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Library reference section to be downsized

Faculty and students not consulted

The humanities and social sciences library (HSSL) reference collection is being downsized and moved from its current location to create study space, to the surprise of many students and professors.

By the end of the year, the collection will be removed from its current place in the southeast corner of the main McLennan floor. Its “essentials” will be moved to where the periodicals are currently displayed, and the rest redistributed to the stacks or Redpath basement, according to interim HSSL head librarian Sara Holder.

The decision was made without consultation with faculty or students, and has been met with “opposition” and “widespread dismay” according to history professor James Krapfl.

“It is unfortunate that there was no consultation before this to find out what students and professors do need and want,” he told The Daily.

The relocation of the reference collection comes after the Arts Undergraduate Society (AUS) Improvement Fund gave the HSSL $68,255 to contribute to the refurbishment of the current reference area.

In total, the AUS Improvement Fund gave the HSSL $112,000 this year. $3,745 of this was used to purchase an online e-book collection of travel guides, and $40,000 was used to add 37 study spaces in the Cyberthèque in the basement.

AUS VP Finance Saad Qazi told The Daily by email that these amounts had been ratified by AUS Council after being allocated by the AUS Improvement Fund Committee.

However, for professors who use the reference collection, the situation is less than ideal.

“One of the benefits of having a good [comprehensive] reference section is that you go there looking for something, but then find other, very useful things because they are next to what one was looking for. If things are in the stacks then that possibility is diminished,” Krapfl said.

“It makes sense that all the reference books are in the same place in the library. Ideally they would be close to where there are reference librarians,” he added.

The space currently occupied by the reference collection is ideal for student study space, said Holder.

“That area is particularly nice because there are windows, so there will be natural light. It is a very nice space for students, which is why we wanted to use that space differently. By moving the reference section over, we will be able to make-over this space that students have requested and that they gave us money for,” she told The Daily.

However, professors and students have expressed concerns that the increase in study space should not come at the cost of such an important resource for research.

“If this is supposed to be one of Canada’s five major research universities, it seems absurd that we shouldn’t have a really good reference section in the humanities library,” Krapfl said.

“One of my colleagues compared this to going into a science laboratory and removing all of the equipment, and then still expecting people to do research,” he added.

Krapfl and his students make extensive use of atlases and other reference material that will potentially be moved from the reference section to the stacks.

“I ask students to do assignments within a couple of days with books from the reference section. Given there are eighty students, it’s efficient if the books are in the reference section. If the books were in the stacks and were able to get checked out, I wouldn’t be able to run the assignments anymore,” he said.

On Friday, a committee of English and history professors met with Holder and other librarians to talk about the reference section’s relocation. Joanna Schacter, who is the library committee member for the History Students’ Association, was the sole student present at the meeting.

“The meeting was very final,” Schacter told The Daily. “The conclusion was basically that [the changes would be] happening, and they don’t really have a choice because there isn’t enough space… They said that they spent a lot of money on these online sources, and because of that, they want people to use them more – mostly because they paid for them and they don’t feel that people are using them properly,” she said.

Krapfl told The Daily by email that he was not happy with the outcome of the meeting.

“The head [librarian] of McLennan made it clear that, despite the [English and History] departments’ opposition and widespread student dismay, the decision to downsize and relocate the reference section is not open to reconsideration,” he said.

Holder expressed a very different perception of how the meeting had gone. “There was no opposition expressed in that meeting. Everyone was in agreement that this was a good idea,” she said.

At the meeting, it was decided that professors and students would be able to contact their department’s liaison librarians to say which books they think should be included in the new downsized collection. By doing this, Holder, who as interim head inherited the planned relocation from her predecessor, said that the library was trying to make up for their misstep of not consulting with professors beforehand.

“I do agree with the professors that say that there should have been more consultation prior to this plan and that was a mistake on the library’s part. We are trying to make up for that while still providing the students with what they need,” she said.

Schacter believes that this is not enough.

“Not a lot of students know about this,” she said. “[The librarians] say they are consulting, but the library should find some way to get in touch with students to get their input.”