A good rule of thumb is that every hour of class should be backed by three hours of studying. This means that for many students, time on campus is largely spent outside of lecture halls. No one is more aware of this than McGill Library staff, who see thousands of students walking into and out of the 13 branches every day. As the student population has grown and their technological needs have changed, the library has adapted to accommodate them.
The Schulich Library for Science and Engineering was renovated in 2006, increasing the number of workstations, improving the lighting of the building, and restoring the handsome oak furniture. The Cyberthèque, part of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library, opened on January 2008, adding 125 computers to the network. Starting in February 2008, the library made it possible to book the Cyberthèque pods through the online catalogue. This online room booking system expanded to the rest of the network a year later.
McGill Libraries has continued investing in its facilities. A renovated Walter Hitschfeld Geographic Information Centre (GIC) was opened on the fifth floor of Burnside Hall last October. Students have enthusiastically embraced these changes in the library. Schulich Library, for example, saw an increase in traffic of 40 per cent since the refurbishment was completed.
“It’s a lot more pleasant to study at the library,” says Erin Shumlich, a U1 Cognitive Science student. “There’s less hassle in trying to find a place where to connect your computer, and it’s great that they finally added a little bit of colour.”
Despite the many improvements in recent years, there remain shortcomings in the system. Group study is mostly limited to the fifth floor of the Schulich Engineering Library. Because of the popularity of the space, and the small size of the Schulich Library in comparison to the other major libraries, finding a spot can be extremely difficult. The group workrooms interspersed across the network are useful, but they tend to be booked solidly in advance. The renovated GIC has helped alleviate some of this shortage, but it is still unclear how much of an effect it will ultimately have.
An issue that prevents the full use of study spaces at McGill is how difficult it is to plan to stay on campus for the day. On evenings and weekends, access to many buildings is restricted. This presents a problem for students who are prevented from accessing their lockers during those periods. And for those students who have a lengthy commute home – especially those off the island of Montreal – studying on campus means hauling heavy textbooks across the city.
“Coming to campus on a weekend is always a hassle, because of the amount of crap that I have to carry around,” observes Marie-Lise Drapeau-Bisson, a U1 Economics student, who lives on the South Shore. “It’d be much easier to study at a library if I could just get stuff from my locker in Leacock.”