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By Marjorie Sherlock
Those familiar with H. G. Wells' story The Food of the Gods will remember the problems which confronted Mr. Redwood when his infant son, having been fed experimentally with Boomfood began to assume gigantic proportions, outgrew his crib, perambulator and nursery, and at the age of one year (being then six feet tall) had finally to have built for him an enormous nursery equipped with outsize furniture and toys.
During the past 18 months the University has found itself in a similar position, when its student body, which had begun life like any promising infant, and had continued to grow in a normal and sedate manner, suddenly assumed the proportions of a young giant, and outgrew in a single season the space and equipment which had formerly sufficed for its needs.
The first indication of this prodigious growth became apparent in the Fall of 1945, with the first large enrolment of student veterans. By October 1946 the registration was the largest in the University's history with more than 4,200 students enrolled. The approaching Fall term, when a freshman class of 700 is expected, will further increase the congestion.
Along with the other departments of the University the Library has been faced with the necessity of providing service for this augmented student body, with facilities inadequate for half its number. The problem of space to accommodate books and readers has become acute. The recognized standard of good library service for Universities and colleges calls for seating space for at least 30 per cent of the student body. By utilizing every available square foot in the Main Library and the various branches, the total accommodation we have been able to provide this past year has been 350 seats for a student body of more than 4,000.
Work rooms for the Library Staff are crowded and inadequate, and storage space is at a premium. The transfer of the teacher-training work of the province to the University in 1945 brought the former normal school libraries in Edmonton and Calgary into the University library system, and all ordering, cataloguing and preparation of books for both these libraries is now done in the Main library. In the past 15 months this work has increased three-fold and the original cataloguing staff of two has increased to six, thereby completely outgrowing its former quarters. Last January the Wauneita Society generously surrendered their Upper Common Room to this department until such time as the new Library is built.
Student borrowing from the Main Library and branches is more than three times as heavy as it was 18 months ago, and has put a tremendous strain upon the Circulation, Reserve, and Reference departments. During changes of class the Main Library has more the atmosphere of a crowded railway station than of a University reading room.
To meet the demands for this increased service the library staff has grown from six to 19, with more than 25 student assistants helping in the work of circulation and supervision for varying periods weekly. In spite of all these measures taken to meet the emergency it has only been by the loyal and unstinted efforts of the library staff and the patience and unusual consideration for others shown by faculty and students alike, that the level of service has been maintained. That it leaves much to be desired is unquestioned.
In addition to the rapid increase in enrolment of the past two years, other factors have combined to place added responsibilities upon the library. These include the expansion of the curriculum to include new courses, teaching departments, and professional schools; the introduction of new methods of teaching which require greater recourse to books; and the increased emphasis upon research necessitating the provision of research materials of all kinds. The new departments of Physical Education and of Fine Arts (with its divisions of Music, Art, and Drama) have made it necessary to build up book collections in these fields; and the enormous expansion in the professional schools of Medicine, Law, Engineering and Agriculture has brought the demand from them for more books of every kind. The school of graduate studies has expanded by geometric progression and is demanding advanced and research material at a steadily increasingly rate.
To the books which have always pertained to the library's province, there has been added in recent years a whole new field of material, responsibility for which is being placed upon the library. Periodicals, government documents, pamphlets, newspapers, phonograph records, prints, pictures and slides, maps, films, photo stats, microfilm, and other new forms of materials are now having to be acquired, housed, and made available to the library's users, and are adding their particular problems to those facing the library administration.
In the face of these new demands it is not surprising that the present accommodation of the library has proved inadequate. Having reached its saturation point so far as storage and service facilities are concerned the library now looks about in desperation for more space, and the prospect is good. Word has gone forth that the days of cramped quarters and makeshift facilities are nearing an end; that the institution so long referred to oratorically as "the heart of the university" is at last to be housed in a building befitting its usefulness and importance.
In October 1945 a series of conferences was held with Mr. A. S. Mathers of Toronto, designing architect for the University, and plans were drawn up for the new library building. These have now been finished and approved, and it is expected that construction will begin this Spring and the building completed by the Fall of 1949. This new building will house the Law, Medical, and Extension libraries as well as the various reading rooms and deposit collections at present scattered about the Campus. By this means better co-ordination in the administration of the library will be achieved, resulting in greater availability of the books to readers, longer hours for their use, less duplication of titles, and improved reference service. It will also help to offset the present tendency for students in one department to think of the library in terms of a single narrow subject, and will make them aware of, and it is hoped more familiar with, the broader range of knowledge as a whole, as exemplified in the University's book collection.
The Library, as illustrated on the cover of this issue of The New Trail, is a four-storey structure, measuring approximately 152 feet by 143 feet. It will be situated facing north on the south-west corner of 112th street and 90th avenue, where the drive turns in toward the Arts Building. Its capacity as planned is 260,000 volumes and 800 readers, and it has been designed to permit of later expansion backward to 89th avenue at some future date when more reading rooms and book storage are needed.
