can contribute to the NLRA to help make it sustainable.

Most of us can share a story of the experience of being a new librarian in their first academic library job, so let us pass that experience on to new graduates and do our part to keep libraries relevant and innovative. The OCULA Council and I have contributed to the NLRA crowdsourcing campaign, and I hope you will too!

Upcoming OCULA events

Speaking of stories, Storytime! Using Narrative to Represent Ourselves, Our Work, and Our Libraries is the theme for the OCULA Spring Conference on April 28, 2017, at Hamilton’s historic Mills Hardware. Registration is now open for this event—with engaging keynote speakers that will get you thinking about how you can use storytelling.

Also, save the date for the OCULA Spring Social on Thursday June 8, 2017, themed Meet, Eat, Compete, where over dinner you will have the opportunity to play games, and for new or prospective librarians to connect with more seasoned librarians, and potential mentors.

Lastly, I look forward to serving as the 2017 OCULA President!

Sarah Shujah is a Librarian at Centennial College in Toronto. She is also the 2017 OCULA President. Sarah can be reached at sshujah [at]

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