Robarts stacks are off-limits for Ryerson undergraduates.

Photo: Christopher Chiu

Library lockout for Ryerson ungrads

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By Jonathan Spicer

Frank Marincic doesn’t get it. If his Ryerson library card can let him check out books at any other university in Canada, why is he being locked out of the library at U of T?

“It’s biased, really,” said the first-year engineering student. “If we all live in the same province and are all sponsored by the same government, then why can’t we use their books?”

An agreement with other universities allows Ryerson students to check out material from their libraries, and vice versa. At U of T, that isn’t the case.

Under the system established by the Ontario Council of University Libraries, non-U of T’s more than 50 libraries, which with more than 14 million holdings is the largest library system in the country.

Conversely, U of T undergraduates can’t borrow books from the libraries at Ryerson or York.

At Robarts Library, the largest of U of t’s collection of libraries and the one focused on humanities and social sciences, any undergrad can read materials on the premises through a retrieval service, but can’t access the stacks or sign materials out. The retrieval desk takes requests three times daily and usually provides the material within an hour.

Ryerson students can also sign out books through the inter-library loan service, where Ryerson Library will attempt to locate and deliver sought after material from other Ontario universities.

There is no guarantee of either retrieving a particular resource, nor of the time required to deliver it via the Inter-University Transit System. Last year, U of T lent out 11,398 columes to Ryerson faculty and students while Ryerson lent 2,106 to U of T.

The borrowing policy at U of T has been in place since 1973, when Robarts opened.

At first, the massive library was intended only for faculty and graduate students, but soon opened its doors to U of T undergrads after protest and an embarrassing political battle.

Today the library is open to faculty and grad students from schools such as Ryerson, but still closes its doors to undergraduate students.

“U of T was concerned they would have hordes of undergrads, particularly from York … coming in and ripping off the resources,” said Jane Clark, head of Robarts’ Resource Sharing Department. “I don’t think that’s still the case.”

Clark said that she didn’t see any reason why the ban on non-U of T undergraduates couldn’t be reconsidered.

“If there’s interest from other universities in the area … that are members of OCUL it would not be unreasonable to examine it … and take it to the OCUL directors as a group,” she said. “That is the logical place to begin if you wish to have the policy reconsidered.”

According to Maclean’s magazine, Ryerson’s library holdings per student is the worst among primarily undergraduate schools in Canada with 74 holdings per student which was less than half as many as the next lowest school.

A library sharing agreement with U of T would help cover for Ryerson’s lack of materials, but Ryerson’s head librarian Cathy Matthews said it would never work.

“Because the University of Toronto has such a huge library, there would just be a natural draw-down on their collection by undergraduate students,” said Matthews. “And it’s their university, their students are paying tuition there; it’s their money that’s building up that library in the first place,” said Matthews.

Instead, Matthews suggests that Ryerson improve its own library to help meet students’ needs.

As book loans at Ryerson have increased 74 per cent since 1999, the library has complemented that with new electronic content such as e-books, e-journals and databases. Also, the library has committed to protecting its book budget of at least $500,000 per year, so that new electronic content won’t come at the expense of collection-building, Matthews said.

According to Maclean’s magazine, although the library commits nearly half of its budget toward an updated collection, the percentage of Ryerson’s overall budget toward an updated collection, the percentage of Ryerson’s overall budget devoted to the library is less than four per cent — again the worst among similar Canadian Universities.

Ryerson’s library is listed as an extremely high priority on the school’s draft academic plan.

The library’s “resource base is in sufficient to allow us to move ahead much further,” the plan reads. “Our aim is to move the library’s budget to the mid-point of our peer group of institutions within three years.” This means increased staff and acquisition budget, as well as physical improvements such as new furniture in the library.

Whether or not the university holds true to plan, the library has been neglected in recent years.

Whatever improvements are made, they may be too late for Marincic.

Already, the engineering student has had to borrow a textbook from a friend at U of T.

“If I can’t go to their school to borrow, I might as well go to a friend,” he said.

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