Senate questions Library collections plan

Western Libraries faced questions from Senators having difficulty with the way the university plans to turn the page on traditional ways of housing its collection in favour of a long-planned renovation to library physical space and an expanded digital collection.

In the end, the discussion was just that – a discussion with no voting action required of the governing body. The library project continues, as planned.

The D.B. Weldon Library revitalization project involves a number of changes to the near half century-old building, including new spaces for individual work, small-group collaboration, and community-engagement activities and performances, as well as new staff workspace.

Part of the project involves moving staff from the Mezzanine to a renovated fifth floor, converting the current space to half staff use and half study space. The stacks currently housed on that floor would be redistributed.

Senate discussion centred mainly on plans to relocate some “low-use materials” to storage facilities in order to make room for renovations.

Lower-use materials – defined as material not checked out in 10 years or more – remain a part of the Western Libraries collection and are discoverable through the catalogue and continue to be available for use, Jennifer Robinson, Associate Chief Librarian (User Experience and Student Engagement), told Senate at its regular meeting Friday.

The relocated books will be stored in one of two areas: a London-based storage facility and a shared high-density storage and preservation facility located at the University of Toronto’s Downsview Campus in North Toronto.

The Keep@Downsview project brings together university libraries at Western, Toronto, Ottawa, McMaster and Queen’s in a shared print preservation initiative among the five institutions. According to library officials, the partnership is part of a larger movement in higher education for universities to share resources and costs related to preservation of the scholarly record.

From Western’s collection of 5 million items, 175,300 volumes were deemed low-use and stored locally, with 45,000 volumes moved to Downsview.

Pre-submitted questions from two Senators – Sam Trosow and Jane Toswell – formed the basis of the discussion on everything from the faculty role in library decision-making, to the eroding possibility of serendipitous research, to the status of donated collections, to the care for rare books and special collections, including The John Davis Barnett Collection.

“I have colleagues who have hundreds of books from the Barnett Collection in their offices because in the last week, they have gone over and sorted through the shelves for what is remaining over there, found Barnett books and fear giving them to you guys. They have literally taken them into their offices, where their plan is to hold onto them, as a safe space,” Toswell said.

Staff responsible for pulling low-use material were trained to identify and set aside items from the Barnett Collection, Robinson said. The Special Collections librarian will review those materials and relocate them to the rare book room, as appropriate.

Senators also questioned the term “low-use” and how the whole process has been communicated.

They suggested re-establishing Library Committees in the faculties as a better way of communicating.

“We would welcome Library Committees,” Robinson said. “But to be honest, our experience over the last few years is that they were not well-attended and they did not tend to produce anything. We need to resurrect them. I agree. The fact there are so many people interested bodes well for us being able to re-invigorate that as a method of working with our users.”

Robinson admitted Western Libraries could have done a better job with change management. As part of trying to correct that, the Western Libraries team met with Arts and Humanities colleagues in a town hall format on Nov. 14.

Opened in 1972, The D.B. Weldon Library is ‘past-due’ for a revitalization with only minor upgrades since its opening.

The Western Libraries Space Master Plan is a long-term roadmap to transform library spaces and facilities “for future needs, to adapt old spaces and create new ones where people can learn, research and collaborate.” Developed with significant input over the course of 18-20 months and approved in 2017, the plan proposes improvements to all library spaces on campus.

Estimated costs of renovations to Weldon are pegged at $33.4 million of which $15 million is approved for the first phase.