Stacks of the future
By Cassandra Jowett and Clare Hill
The Ryerson library’s emphasis on acquiring online resources and enhancing study space will not result in the traditional research library students might expect as construction gets underway on the Student Learning Centre at the corner of Yonge and Gould streets early next year.
Even the word “library” is conspicuously absent from the name.
“It will be the library of tomorrow and not three years ago or a hundred years ago,” said Ryerson president Sheldon Levy.
Madeleine Lefebvre, Ryerson’s chief librarian, believes the library expansion will reflect the fundamental changes happening in libraries all over the world.
“Libraries have moved away from spaces with huge open windows and shelf after shelf of books,” she said.
“To me, a library is an organic thing. It’s a collection of space and people,” said Lefebvre.
And now, with more books, journals and streaming video available on the library’s website than ever before, “the library is everywhere,” she said.
The annual number of visits to the virtual library is now on par with the number of people who come through the library’s turnstiles. During the 2007-08 school year, the website had more than 1.36 million hits while the library saw about 1.33 million visits. Since 2003, the number of e-books at Ryerson has skyrocketed to 55,000 from 661, and e-journals are up to approximately 70,000 from 19,578.
Meanwhile, the number of hard copy books and journals has held relatively steady in the same time period. Books have increased to 558,000 from about 542,000, and the library has increased its number of periodicals by only 45, to 2,947.
In the last two months alone, the library has added more than 7,000 e-books compared to only 1,769 books. Ryerson’s online resources are even in demand outside of Ryerson.
Ryerson has almost double the number of e-journals as U of T, and e-books make up more than nine per cent of Ryerson’s total book collection, compared to only five per cent at U of T.
But the library’s relatively small collection of about half a million books can present challenges to students who still want to use hard copy materials for their assignments.
“Our No. 1 priority should be books,” said second-year early childhood education student Catherine Chung. She estimates that 40 per cent of the time she can’t find the books she needs at Ryerson’s library and has to go elsewhere.
With 900 students in her program vying for the same material, it can be tricky to find a copy at Ryerson.
“I’m not saying we should have 900 books, but maybe more than one (copy of each book),” Chung said.
The library is running out of space, and Lefebvre is considering putting more books in compact storage in the basement. In the past, the library has been noted as one of the poorest in the country by university rankings such as Maclean’s magazine, which measures the number of books per student and how much of the total university budget is devoted to the library.
But concentrating on a web-focused library has given the school “a way of making the dollar go a lot further,” Levy said.
Even though students are using Ryerson’s online library, history professor Arne Kislenko said some students turn in papers with second-rate sources because they don’t know how to find or use online resources properly.
“I think it should be absolutely mandatory that all university students do a couple days of training in the library,” he said. “They shouldn’t be able to graduate without doing it.”
But for now, Kislenko’s students should still take advantage of the huge collections of books in other libraries in the city. Kislenko, who is also a professor at U of T, faxes the names of his students to the librarians at Robarts Library to allow them access to the much larger collection of books there. Levy believes Ryerson should not concern itself with duplicating Robarts, but instead focus on its own strengths, which include one of the largest photojournalism collections in the world, while working “with other great libraries in this city to make the total of the library system in this city the world’s best.”
The Ryerson library is still working to entice students to use its resources. It has a new website design, an easier log-in system to access its catalogue, 40 new laptops to its laptop loan program, an award-winning Facebook application and a unique fourth- floor study space. Lefebvre’s ambitions for the library go beyond improving study space and materials.
“It used to be about taking the library to your laptop,” she said. “But now it’s taking the library to your cellphone, taking the library to your pocket.”