Ryerson library plugging into electronic future

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By Allan Woods

It must have been an overwhelming scene. Scores of students trekking to the checkout counter at Ryerson’s library, one by one signing out books until almost every shelf was bare.

Tired of never finding the books they needed in their library’s card catalogue, Ryerson students lashed out.

“Booxadus,” as it was dubbed, proved successful. Within two years, the library’s budget had almost quadrupled to $109,670 from $23,866 a year.

It may have appeased students’ needs at the polytechnical institute of the 1960s, but now compared to other universities, Ryerson’s library doesn’t stack up.

Every year, the school’s book tower at the southend of Jorgenson Hall takes a beating in Maclean’s university rankings. In 1999, our holdings were 77 books per student, putting us dead last among primarily undergraduate universities in Canada.

By comparison, students at Acadia University in Nova Scotia have access to 385 books each.

The scene is still overwhelmingly bleak. But it’s not enough to dissuade veteran librarian Cathy Matthews from trying to leave her mark on Ryerson’s book heap.

This summer, Matthews joined the library staff after a 24-year stint at the University of Toronto, the past four years of which were spent as head of the library at its Mississauga campus.

“U of T had a pretty good hold on me,” she says. “It took a university like Ryerson to take me away. It’s a very dynamic institution.”

Its strong point, she feels, isn’t its paperbacks or hardcovers, but floppy disks and hard drives.

The university spends about $750,000 each year to buy and maintain electronic resources.

“I was to focus on increasing access to electronic products and remote support,” Matthews says.

This means students will have greater access to research databases such as Lexis/Nexis, Academic Press and Britannica Online.

Library staff is also looking into linking Ryerson’s databases with ones at dozens of other universities.

In spite of this growth, Matthews laments the fact universities are still only judged by the books lining their walls.

Every year when the Maclean’s survey comes out, Matthews says Ryerson’s library is dismissed because the magazine doesn’t include electronic resources in its rankings.

The library’s true value lies in what students get out of the facility, which Matthews says is a lot.

In a survey done in the past school year, 67 per cent of students said they found what they were looking for at Ryerson’s library.

“Anything about 50 per cent is good,” Matthews say. “If we had 67 per cent we are on target. But in an ideal world I’d like to think we can improve on that.”

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