MLIS alum breaks down barriers in libraries, education

By Jessi Loerch Monday, November 13, 2023

Nicola Andrews believes education should be more accessible — and she’s working toward that goal in her academic and professional work. 

Andrews, the recipient of the Information School’s 2023 Graduate of the Last Decade Alumni Impact Award, is the open education librarian at the University of San Francisco. The GOLD Award celebrates recent graduates for their contributions to the information field. 

Andrews — who is from Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa (Auckland, New Zealand) and is a member of the Ngāti Paoa iwi, a Māori tribe — came to the iSchool with a background in libraries. Her first job was at Auckland City Libraries — Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero. She later moved to the United States and was working in public libraries in Whatcom County, Washington, when she chose the iSchool’s online Master of Library and Information Science program. She earned her MLIS in 2017.

“I was very drawn to the ways in which UW’s online program was accessible to learners including caregivers and those already working during the day,” she said. 

At first, Andrews planned to stay in public libraries. However, her experiences at the iSchool — including as an American Library Association Spectrum Scholar, an Association of Research Libraries’ Kaleidoscope Program fellow and an ARL Career Enhancement Fellow at UW Libraries — exposed her to a variety of career paths. She found a particular interest in academic librarianship.

She also wanted to be able to share her own perspectives. Ever since her first job, Andrews had been interested in how Indigenous communities intersected with libraries. She’d seen then the ways that library workers were trying to improve libraries for Indigenous people. At the iSchool, she was able to pursue that interest more deeply.

Sandy Littletree, an iSchool assistant professor focused on Native North American Indigenous Knowledge, was a Ph.D. student while Andrews was in the MLIS program. She supported Andrews and Jessica Humphries, another Indigenous student. 

Sandy Littletree

“I’ve seen her present, and that’s when I’ve really seen how she’s making a big impact on the field. You can feel it in the room.” 

Together, Andrews and Humphries presented a paper at the 2016 International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions (IFLA) World Library and Information Conference. Andrews continues to present often, including at the upcoming International Indigenous Librarians Forum.

Littletree said Andrews’s presentations are an important part of her work in librarianship. “I’ve seen her present, and that’s when I’ve really seen how she’s making a big impact on the field. You can feel it in the room.” 

Littletree and Andrews are still working together, including recent research for a paper on Indigenous information literacy along with Jessie Loyer, a librarian at Mount Royal University. “I think it’s great that she’s gotten this recognition,” Littletree said. “I think she provides a really good perspective in helping people to think through ways that we can do the work better. She’s someone I’m not afraid to turn to for advice or help.” 

After graduating from the iSchool, Andrews was a North Carolina State University Libraries Fellow and earned a Master of Indigenous Studies at the University of Otago in New Zealand. Andrews’ research on how Indigenous peoples can experience historical trauma within libraries was called the first research of its kind. 

In 2019, she was hired at the University of San Francisco as the instruction/first-year experience librarian. After two years at USF, she was excited to be offered a role working with open access and education. “I really thought open education presented a stretch and a new challenge and an opportunity to really advocate for students’ success,” she said. 

Her role is varied, but a big part of it is making open-access materials easy for students and faculty to use. Andrews is serving as the university’s liaison for a $1.5 million grant for four colleges to develop open-access textbooks. The hope is to create 12 textbooks or learning modules, which will make learning material more accessible, particularly for low-income students.

“San Francisco is one of the most expensive cities to live in,” Andrews said. “I have seen how our students have had to make choices to attend a private college in a prohibitively expensive city. Anything we can do to help them, and to help them sustainably, is something I can really get behind.”