Weldon celebrates four decades as campus ‘hub’

“As the first head (of the) D.B. Weldon Library, I, essentially, ‘grew up’ in the belly of this great research library over the 17 years that I worked in this magnificent building. I learned and was mentored by those who came before me and the team with whom I worked. The building and the people are ‘one’ in my mind: foundational, reliable, supportive and inspirational. I find the architecture beautiful, especially when adorned with the stunning artwork from the university’s collection. It is an outstanding research library that seamlessly melds people with research.”

Mary Ann Mavrinac, chief librarian, University of Toronto Mississauga and incoming vice provost and dean, River Campus Libraries, University of Rochester

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On June 4, the D.B. Weldon Library will celebrate its 40th anniversary, commemorating four decades of serving the academic community.

The largest facility in Western Libraries, Weldon has always provided students and faculty alike with resources essential to their research and a space conducive to learning, said Catherine Wilkins, assistant university librarian for Weldon.

“It is a sort of hub in the centre of campus. It’s quite iconic structurally, and students see it as a place – their place for study and learning. It’s a community unto itself,” she said.

“Western Libraries, as a whole, is really a part of the research infrastructure of the university. We work closely with the community to build collections, provide resources – both in the place of the library and digitally. That’s one of our strengths.”

The library was named after Col. Douglas Black Weldon, a veteran of the First and Second World Wars who in the latter commanded the London Regiment of the Royal Highland Fusiliers of Canada. Weldon served on Western’s Board of Governors from 1946-1967; his son, David Black Weldon, served as Western’s chancellor from 1984-1988.

By the late 1960s, an era of substantial enrolment growth for Western, a plan was developed for infill of the central campus with academic buildings.  Along Oxford Drive, the expansion abandoned the previous generations’ commitment to the traditional Collegiate Gothic architectural theme and ventured toward a new, sharply planed brutalism, using concrete as a construction material. Modernist, angular buildings like Weldon joined others like the University Community Centre and the Social Science Centre in comprising an expansion in the early 1970s that effectively relocated the centre of the campus to the broad open courtyard area of the “Concrete Beach.”

Constructed from 1968-72 by Toronto architects Murphy, Schuller, Green & Martin, the building opened to the public in 1972. Weldon was, at that time, the largest building on campus. According to The Gazette newspaper Oct. 29, 1971, “the architects departed from the use of the traditional sandstone most commonly used and instead built with the use of poured, striated concrete for its facings. This material was chosen because its rough texture will blend and harmonize with Western’s existing buildings.”

When the library opened, it was a five-storey structure, plus two underground levels, had a total floor space of 237,093 square feet. The library had seating capacity of 2,119 students, over 600,000 hard-copy volumes and 250,000 microforms. The books will be mainly arts and social science, with department libraries such as engineering, music and law.

The library underwent renovations in 1997-98, 2006-07 and 2008-11.

Today, Weldon has 1.5 million hard-copy volumes, 2.9 million microforms and a 1.4 million gate count. There are 2,200 seats for students and roughly 200 workstations.

While research methods and resources are evolving, an academic library like Weldon still plays an important role in the community.

“It is interesting, with all the talk about ebooks and digitization, the physical space is really important. The gate counts are up in (Weldon); it’s hopping,” said Debbie Acton, director of administrative services for Western Libraries.

“We are getting more and more requests for extended hours and in the last couple of years, we’ve had 24-hour (operation) days. It’s an interesting dichotomy, listening to people talk about where we’re heading and that this place would become a dinosaur, but it really won’t,” added Acton, one of Weldon’s original staff members.

Wilkins said while faculty members often work remotely, accessing library materials on their computers, students across campus gravitate to the libraries, often picking one facility and claiming it as their personal study space.

“(Weldon) is sort of iconic in nature, but the role of the academic library is more and more integrated – it is a partnership more than ever before and it’s continuing to evolve. This (anniversary) is a celebration of the concept of an academic library as much as the place itself,” Wilkins said.

“We’re continually consulting with student groups and faculty and seeing what they need in terms of space, materials and digitization.”

Weldon will celebrate its 40th anniversary at 10 a.m. June 4 outside the library.

The event will feature the opening of a time capsule, assembled when Weldon opened in 1972, a display of photographs, rare books and memorabilia as well as speeches by Amit Chakma, Western president; Joyce Garnett, university librarian; and Michael McLean, manager of planning, design and project administration at Western.

JOIN THE CELEBRATION

A lot has changed in four decades. And the D.B. Weldon Library team wants to know what you remember most from your time in the library. Share your memories via the 40th anniversary blog , Facebook page or Twitter (#dbwmemories).