Melissa Just

Turning the page with new dean of university library

Melissa Just doesn’t want to advance the stereotype of librarians as eternal readers, rarely spotted without glasses pushed up on their nose and their face buried in a book.

By HenryTye Glazebrook

The only problem is that Just, who recently joined the University of Saskatchewan as dean of the university library, is herself an insatiable reader.

“Being a reader and being a librarian, those things are not intrinsically connected,” she said. “My concern is that I love to read. I read voraciously. I feel like I learn so much from stories, whether they’re contemporary or historical fiction, narrative nonfiction or even mysteries, because the best ones take you to a place beyond what you live and know every day.”

Just’s hobby will likely help her feel right at home during her five-year term at the U of S. In the months since she began her new role on Feb. 1, she has developed a fond appreciation for the staff and faculty she’s worked with and all they’ve done to situate the library as it is today.

The result, she said, is an organization that’s already well-positioned to take confident strides forward.

“I feel fortunate to come to a place where the library is already doing good things, and I get to build on that instead of having to focus only on remedial work to get the library to the place where it is already,” said Just, who joined the U of S from Rutgers University where she was serving as the associate vice-president for information services and director of New Brunswick Libraries.

With the library currently in the final stages of completing a multi-year process of transformation inquiry—looking at available spaces and discussing how to adapt and improve them—Just is excited to help guide long-term developments and planning.

Just said the hope is to renew the library’s ability to encourage learning in current and future generations alike.

“A lot of great work and conversation has already happened,” she said. “A master space plan has been developed, and we are currently in the process of taking our findings back to the groups we consulted with earlier in the process to see if what we heard and what we’ve come up with resonates with what they said.”

When she first started exploring the U of S as a career option, well into the interview process, Just was encouraged by the overall attitude toward the library. Since accepting her position, she’s happily discovered that her expectations align with reality.

“The thing that was most appealing to me was—and continues to be—the way that the library is seen, valued and positioned on campus,” she said. “Everybody spoke very highly of the library. There’s clear engagement between the library and the library dean with other colleges, deans and administrators. Collegiality feels woven into the fabric at the U of S.”

Just looked to the university’s Mission, Vision and Values statement, a document recently updated to outline foundational driving concepts at the U of S, as one example of how she sees the library working in stride with the institution as a whole.

“One of the principles in the Mission, Vision and Values document is about different ways of knowing, learning and being,” she said. “I think this is exactly what libraries do. Libraries support the different ways that our students and our faculty build knowledge, satisfy their curiosity, and create community with each other in our spaces.”

Excited as she is to be in her new role, Just’s first day in Canada was a bit of an icier welcome than she was hoping for—literally.

Having left a home in New Jersey to relocate to Saskatoon, Just wasn’t expecting the drastic shift in weather that greeted her in her new home north of the border.

“The weather definitely takes some getting used to,” she said, laughing. “The day I moved here, there was a 105F difference between New Jersey and here. It was a lot for one day.”