The architectural design has been made to harmonize with that of the Arts Building, being a modified version of English Renaissance of the Wren period, and it will be built of brick and stone of the same texture and colour as the Arts Building. The walls of the public Entrance Hall and main staircases are designed with facings of polished marble, and the same stone unpolished has been specified for the floors of these spaces. The walls of the large Delivery Hall are to be lined with panelled white oak. The reading rooms are to be plastered, without ornament, except in the Main Reading Room where some decorative treatment on classic lines in scale with its dimensions and importance is demanded. Apart from this, the interior is a direct and unadorned reflection of the library's functions. On either side as one enters the main door, are the Reserve Reading Rooms, each seating 100 readers. These are designed to supply the books on assigned reading, which circulate only for limited periods, and to serve as study rooms where students may use their own notes or texts during spare periods between classes. By this means the Main Reading Room, in which will be housed the Reference collection and the general collection for undergraduate reading, is relieved of the noise and commotion which accompanies the coming and going between classes, and will provide greater quiet for prolonged or concentrated reading.
In the walls of the Entrance Hall glass display cases will be inset, where book and art treasures or exhibits of various kinds may be arranged. It is also planned to use this Hall for the display of picture collections, such as those which at present are shown on the second floor of the Arts Building.
At the back of the Main Hall is the Coat Room, designed to hold 900 coats on locking hangers. Turning to the left, on the south-east corner of the first floor, we come to the Medical Reading Room which seats 65 readers. The walls of this room will be lined with the Medical books most in demand for reference or reading, while older books and bound sets of periodicals will be immediately available in the adjoining stackroom.
Going down the stairs from the Entrance Hall to the ground floor, we find on the south-east side the Law Reading Room, which consists of two spacious rooms accommodating a total of 90 readers and 30,000 volumes. The walls of these reading rooms will be lined to the level of the windows with reference books, and the lesser used volumes will be housed in an adjoining double-tiered stackroom, open to readers. The south-west side of this floor contains the Extension Library with its own separate outside entrance opening on the west side of the building. An electric book-lift and elevator, and a freight-receiving room and delivery dock, used in common with the University Library, will facilitate the work of its travelling libraries and postal book-service.
Mounting the stairs from the Entrance Hall we come to the Main floor of the building. The heart of the Library, both geographically and functionally, is the Delivery Hall, which contains, in the card catalogue, the key to the entire collection, and from which the lending and return of books takes place. This room is centrally located and of sufficient size to accommodate without crowding the large amount of traffic which will flow through it, both at the outset and when a later expansion of stacks and reading rooms takes place.
The Main Reading Room, opening from the Delivery Hall through soundproofed swinging doors, will seat 240 readers. It is two storeys in height, of classic proportions and occupies the entire north front of the second and third floors. Its walls for seven feet from the floor will be lined with books, to a capacity of 13,000 volumes. The Reference work of the library will be done in this room and here will be kept a collection of general books of most interest to the undergraduates. Here they may go from shelf to shelf browsing freely, pursuing a name, a date, an idea, finding not only the books they are looking for, but books they were not looking for and did not even know existed, making for themselves that discovery, described by Plato, that "the pursuit of knowledge is not, as fools suppose, crabbed and dull, but musical as Apollo's lyre". Special lighting, ventilation, and acoustical treatment, as well as the spacious and uncrowded arrangement of furniture, will make this a spot where reading or concentrated study may be done in quiet and comfort.
The Library also provides rooms for the use of special materials: a Periodical Reading Room on the second floor seating 60 readers, where the Library's collection of newspapers and periodicals will be available for reading and loan; small seminar rooms equipped with temporary special collections, where groups of advanced students may meet for discussion with their instructors; study rooms for the individual use of slides, microfilm and records; a projection room where films or records may be used for group work; and quarters for the storage and use of maps, government documents, and rare books.
Along the south wall of the stackroom on the six stack levels, 100 carrels, or individual cubicles, have been provided for the use of faculty members or graduate and honours students requiring special study facilities in close proximity to the book collection. Each carrel is supplied with desk, chair and book shelf, and several on each floor will be enclosed with soundproof materials for those workers needing to use typewriters.
Finally we come to the administrative and technical departments of the Library, those indispensible services, which because they are largely out of sight are too frequently out of mind. These are the Acquisitions or Order Department through which all the new materials of the library's collection are acquired; the Cataloguing Department, which is responsible for the proper classifying and preparation of the material and for making it easily available to the reader by indexing and cataloguing; the loan-service to extra-mural borrowers; the preparation of periodicals for binding (the University Library now subscribes to more than 800 such publications) ; and the repair of books.
As the library grows the need for these services grows with it, and any plan for the building must allow for sufficient space behind the scenes to take care of this expansion. Too many libraries in the past have learned to their cost that it does not pay to have a Queen Anne front with a Mary-Anne back. The present design provides spacious quarters on the first and second floors for these services, with electric book lifts and staff elevators serving both the University Library proper and the Extension Library.
It would be difficult to overestimate the importance of this new Library building now about to make its appearance on the Campus. In the first place, with the Library's removal to the new building the quarters it now occupies will be available for other urgent purposes. Already its successors in these quarters are casting covetous glances and making proprietary gestures toward this space.
In the second place, and of very great importance, is the fact that for the first time in its history the University will be able to provide good study facilities for its students, to bring together its book collection out of the holes and corners into which it has been driven by lack of storage space, and to provide a standard of library service worthy of its programs of research and instruction.
Finally, the erection on the Campus of this new Library - beautiful in design and dedicated to the preservation, interpretation and extension of knowledge in every field will be a tangible symbol that to the people of this province the material things of life are not all-important, and that our advance in the fields of science and technology shall be no one-sided progress, but shall go hand-in-hand with the understanding and development of the full resources of the human mind and spirit.
Published April 1947.