In Memoriam: Catherine Ross

Photo of Catherine Ross on the Graduate Library Terrace

September 2021

The FIMS community is grief-stricken by the death of Catherine Sheldrick Ross, who passed away on September 11, 2021. Professor Ross played a pivotal role as a Dean in the formation of the Faculty of Information & Media Studies between the late 1990s and into the mid-2000s. She died peacefully with her family by her side after a battle with cancer. She was 75.

FIMS had the very good fortune of Professor Ross serving as a transitional Dean in the earliest days of our founding (1996-1998). Under her guidance, the fledgling Faculty developed into the only non-departmentalized Faculty on Western’s campus. Ross was given a mandate by the university to create something unique and relevant, and she had the foresight to recognize that interdisciplinarity and collaboration were the way of the future and needed to be deliberately designed into the Faculty blueprint.

With Professor Ross as the lead, the Graduate School of Library & Information Science and the School of Journalism came together under one name, opening up opportunities for scholars and students to collaborate across fields. Newly designed media studies programs were added at the undergraduate and graduate level. FIMS now offers nine distinct degrees and has many thousands of alumni, and interdisciplinarity remains a foundational pillar. Colleagues teaching in FIMS today recall Ross’ strong leadership and her steady hand throughout a complex, difficult, and genuinely exciting process.

Professor Ross also served as Acting Dean (2000-2002) and Dean (2002-2007). During these tenures she continued developing the Faculty in collaboration with other administrators and colleagues such as Associate Dean Professor Gloria Leckie. FIMS continues to evolve in 2021 and continues to benefit greatly from the forward-thinking and progressive approach Ross took during the Faculty’s formative years.

Professor Ross retired from teaching in 2010, but leaves behind a long list of grateful graduate students and supervisees. Students who studied directly under her, or who simply took one of her courses, benefitted from Ross’ dedication to her role as a teacher and mentor. She continued to write and publish to the present day. An internationally renowned scholar, Professor Ross published important texts on conducting reference interviews with readers and library users, reading for pleasure, and communicating professionally. She continued to collaborate with FIMS colleagues, co-authoring Reading Still Matters: what the research reveals about reading, libraries, and community with Lynne McKechnie and Paulette Rothbauer in 2018. Her most recent publication, Conducting the Reference Interview: a how-to-do-it manual for librarians was released in 2019.

Ross also authored several children’s books and conducted over 300 interviews related to her work, including with Canadian author Alice Munro and playwright and poet James Reaney. She was named a Royal Society of Canada Fellow in 2018 in recognition of her many accomplishments and contributions to her field and to Canadian society, an honour that those who knew and worked with her felt was well deserved.

Catherine Ross will be greatly missed by us all. As one of FIMS’ original architects, she will always hold a position of high esteem in our community. The same is true among the rich array of scholars and students whom she collaborated with throughout her career. The community remains grateful for Professor Ross’ work, dedication and integrity.

It was Professor Ross’ wish that student bursaries be set up in her name to support continued education in Library and Information Sciences and Media Studies. If you would like to contribute, you can do so here.