Alumni Spotlight: Stephanie Usher

Photo of Stephanie pouring a mini glass teapot into a teacup.

Stephanie Usher, MLIS ’23

We recently interviewed Stephanie Usher (MLIS ’23) about her work as a Children’s Librarian with the Vancouver Public Library, as the Provincial Coordinator for the BC Summer Reading Club, and about representation in library programming.

Before libraries ever entered her mind, Stephanie was deep into a master’s degree in English Literature that she didn’t feel was a good fit. She left the master’s program unsure of her next steps, but was inspired by how much she loved being in libraries and decided to apply for Langara College’s Library and Information Technology program. It was at Langara where Stephanie met and took some courses with UBC iSchool’s Dr. Tess Prendergast: “I really enjoyed that experience of getting to learn from [Dr. Prendergast], someone who was actively working in the field.”

After graduating from Langara, Stephanie began working for the Vancouver Public Library and the BC Summer Reading Club. Unsure if she wanted to pursue a Masters in Library and Information Studies (MLIS) or not, Stephanie desired to gain some work experience before deciding. Whilst working, Stephanie had the opportunity to participate in a BC Library Association conference panel on representation in children’s picture books. This conference was a turning point, as Stephanie knew after joining the panel that she wanted to further the conversation of representation, by becoming a librarian with a focus on children’s and teen’s services.

Stephanie continued working for VPL and the BC Summer Reading Club throughout her MLIS program, and is now a Children’s Librarian with VPL as well as the Provincial Coordinator for the BC Summer Reading Club. To her, working for both organizations provide an insightful contrast. Library systems in urban areas, such as Metro Vancouver, have more resources and are more easily accessible compared with libraries in rural communities. Thus, when working for the BC Summer Reading Club, Stephanie must factor in how geography and resource allocation affects people’s accessibility to their local libraries: “It adds a lot of perspective into how one single program [like the BC Summer Reading Club] can impact an entire province in various ways.” The COVID-19 pandemic added another layer into accessibility considerations, with library branches being physically closed. For Stephanie, it provided the BC Summer Reading Club with the opportunity to be even more inclusive, by offering options for children who were unable to participate in previous years of in-person programming. The addition of an online reading tracker and virtual programming allowed neurodivergent and immunocompromised children to participate more fully than in previous years of the program.

When asked how librarians can champion for representation and inclusivity in a multitude of communities and places, Stephanie emphasizes the importance of integrating these considerations into everyday service and practice. She notes, “[if] you only save books that have diverse characters in them for when you want to talk about representation, that’s not representation.” She also advocates for a willingness to admit knowledge gaps and engage in important conversations, but recognizes that library staff often are not given opportunities for professional development, due to limited resources.

Stephanie graduated from the MLIS program in May 2023, and her first piece of advice to current iSchool students is to, “work smarter, not harder!” Like many graduate students, Stephanie had to balance school with work and personal commitments, and says that it became her motto throughout her degree. She also encourages students to use class projects as a way to explore the areas of work that you find interesting or are currently focusing on in a job role – Stephanie herself took a Directed Study course (LIBR 594) with Dr. Prendergast to research public library summer reading for children. Through the Directed Study course, Stephanie focused on inclusion and accessibility to inform her work with the BC Summer Reading Club. Lastly, Stephanie believes in the importance of developing a professional toolkit and taking advantage of professional development opportunities while at the iSchool: “Investing in yourself and your learning is the best way to make yourself a better librarian.”