Webster, Meet Digital Culture

Concordia Library to Undergo Major Renovations Amid Shrinking Book Borrowing

Renderings courtesy of Menkès Schooner Dagenais Letourneux Architectes
Renderings courtesy of Menkès Schooner Dagenais Letourneux Architectes
Renderings courtesy of Menkès Schooner Dagenais Letourneux Architectes

Guylaine Beaudry, the chief administrator for Concordia’s two libraries, says the Webster Library is stuck in the past—but upcoming renovations aim to bring it into the digital age.

“The current library we have is really based on the model of the mid-19th century library,” said the interim university librarian, who was director of the Webster Library from 2009 until June of last year. “We think that, with this shift from print to digital culture, it is time to revise our brick-and-mortar space.”

Preliminary plans for the renovation of the Webster Library are now complete, and a consultation process will soon begin to hear what students and faculty members would want from a modernized library.

“[The preliminary plans are] the representation of a vision,” said Beaudry. “The planning of the project is not complete, but we felt [it is time] to announce the project because we want to start a consultation phase with students, with faculty members, and it’s not when the final plans will be done that it’ll be time to start the consultation.”

Assuming the final plans are approved by the university’s Board of Governors, the bidding process to determine who will be awarded the construction contract could take place in September and construction could begin in January 2015, according to Beaudry. At a rate of approximately one floor per year, all of the renovations are expected to be completed by the end of 2017.

Beaudry said a lot of time, energy and money have been spent since 2000 on building the library’s digital resources and the university must now look to “create an intellectually stimulating space that will also promote discourse and critical thinking.”

According to Beaudry, 675,000 books were borrowed every year on average at Concordia’s two libraries until the end of the 2000s. Since then, she says, the annual average has dropped to 450,000, mirroring similar trends at academic libraries across the country.

Beaudry insists the library is “not giving up on print.” Still, she says the next-generation library is “a space for active and collaborative learning, an on-campus social learning environment.” One of the goals of the renovations will be to make the library more comfortable, quiet, bright and convenient for students to study or read in, according to a university document provided by Beaudry.

Beaudry says student surveys suggest many are dissatisfied with the amount of study space at the Webster Library and that many students also feel the library is too noisy. The noise is probably related to the lack of space, according to Beaudry.

“In 1992, when we opened the building, [Concordia] had 16,000 students, compared to 46,000 now, so you don’t have to look very far to understand what happened,” she said.

The preliminary plans for the renovations call for the number of seats at the Webster Library to double and then some, from 1,500 to 3,300. The library will also be expanded to include the fifth floor of the J.W. McConnell Building that houses it, increasing its space by 27 per cent.

In terms of square footage, Concordia’s Webster and Vanier libraries currently offer the lowest amount of space per student compared to other Canadian university libraries, according to university documents provided to The Link.

“The numbers are telling us that, yes, it’s a good decision to invest in the expansion of the library,” Beaudry said.

The angular walls seen in the architectural renderings of the renovated library plans were inspired by origami, according to Beaudry. There will be a variety of study spaces, including classrooms, silent study halls, social areas, group study rooms and even rooms where students can practice for oral presentations by filming themselves and playing back the recordings to see how they can improve.

Beaudry said a new zero-noise room will be completely quiet since students won’t even be allowed to use the room to work on laptops—after all, keyboards are not entirely silent.

Reserved rooms with a total of 80 seats will also be made available to graduate students, giving them a dedicated space in which to write their dissertations.

“It is a space that, I think, will be most appreciated,” Beaudry said. “It is a time when the graduate students find themselves isolated because they have to work at home. Sometimes they don’t have the best conditions at home to write their six pages every day.”

Meanwhile, a “technology sandbox” will allow students in computer science to test applications they’ve created on different mobile devices. There will also be 3-D printers and cameras.

“What we would like to take place in that space is interdisciplinary projects,” Beaudry said.

As for the classrooms in the library, one of them will even use virtual reality to project renderings onto multiple walls.

Additionally, Beaudry said she hopes that new room-booking software will make it easier and faster for students to reserve group study rooms.

“My dream is to provide one [application] for all group study rooms on campus, and not only the libraries’ ones,” she said.

Beaudry added the library intends to get students involved throughout the renovations. In March, students will be invited to try out different furniture samples and share their comments, Beaudry said. Periodic project updates will keep the Concordia community informed about the progress on the construction.

According to Beaudry, renovations are taking place or have already been completed at many academic and public libraries throughout Canada, not just at Concordia.

“I’m very proud to be able to offer to Concordia students what they deserve,” she said. “Twenty years ago, it was a major achievement to offer to the community the Webster Library, and now we’re very lucky to be in a position to […] improve the space, to make a difference.”