By Dinu Mahapatuna
Photo Via The Newsroom @dawsoncollege.qc.ca
In loving memory of that copy of Dante’s Inferno. You were small, blue, and vandalized beyond redemption. I miss you every day.
Once upon a time, I needed to procure a $200 textbook on a subject so obscure, I could understand why its author had resorted to robbing students. Eventually, I struck out pirating as a viable option, and declared to the world, “I’m going to the library!”
My journey ended at the check-out area of the library. There, I was struck by the familiarity of the warm, wood interior and stained-glass windows. Many a hazy morning was spent in a three-sided cubicle, resisting the urge to fall asleep within multi-coloured shafts of light as I combed through pages of research, most of it disfigured in the 1970s by some ruffian named Richard.
Ruffians aside, the library was empty. As expected of any institution impacted by COVID-19, the library’s “ground” location is not seeing much traffic; the majority of visitors are students waiting for their mandatory in-person classes to begin. On the day I visited, the library was void of all humanity, save for three staff members looking at me so intently, I found myself struggling to sign my own name onto the clock-in sheet.
“Dinu?” said one, and I jumped, worried some book-related misdemeanor had finally caught up to me.
Instead, I was met with a smile from Suzanne, the circulation coordinator who had taken the time to correspond with me, back and forth, on the location of the aforementioned textbook and a copy of Dante’s Inferno I mournfully returned two semesters ago. “Great to meet you!” she said, “It’s rare that I get to see who’s on the other side of the emails.” And then we lived happily ever after, me, Suzanne and Dante.
Okay, okay. Enough joking. What’s really important to note is how I got into contact with Suzanne: the Dawson College Library website, a virtual subsection of the library.
I met with Dawson College librarian Claire Elliott to talk about the library’s virtual presence. She tells me that despite the relative vacancy of the library’s on-site facilities, “steady traffic from students and faculty” alike is apparent within the library’s virtual subsection.
“A lot of the interactions are what we would have usually gotten in passing” says Elliott of the virtual library’s “Ask-A-Librarian” service, one of many remote conveniences made available in recent years. Students can also ask to pick up what Elliott and other librarians lovingly dub ‘dust-collectors’ (print sources) through a curbside-pickup request form. Recently, the library has even begun opening up group study areas (6 species for 2-4 people), boasting a total of 49 individual seating spaces for students to take advantage of.
But all of this information is more or less evident through a quick scroll of the library’s website or perhaps even a glimpse at your Omnivox page, where the library routinely posts updates. What you might not ascertain so easily are the real restrictions that the librarians face when sourcing the material that we need for our education.
Elliott clarifies that purchasing electronic materials is no easy feat. “We have a capital budget to buy dust-collectors,” she says, “and that budget increases and adjusts over the years so we can source more.” The issue is that the budget for electronic materials used to buy, for example, article collections from vendors like EBSCO, has not increased consistently over the years the way the capital budget has. “It’s March now, but we have just under half of our capital budget to spend. But the subscriptions budget, the one for electronic resources, it’s tapped out. And it has been, for a while,” summarizes Elliott.
The obvious solution, the reallocation of capital budget funds towards electronic sources, is not as easy as one might think. “In Quebec, if you’re an institutional library like a CEGEP library and you’re buying physical books, you’re legally required to purchase from accredited independent book-sellers in Quebec, not Amazon or Indigo,” says Elliot. Essentially, these funds couldn’t be reallocated, because if they were, they would put independent Quebec booksellers at risk. So, for anyone who is currently cursing the college for not having enough information about obscure Swedish artists for their research papers, leave the librarians out of it.
“Access to information does not equate to its proper use,” remarks Elliott, noting the necessity of the librarians. They aren’t just well-read bloodhounds compelled to locate your academic resources; in addition to helping us access material, they curate collections to provide what is most relevant to our education and teach students how to research.
“We’re here to support students in any way we can,” Elliot affirms and there’s no doubt in believing her.