Guest Blog: Martha Whitehead, Queen’s University Librarian

This month’s guest blog comes courtesy of Martha Whitehead, Queen’s University Librarian and Chair of the Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) Steering Group. The project team has been working closely with Martha and the LAMP Consultant Team to ensure both planning efforts complement and inform one another.  Martha’s provided us with a great post about the importance and changing face of libraries, their central role in the Queen’s campus experience, and some of the key directions of the forthcoming Library & Archives Master Plan. 

Douglas Hall Library

Douglas Library

“Every great campus has great libraries.  In considering the future directions of the Queen’s campus, our planning teams have been paying close attention to the way the library and archives system is interwoven through the fabric of the university. The emerging vision is of an iconic Library Square – a dynamic public realm in and between Stauffer Library and Douglas Library – with a network of library spaces across the entire campus that builds upon existing facilities and reimagines their relationships.  It’s an exciting plan that supports Queen’s vision of being the Canadian research-intensive university with a transformative student learning experience.

The Faculty of Education Library, Duncan McArthur Hall

Education Library, Duncan McArthur Hall

I often reflect on how amazing it is to be a librarian at this point in time.  Much of our expertise is focused on information access and preservation in the digital realm.  The world is at our fingertips more than ever before.  At the same time, there’s something about the physical space of a library that draws people in, also more than ever before.

So for me, one of the most fascinating parts of the Library and Archives Master Plan (LAMP) project has been to consider the elements that make a library a library.  If it had ever been simply about housing books, the great libraries of the world would have been warehouses, not beautiful icons of learning and research.  They’re really about people, and what people do with any and every form of knowledge:  read, think, inquire, share ideas, dream, collaborate, and create the future.  In our planning, we’ve been looking at the relationships between the elements that nurture those activities – collections, services and learning/study space – and making sure we have the right mix for the years ahead.

The LAMP team has been working closely with the team responsible for the Campus Master Plan (CMP) since both projects were launched last year.  We approached the two endeavours separately because of the specialized focus needed for LAMP, and we approached them together because it’s impossible to think about one without the other.  Our planning partners, Urban Strategies Inc for the CMP and CS&P Architects for LAMP, have worked together in the past, and that successful relationship has continued with these projects.

User input has been a driving force in the LAMP project.  Since November there have been extensive stakeholder workshops, interviews, presentations to faculty and student groups, open information sessions, social media interactions and online feedback.  The LAMP Steering Group itself includes dedicated students and faculty who have been providing thoughtful guidance on the planning process and insightful ideas about the library.  They have contributed immensely to emerging plans.

Queen’s library spaces have great strengths to build upon. In the Library’s regular user satisfaction surveys, our ratings for ‘library as place’ are very high, well above the mean for other Canadian research libraries.  So why are we paying so much attention to library space planning if we’re in such good shape? Well, our user surveys also tell us something we’ve been hearing and witnessing for some time: that the campus needs more learning spaces outside the classroom, for students to work on their own or together in groups.  The plans we’re proposing now will dramatically increase the availability of such spaces.

The Alan G. Green Fireplace Reading Room in Stauffer Library

The Alan G. Green Fireplace Reading Room in Stauffer Library

Another reason for this focused library planning is that libraries are engaged in transformative change. When our fabulous Stauffer Library opened in 1994, the first web browsers had just been invented and e-journal publishing was beginning to take off.  Now, the journal literature for most disciplines is available easily online through library subscriptions or open access, and libraries are working together to ensure that these digital versions are not ephemeral but available in perpetuity.  We’re also collaborating on retaining rarely used print copies.  Queen’s is actively involved in the internationally renowned Ontario Council of University Libraries partnership that has been developing innovative, cost-saving approaches to information access and preservation for over a decade.  Based on user feedback and our strong partnerships, we’re confident that we can safely repurpose much of the space devoted to bound journal collections to create more learning, study and services space.

The need to limit costs is another driving force of our planning exercise.   Steps towards the LAMP project began several years ago with the Library’s Restructuring Action Plan, which was developed to sustain a user-centred library within the reality of budget constraints.  The LAMP initiative is looking for ways to reduce operating costs and rationalize overall space costs of the Library and the Archives.  The changes proposed adhere to the principle of academic needs driving the budget model.  For example, there are academic benefits to co-locating Archives with Special Collections in renovated space in Douglas Library, as well as cost savings in moving Archives out of Kathleen Ryan Hall.

Douglas Library Reading Room

Douglas Library Reading Room

We’re at a milestone moment this week. After many months of iterative development of plans, the LAMP Steering Group is beginning to review a draft of the full Library and Archives Master Plan.  We expect to make the plan available to the campus community this summer and will be discussing the findings with Campus Master Plan Advisory Committee members at their upcoming meeting.  In the fall, when we have more students and faculty on campus, I’ll be presenting it to various groups on behalf of the LAMP Steering Group.  Given the enthusiastic responses to the draft plans and ideas in the winter and spring, we’re sure we’ll enjoy further engagement through the summer and fall.

All the people involved in this planning – students, faculty, staff, our planning partners – agree our future is bright.  Queen’s much-loved libraries and archives will continue to be an integral part of our balanced academy and our great campus.  After all, libraries and archives are where learning and research intertwine, ideas are explored, friends are met and relationships are forged – what being at university is all about.

More information about the LAMP project is available on our website, and we’ll be posting the draft plan there as soon as it’s available:  There’s nothing I enjoy more than talking with people about libraries and archives, so I’d be delighted to hear from anyone with questions or ideas about our planning or any Library or Archives matters.”

Martha Whitehead is Queen’s University Librarian, Chair of the Library and Archives Master Plan Steering Group and a member of the Campus Master Plan Advisory group.

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One Response to Guest Blog: Martha Whitehead, Queen’s University Librarian

  1. Pingback: Guest Blog Post for Campus Master Plan (CMP) | Library and Archives Master Plan

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