Library renos may start soon
Budget provides first funding for school’s capital priority
The provincial budget released by the Alberta government on Mar. 7 was not kind to post-secondary institutions, with a cut of nearly nine per cent to funding expectations.
Yet the budget is providing some initial funding to Mount Royal University’s long-awaited Library and Learning Centre, to the tune of $30-million.
“I remain cautiously optimistic that we’ll be seeing work on the library starting soon,” said Carol Shepstone, Mount Royal’s university librarian.
Shepstone said she was “really pleased” to hear the budget provided support for the six-year-old capital proposal in the province’s 2013 budget.
“It is a challenge to have $30-million over three years, because it’s one third of what we had hoped for,” Shepstone noted.
The funds for the project will be spread over three years, with no money in the first, $10-million in the second, and $20-million in the third. This is far less than the $85.5-million the university requested for the capital project.
“We don’t know if there will be additional funding in the fourth year which isn’t part of that plan,” said Shepstone, adding the university is still evaluating how to move forward with the project.
Students need space
MRU has been planning a new library for several years now, and surveys of the student body repeatedly show the campus’ library as its major handicap.
In a 2007 project proposal, Mount Royal College noted that its library ranked 12th out of 14 small universities in Canada, and that the university provided only half the library floor space of the average Canadian university.
“I think we do much better in that category than I anticipate,” said Sheptstone, who praised her faculty and staff for providing “outstanding services” despite constraints in space and infrastructure.
“I think that students need this new facility,” Shepstone said. “We hear it all the time in comments from students and in surveys.”
Comparing gate counts, Shepstone said that the library has been the busiest area on cam- pus, beating out both recreation and Wyckham House in average numbers of daily visitors.
“We know we’re central to the university, and to student academic life and student success,” Shepstone said. “We know we need more space and much better space, suited to the kind of learning that’s happening now.”
Kaylene McTavish, the Students’ Association of Mount Royal University president, agreed, noting that students currently suffer from a lack of study spaces and computer access.
“I think Mount Royal as a university needs this,” McTavish said. “The campus and campus community will benefit hugely from this.”
While McTavish said several steps are needed before she believes construction will start, she noted that the new infrastructure would relieve several major issues the student body has with campus.
Shepstone said the university returned to the planning table in January and re-engaged with the project’s architects to confirm the three-year old functional program.
“It’s been really exciting to get back and look at what we need and what that might be going forward,” Shepstone said.
Shepstone revealed the initial plan as laid out in January was to have the next two phases, including detailed designs, ready for the fall semester “to get out there with the shovels in the ground and start to build.”
When David Docherty assumed the post of MRU’s president in 2011, he announced the new Library and Learning Centre would be his No. 1 priority.
“He really understands the need that the students have and that the institution has,” Shepstone said.
Future of the library
The new library building, which was first proposed back in 2007, will be located in parking lot seven, across from the Faculty of Arts building and next to the east residences.
The Library and Learning Centre is planned as a four story building, including classrooms, offices, “interactive learning spaces,” with a bus loop between it and the conservatory building.
“It will be a significant new entrance and exit to the campus,” Shepstone said. “We’ll be open early and late, and we want convenient and safe access to both the library and the conservatory as well.”
Plans for the Library and Learning Centre include it serving as a new home for MRU’s faculty of teaching and learning, which includes the bachelor of education and the general education programs, as well as partnerships with Student Learning Services and the START computer assistance program.
Interaction and innovation
While plans for the new facility have not been finalized, Shepstone said the plans call for more dynamic and creative group work and study spaces, as well as an abundance of group rooms with “lots of technology.”
“We want a lot more interaction,” Shepstone said. “It’s really exciting to think of this as an incubation space for engaging students with each other, with information, and with their instructors.”
Shepstone said that the various library boards have taken note of innovations featured in the University of Calgary’s new Taylor Family Digital Library.
While Shepstone said that not everything from the Taylor Family library would work at a teaching-focused university like Mount Royal, it does illustrate how a new library can revitalize teaching and learning on campus.
“I think it’s absolutely critical for Mount Royal, or frankly for any university, to have the right kind of library for their students and for their faculty,” Shepstone said.
“Our goal here is to now give Mount Royal the library it deserves.”