In September, the University of Winnipeg’s department of history passed a motion protesting the university library’s decision to cut departmental book budgets.
“Our concerns are that there was no consultation about the cuts and that these deep budgetary books cuts will affect our student population and the university as a research place,” said Eliakim Sibanda, chair of the history department.
The library plans on taking the money that would traditionally have been spent on books to purchase new computers and create three new learning commons on campus.
“The library is committed to fulfilling every prong of academic excellence and equity of access to technology for all students,” said Jane Duffy, dean of the library at the University of Winnipeg. “Seeing students waiting in lines to access course materials online is unacceptable.”
Duffy hopes to modernize the library and provide students who can’t afford computers access to Internet databases for their courses.
But the history department questions the sustainability of the project.
“Computers are a tool, not knowledge in themselves,” Wall said. “They have to be continually replaced, which means that every few years they may cut our budget again.”
The history department is encouraging other departments to protest alongside them.
“We understand the library wants to make improvements, but going at it by taking funds from the book budget makes no sense,” said Sibanda.
The library supports its decision by saying that print material is not used as often as its electronic counterpart.
“I looked at what had been spent in the past five years on books (and) didn’t see the value of print material,” Duffy said. “I did see the usage of online material go through the roof and its value to students rise.”
Duffy and her colleagues found this information by conducting surveys that tracked the circulation of the library’s books.
“There’s a lot of hidden circulation that the library’s survey doesn’t see,” Wall said.
“There are many people who use books in the library who never sign them out or professors who copy a chapter and provide it for their students online. Those 48 students in a class all used that book, but it’s not recorded.”
Duffy understands the department’s concerns with the book budget.
“This is a part of a much bigger story,” she said. “Their initial reaction is shock, but in a few months they will see the academic benefits to their students that access to technology provides.”
A part of the library’s plan is to provide students with three moveable work pods with ergonomic furniture. They hope it will eliminate the need for students to share computers, a sight Duffy often sees.
“Wealthier students have no problem accessing their professor’s online material, but for others this is almost impossible,” she said.
History student Hayley Caldwell would like to see more material posted online as an alternative to hard copies of material.
“In my classes we have to use a lot of the library’s books, but online would be easier,” she said.
Published in Volume 65, Number 7 of The Uniter (October 14, 2010)