In the face of budget cuts of approximately $1.8 million to the McGill Libraries, announced by the University last week, the Life Sciences Library will be moved from its current location in the McIntyre Medical building to the Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.
The cuts also mean that McGill will cut year-round 24-hour access to the McLennan-Redpath Library complex, Schulich Library, and the Nahum Gelber Law Library. CBC reported on Friday that the Education Library may also be closed.
This budget cut represents around six to seven per cent of the library’s annual operating budget according to Diane Koen, Associate Director of Planning and Resources at McGill libraries.
Uproar over relocation of Life Sciences Library
A Facebook page, “Save the McGill Life Sciences Library from closure,” has garnered over 1,250 Facebook likes in its first two days. The page alleges that the “90% certain” cuts, announced on April 8 by the Library’s Human Resources Director and the Trenholme Dean of Libraries Colleen Cook in a meeting with Life Sciences Library staff members, were both unannounced and unjustified to staff members.
“When we asked for details – how much the move is going to cost, how much money are you going to save – we were told that we were asking the wrong questions,” said Angella Lambrou, founder of the Facebook group and Liaison Librarian to the School of Nursing, who has been working at the library for 30 years.
“We don’t have any conclusive facts as to how she arrived at this decision,” she added.
Cook admitted that the allegation that the cuts were “90% certain” was “correct, literally” but should not be taken out of the context of the budget constraints.
Cuts, Cook said, had to be efficient, as there were “finite numbers of dollars.” She said that the Life Sciences Library was one of the least-used physical spaces on campus, based on a ratio of major users to the number of people who go to the library.
However, Dr. David Eidelman, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine sent an email to the Faculty on Friday, which read, “the Life Sciences Library is not slated for closure […] as [a] rumour has suggested. I have not approved any such decision.”
Instead, Eidelman wrote, the [McGill] Library was considering the reorganization of services based on modernization in the face of financial realities.
A push toward modernization
The Life Sciences Library has a history dating back to 1823, making it the oldest medical library in Canada, a point of symbolism Lambrou finds difficult to miss.
“We have an incredible history that’s part of the University,” she said. “We support the most research intensive faculty and programs in the University.”
However, confusion remained as to the fate of the Osler library, a collection of rare medical books often seen as a companion to the Life Sciences library.
Despite rumors to the contrary, Dean Eidelman emphasized that the Osler library will not close. “Over my dead body,” he said.
“We may have to make special arrangements for access because it’s on the same floor,” he added.
Both Eidelman and Cook emphasized that the changes are not intended to affect the overall quality of the library, but rather a modernization, or reorganization, of facilities. Current stack space, they said, could be converted into study or small group teaching space.
“We are not trying to get rid of librarians,” Eidelman said. “That would be, in my view, a huge mistake.”
Confusion and miscommunication
The decision to close the Life Sciences Library seems to be mired in confusion.
When asked if the decision to close the Life Sciences Library was made suddenly or was in the works for a longer period of time, Cook remained unclear.
“I can say that we’re in deep, deep discussions with all the constituencies, particularly in medicine and dentistry, the primary user groups of that facility,” she said. “[There are] two realities: one is budget constraints, and the other is the realities of 21st century librarianship, where physical collections are oftentimes not as important as provision of study spaces, and the delivery of content in the most convenient form.”
Either side of the story – be it that cuts were planned or a spur-of-the-moment decision – would be problematic, according to Lambrou.
“If it was [a long-running decision], then the situation is even worse than I thought,” she told The Daily. “If this had been planned, again, why were we not consulted?”
Eidelman also remained unclear regarding an explicit statement of support for the move and subsequent closure of the Life Sciences Library.
When asked how long the move has been planned, Eidelman highlighted the informality of current plans, in contrast to Cook, who said the cuts were 90 per cent certain of going ahead.
“I know that a few weeks ago I was asked informally, could this work, would this be a good thing […] and the answer was yes, it might be a good thing,” Eidelman told The Daily. “As far as I know, no decision’s been made.”
“I did not receive a concrete proposal,” he later added.
Cook emphasized that final decisions would not be made without discussion. Eidelman agreed, and said that the Faculty of Medicine would be holding consultation as per its usual process, despite the current uncertainty surrounding the decision.
“I’m frustrated with the way that this happened, because it’s not the way I like to work,” he said. “The reality is, this is the right time to do the consultation.”
Eidelman added that he would have liked to have the consultation before the Facebook group appeared.
24-hour access to Redpath, Schulich, and Law to be cut
The Library will cut the year-round 24-hour access to the Redpath, Schulich, and Law libraries on campus. At the SSMU Legislative Council meeting on April 12, Cook explained that this access cost $600,000 a year, mainly from paying security and cleaning staff.
Cook emphasized that student help was paramount to keeping extended open hours. “[It depends] upon how much help that we have from the Library Improvement Fund (LIF),” Cook told The Daily in an interview. “The more they help us, or direct funds toward that purpose, the more hours we’ll be able to keep, and in more branches.”
The Library Improvement Fund (LIF) has been in place for the past fifteen years under the portfolio of VP University Affairs. This year, it had a budget of around $630,000 to allocate to special projects based on student input and committee discussion.
Although Cook stated that the LIF was not aware of the extent of the cuts prior to the Council meeting on April 12, VP University Affairs Haley Dinel acknowledged that the LIF committee had been discussing the possibility of shorter hours. “We [at the LIF] were mildly aware,” said Dinel in an interview with The Daily.
The amount of student help is limited, however. “It’s unfeasible for the Fund to fund all after-hours access, because that would exhaust the fund for the year,” said Dinel.
Instead, the LIF has decided to fund 24-hour access for the Redpath, Schulich, and Law libraries for four weeks during the year – or two weeks each exam period – at a cost of around $233,000.
Koen suggested that this money be used to keep one branch – namely Redpath – open 24-hours throughout the year, but Dinel said the committee felt that priorities lay with opening up more space for exam time.
However, simply relocating the Life Sciences Library and cutting 24-hour access to the three libraries will not alleviate all of the pressure of the budget cuts. Cook explained that the Library has been forced to cut down on travel expenses, and the senior administration will take wage cuts of three per cent. Librarians, who are members of McGill Association of University Teachers (MAUT) will see their salaries frozen.
The McGill Library will also be implementing a program for voluntary retirement in June, which will incentivize retirement for staff over a certain age. According to Koen, almost half of the support staff are eligible for this program.
Koen expressed concern over how the voluntary retirement program would affect operations in the library system. “How do we operate with fewer people? We can’t replace them [because of the budgetary constraints],” said Koen. “We need to keep serving our students, our researchers, our faculty, and ensure that the collection is top-notch, because that’s the backbone of what we do and how we support our users.”
Cook warned SSMU Council on April 12 that if not enough of the $1.8 million cuts was recouped by the retirement package, “there are many people who are not job-secured who might have to be laid off.”