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Lisa O'Hara

Meet the Vice-Provost (Libraries) and University Librarian: Lisa O’Hara

November 6, 2019 — 

Throughout her tenure since 2002 at UM Libraries, Lisa O’Hara has welcomed innovation, helping to transform how information is discovered and accessed in print and digital formats, to the benefit of all faculty and students.

In June, O’Hara was appointed Vice-Provost (Libraries) and University Librarian. UM Today spoke with the self-described “metadata geek” about her vision for UM Libraries to “bring the world to the University and the University to the world” in a rapidly changing information environment, enjoying the rhythm of the academic year and accomplishing more by working together. And, of course, her favourite books.


What do libraries bring to their communities today?
We are experts at collecting, organizing and sharing information and resources – and we use these skills and our collections to support students and faculty in many ways. The new Learning at the Libraries webpage, for example, helps new students get started on papers and assignments. We also help faculty create research data management plans for research grants and to improve the research process. Libraries are where our community needs us, when they need us. We have 11 libraries across both campuses and three new book-holds lockers (in University Centre, Faculty of Education and Brody Centre) and our website provides access to millions of electronic articles and ebooks, as well as subject guides, video tutorials and much more.

What is your vision for UM Libraries and where they can go?
UM Libraries bring the world to the University and the University to the world. We make it easier for our community to get and use the information and resources they need for their research, teaching and learning – and then we make it easier for them to share their results. It’s a rapidly changing information environment; we are experts at navigating it and helping the community navigate it. So, where can Libraries go? We can go wherever that navigation need is, whether helping to create open educational resources to save students money, making datasets available to fulfill granting agency requirements, or getting unique materials from other institutions for a researcher’s needs.

What do you enjoy about the university environment?
I love the rhythm of the academic year and working in an environment that is so charged with new ideas. Almost every day I hear someone talking about something that they are passionate about and that makes my work fulfilling and makes this a great place to be.

With your depth of experience, what unique perspective do you bring to your new role?
I think my experience working in centralized services has led me to see things as part of a bigger picture; I am a firm believer that a rising tide lifts all boats and that we accomplish far more by working together. I think that this viewpoint has helped me work with colleagues to accomplish a lot throughout my career and I hope it will serve me well in this role.

Can you say a little about your academic background and interests.
I have an English degree from the University of Manitoba and a Masters in Library and Information Science from the University of Toronto. Recently I took part in an international research project on how libraries can better support Indigenous faculty and researchers, something I’d like to continue. And I’m still a metadata geek, and have been getting really interested in using wikidata to make our digital and archival collections more visible to the world.

What drew you to the profession?
I have always been a huge reader and have used libraries everywhere I’ve lived, so that drew me to librarianship. Once I was in the profession, I found that I was really interested in the technical side of librarianship and spent quite a bit of my career working with metadata and MARC and XML coding.

What pursuits do you enjoy beyond academia?
My family is most important to me, and I also have a large extended family and enjoy spending time with them. I am a runner, and, although I can’t say I always enjoy it, I usually run a half marathon or two each year with my running buddies. We aren’t fast but we are persistent!

Credo or guiding principle?
The best piece of advice I have ever gotten was “if you make a decision and it doesn’t work out, make another decision.” It has made it at a lot easier to make some decisions realizing that while I may not get the chance at that same decision again, there is almost always an opportunity to make another one.

It would be remiss of us not to ask for a favourite book.
That is probably the hardest question to answer! I honestly can’t say I have a favourite book, but I recently read White Fragility (Robin DiAngelo), and it gave me a lot to think about. I also read The Mars Room (Rachel Kushner) and couldn’t put it down. I love police procedurals and am looking forward to reading the next Harry Bosch novel. And I have my former colleague Jim Blanchard’s new book A Diminished Roar on my to-read list!

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