Clarifying the library project

In response to recent questions and concerns regarding the TransformUS project associated with reconfiguring university libraries, and specifically with regard to concerns with the Law Library, we wanted to share and give our support to the following joint statement from the Sanjeev Anand, dean of law and Vicki Williamson, dean of the library. Brett and Greg  

What is proposed in the University Library’s consolidation of print collections and services project is the latest stage in a decade-long transformation that has involved a shift from providing space for books to providing space for students.

The reconfiguration of campus libraries will further consolidate print collections and services. In the project the Law Library is not slated as one of the three-full service libraries. This has led some to conclude that the Law Library will be closed, there will be no library services, etc. What is proposed is a reconfiguration within resources available or that is, being fiscally prudent.

We are in the very early stages of the planning related to the Law Library. Before the plan is completed, there will be extensive consultation with all key stakeholders, including law students, College of Law faculty, and alumni. Our goal is to formulate a plan that simultaneously addresses the University’s fiscal concerns while ensuring that the University Library remains able to support the law school’s mission of pedagogy and scholarship as well as its sense of community. In addition, the university, the University Library and the College of Law will work closely to ensure that library-related accreditation criteria are met. A great university and a great law school deserve nothing less.

While what this reconfiguration will fully entail is not known, there will continue to be study space for students within what is the current law library space. In addition, students, faculty and practitioners will continue to have access to core legal resources of high demand material on site.

Vicki Williamson, dean, University Library
Sanjeev Anand, dean, College of Law

22 thoughts on “Clarifying the library project

  1. Law is a knowledge / information heavy industry. I cannot imagine educating a law student without teaching him/her proper legal research skills. When I was in law school, I was taught to browse the library shelves for locating relevant textbooks for my research topic. What would be “high demand” books? The required readings and recommended readings? Would that be sufficient for learning? What about faculty research? I cannot believe that a major university would even consider closing down its law library.

    • The deans can and will speak for themselves. I can also say that I know from hosting this blog and from talking to them that the two of them worked out this statement word for word.

      By the way, no faculty members have been or will be censored, but I will address those issues elsewhere.

      • The remark from the Dean of Law today, when asked if he feels free to express his opinion, seems to contradict your assertion, “I’d better say no comment, I think.”

  2. In reading the comments on the Law library this is quite the contradiction of what was written in the Star Phoenix Tuesday May 6, 2014. You state that “The reconfiguration of campus libraries will further consolidate print collections and services. In the project the Law Library is not slated as one of the three-full service libraries. This has led some to conclude that the Law Library will be closed, there will be no library services, etc. What is proposed is a reconfiguration within resources available or that is, being fiscally prudent.
    available or that is, being fiscally prudent.

    In the Star Phoenix it was quite clear that the Administration did say that the Law Library was closing – and I quote from the paper “The plan for library services on campus includes closing libraries in the education, law, and engineering colleges and in the Western College of Veterinary Medicine.

    It appears that the University is stepping back- probably because of public outcry.

    • A more accurate headline would have stated University Plans to Continue the Library Transformation Project: building on more than a decade of effort and investment to modernize and upgrade the university library services to enhance services for students.

      The ground floor of the main library is an example of this work. Yes there is less space for library books, but more space and access to electronic journals, meeting rooms, and student study areas, space that students need and by university space standards, it is space where we have a significant shortage.

  3. President Busch-Vishniac:

    This is a question addressed to you, in case you are following the blog. I realize you will most likely not respond.

    I recall from a discussion over breakfast last year, you mentioned that one of your most cited work involved delving into dusty journals that were on the shelves for decades, and your discovering a consistent error in the reporting of sound data in hospitals due to the fact that the logarithm of the average is not the average of the logarithm. (If only people did their Math, but this is a different story!) Quoting [1]

    `Although the literature on hospital noise is thin, some reliable noise measurements have been made at a variety of hospitals throughout the world over the last 40-50 years and published in the open literature. We reviewed these data carefully to enable us to answer the following basic questions: Is there any indication that hospital noise levels are changing over time? Do hospital noise levels vary dramatically from hospital to hospital? Do hospital noise levels vary significantly with type of unit?

    … The vast majority of the published literature on hospital noise has been written by medical staff with little or no training in acoustics. Unfortunately, there tends to be a consistent error in the presented results, namely that average sound pressure level information is published, but that the average has been computed erroneously by taking the mean of the decibel values read on a meter.’

    Wouldn’t such a discovery have been much more difficult if it were not possible to browse through “not-necessarily-in-high-demand” journals in the stacks that covered a period of half a century?

    [1] Ilene J. Busch-Vishniac, James E. West, Colin Barnhill, Tyrone Hunter, Douglas Orellana and Ram Chivukula. Noise levels in Johns Hopkins Hospital. J. Acoust. Soc. Am. 118, 3629 (2005)

  4. I’ve had some sad experiences with the University of Alberta Law Library, which has had off-site storage for some time now. Suppose you’re researching a topic and find a reference to a journal article from some years back. The title sounds like it might be of assistance. You request the holding, wait a day, then go pick it up, only to find out that the article really isn’t what you need. However, it contains a reference to another article on the same topic, but in a previous issue. So back you go, waiting another day for the next holding to become available for pickup. The new article contains a reference to yet a third one, albeit in a different journal. So back you go: wait a day, scan the third article, check the footnotes, and then the cycle repeats itself. The whole process could take 5 minutes if the journal were in the stacks, but now it takes days. This is particularly annoying when you are trying to show how some legal doctrine got started (perhaps its foundation always was a little weak), requiring much research in materials that library administrators would no doubt dismiss as “dated”.

