PLG Letter re: Western Library Review 2013

Ms. Janice Deakin
Provost & Vice-President (Academic)
Office of the Provost
University of Western Ontario

August 12th, 2013

To Ms. Deakin:

The Progressive Librarians Guild – London Chapter would like to offer our input in response to the request for insight into the 2013 Western Libraries Review. As members of the Western community, patrons of Western Libraries, and library science students, we appreciate the chance to voice our concerns about several aspects of Western Libraries.

Studying in this program means that students have knowledge and ideas about a range of library-related issues: why they are important, what they need to improve, and what they need to do to reinforce their relevance. Our background means that we are uniquely suited to note areas of concern and improvement, as well as offer suggestions and possibilities.

Firstly, we feel that Western Libraries must do more to actively engage with and support the MLIS community and students. The library needs to offer more professional experiences to MLIS students by giving them priority to the part-time library positions that Western Libraries offers each year. While we understand that preference is given to undergraduates for retention purposes, it is more beneficial to offer those positions to students who see it as more than just a job, and will invest themselves accordingly. Our education has equipped us with theoretical and practical knowledge about working, using, and improving libraries that we will be able to apply in a meaningful way. However, we need to be given the opportunity to do so. As co-op placements become increasingly difficult to secure in our program, every possibility to gain work experience in a library setting is invaluable. As the MLIS is considered a professional degree, students are not able to become Teaching Assistants; these part-time positions would provide much needed financial assistance, given that all of us are on our second or third degree.

Additionally, Western Libraries could do more to work with the MLIS students by offering brief tours of the behind-the-scenes aspects of the library (such as technical services or administration) since it is difficult to gain an accurate understanding of these environments from classroom lectures alone. With such a large and active library system on the same campus as a thriving and dynamic Library and Information Science program, it only makes sense that the library would actively seek out ways to support the profession and build meaningful relationships with its local LIS community.

The second area on which we would like to comment on relates to the physical space and overall utility of Weldon Library. As the biggest library on main campus, Weldon Library sets the standard for library space on campus. However, we have noticed that there is an overall lack of care for the physical environment at Weldon. Surfaces and stacks are often covered in dust and litter is left on tables and workstations. This lack of cleanliness is not good for the collection, nor does it create a welcoming environment for students and faculty to study in and engage with.

Additionally, steps should be taken to make finding books at Weldon library easier. Better access to materials in the stacks could be achieved by having better (by which we mean larger and more obvious) signage, phones on each floor that connect to the reference desk or a librarian, a book finder application (similar to Ryerson University, where one can pinpoint the physical location of a book via a digital map), or the presence of a roving librarian to check in with students. Improved signage to indicate stairwells would also make Weldon easier to navigate, as its overall layout is not intuitive.

Western Libraries could improve its relationship with the LIS and Western community as a whole is through open and regular communication. Western Libraries must make it a priority to use social media sites effectively to open up dialogue with students and make the library seem more accessible, friendly, and dynamic. Even the option to subscribe to an electronic newsletter would be helpful for students and faculty. The fact that Western Libraries does not engage the larger community in any meaningful way—with the exception of the LibQual survey—is extremely problematic. Not only does this further denigrate the importance of the library’s collections and physical space, but it removes a valuable opportunity to solicit feedback from the campus community. Although Western Libraries exists to serve the needs of faculty and staff, it is failing to communicate how it does so. Rather than communicate through isolated communication channels, a holistic communication strategy needs to be developed to keep the Western University community informed about library services and that also invites feedback and participation.

Finally, we believe that it is of the utmost importance that Western Libraries takes an active role in educating students and faculty about copyright and fair dealing. As the schools moves forward by ending its agreement with Access Copyright, Western Libraries must provide education and guidance about user rights when it comes to using copyrighted works for educational purposes. The current Copy and Copyright: A Guide for Students, Professors and Staff at Western University on the Western Libraries website provides an email address for Access Copyright as a contact for more information. An impartial librarian should be the person who educates and supports students and faculty about user rights and copying guidelines, not a third party with a vested interest.

Additionally, Western Libraries should offer regular sessions about copyright to faculty members and graduate students, because information about copyright must be easy to find and comprehend. Universities that have excellent resources about copyright include the Robertson Library at the University of Prince Edward Island, the Dr. John Archer Library at the University of Regina, and Ryerson University Library and Archives. These resource sites are easy to find, emphasize the flexible nature of fair dealing, offer on-campus contacts and services that can help provide more information, and most importantly, they reassure the community that the library will support their user’s rights.

As Western Library users, future and current library professionals, and members of the Western University community, we appreciate this invitation to offer our insights into the current service and facilities of Western Libraries. We hope that you find our comments useful when conducting your review.

Sincerely,

Matthew Barabash
Elizabeth Blackall
Anastasia Gould
Lukas Miller
Ali Versluis
Jessica Windsor
Elsa Wong
Kathryn Ziedenberg

on behalf of the Progressive Librarians Guild – London Chapter

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