McGill, News

CAMPUS: Library service desk in jeopardy

A proposed reorganization of the Blackader-Lauterman Library of Architecture and Art is in the works and may end up closing the service desk permanently.

Janine Schmidt, the Trenholme Director of Libraries, issued a document in May 2006 to McGill librarians that presented a plan to “close the service point of the library and leave the collection part unattended,” according to Marilyn Berger, the head librarian at Blackader-Lauterman. “She’s not clear on whether the study section will stay open or not,” she said.

The fate of the book collection is also unclear.

Blackader sits two floors above Redpath and serves students in Architecture, Art History and Communication Studies and Urban Planning. According to the library’s website, the staff answers roughly 10,000 reference questions every year. It goes on to note that over the years “the library staff [have] authored or collaborated on a number of specialized publications designed to improve access to material in the library and the architectural archives.”

Berger explained that Schmidt’s reorganization proposal was put on hold until the fall semester since many key parties would not be present during the summer.

“At the urging of Julie Cumming, the Chair of the Special Libraries Advisory Committee, the proper procedure [including student representation] had to be followed by bringing this to the Special Libraries Advisory Committee and the Senate Committee on Libraries,” she said. “So when this was presented at the end of May there was no way that any action could be taken, because of summer with faculty away and students not in attendance.”

Schmidt emphasized that no decisions had been finalized yet.

“It is difficult to summarize what is a complex proposal in a couple of sentences,” she said. “We are really looking to provide improved services to our users.”

However, the proposal has met resistance at many levels.

“Why she’s doing this we don’t know,” Berger said. “A task force has been appointed with representation from all three faculties that are served, because opposition was made known and we hope that they can change things. We’re supposed to meet regularly over the next 6 months and hopefully will come up with an alternative.”

Jennifer Bartoli, editor of the Art History Students’ Association journal, Canvas, said she favours the search for alternatives to closing the service portion of the library.

“AHSA is fighting to keep the Blackader library alive,” she said.

AHSA’s graduate student counterpart, the Art History and Communication Studies Graduate Students’ Association, is also involved in the library issue.

“The position of [AHCS-GSA] corresponds with the Department of Art History and Communication Studies position,” said Jessica Santone, an Art History PhD student and AHCS-GSA’s vice-president. “We are, on the whole, discontent with the current plans to close or decrease the availability of staff services in Blackader-Lauterman library.”

Santone said that AHCS-GSA had surveyed art history graduate students on the issue. She acknowledged the small sample size, but said that students were more interested in “improvements to the study space, resources and staffing than a cessation of these services.”

Pressed on the specifics of the plan, Schmidt said the printed materials would not be moved from their present location. However, she said that in the digital age the McGill library system would have to adapt.

“The kinds of library services we provide in an online era with a huge array of online information resources are dramatically different and we need to organize our services accordingly,” she said. “What is being proposed is really a change in the reporting lines and organization structure. There is much to discuss and the process of discussion has only just begun.”

Berger was hopeful that student concerns would be considered throughout the process.

“Students’ needs are important,” she said. “You’re paying for these libraries and for the access to information. Libraries are very much a part of students’ quality of life. And students here support their library, like no other generation has. I’ve been at McGill a long time, and this generation of students is amazing because of their involvement.”

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