    When I was a law student (yes, I know–lectures in Latin, notes taken on clay tablets, etc.), I learned a lot from simply browsing through journals and stack texts, skipping from one issue to the other and from topic to topic as my interests led me. Under this lunatic off-site storage system, you pretty well have to know the answer before you can research the issue effectively.

    • You want to research the “foundation”, you say. How dare anyone engage in foundational research?!! Innovation is the latest Zeitgeist. It is a way of thinking and of life. When we go to the toilet tomorrow morning, we will need to find innovative ways of relieving ourselves!

  5. This is an opportunity. The sheer volume of unused books in the stacks are a hint as to where the priorities here should lie. If you need the book, you can still get access to it, but by and large, you are going to use your computer to do your research for almost everything.

    If and when you need a hard copy, the Mur isn’t that far away.

    • It is a myth that legal research can be conducted online. The importance of looking at textbooks and to a lesser extent, journals cannot be stressed enough. If law students don’t learn how to research property, the College of Law will start graduating future lawyers who are ill equipped to do their jobs.

  6. As a law student, I have literally spent every work day of the school year in the Law Library, be it to study or to locate resources for papers. Although it is positive that the study space will remain intact, it concerns me that merely “core legal resources of high demand” will remain onsite.
    As a part of our graduation requirement, each law student must write a minimum of two large research papers (30-50 pages), in addition to miscellaneous memos, factums, etc. In fact, many students choose to write more research papers than required. Often, because of the specialized nature of the topics, the books necessary to complete these research papers are not “core” or in “high demand”. The ability to find specialized information on topics is crucial to the completion of these degree-required papers. For example, the topic “how the Charter impacts labour law” may have less than a dozen book resources, which are not used often, but which become absolutely crucial to and form the fundamental knowledge base of that student’s paper.
    This reconfiguration of library resources, such as moving the books to a remote storage area, is not sufficient to alleviate my concerns. The paper deadlines are strict, and writing legal research papers involves continuous research. In my personal experience, I have checked out new books during the editing stage of my paper, to find sources to further support my statements or to find a contrary viewpoint which may be of interest. Therefore, timely and continuous access to the book resources is a necessity. Any time delay, such as having to order the book from a remote location, could dissuade students from engaging in this continuous research process, which may affect the quality of work. Furthermore, the time delay could mean more students hand in papers late, and are docked marks accordingly, if they are waiting on these resources to be sent.
    Also, while many of the new legal resources are available online, important jurisprudence and topical information may only be available in hard copy. The legal research papers require that extensive historic background information on the topic be presented and explained. Much of this background may be unknown without book resources. In particular, some research papers topics are centered around changes in the law in an area. Using “how labour law is affected by the Charter” as an example, this paper would require an understanding of what labour law looked like before 1982(when the Charter was proclaimed). These resources from the 1970’s are old, necessary, and it is very unlikely many of these resources are electronic.
    Overall, based on my firsthand experience with legal research, the quality of research and papers often does equal the quantity of library resources. Removing these resources has an immediate impact on my capacity to write a thorough research paper. In the future, this hindrance may dissuade bright students from attending our College of Law in favour of one with easy access to pertinent resources.

  7. Why would it take a Star Pheonix article to announce this tentative plan? The two days it took for the Dean of Law to respond to this article suggests that he was completely unaware of this plan. I would hope that the Deans of the respective colleges would be intimately involved in the planning process for TransformUS initiatives as that seems like the logical thing to do.

    • The StarPhoenix was reacting to a *draft* project brief that is to be finalized by 30 June through discussions among the deans and others. Reactions to the SP article required the deans concerned to move up their discussions.

      People should understand that the university is being very transparent about the process. This involves sharing working documents. Rather than jump to conclusions about what drafts may mean as the story did in referencing “closing”, it is best for people who have questions to direct these to the project leads – in the case of library transformation this is the dean of the library.

      • The posting of the working brief is an attempt at transparency but the university should have better control over how the information is disseminated. A news release accompanying the brief could have preempted a number questions and misunderstandings. The quality of reporting by the Star Phoenix aside, the university did a poor job of contextualizing the information. The university has to do a better job of this rather than reacting to negative press.

  8. Because it is so specialized I really don’t see how the Law Library could be consolidated without loosing a lot and that is very worrying.

  9. How can the Law library not be left as a “full service” library? I am not in Law, but I thought lawyers had to reference previous cases for points of law. Won’t the loss of large numbers of journals to a central storage facility be a handicap to faculty for resouce material and for training future lawyers?
    This is the second professional college at the U of S that I have heard of that will no longer have a full service library. The second one is Veterinary Medicine. Why are we training our future professionals without ready access to hard copy journals and the written record of information in their chosen profession? The choice of which libraries to be removed from “full service” should be made very carefully indeed. Otherwise, it seems as if the intent is to devalue our training in professional colleges. And didn’t I just read something about the Education library no longer being full service?

  10. This is horrifying to me. Of course the Education library will be closed. It continues the trend of devaluing educators and teachers and continuing emphasis on money making careers- such as law. As a graduate student I use BOOKS and hard copy documents. Not to mention our librarians are a RESOURCE with search skills and research knowledge that takes years of dedication to learn. My graduate program is 2 years- I don’t have time to learn what they know.
    Thanks U of S for making social cuts. How very conservative government of you. I will consider doing my PhD work at an institution that values my education and the work of teachers.

    • As an education student the Murray is just as useful as your own library.
      Clearly you don’t understand legal research and the necessity for a functioning library law students.

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